And that is why I posted one of my Diana Wynne Jones posts instead of scheduling it. And that is why it’s presumably showing up in your Google Reader. PAY IT NO MIND. It will post properly in August. I am stupid today. I have been out in the heat all morning and now it is hot in my apartment and I am doing laundry, which is using up more of my attention than you might anticipate. Also, I am very stupid all the time.
I did a class on Milton when I was at university. The professor was this tiny, enthusiastic woman, clearly in love with Milton and excited for us to be in love with him, too. She would charge up and down the classroom gesticulating wildly and drawing stick-figure pictures of important scenes on the chalkboard. I have her in my head like a soundtrack when I read Paradise Lost. It was the best class I took at university, and the single piece of literature I most enjoyed reading and learning about. So hopefully I will not sound like an idiot when I write about it this month for Rebecca’s Milton in May reading project.
If there was one thing my tiny Milton professor was determined we students would all leave the class understanding, it was that Milton was not of the Devil’s party without knowing it. But you can see why Blake would think so. Paradise Lost is about stories, and Satan tells a compelling story, a seductive story, the story with himself as the proud, brave, warrior hero, down but not out, preparing himself to fight another day.
To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deifie his power,
Who from the terrour of this Arm so late
Doubted his Empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall…. Here at least
We shall be free; th’Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce,
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.
He’s Achilles, refusing to bend knee to Agamemnon! He’s Aeneas, defeated in battle but setting out to found a new, greater kingdom! When you come from the Iliad and the Aeneid, Satan’s rhetoric is pretty convincing. He’s the first character we meet, the first voice we hear, and there’s something stirring and admirable (to me, anyway) about confronting impossible circumstances with an unflinching determination to manage them. “The mind is its own place, and in it self / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n,” says Satan.
Except, of course, he’s lying. And Milton’s not just paying lip service to the idea of Satan’s wickedness and deceit; he shows it to us over and over. As soon as Satan gets in front of his troops, he’s singing a different tune. “Who here / Will envy whom the highest place exposes / Formost to stand against the Thunders aim?” he asks them. Not so much of this better to reign in Hell business now, eh? Satan utterly lacks integrity; the stories he’s telling will change whenever he needs something new.
Like, check it out, this bit’s funny. In Book 2, Satan’s volunteered to go scope out the new world God’s invented for Man, when he gets to the gates of Hell and finds them guarded by Sin and Death. Sin, who is all covered in snakes and hellhounds, tells him how she was born out of his head when he first conceived of rebellion, and that they subsequently had sex and produced a gruesome son, Death, who promptly raped her to produce the hellhounds that are perpetually curling up in her womb and eating their way back out again. It is a nasty piece of imagery.
Dear Daughter [says Satan], since thou claim’st me for thy Sire,
And my fair Son here showst me, the dear pledge
Of dalliance had with thee in Heav’n…
I come no enemie, but to set free
From out this dark and dismal house of pain,
Both him and thee.
Uh, sure, dude. You’re her knight in shining armor. We’ve seen these two, Sin and Death, they’re not dear or fair, and Satan was all set to bash them to bits five minutes ago. It’s a sham! If Sin were our friend we’d be telling her this guy’s bad news. But she’s picking up what he’s putting down:
Thou art my Father, thou my Author, thou
My being gav’st me; whom should I obey
But thee, whom follow? Thou wilt bring me soon
To that new world of light and bliss, among
The Gods who live at ease, where I shall reign
At thy right hand voluptuous, as beseems
Thy daughter and thy darling, without end.
I have to say, I’m finding Satan far less appealing this time through. Not sure if this is down to my tiny Milton professor, or the years that have gone by since I last read Paradise Lost, or the fact that I like God better now than I did then, or what. I still feel sort of fond of Satan, if only for the swooping grandeur of his rhetoric and his trickster-god manipulation of the other denizens of Hell; but I am finding him fundamentally shabby, after all. The best plan he can come up with is to annoy God by wreaking havoc on something lovely and innocent that God’s created; even framed as guerrilla warfare against a tyrant God, that’s not a terrible admirably aim.
The character of God, on the other hand, is coming off rather better than when I was in college. At least part of the time: Milton’s always good on free will.
I made [Satan] just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.
Such I created all th’Ethereal Powers
And Spirits, both them who stood and them who faild;
Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
Elegant antithesis there, eh, with God repeating stood and fell four times apiece in four lines? The problem is that wholly good characters are boring, and God and Jesus are too good to be interesting. Which they’d have to be, of course! Milton believes in them! I like them on the subject of freedom, but far less on the subject of their boundless mercy and goodness, and the ambrosial fragrance and new joy ineffable that fill’d all Heav’n every time they talk. I’d rather read about hellhounds gnawing through Sin’s uterine walls.
Except when I wouldn’t – Milton can be very effective. Here’s another good bit from the heaven scene. We have already seen Satan ask his demons who will risk the danger of going up to check out Eden, and they all stand silent. In a parallel scene, God tells the angels that when mankind sins, they have to die. Dye hee, or Justice must, says God (good line, eh?), unless someone will pay the price, and die in man’s place. The angels are as silent as the demons were, and then Jesus speaks up. Is it just because of the Aslan echoes that I find this passage kind of moving (and wouldn’t CS Lewis be thrilled then)?
Behold mee then, mee for him, life for life
I offer, on mee let thine anger fall;
Account mee man; I for his sake will leave
Thy bosom, and this glorie next to thee
Freely put off, and for him lastly dye,
Well pleas’d, on me let Death wreck all his rage.
Milton is such a gorgeous writer. Shame about all the crazy thoughts inside his 17th century head.
I am so late writing this post! But the Lord of the Rings Readalong is continuing, and I am combining the end-of-Fellowship questions from Clare and the start-of-Towers questions from Teresa all in one post. I can do that.
Since we’re dealing with the first third of a novel, instead of the first novel in a series, do you find anything different?
The pacing would be sort of whack if this were the first novel in the series. Book 1 of Fellowship spends all this time being hobbits and getting the hobbits out of the Shire, and then in Book 2 they go lickety-split through Rivendell and Moria and Lothlorien, and then Frodo and Sam ditch everyone else, and you have no clue what the rest of the Fellowship is doing while Frodo and Sam are ditching them (fighting Orcs, it turns out, or if you are Boromir, getting shot repeatedly while redeeming yourself for your previous naughty behavior). I think the film of Fellowship found a pace that was far more first-in-a-series than first-third.
Do Books One and Two have significant differences to you?
Book Two went much faster, but I enjoyed Book One more (apart from horrible, horrible Tom Bombadil). To me, the time the characters spend in places-not-the-Shire is ridiculously short, compared with the time they spend in the Shire. I kept thinking, Sheesh, slow down, people. Moria’s not that bad. It’s atmospheric. Enjoy it. So Book 2 felt rushed in a way that Book 1 didn’t.
Who’s your favorite character so far into the novel?
I actually felt very fond of Bilbo in this book. I know he’s not around much, but he’s a darling. The bit in the Council of Elrond where he offers to take the ring to Mordor is the sweetest moment. After Bilbo I love Sam, of course, who could fail to love Sam, and I like Boromir a lot.
What surprised you the most?
DID Y’ALL KNOW that Legolas is one of those MEAN ELVES? Remember those MEAN ELVES from The Hobbit, those elves from Mirkwood that were MEAN and they imprisoned the gang and Bilbo had to pull a cunning trick with his ring and some barrels in order to get them out? Legolas is one of those MEAN ELVES! Those elves, they are not only MEAN, but they are also incompetent, because they first let thirteen dwarves walk out of their prisons, and then they lost Gollum. Nice going, mean incompetent Mirkwood elves. Elrond should have sent a Rivendell elf for the Fellowship. Mirkwood elves are plainly no good.
What was your favorite scene?
I always enjoy Bilbo’s birthday party. The Council of Elrond, maybe my favorite scene in the Fellowship movie, is super boring in the book, apart from the mind-blowing revelation (seriously, I was so surprised) that Legolas is Legolas Mirkwood of the Mean Elf Mirkwoods.
So much for Fellowship. On to Two Towers.
What’s your past experience with The Two Towers? If you’re rereading, how does it stack up against the other books?
Last time I read Lord of the Rings, which was in high school or early college so it’s been, ah, a few years, I liked The Two Towers best. I love it the best, including the fact that it ends on a wretchedly despairing note. I like The Empire Strikes Back best out of the Star Wars movies too. That is just my taste. I am hoping The Two Towers lives up to my memory.
If you’re a rereader, what are you most looking forward to?
Frodo and Sam in Mordor. I love those parts. Love. I cannot wait for Gollum to show up.
What about the movie? If you’ve seen it, what did you think of it, and how much do you think it will color your experience with the book?
I liked Fellowship of the Ring best of the films, though it’s my least favorite of the books. I don’t know whether this is, in fact, an accurate reflection of the respective merits of film and book, or a prejudiced assessment based on my encountering the film of Fellowship before the book, and the books of the other two before the films. Whatever the case, The Two Towers is not my favorite of the films. I hate what they did to Faramir, and I do not like the guy they got for Wormtongue, and that foolishness with Aragorn and the Warg and the horse was just totally unnecessary. On the other hand, Eomer is wonderful (nice teeth on the man), Aragorn continues to be amazing, I love the actor who plays Faramir, and Rohan is bloody gorgeous and so its is violin theme song. Oh, and I cry every time at the end of the film during the Battle of Helm’s Deep.
There! Finally! I managed this post at last. Now to start reading The Two Towers.
REREADING IS AMAZING. Sometimes I forget how many amazing books I have already read, because I am busy reading new books, which are also (sometimes) amazing. But this is what I’ve been reading lately.
Magician’s Ward, Patricia C. Wrede
Much like Mairelon the Magician. Too many names of people, but I don’t care because I am more interested in Kim’s learning magic and having a Season and Coming Out at a ball and having Offers of Marriage to turn down. In pretty dresses. Can there be more pretty dresses? And God, pretty shoes? I need new shoes so much. My favorite shoes are all reaching the end of their lives – the pink ones that go with all my red-toned tops; the adorable tan strappy sandals that I wore all over the place and I love them and I don’t want them to go; and the little black ones I wore to prom (I KNOW I HAVE TO LET THEM GO) and then forgot about for several years and then rediscovered, with the sweet little kitten heel. Sigh.
Sorcery and Cecelia, Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
I love Sorcery and Cecelia. Know why? Because the two authors wrote it using the letter game! The letter game! They really did! Kate has gone to London to have her Season, and poor Cecelia is stuck at home in Essex. They have all sorts of fun with a marquis and a magical chocolate pot, and a wicked witch called Miranda, and beautiful friends and relations.
Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede are obviously having fun here, and they manage a plot that hangs together really well over two locations and considering they were making it up as they went along. Reading this again for the first time in a while, I am extra triple curious about what they changed when they decided to get it published. I would think to play the letter game, you’d have to be quite attentive to minor details in the other person’s letter, and also be flexible enough to ditch elements of the plot you had planned if the other person said something that messed it up. Tricky! But it sounds so fun. One of these days…
Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody makes me laugh. I don’t necessarily read this series for the mysteries, though I recall finding some of them quite satisfying. I really read them for the characters – Amelia is so determined and brilliant, and Evelyn is sweet without being sweety-sweet (usually, and when she is sweety-sweet it just makes me laugh, and she’s all There is an image enshrined in my heart – oh, Elizabeth Peters, why are you so funny all the time?); and the Emersons are charming.
Elizabeth Peters has a wicked sense of humor, and as many times as I’ve read her books, they always make me laugh. Well-done her for giving her detective a family without making her boring – and carrying on adding family members and not forgetting them in subsequent books. She does make oodles of good characters, though at a certain point there are too many all at once.
But I’ve strayed from the point. Um, yes, Crocodile on the Sandbank. Did I say, it’s set in Egypt at the end of the nineteenth century? There are pyramids all over the place, and the characters all have sumptuous fun complaining about the treatment of antiquities (it is really shocking, to be fair – it makes me want to cry even when the antiquities in question are fictional). Plus, whenever silly characters show up, everyone makes fun of them! Hooray!
What are some books you return to repeatedly? If you like them so much perhaps I will like them too…
I wish I could do something more helpful for Iran. I want justice to triumph.
This book and I got off to a rocky start. Last time I was at the library, I picked up a bunch of books that I thought might be good, by authors who are all those weird fantasy realists and postmodern and metafictiony. I got the rest of Salman Rushdie’s books that I haven’t read – except, annoyingly enough, The Satanic Verses, which is the one I wanted to read first because I was pretty sure I was going to like it the least – and I got several books by Italo Calvino, and I got Giles Goat-Boy by John Barth. (And Invitation to a Beheading, which is neither here nor there.) So I asked my sister what I wanted to read, The Baron in the Trees or Shalimar the Clown or Giles Goat-Boy, and she thought Giles Goat-Boy was a sweet little children’s story so she said to read that one so I did.
I mean, I don’t know if you know this, but it’s about a kid who’s raised as a goat, and the university is the universe; so there you have the central conceits. There are a lot of things like the Second Campus Riot and then the west side of campus and the east side of campus had the Quiet Riot and like – okay, whatever, I will admit that the long segment of world history refigured for a university became a little trying (I guess if I’d thought it was funny, it might have been better), and the I-am-a-goat bits irritated me. I kept having to put the book down and have a brief silent soliloquoy about Why, why, why, why? which is how I sometimes feel about postmodern things. This book is damn weird, and I didn’t like it at all, so I set myself a goal: Read until chapter four of the second section, and then you can quit. After I decided that, I had a dream in which I was in jail for something, and they took us on a field trip to the bookshop, but they wouldn’t let me look at any of the good books. I could only look at the lame books. And inside my head I was thinking I will not let them break my spirit!
I was very, very close to abandoning the entire enterprise. But I sensibly consulted The Internet, and The Internet assured me that I was quite right. Giles Goat-Boy does get off to a weird start, and the university-history thing is dated and weird. The Internet also told me that The Sot-Weed Factor might be more my thing, and that John Barth, in spite of all his weirdness, does some damn good storytelling. And I am all about plot. I know a lot of people just rejoice in the joyous joys of writing, and I do too, but honestly, if there’s not a good plot there, and if it’s not being advanced well, it’s just no good. That was why (I know it’s not the generally-held opinion) I like The Ground Beneath Her Feet so much better than Midnight’s Children, which was a very cool idea and a beautifully written book but sort of carried the plot along in fits and starts. Whereas The Ground Beneath Her Feet goes steadily along, with things happening – love story, goats, photography, and all the rest and so forth.
I really was determined to get to my chapter-four cutoff point, and the thing is, I just didn’t do it. After a while I tipped it off my bedside table in my sleep, and then I read Ender’s Shadow and Ender’s Game, and then I obtained from another library branch The Satanic Verses and read that, and then I wanted to read Walk Two Moons which I always see all over my house so I looked and looked and I couldn’t find it so instead of that I read Chasing Redbird and then I hunted for Walk Two Moons some more and the damn book was nowhere but I did find Back Home, which I’d been frantically hunting for after I read Good Night, Mr. Tom earlier this month, so I read that, and then my mother got Understanding the Borderline Mother, which my family’s been dying to read because we love reading about BPD, on PaperbackSwap, and I was halfway through that and I realized that there is just no part of me that even remotely wants to read Giles Goat-Boy.
So I stopped trying.
I just realized I haven’t posted here in like ten years. Oops. It’s not because I suddenly ceased to read; it’s because I had exams and graduation. But now I’m a college graduate with a degree! A useful degree! And a shiny gold medal (but it’s not real gold, and I know because I bit it)!
But I have been reading. I’m trying to remember what I’ve been reading, and here is what I came up with, and I’m posting in brief:
Fallen, David Maine – mainly research for a story I’m writing, and I found this book unremarkable. It starts with Cain at the end of his life and works backward, back and back and back, all the way to Adam and Eve and their Eden situation. Kind of blah, though I liked this line:
For long disorienting moments Cain hovered outside his body, calmly looking down from above at two young men tussling at the edge of a cliff. Then one of them became a murderer and the other one died.
Otherwise, I could have lived contentedly without it. Just not that interesting. Oh well.
The Diary of Adam and Eve, by Mark Twain – made me smile. Not really a book, just a collection of individually published pieces, most of which were quite delightful. Mark Twain. God bless him.
A graphic novel whose name I just can’t even remotely remember right now. Um, that’s very annoying. I quite liked it, even though it was on the predictable side and the writing as writing didn’t touch Neil Gaiman, to whom I compare all graphic novels everywhere (very unfair). It was all about a guy who lost his soul and this girl Laurel was his guide taking him on a walking quest to get his soul back, and if they didn’t get it by the end of the year, he would turn into an evil green dude. That’s so strange because I Just finished it last night and I am so chagrined to find that I can’t remember the name of the author or the book. Damn.
Midnight Nation. That’s what it was. Midnight Nation and the author was J. Michael Straczynski – and to be fair to me, that is a name that is very hard to remember.
Affinity, Sarah Waters – Couldn’t finish it! Of all things! I just got totally bored and returned it to the library. Very out of character. I don’t even know who I am anymore.
So that’s the four I can think of right now. I will update again when I remember what else I have been reading. I guess I’ve been doing some rereading activities, and then of course I’ve been very busy with exams and finishing watching Angel (of which I now own all seasons but the last, and I do own all the seasons of Buffy, and oh what a happy birthday girl I was when that happened).