I don’t even know where to start! I finished Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost a couple of days ago – and started in on the poem/book – and I am amazed. Why, oh, why didn’t the people I asked about what to read to help in my analysis of Perelandra tell me to read this first? Maybe they just didn’t think of it because it’s not their area of expertise. Or maybe they thought I couldn’t handle it 😉 It was only a million times easier to read than The Allegory of Love. But even more fascinating!
So, it seems that a lot of Lewis’s concept of both Tinidril and the Unman were shaped by his reading of Paradise Lost. The chapter on hierarchy alone will be exceedingly helpful when I get around to writing my book. It’s a bit too late in the game for me to insert it into my article – which four people have read and enjoyed. I have edited it a bit since a couple of them read it, inserting a section on the homily that clarifies the Lewis saw gender as God-ordained rather than as a social construct.
So, I’ll share a few highlights from the Preface. Lewis talks about some of Milton’s excessively high style – the references and comparisons to classical mythology and use of unusual or archaic words – as intended more to evoke an emotional response than for us to worry out specifics. In fact, the way it’s written is probably intended to mimic an oral style, so that we keep reading rather than stopping to figure it out. It reminded me greatly of the style of the praise service at the very end of Perelandra. Some of the paragraphs are important comparisons, but many of them don’t make a whole lot of sense – because they’re not intended to. He’s stringing words together to evoke a sense of awe at God’s power and majesty and glory – just as he saw Milton doing.
He also talks about how part of the reason critics today have trouble understanding Milton is that they have lost the ‘stock responses’ Milton counted on when writing his poem. People don’t react to the ideas of disobedience or hierarchy or pride as they did when Milton wrote. It seems that part of Lewis’s goal in Perelandra was to write a book in which the stock responses of his own day could be used to elicit some of the same emotional responses Milton was going for. The torture of the frogs, for instance, went much further toward invoking the disgust most people no longer feel toward, say, maybe, blasphemy, that they would have felt in Milton’s day.
Then come the chapters on hierarchy and Adam and Eve and sexuality. Oh. Favorite quote (used often with my kids of late) ‘”The great moral which reigns in Milton,” said Addison, “is the most universal and most useful that can be imagined, that Obedience to the will of God makes men happy and that Disobedience makes them miserable.”’ Lewis points out that in Milton’s day, the assumption was that superior beings rule over inferior beings. God – angels – kings . . . So the justice of rule – and the kind of rule acceptable – depended on the relationship of the parties involved. A more superior being (say . . .an angel . . . or a man) ruling over an inferior being (say . . .a human . . . or, in Milton’s day, . . . a woman) was acceptable. An equal or inferior being trying to rule over an equal or superior being was tyranny. And refusing either to rule over inferiors or to obey superiors created problems (as in the quote above). I think Lewis would agree with this, with the emendation that ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ referred purely to position and not necessarily to worth or ability, etc. But that should probably be a post unto itself . . .
Can I just say that I love that Lewis said he wasn’t sure Milton was wise in trying to portray sexuality before the fall . . . and then avoided it in Perelandra by having Tor absent until the end? Smart man. I also love the discussion on Adam and Eve as highly intelligent beings rather than the ‘primal’ (as in simple and ape-like) beings his contemporaries tended to imagine the first humans to be. That is certainly reflected in his portrayal of Tor and Tinidril.
So now I’m excited to read Paradise Lost, like I did the Divine Comedy, a little at a time. After just a few pages I’m loving the way, as Lewis also points out, Milton shows us how foolish Satan is to think that he can thwart God’s divine plan. I just read how Milton shows Satan being so proud of himself for getting out of the lake of fire onto dry ground on his own power rather than God’s, with the understanding that his readers know that God created Satan and he wouldn’t even be able to do that much if God hadn’t given him the power, so he’s still acting in power that came from God. It shows his pettiness – as Lewis does when having the Unman repeat Ransom’s name over and over like a kindergartner, not knowing that he is a ransom.
Now I’m off to more editing and continued reading . . . and supervising math and cooking dinner . . .
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