Book: Paradise Lost, John Milton
The original Satanic classic, a 10,000-plus line epic poem recounting the story of Genesis with Satan as the protagonist. Over the course of ten chapters Milton tells how Satan revolted against god, was cast from Heaven, rallied his defeated troops to plot revenge, and introduced Sin and Death into the world.
Later English poet William Blake said that Milton was “of the devil’s party without realizing it,” meaning that although Milton was a stolid 17th century Protestant and “Paradise Lost” is mostly meant to reflect traditional religious opinions, almost without exception readers find Satan to be the most interesting, most sympathetic, and most humane character in the story.
“Paradise Lost” frames the devil as a revolutionary standing up to divine authority (Eve, after tasting the forbidden fruit, refers to god as the “Great Forbidder”), and also as a complicated and fraught character whose personal conflicts, ambitions, regrets, and emotional nuances mark him as a truly great literary creation.
Milton also crafted beautiful soaring verses and spectacular mythical imagery–demons raising a great city out of the soil of Hell, indestructible angels fighting with swords, spears, and cannons across the skies, lush primeval jungles so beautiful that Satan prefers them to heaven, etc.
“Paradise Lost” can be a very dense read these days, though, and some readers find Milton’s overflowing poetry opaque and hard to follow. And although he ultimately turned Satan into a great anti-hero in the end this was probably by accident, and the poet’s priggish 17th century attitudes can be annoying.