It was a funny feeling, when I read it in college, to realize that my inherited conceptions of Satan and Hell and the Garden of Eden mapped eerily closely to Milton’s PARADISE LOST. And one more foundation stone got shimmied away.
I don’t remember liking PARADISE LOST very much. It seemed smug and off-putting, and I was super irritated at the lack of religious knowledge of my fellow students. Silly me, I assumed a basic, if not religious background, at least a knowledge of religion (read: Christianity). I found myself veering into self-righteous christianist mode, which I had mostly been trying to steer myself away from. It was Milton who presented the biggest challenge there.
Another time, I was hosting a party at my house, and my friend Ian burst into my living room, all livid and trembling, because he’d read PARADISE LOST that afternoon (one afternoon!) and was a’quiver with occult knowledge. He’d had some kind of numinous encounter with that book, some sort of near-enlightened state. I don’t remember anything he said, but I remember talking to him for what seemed like hours about that book. I got more out of that discussion at a party, than I had over the course of two or three weeks of english classes. Was I a little jealous that he’d had such a profound encounter with that (or any) book? Maybe a little. That’s what happens to non-readers (I’m assuming here) sometimes when they encounter some amazing written thing.
Me, I wonder sometimes if I haven’t just filled my brain up with too many words, or too many not very interesting or well thought out words. Ultimately, I’ve never really bought into the idea that reading for the sake of reading is a good in itself. It does actually matter what one reads. That doesn’t stop me from reading some simply terrible stuff, sometimes, though.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”
If any part of Milton’s work changed me or my way of thinking about the world, it was that one.