Re: Ben's response to Joe,
I do think that a number of Williams' good characters are indeed
unusually convincing and revelatory--it's the main way that his fiction
differs, for instance from James Blaylock's, where, in a book like _The
Paper Grail_ we have marvelously convincing and Williams-esque evil
characters, but no good characters that are really as comparable.
My recollection of _Paradise Lost_ is very much at variance with yours,
however. I HATED the first 3 books when I first read them--I missed
that Satan was a comic figure. I did not find him sympathetic as a
hero or tragic figure at all. You're right about God the Father in the
book, and Messiah isn't that much better. But the poem is really about
Adam and Eve, and to a lesser extent, I believe, about Raphael and some
of the other good angels. (Singer/songwriter Hugh Blumenfeld captures
something profound about the poem and the characters in his song,
"Raphael.") I'm not sure if it counts towards "describing God
satisfactorily," but Milton does a magnificent job with Jesus in
_Paradise Regained_. As far as Satan as comic figure, I don't like him
well enough to appreciate him even as a character, even though I can
see how he comes from a long tradition in Medieval mystery plays--by
the end of PL, he's more disgusting than anything else. I can marvel at
him but I can't laugh at or pity him.
It always astonishes me to see people quote Blake saying that "Milton
was of the Devil's party," without mentioning that it's Blake's
character, the Devil, who says that in "The Marriage of Heaven and
Hell." While we might find Blake's idiosyncratic and revisionist views
of traditional cosmologies apparently more in sympathy with his devil
than traditional god-the-father figures like Nobodaddy or Urizen, at
least in early works like the Songs and Marriage, he's working in
contraries, opposing statements representing extremes that have to be
somehow resolved or reconciled towards what M.H. Abrams called
"organized innocence," or at least something a lot more complex than
either his own devil in Marriage or Satan in Milton's PL. Of course in
Blake's later works, like "Milton," everything is a lot more complex.
Or maybe just more complicated.
I can't really try to save Shelley from his stupid reading of PL,
though. Although, in context as a reply to Thomas Love Peacock, it
implies a reading of TLP's pastiche of Dryden that misses as much of
Peacock's tone as Shelley seems to miss in Milton's. I've noticed for
years that, for instance, the editors of the Norton anthologies of
criticism obviously fail to really read Peacock carefully, and
therefore don't really appreciate the dialogue of Peacock and
Shelley--I wonder if I've failed to really consider the possibility
that Shelley is also writing some weird sort of pastiche. It's hard to
entertain the possibility because the rhetoric is so wonderful and
inspiring in "A Defense of Poetry," but the two men were good friends
and took walking tours of England and Wales like proto-Inklings. And
what kind of friendship could allow Peacock's devastating portrayal of
Shelley in _Nightmare Abbey_? Or did Shelley laugh with delight? I
guess that Tolkien wasn't especially delighted with Lewis's philologist
in his _Out of the Silent Planet_.
On Jan 14, 2006, at 12:26 PM, email@example.com wrote:
> How true all that is! Undoubtedly Williams's good chracters are very
> convincing. The only other author I know of who is successful in this
> line is Tolkien in the LORD of the RINGS. Indeed, I think his
> descripton of Lothlorien is more satisfying to the human heart than
> the whole of Milton's PARADISE LOST, Book IV. One might also note that
> Milton, though enormously sucessful in rendering a credible heroic and
> tragic Satan ( so much so that Blake said "Milton was of the Devil's
> party without knowing it), he is completlely unconvincing in his
> presentation of God who, to speak frankly, is a rather pompous bore.
> But then who could describe God satisfactorily?
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