I read most of this aloud to myself, and that alone, especially in the early books or chapters was a great experience. It really gave me a better grasp on the language. Once Blake’s idea that Milton was “of the party of Hell” because he made Satan more interesting than anyone else in Paradise Lost got in my head, I couldn’t shake it. I think I can say that I probably would have found the early books much more interesting than the latter anyway, but I can’t be sure. And Satan certainly reads like a protagonist for the first third of the book. Even before I started watching Milton lectures on YouTube I could really sense the tension between Milton’s Puritanism and his obvious identification with Satan in the poem. And the guy on that podcast was right: so much imagery in fantasy either comes from this or at least was prefigured by this. There are battle scenes that as described could be from one of the Lord of the Rings movies. Given the book’s influence on theology and Christian Apologetics (the purpose of the poem was to “justify the ways of God to Man using the free will argument*), it makes sense that its influence on fantasy is overlooked.
As much as I loved the first third of the book, I'm not ashamed to say I found the rest a slog. I’m enjoying the lectures that are revealing things I missed, but the actual reading of the back two thirds was borderline tortuous. And these lectures are highlighting the density of allusions in the book. I doubt that most people in Milton’s day could have gotten all the allusions either. A lot more than I did on my own to be sure, but part of the book is Milton showing off his erudition to the detriment of the work.
It’s also worth mentioning, that despite a surface attempt to give culpability for the fall to both Adam and Eve, the book very much blames Eve.
The language is as good as its reputation. Reading those early books out loud was a great reading experiment and if the rest was as interesting story wise, this would almost be automatically canon for me. As it is I would recommend reading the first 3-4 books out loud and then pass on the rest.
Owned But Previously Unread 2020 50/75
*Though that is certainly complicated by his identification with Satan and the fact he doesn’t convincingly shake the idea of God’s foreknowledge as causal.