Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Paradise Lost

So today I finished reading one of the classics, a poem, as it were, entitled Paradise Lost, by John Milton. I know, shocker that I had not read it before. I'm going to review it here, because I found out why it was a classic and think it may benefit other readers as well.

Since I knew this was a poem, penned or rather dictated by a blind person, I expected to see the following two characteristics: that it was (1) short, as I knew from High School that Milton was blind when he dictated it, and (2) that it rhymed, as it was a poem, and poems rhyme, yes?

Er, no. Actually, the most common form of poetry in the time period when Paradise Lost was written (c. 1658 - 1664) was blank verse, essentially unrhymed metered verse, usually Iambic Pentameter. Shakespeare's plays and sonnets were mostly written in Iambic Pentameter, though his usually rhymed.

As to the poem being short, well, wrong again. I can't give you an accurate page count, as your mileage may vary based on the book you are reading this classic from, the font size, etc, but it's more of a cross-country road trip than a Sunday drive in the country.

Still, it is a classic and here is why: Milton's poetry resounds powerfully in the heart of a fellow believer, and his characters come to life vividly and believably. It's stood the test of time, not because English teachers everywhere force it down the throats of unwilling students, or because the government told you it was good stuff, but because it actually IS.

So, in case, like me, you did not have to read this massive tome, but want to know what's in it, here tis:

As expected, this work records the War in Heaven between Satan and God, Satan's fall into Hell, and his dastardly revenge in getting Man to follow him down the chute. It begins with Satan's attack and God's foreknowledge not only of the event or its outcome, but of the Fall of Man and his need for a Redeemer. It ends with the expulsion of Man from the Garden of Eden, and a look ahead for Adam as to the future hope and Redeemer of the race. Fiction or non-Fiction? Well, fiction, because it extrapolates conversation and events not directly recorded in the Bible, though the main plot points and characters are all very solidly in there.

God - Milton handles God in both the Father and Son in a reverent manner, depicting the Father's attributes of Omniscience, Omnipotence, Judgment, Mercy, and Grace in a clear manner, and God the Son in even better form, showing His willingness, almost eagerness, to volunteer to be our Redeemer, knowing what He would suffer, but knowing what He would gain. His vengeance against Satan and his army is vivid, decisive, and frightening, turning Satan's assumed eventual victory into a panic-stricken rout. God clearly answers the question of whether and why Satan and the fallen angels will never receive redemption, while it will be offered to Man: "The first sort by their own suggestion fell, Self-tempted, self-depraved; Man falls, deceived By the other first; Man therefore shall find grace, the other none." God also explains why Man must die: "He with his whole posterity, must die; Die he, or justice must." Meaning, of course, that without death for sin, there is no justice. Thus the quandary: God is Just, and Justice must prevail, so Man must die. But God is merciful, so man must obtain to mercy. Jesus eagerly offers a solution: "Behold Me then, Me for him, life for life I offer; on me let thine anger fall; Account Me Man, I for his sake will leave Thy bosom, and this glory next to thee freely put off, and for him lastly die Well pleased,; on Me let Death wreak all his rage. Under his gloomy power I shall not long lie vanquished."

Satan - The character of Satan is the most clearly defined, and might be the one our fallen natures most identify with, unfortunately. The most often quoted passage in Paradise Lost is by Satan, when he states, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." It's clearly shown his hatred for God, and vengeance, his scheming even after clear and decisive defeat. He knows clearly that he can never win against an Omnipotent God, but he can drag others with him, and so ensues the Fall of Man. Other good quotes from Satan: "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." Satan also discusses whether he could find place for repentance, and acknowledges it would be but a sham: "But say I could repent, and could obtain, By act of grace, my former state; how soon Would height recall high thoughts, how soon unsay What feigned submission swore?"
Satan in the end is the loser, but seems resigned to it, happier in his vengeance, that the road to Hell is wide, and many there be that find it.

Adam - The first man is so clearly defined I was able to identify poignantly with his despair in his failure to protect Eve, his doom foretold and experienced, and its impact on his progeny yet to be. In Milton's account, Adam tries to dissuade Eve from going off alone, having been warned by an angel of the impending fall if they eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. "The wife, where danger or dishonor lurks, Safest and seemliest by her husband stays, Who guards her, or with her the worst endures." Adam laments poignantly the lie in the name of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: "true in our Fall, False in our promised rising; since our eyes Opened we find indeed, and find we know Both good and evil; good lost, and evil got;" Adam and Eve knew Good already, they had no need to know Evil. In the end, Adam is happier, though knowing what his fall brought about, the death of the world; but knowing also what greater work than his is wrought as a result, the Salvation and Redemption of many Sons and Daughters.

Eve - At first glance, Eve seemed to me one-dimensional, and unlikeable. Capricious, unstable, ultimately naïve. She makes good case for being trusted to withstand the temptation of the Devil, yet when tempted, succumbs to his lies. His pretense at being a talking serpent, while inhabiting the serpent and talking through it, allows him to deceive Eve into thinking the fruit (which he never ate) was what gave the serpent the tongue of man, rather than the demon within.

Michael the Archangel, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael, and assorted Angels - Well, there was no Raphael in the Bible (that I recall reading about) but this IS a work of fiction, and this character had a significant dialog. Uriel is the Watcher in Heaven, he's pretty boss. Gabriel kicked Satan out of Eden the first time, never took him for a fighter, more of a messenger, but it was entertaining watching Satan run from him. Michael, now. He's just amazing. Milton captures him well, he's totally Boss and has a sword that will cut through anything. Better than the Master Sword. And he doesn't cut any grass with it, just whacks his way through clouds of evil angels.

Sin, Death, Beelzebub, etc etc. - Satan is surrounded by a gang of 'yes-men', named after all the false gods throughout time, and they have little to no dimension to them. Sin is depicted as Satan's daughter, and Death her progeny, which parallels the descent outlined in James 1:15 - Then desire, when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

The speed at which this moved was frustrating to me, more because I already knew the plot and ending, and am more of an Action Reader than a Philosophy Major. Give me Jesus chucking lightning bolts at Satan and his minions, blowing them to smithereens, having to HOLD BACK to keep from just turning them to powder, opening up the ground of Heaven and them falling for NINE DAYS before splashing into a lake of fire. THAT'S what I'M talkin' about! Don't give me some great oratory by Beelzebub about how they can't just gather spears for another good old College Try. Don't give me some long blather by Adam about how the flowers have to be pruned back each day or they will just be back all over everything again.

Yeah. Like that.

So: Bottom Line:
Five Stars. I can't give any more, and it doesn't deserve any less. I mean, go figure, it's gotta be good if a four-hundred-year-old dusty mega-poem can make a grown man cry.