In case it’s not already on your calendar, Dec. 9 is Milton’s 400th birthday. A couple of weeks ago I flew out to St. Olaf College, Minn. to take part in a marathon reading of “Paradise Lost” that some folks there staged in honor of the quatercentenary. I write about it in next week’s Chronicle.
If you ever have a chance to read Paradise Lost out loud, I urge you to take it. It’s more fun than you think. Among the joys? When you check back in with a classic like PL, you stumble on phrases that have taken on lives of their own outside the source material. Take this bit from Book II, which Philip Pullman mined for the trilogy “His Dark Materials”:
…Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,
Into this abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage…
The quartercentenary fun is just beginning. The University of Cambridge, Milton’s alma mater, has all kinds of festivities planned, and my sources at St. Olaf’s tell me that there are dozens of PL marathons taking place this fall. Find one near you–or stage your own and make yourself popular with all your friends.