Classics · Poetry · Review

Paradise Lost by John Milton | Epic Poetry with a Great Villain

Paradise Lost by John MiltonSeries: Paradise, #1

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pub. Date: 1667, 2005

Genres: Epic Poetry, Classic, Fantasy

Pages: 374

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

I love reading a great villain, and that is what you get with Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. He is actually the hero of the epic because this is mostly his story. Milton’s twelve book epic focuses on the fall of angels and man, and it shows us humanized characters that seem beyond that in theology.

This was required reading between June and July. Admittedly, I referenced and read a mixture of three different editions of Paradise Lost at the same time, but this was the edition I spent many hours reading from. It does not have footnotes or endnotes, if you would like to have those. I participated in discussions every couple of books, so my perspective on this comes from a discussion focused on religion and on the fact that I had to analyze this closely.

Starting in Hell, we find Satan and his fellow fallen angels in agony from their fall. They work to recovering and discuss what they’re going to do now. Shift to God in Heaven where he discusses with the Son the future of His latest creation, Man, and Satan’s role in making Man fall.

Satan is the most developed character. I love that he follows that saying about the masks we wear depending on who is present. Yes, he is the Great Deceiver, but he admits his real thoughts and errors to himself.

God and the Son were alright. Every conversation between them made me think about fate vs. free will. Their omniscience and almighty strength were constantly emphasized. They emphasized some major theological and philosophical questions that still persist today.

Eve and Adam develop as well, but I don’t care for the sexism that’s displayed whenever they appear. I’m aware of when this book was written, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. In a way, they were annoying at the key points that align with the biblical story.

The world building was interesting. I think I would have overall ignored it had I not been required to map out the Miltonic universe for class. You can find a detailed drawing of that universe here. It’s complex and well developed, but it’s kind of crazy to think about. Hell is a separate place well below Heaven and Chaos, and Earth is in a little bubble near Heaven.

Because this is an epic, Milton chose his words carefully and focused on certain aspects of the epic. The language is complex, and I had to reference a dictionary and footnotes (of other editions). He focuses a lot on the setting in that stereotypical way that famous poets do. It is fine, but it takes a while to get through if you are growing bored or tired while you read the epic. On the side that focuses this more as an epic, he calls upon a muse for inspiration and replicates some aspects of Odysseus’ story and The Divine Comedy.

I didn’t expect the ending. Since the book starts with Satan and follows him for a good portion of the epic, I expected the ending to focus on him. The ending that was chosen is unnecessary and drawn out.

This specific edition was disappointing because of its advertised illustrations and some of the commentary by Philip Pullman. When I see “an illustrated edition” on a book, I expect copious illustrations, like some of the released editions of children’s classics have. Instead, it only gave one illustration at the start of each book, and they are borrowed engravings from the first illustrated edition of Paradise Lost. I expected new illustrations, but I should have guessed looking at the cover that they were made long ago.

When it comes to the commentary by Philip Pullman, it consists of the introduction to the epic and an introduction to each book of it. That was not bad, but when an author contributes to a special edition of one of their favorite classics, I expected a little more than was given. On a side note, I noticed a few lines and words that I believe inspired his The Golden Compass, but there was no commentary about that inspiration other than what was in the introduction.

Paradise Lost is worth the read, but the language can make it difficult to get into. I recommend that you read it if you want to see a great anti-hero.

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6 thoughts on “Paradise Lost by John Milton | Epic Poetry with a Great Villain

  1. I admit I’ve never made it through Paradise Lost. Maybe one day. I just love Dante so much and it never seemed to me that Milton could compare. Though…that makes me sound like some sort of Dante snob…. 😉

    An introduction by Pullman is kind of interesting. I wouldn’t think he liked this book! Don’t publishers usually get intros from people who love the book?

    1. Pullman loved Paradise Lost, and you can see traces of it in Northern Lights. The phrase “golden compass” is in Paradise Lost several times, which inspired the original name of the series.

      1. I had no idea! That’s pretty cool! I actually don’t like His Dark Materials, which maybe explains why I don’t know much about Pullman, but, hey, I learned something today! 😀

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