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Anyone have any advice? Want to encourage or discourage me? Share something about your contact with it?
- I suspect a lot of our mental picture of the Fall, the Garden, Satan etc derives as much from Paradise Lost as from the Bible. Milton's handling permeates our (English-speaking) culture.
- It is clear that Milton was very familiar with the early sections of The Silmarillion.
Personally, I think Paradise Regained is an overlooked gem. You'll also find it comfortably shorter than PL.
For some historical background on Milton in the context of the English revolution, Christopher Hill is especially worth taking a look at: Milton and the English Revolution, The World Turned Upside Down, and God's Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution are ones you might find particularly interesting.
Milton was enormously influential on the American Revolution. His anti-prelatical tracts influenced Jefferson in the disestablishment of the Church in Virginia. A work like The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates may have been particularly influential on John Adams, especially to the extent that the association of anti-monarchism with the author of PL gave a religious legitimization to republicanism. And Areopagitica (a pamphlet addressed to Parliament during a debate on renewal of licensure of the press) may be the greatest work every written on freedom of the press and on intellectual freedom.
I think that I have read the work up to maybe six times, although not recently. Different competences will require different approaches. Mine has been to read a book at a time. That was the right amount to tune into the language and not too much to bite off at a time. Don't be afraid to read some of it aloud.
"Some natural tears they dropped but wiped them soon. The world was all before them where to choose their place of rest and Providence their guide. They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow through Eden took their solitary way," has from time to time encouraged me through tough times.
When I read PL for the first time, I ploughed through the whole thing (in the OUP "Poetical Works" edition) as fast as I could, stopping for footnotes only when completely baffled: I don't know if that's a good idea, but it seemed to work for me. In between books I listened to Haydn's version...