The Pilgrim’s Progress – Part I: The Eighth Stage, the Ninth Stage

Christian and Hopeful reach the Delectable Mountains on
the outskirts of the Celestial City. They bathe and eat in the gardens
and orchards that they discover in the foothills of the mountains,
which belong to the Lord Emmanuel. They meet some kind shepherds
who welcome them and say that the lord gave them the charge of offering protection
to good pilgrims. The shepherds invite them to sleep.
The next morning the shepherds warn Christian and Hopeful
of the nearby hills called Error and Caution, which lead some travelers to
disaster. The remains of pilgrims, who have made false assumptions
about the nature of resurrection, litter the ground beneath Error.
Similarly, on the hill of Caution, blind travelers wander among
tombs and get stuck there. Both these views show Christian and Hopeful
what to avoid. They ask how the blind pilgrims came to wander among
the tombs. The shepherds inform them that they tried to take a shortcut
to the Mountains, which led instead to the Doubting Castle, where
Giant Despair imprisoned them, put out their eyes, and left them
to wander on the grounds of his estate.
The shepherds allow Christian and Hopeful to look through
a telescope at the Celestial City. Christian and Hopeful tremble
with so much excitement that they can hardly see through the glass.
The shepherds bid them farewell, give them directions to the Delectable Mountains,
and warn them not to sleep on the Enchanted Ground and to beware
of someone named Flatterer. The narrator wakes up from his dream.
The narrator resumes his dream and sees Christian and
Hopeful go on into the Delectable Mountains toward the Celestial
City. They meet Ignorance, a lively lad who accompanies them for
a while. Ignorance goes through life hoping for the best. He believes
a good life is enough to enter heaven and tells Christian and Hopeful
that their path to the Celestial City is unnecessarily long and
difficult. He knows of an easier route. Christian tells Hopeful
in a whisper that he considers Ignorance a fool. They outpace Ignorance
and leave him when they turn into a dark alley full of devils.
In the alley they see a man bound with his face turned
away. Christian recalls him as an old acquaintance named Little-Faith
and tells Hopeful his story. Little-Faith was traveling with his
birthright, a precious jewel, as well as some money. Set upon by
thieves, Little-Faith loses most of his cash and is forced to beg
for the remainder of his journey, which he complains about ceaselessly.
He still has his jewel in his possession but hardly thinks of it.
Hopeful asks why Little-Faith did not pawn his jewel for travel
money. Christian reproaches him for foolishness, explaining that
no believer can sell his faith for material comfort.
Christian and Hopeful follow Flatterer, a deceitful man
in a white robe who speaks beautifully but ensnares them in a net.
A Shining One arrives and cuts them loose. They meet Atheist, who laughs
at their intention to reach the Celestial City. Atheist claims not
to have found the Celestial City in twenty years of searching. The
pilgrims affirm they have seen it.
Traveling onward, Christian and Hopeful discuss sin at
great length. In part their discussion helps them ward off the sleepiness that
comes from crossing the Enchanted Land. They ask whether any person
is free from sin and agree that only Christ has been sinless. Christian
asks Hopeful how he came to realize he was a sinner, and Hopeful
tells of his realization. On the Enchanted Ground they fight off
dangerous sleep. Seeing Ignorance again, they ask him why he lags
behind, suspecting that this pilgrim does not like their company.
They discuss Ignorance’s belief that good living alone guarantees
salvation. Christian asserts that salvation comes through revelation,
not through a good life alone. They also discuss reasons for backsliding
among the devout. Ignorance insults revelation, calling it nonsense
and affirming that a natural faith in God is enough to sustain a
believer. Ignorance says he cannot walk as fast as Christian and
Hopeful and falls behind.
Christian and Hopeful’s experiences at the Delectable
Mountains emphasize the importance of reflection. When Christian
and Hopeful gaze out at the other pilgrims wandering on Giant Despair’s lands,
they recall one of their own experiences from the outside and see
how it is lived by other pilgrims. By looking back on their previous
experience, Christian and Hopeful realize how far they have traveled
and just how close they are to the Celestial City. Christian also
does not long for his previous life in the City of Destruction when
he watches the pilgrims, but he sees how he has progressed since
leaving and feels no regret. No longer does Christian just wander
hoping he’ll reach the Celestial City. When Christian reaches the Delectable
Mountains, he is firmly planted in Christ’s domain and has physical
confirmation of his progress.
Ignorance’s appearance emphasizes the idea that spiritual progress
requires more than simply living a good life and having a natural
faith in God. Progress can only be made when movement is combined
with knowledge and understanding. Ignorance is a likeable pilgrim.
He is friendly to his fellow pilgrims, he loves and fears God as
he should, and his good intentions cannot be doubted. But Ignorance
is only walking toward salvation, not progressing toward it.
He cannot make progress like Christian because he has not received
revelation, nor does he believe in its value or express any interest
in hearing about it. He thinks the received word of God is nonsense,
and so his travel is only in the body, not in the mind or soul.
The division between the Eighth and Ninth Stages, in which
the narrator’s dream is interrupted, demonstrates the visionary
nature of the story. This happens at a few moments in The
Pilgrim’s Progress. In terms of mere storytelling alone,
such interruptions seem pointless and unnecessary. After all, the
narrator does nothing when he wakes up but immediately go back to
sleep and start to dream again, picking up at the exact point where
he left off before. The reader might question why the narrator told
the reader he woke up. But from another angle the dream interruptions
are important. They reinforce the reader’s awareness that none of
the story is real in any worldly sense. Christian is not an actual
physical human but a figment of a dreamer’s imagination. By insisting
on the dreamy or visionary aspect of his story, Bunyan reminds the
reader that his story consists of spiritual material.
The importance of storytelling as a spiritual aid is also
communicated by Christian’s story about Little-Faith. The content
of that tale is not particularly new because it reinforces that
a pilgrim may lose worldly comfort but still possess the jewel of
faith that cannot be lost. This point has been made before in the
book when Christian loses his certificate and then recovers it.
The real interest in Christian’s tale lies in the fact that Christian
himself becomes a storyteller like the narrator. Telling that tale,
as the narrator of The Pilgrim’s Progress tells
his own tale, Christian is able to engage his audience, who asks
questions and learns. Moreover, Christian tells a story about another
pilgrim, so his storytelling is in some way about his own pilgrimage,
just as Bunyan the Christian tells a tale about a man named Christian.
The spiritual value of vision is reinforced by the most
incredible vision yet to occur in The Pilgrim’s Progress:
Christian and Hopeful’s glimpse of the Celestial City through the
shepherds’ telescope. Here again, words and vision go hand-in-hand.
The glorious destination that has been talked of throughout the
book is finally seen. This visualizing of words is what Bunyan achieved
in his writing: he has taken the word of God and tried to make it
a real visionary experience, so that a believer could look through
the lens of his story and see the Celestial City. But however much
Bunyan may aid the viewer, in the end the vision is up to each person
to glimpse. The detail of Christian’s hands trembling so much that
he can hardly see the city reinforces the notion that the seeker
controls his or her own vision.