When Carolyn from Rosemary and Reading Glasses asked me if I wanted to join her read-a-long of Paradise Lost, I’m such a keener, I just said, “Yes!”. Then I opened the book and may have hyperventilated a bit. Poetry? Oh, crap! Memories of my brain struggling to comprehend T.S. Eliot and Homer came flooding back.
And so I began reading Paradise Lost … and was a little lost myself. The words just jumbled in my head for awhile. I didn’t notice when we switched from invoking muses to the lake of fire. I didn’t realize a rather long and incomprehensible list was a roll call of disgraced angels. I fell asleep listening to the audio book. But after a couple of re-reads and re-listens, I had a breakthrough. As if my brain could finally translate the story!
* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Milton invokes a poetic muse for a spirit through which to tell the story of mankind’s first couple, Adam and Eve, and their failure to ignore the temptation of sin. Such fatal act results in mankind’s expulsion from paradise forever. But who was the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve? Going back in time, we are then introduced to Satan and his legion of disgraced gods who are chained to a lake of fire in Hell. Still swelling with the pride and defiance that saw them thrown out of Heaven, Satan and he second-in-command, Beelzebub, lament their fate and discuss their next step.
From the first few lines of Book I, Paradise Lost screams epic with a capital E. You know right away this story is going to be BIG because of all the battles ever to take place, it doesn’t get any bigger than good versus evil. The imagery Milton conjured up in my mind left me speechless but equally thrilled. I could imagine dark gods lined up like rowdy soldiers in the heavens, then falling through a sky full of smoke and thunder at the hand of an unseen mighty and powerful God. I also kept remembering battle scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies. But is the fight as black and white as I think?
Satan gathers his fellow gods and a great debate takes place as to whether the outcasts should fight back even though God has proven to be more powerful or whether they should just settle down in Hell. They come up with a plan where Satan will visit the newly created Earth and look for any opportunities of striking back at God indirectly through some creature called Man. At Hell’s gate, Satan encounters a woman-beast and dark shape, known as Sin and Death respectively (and their relationship to Satan is severely disturbing, so thanks Milton, I’ll never get this out of my head!). They agree to help Satan and follow him through the gate. Shortly after leaving Hell, they meet Chaos and another crew of gods who point the way to Earth.
I don’t know quite what to call Satan and his merry crew. Are they gods, archangels or demons? It was interesting to see them hold a civil debate to arrive at a decision. No one interrupted or heckled or tried running out of the room screaming, “Let’s kill them all!” As Carolyn mentions in her post, I was surprised how quick and easy it was to relate to Satan. He appears to be a good leader and respectable, nary a cuss word or kicked puppy to be noted. He embarks on a quest and the quest is usually completed by a hero. Is Satan to be an anti-hero in this story? Why do I sense I’m going to be conflicted by this character?
What will happen next? Join us for the Paradise Lost read-a-long!