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A Preface to Paradise Lost 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195003451
ISBN-10: 0195003454
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"An essential work in understanding both the literary approach of C.S. Lewis and the theological assumptions of Paradise Lost. Unparalleled in its conciseness."--I.S. Maclean, James Madison University

"Still the most lucid, useful, entertaining introduction to Milton's poem anyone has contrived to write. Traditional literary criticism at its best."--Lance E. Wilcox, Elmhurst College

About the Author

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was an Irish author and scholar of mixed Irish, English, and Welsh ancestry. Lewis is known for his work on medieval literature, Christian apologetics and fiction, especially the childrens series entitled The Chronicles of Narnia and his science fiction Space Trilogy.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 143 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (1961)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195003454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195003451
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.3 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
John Milton's Paradise Lost is perhaps the most debated work in western literature. On one side you have those who say that Milton was secretly on the Devil's side. (Due to the realistic portrayal of Satan and the seemingly far off and tyrannical portrayal of God) On the other side you have those who say that Milton's sympathies were with God and the angels. (Due to the loving portrayal of the angels and mankind) C.S. Lewis was of the later camp. In 1942, he stood up against those who said otherwise.
I have a hard time labeling this as a 'preface'; Lewis was obviously writing to the learned elite at Cambridge, not to new readers of Milton. But Lewis does an excellent job of explaining Milton's worldview and how it works in Paradise Lost. His chapters on Primary and Secondary Epics, Miton and St. Augustine, and Hierarchy are EXTREMELY helpful. (Particularly the helpful to American readers is the Hierarchy chapter; we just don't understand what it means to live under and totally submit to a king or emperor.)
I highly recommend this to readers of Lewis or fans of Medieval and Renaissance literature.
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Format: Paperback
This book was a pleasure to read both before and after reading PARADISE LOST. In fact, one can make a nice trilogy out of PREFACE TO PARADISE LOST, PARADISE LOST, and Lewis's PERELANDRA. Lewis's PREFACE should interest both the general reader and the specialist. Lewis gives a roadmap for working through Milton's epic poem, discussing what an epic is and why Milton chose it, for example, or why Milton used a certain style for writing; he also comments on Milton's theology, medieval hierarchy, and a number of other pertinent subjects with which the reader will probably not be overly familiar. The writing is clear, the discussion lucid and enlightening, and the subjects are interesting. This is certainly worth purchasing.
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Lewis's lectures, though half a century old, speak today with the same clarity, simplicity, and depth of learning as when they were first delivered. His presentation of background information sets the great English epic in its contemporary context--literary, historical, and theological--with a minimum of fuss and footnotes. Some of his negative judgments, such as calling the last two books "an undigested lump of futurity," deserve reconsideration, but on the whole his judgments encourage critical reading rather than bardolatry.
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Format: Paperback
C.S. Lewis had one great advantage for truly comprehending Milton's "Paradise Lost": he shared Milton's Christianity. It seems that many modern non-Christian critics of Milton impose concepts on the text which would have been foreign to Milton. Lewis, in contrast, belonged in his whole mindset (according to his own admission) much more to bygone ages than to the twentieth century. Thus he was able to understand bygone poets more than most people today.

Added to this advantage is of course Lewis's gift of having a lucid mind extended by an enchanting pen. His writings, including his academic ones, bristle with a liveliness lacking in most academic circles. "A Preface to Paradise Lost" is no exception in this regard.

As for the content of the "Preface," Lewis first spends eight chapters describing and defending the style of Epic Poetry, to which "Paradise Lost" belongs. He distinguishes between Primary and Secondary Epic and draws parallels to the Roman poet Virgil. The remaining eleven chapters are used to discuss the theological concepts in "Paradise Lost," making particular note of St. Augustine's influence on Milton.

The bottom line of the book is that Milton's poem, more than anything else, embodies concepts found in the Bible and the teachings of the Church, and that the supposed "revolutionary" concepts in Milton have largely been forced upon the text by later critics.

My own experience of reading Milton, for what it is worth, agrees with this view.
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Format: Paperback
As a man who spent the entirety of his childhood avoiding the repeatedly assigned Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (i got very good at making my tests look like i'd read it, as im sure many grade school students do when its assigned year after year, i think we even did it in high school), i always associated Lweis' name with BAD. And then i discovered Milton, and his Satan, and Lewis re-entered the picture.

His preface to Paradise Lost is largely a defense, mostly against the attacks of contemporary and irreverant poets like Pound and Eliot who criticized Milton extensively, especially for his Latinate syntax. Lewis engages Eliot specifically in one chapter that reads like a very wordy rap beef. If you ask me, Eliot, certainly the better poet, is out of his element in the crit ring, and Lewis smokes him good, at times you might shout "OHHHHHHHHHHHH"

Far as his approach to the poem, he lays out the foundation for a modern understanding of Milton, namely a reverence for ritual and heritage, and an appreciation of epic and narrative poetry. His chapters on Homer Virgil and Beowulf are valuable and enjoyable reads worth the price of admission themselves. His criticism is highly intelligent but never overwhelming or tangential, it is systematic and thorough while still retaining a smooth readability. Easily one of the most valuable studies of Milton to come out of the 20th century.
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