Monday, March 1, 2010

Paradise Lost, by John Milton

Epic Poetry. Elizabethan-like language. Sexism. Sin. Redemption. Angels. Demons.
And so on, and so forth.

This is NOT recreational reading in any sense of the word. It's heavy duty English Lit with a Christian theme. You have to work at it. If understanding William Shakespeare's stuff is easy for you, you might enjoy this one. If not, you're going to be looking at the footnotes and the endnotes constantly.

Basic plot: It's the Adam and Eve story in the Garden of Eden, interrupted with embellished stories about the war in heaven before the Earth was created, the living conditions in hell, the origin of many pagan gods that will plague mankind once humans are created, the creation of the Earth, the selection of Christ as the Redeemer before mankind is created, and sprinkled with many references to Roman and Greek mythology. John Milton was a Protestant, and therefore slipped in some anti-catholic/anti-pope comments as well.

I have to say that for being innocent when first created, Adam and Eve have QUITE the vocabulary! And they know they are in a blessed, blissful state to boot. If you don't know what it is to be miserable, how do you know when you are happy? Maybe Adam and Eve just say what they have been told: you are happy here in this garden paradise.

And then Satan intrudes, gives Eve ideas in her dreams, later flatters her physical beauty and gets her to eat the forbidden fruit. The effect isn't immediate, from the way I read the poem. Eve then wants Adam to eat the fruit so they can stay together. If he eats it he proves his love for her, that he would risk disobedience to stay with her. Once he has eaten the fruit, then they, well, ahem. See here's the thing; before they eat the fruit, Milton insinuates that they were married and shared intimate physical affection and it was all sweet and innocent and pure. After they eat the fruit, they still share intimate physical affection, but it is no longer pure but debauched. Adam and Eve feel shame the morning afterwards. I don't like that. They were STILL married. What's the big deal? It's almost like Milton is saying, "Sex wasn't the original sin, just the next sin after they ate the fruit." Hm.

While feeling ashamed, Adam and Eve start to argue whose fault it was that Eve ate the fruit. Adam says, "You didn't listen to me." Eve says "You let me wander off by myself." Once all the arguing is out of the way, they try to cope with the sorrow they feel. They discuss NOT having children, because they don't want their offspring to feel what they feel. Eve suggests suicide, or something like it. They have to have an angel remind them that God has a plan for everything and that eventually "the seed of the woman" shall defeat the devil and sin and death will not have the last say. Adam is given a vision of events to come from Abel and Cain to Noah and Moses and finally Christ's mortal mission. Eve doesn't get to see this vision herself. She is put to sleep while Adam experiences it. She must get the second hand story from Adam later after they are expelled. Eve pretty much gets the worst of the blame. She succumbed because she is the weaker sex, she is more wanton, more physically promiscuous, etc. (Milton makes Adam look soooo magnanimous.) Basically, it's a woman's fault if a man is lustful. Grrr!

The book ends on a hopeful note despite Adam and Eve being evicted from the Garden. The focus on Christ as their redeeming hope gives them not only the will to live but to have children despite the presence of evil in the world. I don't agree with all of Milton's views and in some ways I think his perception of Christian doctrine is flawed but those are minor problems. I don't feel I've wasted my time reading Paradise Lost. I don't think many people would enjoy it these days unless they were serious about English Lit studies or epic poetry in general.

At least I can say I've read it now.

1 comment:

  1. I liked this book because of the poetry and because of the footnotes, endnotes, and introduction. When I read this book, I read it out loud to get the feel of the meter. I read one chapter a day before going to bed. I think it is very-well-written.

    I also read this book after reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials to see if the antagonist really a tragic hero of sorts. Critics say Satan was the unsung hero in the book, and that may be true if contemporary thought sides with the woman and her circumstances; but for me, I am just not convinced in this interpretation that Pullman makes.

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