Wednesday, July 22, 2015

John Milton (Naxos Audiobooks)

John Milton was a civil servant for England under Oliver Cromwell. He was a big proponent of free speech and freedom of the press. However, he is most known for his poetry, particularly Paradise Lost. His religion can best be described as that of a Puritan, with the subjects of sin and death reflected in his poetry. Other works of note of his include Paradise Regained, which is the sequel to Paradise Lost, and my personal favorite Samson Agonistes. His religion can best be described as that of a Puritan, with the subjects of sin and death reflected in his poetry. Naxos Audiobooks was kind enough to provide me with review copies of the above three audiobooks.

Paradise Lost is a work which is divided into twelve sections. There are two stories or arcs within this poem that overlap in content and order. In the fashion of epic tradition, the poem starts in the middle of the story. The first arc deals with Lucifer/Satan and the fall of him and the disobedient angels. The other arc follows Adam and Eve, their temptation, and their banishment from the Garden of Eden. Other characters include God the Father, God the Son, and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The most interesting scenes in this poem to me are the battle scenes between Satan's angels and God's angels. It takes place over three days with both sides looking like they have a shot at winning. On the third day, Jesus intervenes and defeats Satan's angels on his own. I found this section interesting because it was told from several different perspectives. Satan is the ultimate villain in this poem and this world, but at least in the poem, we see reluctance and hesitation on his part before destroying things. What I especially liked about this edition is that the Arguments are at the beginning of each section. These Arguments serve as an introduction for each section and help lessen confusion for most readers, myself included.

Paradise Regained is the follow-up work to Paradise Lost. It is much shorter in length, comprising only four books as opposed to twelve. Unlike Paradise Lost, which deals primarily with Satan's interaction with Adam and Eve, Paradise Regained chronicles the Temptation of Christ in the desert, which is found in the Gospel of Luke. The writing style is also much plainer than the first work, in that it lacks long similes and the gilding of the lily. Most people agree that this "brief" poem primarily deals with reversals. Everything that was lost in the first book is now regained. We see two key traits in Milton's Satan - hunger for power and foolishness. This is true in real life as well. Satan tempted Jesus because he wanted to be God and in his mind the only way to do that was to make Jesus submit to him. He is foolish to think this would work though. I found this book to be good, but not as good as Paradise Lost. The reader, Anton Lesser, did a wonderful job with both narrations though. His soothing British voice was the perfect fit, and instead of just reading both poems, he gave the characters voices and life!

Samson Agonistes is a short poem/drama that is usually tacked on in books after Paradise Lost. Its basis is the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah, primarily the latter part of the story where Samson is already blind and destroys all the Philistines. There is consensus among scholars that Milton related to Samson, due to Milton's blindness, and that was why he chose to compose this drama. The style of this drama is based on a Greek tragedy, complete with chorus. The Naxos edition of this book is a BBC recording, which contains an entire cast. Samson is played by Iain Glen. You might know him as the man Mary almost married in Downton Abbey before Matthew told her to call it off. Some would argue that this is a drama that should only read by one and not performed, but the cast did a wonderful job in portraying this epic. This isn't a big surprise though, as the BBC always does quality work. The drama has a dark feel, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. If you are looking for a good introduction or first read of John Milton, this is the one I'd recommend before trying to take on the epic which is Paradise Lost.

These audiobooks were provided to me for free by Naxos Audiobooks in exchange for an honest review.