January 07, 2004

Paradise Lost: An Insomniac's Perspective

As mentioned elsewhere, I'm still posting here until I get back to LeTourneau . . . for reasons also mentioned elsewhere.

It is now 4:00 in the morning. I went to bed approximately five and a half hours ago, and I turned the light out about 2 hours ago. After tossing and turning for nearly an hour and a half, I decided I was getting bored of that and I came in here, surfed around, am still not tired, and have decided to forge ahead with the post I had planned for when I got up later.

As far as I know at this point, this is all gonna be about stuff I'm reading. Just so you know. I finished Paradise Lost at about 12:30, which is rather a good time to finish a book, in my opinion (perhaps a trifle early), and loved it. It got a 97 for being really good stuff. Yes, as previously suspected there is a reason people are still reading it after 325+ years. I'm rather proud to be one of those people, incidentally.

I will now begin the other yet-to-be-completed classic from Norton that was sadly neglected during the general rush of November. Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave by Aphra Behn has two shots at prestige. First, it has at least a semi-legitimate claim to the position of first English novel, having been published a mere 14 years after the definitive edition of Milton's epic. And written by a woman, no less . . . Of course, the novel "novel" field apparently was at first almost solely dominated by women, but that is neither here nor there. Second, it could almost be called England's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." At the very least, it reportedly did for blacks what "Black Beauty" did for horses, if you'll pardon the comparison.

Milton has some very . . . interesting doctrinal opinions, and I really enjoyed the passages on free will and foreknowledge vs. predestination. But more than anything, I love the fact that he wrote 200 pages covering the first two chapters of Genesis. The question I kept asking myself was, "How can there be this much left? He's almost done with the story!" I really enjoyed the meat he put onto the bare bones of the Biblical account. Right, wrong or indifferent, it's a literary masterpiece and it really made the story come alive for me in a new way.

As anyone who is at all familiar with the work knows, Satan is one of the more intriguing characters. He is tragic, he is somewhat noble, he is full of courage and valour and mighty deeds. In short, he is a classic epic hero . . . but he's the bad guy. Because it doesn't matter how courageous or noble you are in fighting for your cause if it's the wrong cause. Satan's moments of private regret and remorse after the fall fascinated me, as did the debate between Hell's mightiest denizens over the best course of action to take after their plunge from Heaven. I liked Milton's explanation of Eve's temptation. Satan possesses the serpent, of course, and then convinces Eve that, while he was formerly a dumb beast, something called him to eat from the tree, and the result was the ability to speak and reason. And of course, he isn't dead, now is he? I loved the part right before this as well, where Satan in the form of the serpent approaches Eve and is dumbstruck by her grace and beauty, unable to move for a few moments as he gazes in awe, "of enmity disarmed, of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge." In the end the only thing that gets him moving again is the bitter realization that it is precisely this Paradise that he is now shut out of forever.

As a quick side note, there was a very striking thing in the midst of the archangel Raphael's description of the Creation to Adam. Here is how he describes the creation of the animals:

"The sixth, and of creation last arose
With evening harps and [morning], when God said,
'Let th' earth bring forth soul living in her kind,
Cattle and creeping things, and beast of the earth,
Each in their kind.' The earth obeyed, and straight
Op'ning her fertile womb [brought forth] at a birth
Innumerous living creatures, perfect forms,
Limbed and full grown: out of the ground up rose
As from his lair the wild beast where he [dwells]
In forest wild, in thicket, brake, or den;
Among the trees in pairs they rose, they walked:
The cattle in the fields and meadows green:
Those rare and solitary, these in flocks
Pasturing at once, and in broad herds upsprung.
The grassy [mounds of earth] now calved, now half appeared
The tawny lion, pawing to get free
His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds,
And rampant shakes his [streaked] mane; the [lynx],
The [leopard], and the tiger, as the mole
Rising, the crumbled earth above them threw
In hillocks; the swift stag from under ground
Bore up his branching head: scarce from his mold
[elephant] biggest born of Earth upheaved
His vastness: . . ."

Ummm . . . "The Magician's Nephew," anyone? Moving on . . .

The paradox of the thing as that, after spending 200 pages on the first two chapters of Genesis, Milton spends the final 20 summarizing the rest of the Bible and church history up to his own time and beyond to the new Heaven and new earth of Revelation. I'm glad he did, though . . . Glad he covered those things, and glad he did it in brief. At the rate he was going . . . I don't even want to think about it. The end of the thing was the best, though, hitting just the right note. Because Adam contritely accepts God's judgment of his sin as just, Michael, sent to escort him from the garden, is granted the ability to show him the entire future of mankind in a vision (Milton's excuse to summarize what I mentioned above), so that Adam will not be plunged into total despair at his sad fate. As a result, he leaves in a state of hopeful melancholy, allowing the work to avoid ending on a total downer.

"Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way."

And it's over . . . Great ending. This brings me to my final point. As I read the thing, the key parts seemed to me to be so vividly described, that I could see them playing in my mind like a movie. This epic needs to be a movie. It would be fantastic. One good way to do this would be "crazy special effects blockbuster" with good acting . . . not crazy special effects like The Matrix Revolutions, but crazy like Lord of the Rings (and I'm glad to now have that distinction available). These would be necessary to do justice to such scenes as the massive war in Heaven, complete with millions of swarming combatants locked in semi-mortal (everyone who fights feels the pain of their wounds, but they heal immediately because no one can die) duels with swords and spears and surrounded by the cannon fire from the terrible weapons of war that ingenuity of the fallen angels has created. The charge of the Son in his golden chariot, levelling every single enemy and casting them forth with a single, swift stroke. Millions of fallen angels lying facedown in the burning lake of Hell, stunned, unable to grasp their overwhelming defeat. The following reaction to a motivational speech by Satan:

"He spake: and to confirm his words, out flew
Millions of flaming swords, drawn from the thighs
Of mighty Cherubim; the sudden blaze
Far round illumined Hell: highly they raged
Against the Highest, and fierce with grasped arms
Clashed on their sounding shields the din of war,
Hurling defiance toward the vault of Heav'n."

Satan bulldozing his way through the depths of Chaos and Night after bursting forth from the massive, nine-fold gates of Hell (three of which are adamantium, incidentally). All of these things and more would require some major technical wizardry. But aside from that, the quiet scenes are, obviously, the most affecting. They would require superlative actors . . . I can see it all now. Even that very final scene has a certain cinematic quality to it. Anyway, if you had the right talent behind the project, it might make a tolerably good musical as well . . .

Oh, and before you go dashing off to imdb.com, in case you haven't yet, there are, in fact, no fewer than eleven movies with the title "Paradise Lost." However, none of them . . . actually . . . are . . . Paradise Lost. Somehow. The only interesting looking one was made in 1911 by D. W. Griffith. *evil smirk* The rest appear to be either romantic dramas concerning impossible loves (read: "total crap"), or ecological documentaries detailing the destruction of the rainforest and other such things (read: "more total crap"). In short, Milton's title has been raped . . . a lot. And if anyone had the guts and the skill to undertake the task, Paradise Lost would be a hell of a movie (pun intended).

A quick paragraph for you Wheel of Time fans out there . . . I've read a lot of opinions on this series. And if you wanna stick yours in the comments, I'd love to hear them. I've heard people say all the books suck after number three, or number five, or even number nine . . . I've heard people say that 5-8 suck, or 5-9, or 6-8, etc. Anyway, I'm almost done with book six, and I'm not seeing it yet. But I'll wait until I'm done to comment more fully. I just want to say that, for my money, the scene where Mat bursts in on Egwene and co. after she has been raised Amyrlin Seat, rips off her stole of office, and starts throwing around orders and giving instructions so he can get them out of "this mess" is High Comedy. That's the funniest thing I've read this month . . .

And, finally, I was reading along peacefully in Master and Commander when I came upon a brief passage that struck me. I read it over about five times and decided that it was a very good statement of my own "political position," if you can even apply that term to what I've got. Dr. Stephen Maturin is conversing with Lt. James Dillon, both former members of an Irish organization of rather revolutionary leanings that blew up in everyones' faces. (You'll have to supply your own historical context . . . if you can't, then you probably shouldn't be reading this.)

Maturin: With the revolution in France gone to pure loss I was already chilled beyond expression. And now, with what I saw in '98, on both sides, the wicked folly and the wicked brute cruelty, I have had such a sickening of men in masses, and of causes, that I would not cross this room to reform parliament or prevent the union or bring about the millenium. I speak only for myself, mind - it is my own truth alone - but man as part of a movement or a crowd is indifferent to me. He is inhuman. And I have nothing to do with nations, or nationalism. The only feelings I have - for what they are - are for men as individuals; my loyalties, such as they may be, are to private persons alone.

Dillon: Patriotism will not do?

Maturin: My dear creature, I have done with all debate. But you know as well as I, patriotism is a word; and one that generally comes to mean either my country, right or wrong, which is infamous, or my country is always right, which is imbecile.

I don't pretend to be any more consistent in this attitude than Maturin himself, you understand. Everyone knows that I'll argue nearly anything on an intellectual level, and have a heck of a lot of fun doing it, too. I can even be convinced to change my mind. But when people start getting stubborn and emotional about their petty opinions and causes, as if what they think (whether right or wrong) will actually effect anything without them attaining some high government office or something, that's when I pretty much check out. I have bigger fish to fry. Wait, no, I take that back . . . it isn't quite true. My fish are decidedly smaller, however, I do have my own fish to fry.

And to a large (frighteningly large to some, I suppose) extent, that goes for religion too. So there.

Well, it's almost 6:00 now . . . yeah, still in the morning. It's been a long post and there were a few interruptions. I went outside to investigate a strange racket the dog was making, and my mom did too, and I got berated for still being up . . . Just general stuff. I'll be napping a lot today, but I'm not going to bed now for sure. This will almost certainly be my only chance to see the brothers off to school, since they leave at the unholy hour of 6:50. I'll probably have a meeting or two, as well. I'm supposed to talk to the former math teacher (now the school accountant . . . frightening, but fitting), and possibly the current one as well. My dad is supposed to get me a copy of the Big Test so I can edit it if necessary. He has that power, and he'll give it to me. And I have the standard 3:30 to 5:00 session this afternoon as well. Plus lots of reading to do inbetween.

This day is looking really long . . . if it's as long as this post I may not live through it. Farewell.

Posted by Jared at January 7, 2004 05:55 AM | TrackBack