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Paradise Lost by John Milton ~ Book Review

paradise-lost-8

* 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.

THE STORY

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.

CHARACTERS

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!

THE GOOD

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.

THE BAD

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.

CONCLUSION

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!

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10 comments on “Paradise Lost by John Milton ~ Book Review

  1. Ekaterina Egorova
    March 9, 2014

    I like how you compare Paradise Lost with an opera. It certainly feels like it! But for me, the difficulty of the poem outweighs its grandeur… And I still have 4 parts to read…

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      March 11, 2014

      It’s definitely a tough poem to read. I almost gave up a couple of times, but pushed through. Good luck with your reading!

      Like

  2. Carolyn O
    March 10, 2014

    Thank you for reading with me — I’m glad you liked the poem!!

    Like

  3. Pamela D
    March 11, 2014

    Yea for reading Paradise Lost. This is a poem that I have always wanted to read, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to struggle through it myself. 🙂

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      March 11, 2014

      I really recommend giving yourself time to read it at your own pace and maybe having a friend read it with you. It was very very helpful having two months and a few fellow bloggers to keep me motivated. Good luck if you give it a try!

      Like

  4. Cleo @ Classical Carousel
    March 11, 2014

    Yay, you made it through! Give yourself a pat on the back!

    I predict this is going to be my favourite for 2014, but we have a ways to go yet. 🙂 I still have my final review to complete and post but it’s almost finished.

    I’m reading some lectures on Paradise Lost at the moment. It is interesting that the lecturer says the reason that Satan was more real, and Adam and Eve were less developed is because, as humans we are much more familiar with sin (hate, rage, etc.) in our lives and others, yet we have absolutely no experience with what it would be like to be perfect (i.e.. without sin); therefore it was probably not nearly as difficult for Milton to craft the character of Satan, but a momentous task to craft the characters of Adam and Eve. Satan is certainly compelling and it gives me reason to pause ……….. does that mean that I am more attracted to characteristics and behaviour that are actually harmful for people and the world? Of course, I’d never support Satan’s actions, but why are his actions so interesting to read about in a book? Hmmm …….. It makes me stop and think ……

    I think it would be fun as a writer to try to write the perfect human character. And I mean “perfect”, not in that their lives are perfect, but that they respond perfectly in all situations. It wouldn’t be very believable, which is why I think, as readers, we struggle with connecting to Adam and Eve, whereas with Satan, we have no problem. We recognize and relate to what is familiar. Interesting, huh?

    Hopefully we can do another read-along together! Perhaps Madame Bovary! That would be fun.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      March 16, 2014

      Thanks for these amazing comments. Ooh, you have given me much to think about regarding the attraction to Satan. I have always joked that I’ve been attracted to bad boys, but on the other hand, I would join you in never supporting Satan’s actions or behaviour. I think you are right and we find it easier to relate to someone who is flawed and not perfect. I also liked how you said it was probably painful for Milton to write about Adam and Eve because they were less interesting than writing about Satan. If I was in his shoes, I would probably feel that way.

      Congratulations to us for finishing Paradise Lost! It feels so good, doesn’t it? I think this will be one of the greatest achievements as a reader.

      Like

  5. I agree – the writing was really hard to understand and get through for this one. I had to read a dummy version after I read the real poem to make sure I understood what was going on. I loved the themes in this one too. Great review! I’m so glad I found your blog. I love the idea of reading classics as ebooks!

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      March 20, 2014

      Ebooks certainly make reading some of the chunkier classics easier. For instance, I’m planning to read War and Peace soon (eek!). Ha ha.. you’ll have to tell me what dummy version of Paradise Lost you read. Sometimes while I was reading the poem, I referred to the plain English version on http://www.paradiselost.org, but I mostly read the poem feeling totally clueless.

      Like

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