21L.705 | Spring 2008 | Undergraduate

Major Authors: John Milton


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

In 1667, John Milton published what he intended both as the crowning achievement of a poetic career and a justification of God’s ways to man: an epic poem which retold and reimagined the Biblical story of creation, temptation, and original sin. Even in a hostile political climate, Paradise Lost was almost immediately recognized as a classic, and one fate of a classic is to be rewritten, both by admirers and by antagonists. In this seminar, we will read Paradise Lost alongside works of 20th century fantasy and science fiction which rethink both Milton’s text and its source.

Students should come to the seminar having read Paradise Lost straight through at least once; this can be accomplished by taking the IAP subject, Reading Paradise Lost (21L.995), or independently. Twentieth century authors will include C.S. Lewis (Perelandra, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials ), as well as assorted criticism. Each week, one class meeting will focus on Milton, and the other on one of the modern novels.

Summary of the Work

  • A brief quiz on Paradise Lost in Week 3; you should have finished reading the entire poem once through by this time
  • One class report on the criticism
  • Opening discussion (once or twice, depending on class size)
  • One short paper due on Lec #12
  • Proposals for long seminar paper, including bibliography, due on Lec #17
  • Preliminary rough draft due on Lec# 23
  • Papers presented orally on Lec #23 and #24
  • Seminar paper (16-20 pages), due one day after Lec #25
  • Weekly journals, due online at 5 pm, Sunday (unless otherwise noted)


Ten are assigned; you can skip two without penalty. These journals should be informal, but thoughtful: don’t summarize (unless you find it useful for yourself), but do include questions of any kind, responses of any kind, and requests for things you would like to have clarified or more generally discussed in class. Consider the journals a way to keep track of your thinking as well as to try out ideas for the two more formal essays. I will respond to them, but generally with comments rather than with evaluation.

Attendance and Participation

As is usually in seminar settings, you are required to attend all class meetings, and expected to take an active and informed part in discussion. As well as occasionally leading off discussion, I will also assign each of you a piece of Milton criticism to present to the rest of the class.


The first essay, although it can have larger ambitions, will in essence be a close reading of a passage from Paradise Lost; working through a short piece of the poem more intensively is meant to help everyone get comfortable with the language before the longer paper, naturally to provide practice in close reading, and also so that I can get a look at your writing, and you can get a sense of my expectations. (These essays can be revised if you are not happy with the first version).

The longer essay, due at the end of term and counting for half your final grade, can be on any of the texts we have read, and will be built in several stages, as listed above under “Summary of the Work”; completion of each of these will comprise some part of the final grade. Part of the exercise will be to read and use secondary sources, including preparation of a critical bibliography, and we will discuss how to do this earlier in the semester. (Improper use of sources, of course, may constitute plagiarism, on which see the section’s policy below). Work on the seminar papers will include multiple opportunities to get feedback and ideas from both your colleagues and from me before submitting the final version for a grade. Most importantly, we will spend the penultimate week of the semester discussing your work, and I will also provide comments on the individual drafts due on Lec #23.


Journals 10%
Report 10%
Short essay 20%
Long essay 50%
Participation 10%


Use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgement is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available in the Writing and Communication Center, and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.

1 Introductions


Milton, Paradise Lost, book I

Preface to Paradise Lost, chapters 9-11

First journal due
3 C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe


Paradise Lost, book II

Lewis, Preface to Paradise Lost

5 Lewis, Perelandra, chapters 1-8


Paradise Lost, book III

Empson, “Heaven”


Lewis, Perelandra, chapters 9-16



Paradise Lost, book IV

Nyquist, parts i-iv


Paradise Lost, book IV (cont.)

Nyquist, parts v-vii


Paradise Lost, book V

Fish, “The Milk of the Pure Word”

11 Pullman, Golden Compass


Paradise Lost, book VI

Kerrigan, “‘One First Matter All’: Spirit as Energy”

Short essay (3-5 pages) due
13 Pullman, Golden Compass(cont.)


Paradise Lost, book VII

Rumrich, “Uninventing Milton,”

———, “Radical Heterodoxy and Heresy”


Paradise Lost, book VIII

Gross, “Satan and Romantic Satan”


Paradise Lost, book IX

Flesch, “The Majesty of Darkness”

17 Pullman, Subtle Knife Proposals and bibliographies due

Paradise Lost, book X

Parker, “Eve, Evening, and the Labor of Reading” in Paradise Lost

19 Pullman, Subtle Knife (cont.)

20 Pullman, Amber Spyglass Journals due one day before Lec #20

Paradise Lost, book XI


22 Pullman, Amber Spyglass (cont.)


Presentations for the final paper

No journals

Preliminary drafts due
24 Presentations for the final paper (cont.)


Paradise Lost, book XII

No journals

Seminar paper due after two days

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2008
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments