Hello again to all my dutiful readers, I do appreciate the time you spend reading this 🙂
So as you probably guessed from the title I finally managed to finish Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, after an arduous few months of reading it on various modes of public transport and in the early hours of the morning. Let me just say that iambic pentameter is now my second language, both ‘books’ are written in it and after a while you begin to think in iambic pentameter. It can get a little distracting but it helps with the flow of the piece.
Overall, the two works aren’t what I initially expected. I bought the book thinking it was written as a novel, and would be relatively easy to read through. That was proven wrong as soon as I started on the first page. It’s not the plot that makes it difficult, but the many meanings that Milton gives to a simple sentence. You have to read between the lines to fully understand what he’s trying to say, and you have to do it all the time. I wouldn’t necessarily call it didactic, but there is a strong sense that Milton believes in what he’s writing about. This can only be a good thing, given that both works are based in the Bible stories of the old testament.
In terms of his characterisation, Milton does a great job of getting most of the characters right. In Paradise Lost, Eve is the submissive one, who later brings Adam to his ‘downfall’ with the apple. Adam is the leader, who ‘gives in’ to Eve because he trusts her and can’t live without her, so it seems. The Angels are all holy and godlike, as they should be. The ephemerous ‘Son of God’, at this point without a name, is fittingly vague and offering to do all he can for humanity to save them from the Devil.
And that brings me to my next point. There are three characters in Paradise Lost whose actions seemed out of context. The ‘Son of God’, ‘God’, and ‘The Devil’. Milton seems a little hesitant to give these characters full license, and they end up either sidelined (‘Son of God’), caricatured (‘The Devil’ and to some extent ‘God’) and are even spotted doing things that don’t seem quite befitting of status (‘God’). Whether his hesitancy lies in the ‘power’ that these individuals possess in Christian culture, or whether it is because of his decidedly left wing political ideals, it does tend to make some parts of the work a little less believable than they could have been. Even Eve has her moments. Paradise Regained, however, seems to be more thought-out. Milton appears more confident when writing ‘The Devil’ and ‘Jesus’, formerly the ‘Son of God’, and it shows in the detail Milton has lent to their personalities. It’s easy to see why the two don’t get along (to put it mildly), and it might be a little predictable in the good vs. evil sense but still manages to keep the reader interested.
But again, Milton falters at the end. After ‘the Devil’ manages to fall off the edge of a cliff, ‘Jesus’ is carried away by angels and winged cherubs to a garden, where he feasts. Then he simply goes home to his mother, like a schoolboy who comes home late from fighting with the class bully. I have to say, after spending all that time reading my way through both books, that ending was a bit of a let-down. Did Milton just want it to end? Was he having trouble thinking of some more rounded and fulfilling way to end the piece? We can never know. As readers, though, we have to accept that when Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained were written the world was a different place. Writing wasn’t the sort of industry that it is today, and people saw the world in a different way. It highlights just how important context is when reading a book, of any kind.
Probably one of the best parts of both pieces was the attention to detail and the visual aspect that Milton clearly put a lot of effort into. Again, going back to context, it was relatively common practice for writers to be highly descriptive back in the 1600s because the common public (the readership) didn’t travel very much. Nor did they have any decent access to images or films, like we do here in the age of the internet. They had to use their imaginations, and the best thing for writers to do was to help their readers experience their work through that medium. In the end, even though both works have a few negative points they were quite enjoyable as creative pieces in their own right. It served mostly to add a new angle to the traditional Bible stories for me, and in that vein it does a superb job. Claps for Milton all ’round.
After completing Milton I had to take stock of what I was going to read next. War and Peace still sits unfinished on my bedside table, the bookmark getting dusty on page 193. To be quite honest, I didn’t think I could deal with any more long-winded works, so I decided to jump a few hundred years into the 20th century and begin reading ‘The Silmarillion’ by JRR Tolkien. This is mostly because I want to refresh my Middle Earth history before going to see ‘The Hobbit’, which is supposed to be coming out soon here in Australia. I just bought myself a copy of The Hobbit as well, to prepare myself for the movie. Hopefully I can get through them before d-day, I always like to read the book before I see the movie. That way I can see all the plot gaps. I’ll update you when I finish with it.
Another thing that’s on my mind is Christmas, which is slowly rolling around for another year. Presents, preferably ones that feel like they have pages, would be fantastic and I’m considering investing in some for my family. It’s always good to give the gift of knowledge and imagination.
That’s it from me for now, happy reading!