I’m only two books in, but Paradise Lost is Blowing. Me. Away. I foresee years of rereading.
I love listening to classic literature, hearing the flawless pronunciations and superlative intonations of a Really Good Narrator.
(Capitalizing those words makes me think of the Ugly-Wugly whose chief requirement of life was a Really Good Hotel. A completely irrelevant rabbit trail, but significant nonetheless. Because if you haven’t yet read Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle, you will do so now—this minute. Well, after Paradise Lost, I guess.)
Back to Milton (the name of my town, btw. Ah, how I love my town!). I’ve never had wine but I imagine that Paradise Lost is exactly like the most ancient, exquisite, ripest of ripe wines. Each sentence is nonpareil.
The idea of fallen angels taking pagan form is mind-blowing. I’d heard similar ideas before, but Milton draws it out.
After these appeared
A crew who, under names of old renown—
Osiris, Isis, Orus, and their train—
With monstrous shapes and sorceries abused
Fanatic Egypt and her priests to seek
Their wandering gods disguised in brutish forms
Rather than human.
I can see, now, why Pullman was inspired to write His Dark Materials, though I wholly and cheerfully disagree with his conclusions. Milton is not canonizing Satan. He is not suppressing hero worship because of social mores. He simply fails to underestimate Satan—a feat rarely achieved by modern Christians. C.S. Lewis wrote those famous lines: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”
Milton recognized this years before Lewis, and he paints a true portrait of an amazingly complex being—aspiring to rule the universe, yet doomed to failure through his own pride and defiance. Our fallen natures sympathize with rebellion. Milton, however—at least, to my simple, uneducated mind—is setting out to show how distorted those tendencies are, and how truer and more beautiful an alternative is set before us.
And I’m only on book two!