A world created good has turned dark: suffering and injustice pervade it at every level, from bodily and emotional experience through the macro-systems of climate and social hierarchy. “Whose fault?” The poet John Milton posed this question at a time of tremendous personal and political difficulty. Blind and endangered by the fall of the republican government he served and the restoration of a monarchy, he turned to the Genesis story of origins as the seed of Paradise Lost, an epic poem instantly seen—even in a hostile political environment—as a classic.
One fate of a classic is to be rewritten, both by admirers and by antagonists. We will read Paradise Lost alongside works of twentieth-century fantasy and science fiction which rethink both Milton’s text and its source: Perelandra (C. S. Lewis), Dawn (Octavia Butler), and the trilogy His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman). Not only arguing with or elaborating on Milton’s story, these texts make us aware that Paradise Lost is itself a work of world-building speculative fiction, imagining not only radically different human conditions but also the cognitive, emotional and sensory experiences of non-human actors.
Paradise Lost is a challenging text that may be most rewarding when read in a diverse community of other minds and views. Milton’s style can be a challenge as well, but we will make sure it is tractable. Note: this version of the class will be COVID/online adapted, with flexible assignment structure and provision for weeks without tasks other than reading and discussion.