"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."
—Book 1, Line 22-26
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 Flashback 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 Odyssey up through The Divine Comedy and The Faerie Queene.It's 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. William Blake famously wrote that, "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devils' party without knowing it." 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 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. They could read the sequel but wanking is more fun.Famously illustrated by Gustave Doré, providing our page image.
Anti-Villain: Satan is a persuasive and often pathetic individual whom the reader is often encouraged to admire or pity. Large portions of the work are dedicated to his rousing speeches as well as his anguished self-reflections.
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: As black and white as it gets. God is presented as absolute good, and He explains why. Meanwhile, Satan makes a lot of really persuasive speeches, but they're all hollow. In his private reflections, he admits that he's a fraud and decides that Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad.
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.
Consummate Liar: Satan. He makes a lot of great speeches, but admits that he's lying to his followers out of guilt and cowardice. He'd rather be hailed as their hero than admit that he was wrong and seek God's forgiveness.
Crossover Cosmology: Subverted; 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 (including Mesopotamian, Canaanite, Egyptian, and Roman gods) were actually demons.
Crush Blush: Eve, "blushing like the morn" on becoming Adam's wife.
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.
Despair Event Horizon: Satan gets one when two cherubs rebuke him for having changed into his demonic self:
Abashed the devil stood And felt how awful Goodness is And saw Virtue in her shape how lovely Saw, and pined his loss...
The Devil Is a Loser: The underlying characterization of Satan. Despite his fancy rhetoric and impressive figure, he's just posturing as an epic hero and making self-defeating arguments that even he admits are bogus. He's simply too proud to ask for forgiveness and admit his mistakes in front of all his loyal followers. Even in the battle scene he gets clobbered unconscious the moment he takes the field. Of course, there are a lot of people who see him as exactly the epic hero he pretends to be.
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. Of course, this is very much intentional, portraying a perverted Trinity.
God Is Good: He explains that He has given His creations free will, making them "fit to stand but free to fall." He also reminds everyone that His forgiveness is always available for those who ask of it.
Good Is Not Nice: God does throw Adam and Eve out of Paradise. There are consequences to using your free will to sin.
Good People Have Good Sex: Yes, Milton shows pre-fallen Adam and Eve had lots of sex in Eden, and were planning to have children (more hands to help in the garden). The crucial part is that this was sex without carnal lust: they were not at all in a hurry. After the fall, the very first thing they do is run off into the bushes.
Healing Factor: The angels have this, making the war in Heaven pretty brutal. Becomes an instance of And I Must Scream when the rebellious angels are cast into the lake of fire.
Hell Invades Heaven: It's the trope codifier/forerunner by depicting Satan's rebellion against God.
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 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.
If I Can't Have You: Eve's motive for giving the apple to Adam is murder — so he will not be happy with another woman.
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.
And when Satan falls in Love at First Sight with Eve, leaving him so enchanted that, for a moment, he becomes "stupidly good". But then he realises he can never have her and carries on with his original plan out of spite.
Incest Is Relative: This is how Death is created by Satan and Sin. Death then rapes his own mother.
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.
Kirk Summation: 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.
Let's Split Up, Gang: Eve suggests that she and Adam can get more gardening done if they work separately. This is just after they have been warned that Satan is somewhere in the garden.
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 Good: Frequent imagery, both for the unfallen angels and the pre-fallen demons.
Motive Decay: Satan opens with a lot of stirring rhetoric, but by the later books he's mostly just trying to piss off God in any way he can, no matter who he has to hurt to do so. Interestingly, this may have been intentional, as part of the story's philosophy is that evil degrades the sinner—as he sins Satan is becoming less of a person, and thus less developed. Also note his size throughout the books: he starts out as indescribably large, larger than Titans or Leviathan (both have no definite size), but he shrinks down bit by bit, until he takes the form of small creatures on Earth.
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.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Adam and Eve are called out for eating the fruit of knowledge. This is the story of the fall of mankind, after all.
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). The Hebrew version is Lucifel.
Delivered by Abdiel to Satan before the battle begins in Book 6.
Satan gets one in Book 4, when two Cherubs fail to recognize him and he calls them on it. One angel, Zephon, rebukes that Satan was no longer the brilliant, beautiful archangel he once was and thus unrecognizable. At that moment, Satan realizes what he'd lost.
Rebellious Rebel: Abdiel joins the rebelling angels to listen to Satan's speech, but he rejects it.
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.
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.
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.
Strawman 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: Milton lets you hear Satan's anguished thoughts, wrought in beautiful poetry, to move the reader to pity Satan as he steers irrevocably toward eternal evil.
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'.
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"
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.
The Unapologetic: Satan refuses to repent since he's an arrogant whiner. He'd rather take over Hell.
Villainous BSOD: After he first enters Eden, Satan has one and starts questioning his actions. It passes pretty quickly.
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.
You Can't Fight Fate: Inverted. God states that even though he knows with perfect clarify what will happen (sin), he's not responsible for it happening, because he's granted his creations free will. Thus, people are not fated to sin upon their creation, they chose to do 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...