* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Paradise Lost starts with a bang and doesn’t stop until the tragic end. When I look back, the poem plays like a grand opera in my mind. John Milton fires the imagination with images of battles in Heaven, twisted and dark demons languishing in Hell, an all-powerful God presiding over the world, the lush and beautiful Garden of Eden, and the lovers Adam and Eve cuddling in the bower. But not only that, Paradise Lost gives the reader so much to think about. The poem is every bit the masterpiece of verse it is famously known and I doubt my review can give it the accolades it so rightly deserves, but I’ll give it a try.
Paradise Lost by John Milton is an epic poem from the 17th century based on the Bible story depicting Satan’s expulsion from Heaven by God and his part in the fall of mankind. God’s human creations, Adam and Eve, enjoy the pleasures of the Garden of Eden until they are targeted by Satan to eat fruit from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. Although warned many times to not eat the fruit, Eve is successfully tricked by Satan to disobey God. In an act of love, Adam also eats the fruit and both the lovers and Satan must face the consequences of defying God.
The Narrator – Milton is as much a character in this story as Satan or Adam and Eve, his thoughts and opinions interwoven throughout the verse. He summoned muses for inspiration, but I think he did that for dramatic effect and knew exactly what he wanted to say.
Satan – The ultimate bad boy, one of the greatest surprises about Paradise Lost is that Milton presents him as an anti-hero. Satan is intelligent and strong. He struggles with sadness, anger, jealousy and pride. He is the kind of character you love to hate, and reminded me of the ambivalence I feel for TV characters like Walter White (Breaking Bad) and Frank Underwood (House of Cards). But he is the villain of the story first and foremost.
Adam and Eve – The first man and woman of Earth constantly reminded me of living dolls, such perfect specimens of physical beauty as described by Milton, but in their innocence a little vacant upstairs. I pictured them listening to the angels Raphael and Michael, blinking with wide-eyed stares completely unable to comprehend anything beyond what berries and leaves to eat that day.
God – The big guy must get so tired of dealing with his children. First, he has a group of ungrateful angels rebel against his authority and he has to send them to Hell, but one of them keeps stirring up trouble. Second, he nags Adam and Eve relentlessly about the Tree of Knowledge, sends his most trusted angels to warn them about Satan and the consequences of disobeying, and they still eat the fruit. Thank goodness he has the Son.
The Son – Interestingly not called Jesus in Milton’s poem, the Son eagerly volunteers to take care of business when God must remain in his role of just and merciful Father. The Son confronts Satan in a final showdown and sends him back to Hell. Oh, and he also agrees to sacrifice himself for the sins of humans. No big deal.
Other Demons and Angels – I often read words in this poem and didn’t realize it was meant to be a character until the word Belial or Moloch started speaking. Whoops!
Most of us are probably familiar with these Bible stories, but Milton fleshes out both stories with such delicious imagery and drama, compelling characters and their relationships. Many of us doing this read-a-long agreed we would love to see the poem put into the right hands and made into a movie.
If you are like me and not used to reading verse of this kind, the text of Paradise Lost is dense and challenging to get through. I listened to an audio book while I read to get a better grasp of what was happening. I often re-read the poem and discovered I either missed a lot the first time or still didn’t understand what Milton wrote. Thank goodness Carolyn gave us two months to read the poem.
The themes of Paradise Lost are universal, but Milton adds so much more food for thought about free will, religion, and the relationship between men and women, and men and God in this story. I often shake my head in wonder because Milton fearlessly included many unconventional ideas in the poem and didn’t hesitate to stand behind them. Didn’t people in the 17th century die painfully for this kind of thing? Without doubt, he was an iconoclast and it is no wonder the poem has inspired writers, artists, musicians and readers for generations. Even though I struggled to read the poem, one thing was clear: Paradise Lost is powerful and truly unforgettable.
Thank you Carolyn for hosting this read-a-long!