Pedro Blas Gonzalez
John Milton’s Paradise Lost was first published in 1667. This initial edition was comprised of ten books. This is an epic story of creation and the central role that man plays in it. It was not until 1674 that the work’s twelve books were published in a single volume. It only seems appropriate now that comic and fantasy-book heroes are enjoying such great fanfare, that Milton’s epic poem should also share in this surge of popularity with this lavish new illustrated edition.
By the time that Paradise Lost was published, Milton (1608-1674) was a blind recluse. Yet this epic poem is the vivid depiction of the darkness and evil that informs human existence. Paradise Lost takes us to the limits of human possibility both, in our strength and frailty. The themes that the poet embraces may not be new to us today, but are unfortunately mostly forgotten by twenty-first century man. The essence of these themes is “to justify the ways of God to men,” or what moral philosophers refer to the problem of evil. Milton was instrumental in influencing later Romantic poets like Blake and Shelley. He is considered second only to Shakespeare in the world of English-language letters.
This edition of Paradise Lost is particularly compelling in its physical presentation and readability. This coffee-table size book is a handsome volume. The work is illustrated by the French painter Gustave Doré (1832-1883). Doré is responsible for illustrating works by Balzac, Dante, Cervantes, and an English Bible in 1865. While Doré is known as being a gifted illustrator and artist, he can also be said to share in Milton’s perspicuity in realizing and communicating the breath and scope of the poet’s vision. The book contains fifty full-page illustrations of scenes depicting man’s relationship to God, Heaven and Hell.
Doré’s exquisite illustrations span all of the poet’s descriptions of God’s creation, the ascent and fall of man, the cunning wit of evil, and man’s wide-eyed moral turpitude. Dore’s drawings deliver the sentiment and pathos of Milton’s great work in a complimentary and visual manner that makes the reader take pause and reflect on the implication of such scenes. While serious Milton readers do not seek solace in pictures, this edition no doubt will open the eyes of many newcomers to the universal and timeless themes that the poet challenges us with.