Paradise Lost

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I've fallen and I can't get up.


"What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the height of this great argument
I may assert eternal Providence,

And justify the ways of God to men."
John Milton, Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost is John Milton's sprawling epic poem exploring the Fall of Man, and attempting to reconcile the idea of God's omniscience with Free Will. First published in ten books in 1667, the twelve-book version modern readers will be familiar with came out in 1674. Notably told largely from the perspective of Satan himself, though other scenes focus on God or Adam and Eve. Almost a Prequel to The Bible, though chronologically most of the action (all of it, if you don't count the lengthy Flash Back to the War in Heaven and Michael's summary of postlapsarian history yet to come) takes place entirely during the third chapter of Genesis. In epic theory (and yes, such a thing exists), Paradise Lost is the final epic, as it has elements of everything from the The Odyssey up through The Divine Comedy and The Faerie Queene.

Well-known as a source for mountains of literary criticism and a host of Alternative Character Interpretations, many think the poem makes a better case for Satan than God. This was almost certainly not Milton's intent, but while most critics acknowledge this, some assert that his intent is not the point. Ever since forty years ago and Stanley Fish's Surprised By Sin, other academic critics assert that this is the point; the author intended to subvert Misaimed Fandom by making the reader sympathetic to Satan in the opening part, but then surprising the reader by finding out that Satan was actually lying and is evil all along in the later parts. By this argument, the reader re-enacts the Fall by reading the work. The multitude of different ways to read it are undoubtedly part of the appeal for scholars and literature buffs alike -- it helps that this opens limitless doors for reasonable argument. Or y'know, they could just read the sequel.


Tropes used in Paradise Lost include:


  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Sin and Death.
  • Archangel Michael: As a total Badass.
  • Archangel Gabriel: Also a Badass, and the trumpeter and chief guard of all the angels.
  • Arch Enemy: Satan's Meaningful Name is derived from the Semitic "Shai'tan" meaning "adversary."
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Satan famously proclaims, "Evil be thou my good."
  • Bittersweet Ending: "The world was before them, where to choose their place of rest, and Providence thir guide. They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow, through Eden took their solitarie way."
  • Black and White Morality/ Black and Gray Morality / Grey and Gray Morality / Evil Versus Evil: The book has been interpreted countless ways over the centuries.
  • Blind Seer: Milton himself was blind, and as the narrator he makes a few allusions that seem to cast him in this role.
  • Cardboard Prison: The physical location of Hell is actually pretty easy to get out of, and Satan slips out to mess around with Earth. The demons are also free to return to God's graces at any time. They simply choose not to.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: After realizing he can't fight fate and he isn't willing to say he's sorry, Satan gives a memorable speech which includes the line "Evil, be thou my good."
    • In the same speech, Then Let Me Be Evil - "So should I purchase dear short intermission bought with double smart. This knows my punisher, therefore as far from granting he as I from begging peace"
  • The Chessmaster: Satan fancies himself one. He is totally outclassed by God
  • Consummate Liar: Satan.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Eve gets bored and steps out when Adam starts doing this during Raphael's visit.
  • Crossover Cosmology: Subverted Trope; only the Christian creation story is portrayed as true, but Milton names many of the The Legions of Hell after preexisting pagan gods. It was common at the time for Christians to claim that pagan gods were actually demons.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: God makes things interesting by only fielding exactly as many angels as Satan has demons to keep the battle at a stalemate until the Son takes the field and wipes the floor with the entire rebel army on his own. The Son is so terrifying that the demons throw themselves into Hell. Thematically, that's very important.
  • Deadpan Snarker: “To whom thus Satan with contemptuous brow./Gabriel? thou hadst in Heaven the esteem of wise,/And such I held thee; but this question asked/Puts me in doubt (Book IV, 883-886)." Satan is such a catty bitch.
  • Distracted by My Own Sexy:
    • Eve sees her reflection and is stunned by its beauty, although she doesn't realize it's her at first.
    • Satan also gets turned on by a female version of himself named Sin...because Satan is soo sexy with long hair and breasts.
  • Driven by Envy: Satan, and arguably Eve.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The human race.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Chaos and Old Night.
  • Evil Counterpart: God, the Son and the Holy Spirit face the Anti-Trinity of Satan, Sin and Death. Satan is Sin's father. Sin is Death's mother. Satan is Death's father. It is appropriate to feel Squicky once you realize what it all means.
  • External Retcon: For The Bible and for myths from other cultures.
  • The Film of the Book: Coming out next year. Some details.
  • Flash Back: Three full books of it, documenting the War in Heaven and the creation of Earth, all of which is being told to Adam and Eve by the angel Raphael.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Satan will fall, and humanity will sin.
  • Glamour Failure: When Satan is despairing, his angelic disguise "slips."
  • God
  • God Is Evil: According to Satan, the Consummate Liar.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Milton definitely tried to make Satan somewhat sympathetic, but probably never meant for him to be seen as a hero. In the romantic period several believed Satan to be the true hero of the story.
  • Good Is Not Nice: The other main interpretation of God.
  • Good Needs Evil
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Yes, Milton believes pre-fallen Adam and Eve had sex in Eden. And it was good.
  • Hell of a Heaven: After losing the war, Satan states that "The mind is its own place, and in it self. Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."
  • A Hell of a Time: Pandæmonium in particular sounds like a nice place to visit, and Mammon actually suggests tidying up around Hell and building a good place to live there.
  • Hijacked by Jesus: Milton places the gods of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks in Satan's army, reflecting common beliefs of his time.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Although there is wordplay throughout, Satan and Belial have the most impressive example of this when they make a long series of puns about their cannons, pretending they are talking about negotiation but using terms that also have artillery-related meanings.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Appropriately for the Ur Example of the Consummate Liar, almost every sentence Satan speaks is contradicted by his subsequent actions or the narrator's comments on his true emotional/mental state.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Satan is deeply moved by the beauty of Earth when he sees it for the first time and contemplates how happy he might have been if he hadn't rebelled. However, he decides that he's gone too far to turn back, and makes the lame excuse that he'd probably turn evil again anyway. Ultimately he's just too proud and cowardly.
  • Incest Is Relative: This is how Death is created by Satan and Sin.
  • In Medias Res: The story begins with the immediate aftermath of the War in Heaven, which is retold in the middle of the story. This is just one of many thematic devices used to tell the Fall of Mankind as a classical epic.
  • Ironic Hell: When Satan returns, a copy of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil appears in Hell, but when the demons try to eat the fruit, they taste ashes.
  • Jesus Saves: He also kicks ass in a chariot with a bow and arrow.
  • The Legions of Hell
  • Liberty Over Prosperity: Satan would rather reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven, and his minions go right along with him. They are all in a literal Self-Inflicted Hell, and can go back to Heaven at any time they wish, yet are staunchly determined to remain "free".
  • Light Is Not Good: The name "Lucifer" literally means "light bearer" in Latin. Satan's pre-Fall appearance (when he was still God's right hand angel) is described as being absolutely radiant and magnificent.
  • Male Gaze: Yes, in literary form, with Eve. Repeatedly.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Satan even has readers in our world believing his lies that he wants to protect us from a tyrant even while he simultaneously plots how he's going to destroy us and make us suffer (Book IV) in a Revenge by Proxy scheme, sacrificing mankind's welfare to his own ego.
  • The Messiah The Son, aka Jesus.
  • Motive Rant: Part of justifying the ways of God to Man is giving a clear a picture of God's (and Man's) enemy, which means explaining the Arch Enemy's motive in full.
  • The Muse: John Milton asks for Urania, Muse of astronomy (and thus, knowledge of God's creation) to inspire him. He clarifies that he's not actually invoking a pagan goddess, just the represented idea.
  • Narcissist. Satan. Whoo boy, Satan.
  • New Era Speech: Satan's "to reign in Hell" speech in Book I.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Nice job eating the fruit, Adam and Eve!
  • Nightmare Fuel: Satan gave birth to Sin out of his head; she was, at least to Satan, beautiful enough to have lots of sex with; after they were all thrown into Hell, she gave birth to Satan's child, Death; he, in turn, ran after and raped his mother; the resulting birth tore up Sin's lower parts so badly that her legs are now a snaky tail, which is not surprising because the babies were all large dogs. The large dogs then run in and out of her womb.
  • Noble Demon: Some readers interpret the demons this way because they believe in their cause. The more established reading is that they're spineless followers under Satan's spell, who will ultimately do whatever he tells them to do.
  • Odd Name Out: For the angels we have Abdiel, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, etc. (Hebrew Names) aaaaand Lucifer (The Latin One).
  • Omniscient Morality License: God gets one.
  • Parental Incest: Not intentionally.
  • Playing the Victim Card: Satan casts himself as a victim of God's totalitarian regime, but later admits to himself that God's authority is just, deserved and easily followed.
  • Popcultural Osmosis: The book is so well-known that the old arguments about Satan as the book's hero are Played for Laughs in an early scene in Animal House.
  • Pride Before a Fall: We meet The Legions of Hell just after they fall from Heaven; Raphael tells us about Lucifer's disastrous War in Heaven in Book VI.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: Satan, who knows and laments the fact, but just can't let go.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Satan's entire arc. It doesn't end well for him.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Delivered by Abdiel to Satan before the battle begins in Book 6.
  • Rebellious Rebel: Abdiel.
  • Red Right Hand: The devils are all marred somehow by the Fall. Belial actually uses the phrase to refer to God's anger, a Shout-Out to Horace.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Satan can't hurt God, so he'll go after His beloved Adam and Eve instead.
  • Satan: Generally read as either a Byronic Hero, an Anti-Hero, or just a Villain Protagonist. Maybe more than one.
  • Satan Is Good: In his own mind, and from the Perspective Flip because Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad.
  • Scaled Up: A seminal example -- Satan turns into a large snake when tempting Eve with the Forbidden Fruit. He also (involuntarily and temporarily) turns into a snake in Hell when cursed by God, as do the Legions of Hell.
  • Science Is Wrong: Subverted. Milton accepts the Copernican view, though he recognizes the theological value in the geocentric one.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: The main point of Satan's story is to show that damnation is the will of the sinner, not God, who is always ready to forgive. Satan and his angels pointedly cast themselves into Hell after losing the War in Heaven. Satan fully understands that he can, at any moment, return to Heaven if he wanted to, but chooses damnation out of pride and fear.
  • Shapeshifting: The devils can do this.
  • Shoot the Dog: God, when He forces himself to let mankind fall.
  • Shut UP, Hannibal: When Satan gathers the angels under his command to make his campaign speech for rebelling against God, Abdiel is the only one present who refutes his arguments and declines to join the rebellion.
  • Snake People: Satan's daughter/lover Sin is one of these.
  • Start My Own: Used almost word-for-word when the demons propose creating a "Heaven in Hell" as an alternative to rebelling against God. Had blackjack and hookers existed at the time, they certainly would have been signature attractions.
  • Start of Darkness: Both Satan's fall and mankind's "original sin."
  • Straw Man Has a Point: Probably deliberately invoked, as Milton wanted Satan to sound as persuasive as sin. In fact, Satan argues against God by invoking democracy, free speech and egalitarianism, casting God's authority in the light of a dictatorship. This subject matter hit close to home for Milton, who was an outspoken critic of earthly censorship and autocracy. However, Milton believed that God's divine authority is beyond mortal judgment, as he argues in Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Literally, though not everyone feels it.
  • That Man Is Dead: The reader is frequently reminded that the names of all the fallen angels have been erased from heaven, and that what they are called is what humans have named them to be, not their 'real names'.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: How angels "express" love, If You Know What I Mean.
  • This Is Your Brain on Evil: The Forbidden Fruit makes you feel happy, invincible, and horny, and leaves you with a What Have I Done-hangover the next morning.
  • To Hell and Back: Sort of -- the whole thing opens on The Legions of Hell immediately after being tossed down there, but Satan does come back as far as Earth.
  • Trope Namer: Lent the very word "pandemonium" to the language. We use it in English to mean chaos, but in the story it's actually an ordered, reasonable place. One demon suggests it so as to make a Heaven out of Hell.
  • Villainous BSOD/Heroic BSOD: Satan has one after he first enters Eden.
  • Villain Protagonist: Much of the poem is from Satan's point of view. Milton makes Satan's point of view so sympathetic, however, that it's lead to several centuries of Alternative Character Interpretations.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: How Satan portrays himself to the other fallen angels, though toward the end he admits to himself that he doesn't buy his own bullshit.
  • Xanatos Roulette: God's plans for the universe are ridiculously circuitous, but unlike a roulette, he already knows how all of them are going to work out.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Rather brutal about it -- God knows exactly how all of Satan's schemes will fall apart before he even thinks of them, and talks at length about it.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Satan returns to Hell expecting cheers of praise to greet his triumph over humanity, only to find he and his legions of Hell have all been turned into serpents and scorpions, and his fellow demons aren't too happy about that...