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Paradise Lost

December 16, 2009

The English-language literati have been reviewing Paradise Lost for centuries, so I won’t go into that here.  Is Satan a villain or a Byronic hero?  Did Milton intend people to sympathize with the Devil, or is it just a product of our modern anti-tyrannical sensibilities?  Was Milton using it as a vehicle for his anti-monarchist ideals?  It’s all been covered before, and by people who actually know what they’re talking about.

Whatever your position on Christian doctrine, you’ve got to read Paradise Lost for the special effects.  The scope of the story is epic in every sense of the word.  It starts out in Hell as Satan escapes it and flies out into the Void that surrounds the different planes of existence.  It then swings backward in time to the War in Heaven, the creation of the entire universe, scoots past the apple incident, and then flashes forward to the history of all time until the second coming.  If Milton had only been born in the right historical era, Paradise Lost would have been a blockbuster movie with a multibillion-dollar budget, all-star cast, and directed by George Lucas.  It would have been awesome.

During the War in Heaven episode, Satan and his rebel colleagues invent gunpowder in order to take the other angels unawares.  They wheel out these huge triple-barreled cannons and flatten the loyal angels with cannonballs attached to chains.  What do these angels do after literally being made into pancakes?  They pop back into shape and keep fighting.  Because angels are just that cool. That’s not even the end of it – then they scale the war up a notch:

Forthwith (behold the excellence, the power,
Which God hath in his mighty Angels placed!)
Their arms away they threw, and to the hills
(For Earth hath this variety from Heaven
Of pleasure situate in hill and dale)
Light as the lightning-glimpse they ran, they flew,
From their foundations, loosening to and fro,
They plucked the seated hills, with all their load,
Rocks, waters, woods, and, by the shaggy tops
Uplifting, bore them in their hands. Amaze,
Be sure, and terror, seized the rebel Host,
When coming towards them so dread they saw
The bottom of the mountains upward turned,
Till on those cursed engines’ triple row
They saw them whelmed, and all their confidence
Under the weight of mountains buried deep;
Themselves invaded next, and on their heads
Main promontories flung, which in the air
Came shadowing, and oppressed whole legions armed.

You read that right.  Those angels just picked mountains up and threw them at each other.

There are many reasons Paradise Lost would not be appropriate for a 12-year old boy, from its theological subtleties and dense prose, to Satan’s unconventional “family.”  And yet it’s got everything a 12-year-old would love: fire and brimstone, naked people, swords, space travel, God getting all Old Testament on people, and a cool villain.  All it requires to be complete is a cross-dressing sky pirate.

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