A Preface to Paradise Lost: Being the Ballard Matthews Lectures Delivered at University College, North Wales, 1941
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A Preface to Paradise Lost: Being the Ballard Matthews Lectures Delivered at University College, North Wales, 1941

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  344 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Title: Preface to Paradise Lost Binding: Paperback Author: C. S. Lewis Publisher: Oxford University Press
Paperback, 160 pages
Published December 31st 1961 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1942)
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Brian Robbins
I enjoy Lewis' work whether it be fiction, essays, religious matters, even some of his poetry, but he is undoubtedly at his best in his professional capacity, writing as a professor on his subject of medieval and renaissance literature.

This study of “Paradise Lost” was a delight to read. He uses his extensive scholarship with a delightful light touch, and teaches a considerable amount about the background, the form and content of the work in a very lucid and helpful style. Where he disagreed wit...more
J. Alfred
I recently heard from one of my professors that "when you read Lewis' critical stuff, you wonder 'wow, how did people ever get published with stuff like this?'" I pulled this off the shelf to reassure myself that such statements are silly, and it worked. A book like this would have trouble getting published today, but that's just to say that people like Lewis did their jobs back then: we have no room for sweeping, incisive criticism like this anymore because it's been done, and we need to chop o...more
Momina Masood
Feb 02, 2014 Momina Masood rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Milton enthusiasts
Nicely done! I found Lewis' style to be slightly pedantic in the beginning but it gradually grew on me. He presents his arguments in a well-knitted, logical and convincing manner and I especially enjoyed the chapters "Is Criticism Possible?" and "The Doctrine of the Unchanging Human Heart". Very nicely argued! Also, he touches upon the famous "Satanic predicament": whether or not Satan was the real, intended hero of Paradise Lost. Lewis argues against the William Blake notion, and very intellige...more
Leslie
Just in one short section of this Preface, Lewis poignantly explains why Milton's Satan is not a comic character and should rather be taken extremely seriously. According to Lewis, Milton began Satan's character in a regal and powerful position and gradually reduced him down through the layers of politician and secret agent and peeping tom and toad to finally the serpent that accosted Eve. Rather than being an apology for his earlier and more grandiose depictions of Satan, Milton's purpose in po...more
Brian
Brilliant. Don't let the title fool you! It's about way more than Paradise Lost. Lewis traces the expectations behind Paradise Lost by looking at Homer and Virgil and Beowulf. C.S. Lewis knew why he loved books. Makes me want to read Milton.

His defense of Milton's Style had this fine gem, worth quoting at length:

"The older poetry, by continually insisting on certain Stock themes--as that love is sweet, death bitter, virtue lovely, and children or gardens delightful--was performing a service not...more
Chad Gibbons
There are many introductions and prefaces written for 'Paradise Lost'. Why would anyone choose this particular one to read, especially given that it was written 60 years ago? There are three reasons:

1. The author is C.S. Lewis and people like C.S. Lewis.

2. C.S. Lewis is not only a 'likable' author, but one of the greatest scholars of 17th century English literature to date.

3. C.S. Lewis is not only a scholar of middle English literature, but he is also known as 'The Last of the Old Western Men'....more
David
This delightful piece of criticism is a reminder of not just why Paradise Lost is one of the great works of literature, but why C. S. Lewis was one of the great literary critics. Lewis surveys the whole sweep of epic poetry from Homer onwards in the introductory chapters which lay the groundwork for his discussion of Milton's work itself. Having established what Milton was trying to achieve in his poem, Lewis concisely addresses some of the main areas of controversy that have arisen from critici...more
M.G. Bianco
C.S. Lewis writes what may be a very poorly titled book in A Preface to Paradise Lost.

Certainly, the last half of the book, or so, is a book about how to enjoy and understand John Milton's Paradise Lost. The first half of the book, however, is a book about epic poetry. Lewis makes some very poignant observations about epic poetry in general and about The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, and the Aeneid specifically, in addition to Paradise Lost.

His clear favorite, I'm sure, is Virgil's The Aeneid. He...more
Philip
I agree with Steve that most of what Lewis says is beyond me. AND, the middle part of the book about doctrine, theology, Augustine was not of interest to me. I really liked the beginning chapters about epic and epic style, etc. and also the last chapters about the different characters, sexuality, etc. So, really it was only a few middle chapters that I didn't love (maybe though that was mostly because I didn't get them :)). Nothing says intelligence like a smiley face emoticon.
Dwight Davis
First book of literary criticism by Lewis that I have read. Absolutely brilliant. I can't believe I went through a lit crit class without reading Lewis' criticism. If you're interested in epic poetry, this is the book for you.
Joel
In this book/lecture, Lewis tries to do for Paradise Lost what Tolkien's The Monsters and the Critics did for Beowulf: encourage people to enjoy it and evaluate it on its own terms. He briefly discusses a number of issues that frequently arise in critical discussions of the poem such as the nature of epic poetry, the theology of the poem (orthodox or heretical?), and the portrayal of Satan (tragic hero or deluded liar?). His overall evaluation of Milton's masterpiece is enthusiastically positive...more
Gwen Burrow
Read about half of it, need to go back and read the rest. Chapter 7, "The Style of Secondary Epic," especially caught my eye.
Jeremy Purves
It still surprises me how against my own sensibilities reading a book like this is. I still tend to think that reading a work of good literary criticism just isn’t “my thing.” It’s crazy, because at the end of chapter after chapter, I can’t help being surprised again and again at how rich and immeasurably enlightening reading even a single chapter of this book can be. After that surprise, I then still would put the book down and naturally rebel against reading any more of it. It feels like too m...more
Douglas Wilson
Magnificent. Also read around September of 1986.
Cleo
C.S. Lewis does it again. Not only does he supply enlightening commentary to accompany a reading of Paradise Lost, but he touches on a number of other books and subjects, conveying fascinating information in an extremely accessible narrative.

A Preface to Paradise Lost is a compilation of Lewis' Ballard Matthews Lectures, which he gave in 1941 to students at the University College of Northern Wales. Lewis' expertise was Medieval and Renaissance literature, and while reading this book, it is appar...more
Tim
Not just for those diving into Paradise Lost but is a great apology for the importance of poetry as well. Lewis places Paradise Lost in the broader context of epic poetry, and for that reason he comments on the differences (both theological and technical) between Homer, Virgil, Beowulf, and Milton.
The first nine lectures discuss the broader framework of epic, its style, technique, purpose, etc. while the last ten or so specifically discuss Milton's great work. A note however, I would read thi...more
Mad Russian the Traveller
I just finished this book, and I see great value in it. This book is both interesting and useful to the reader and the writer, and should stand next to Aristotle's "Poetics" as a reference for the writer. The book is an analysis of what Milton was doing in his great epic "Paradise Lost", but along the way the writer gives us background in the essence of various poetic types.

In chapter two, in the analysis of epic poetry, the focus is on the oral nature of poetry (as against introspective, intima...more
Jessica (Books: A true story)
If you have, like me, tried to read Paradise Lost but couldn’t finish it, then this book is a great resource to help you get through it. I learned a lot from this book. Literally on page one C.S. Lewis talks about how people misread narrative poetry (like Paradise Lost) all the time because used bookstores are full of books of narrative poetry whose first few pages are underlined in random places and the rest of the book is blank. This made me laugh because that’s EXACTLY what my copy of Paradis...more
Mary Catelli
A book rather like his The Discarded Image in many significant respects. For one thing, it opens up with discussing what an epic is, on the logical grounds that's the only sane way to evaluate it.

Homer and Beowulf and the Aeneid get thrashed over. Lewis observes that only in the Aeneid do we get what we know think of as epic -- as in epic fantasy -- the large plot of enormous implications. And the style. Recited epic uses stock phrase because novelties cause the listener to ponder, and miss the...more
Bob
This is one of the few works of C. S. Lewis I've not previously read. But a book group I'm in is reading Paradise Lost and so it seemed a good time to pull this off the shelves.

Lewis devotes the first half of this short book to a discussion of epic poetry, which is important for understanding the literary conventions of Milton's poem. This is probably most helpful for the literature student but also a helpful introduction for any reader curious about some of the conventions of this poetry.

The s...more
Iris
C.S. Lewis's A Preface to Paradise Lost is a great introduction to Paradise Lost. In the first half, Lewis explains the epic form and the importance of reading Paradise Lost from the perspective of those Milton was writing to, the people of his age. He then explains different aspects of Paradise Lost (such as Satan, angels, hierarchy) as they were likely understood in Milton's time.
I found this book to be helpful preparation to reading and enjoying Paradise Lost. There are also some sections t...more
Bryan
Dec 13, 2009 Bryan rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: poets, authors, artists, theologians, and devoted Miltonians
Wonderful analysis and preface to a much argued piece of lit. I thoroughly enjoyed Lewis' logic; he competently explains those aspects of the work which for most readers are frequently viewed as shortcomings or obstacles. He gives a great insight into the theological viewpoint of the time period, and also lists many further sources for research. His ability as both critic and author lend a unique credibility to his apologetics: as Lewis' own propensities naturally parallel Milton's, he can illus...more
David Haines
A very interesting read by one of the greatest authorities on the subject. Even for a person such as myself, who is reading it not so much for his remarks about Milton as for a better understanding of how C. S. Lewis writes when he is approaching his own domain, this book was extremely interesting, well-written, and have given me the desire to read Milton's Paradise Lost. This is probably the highest praise that one could give to an introductory book about another author, that it inspires the re...more
Amelmag
"In an age when everyone puts on his [or her] oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simple state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in."

Ever since I discovered this work as a senior in high school (while reading Milton's Paradise Lost for the first time), I have loved it, and my love has only grown with time. Exactly what literary criticism should be -- not narrowing, but ever broadening, giving us a glimpse into a world we might be missing.
Resistance is Futile
In this preface, Lewis first outlines what an epic poem is and what Milton was trying to do with Paradise Lost. Then he discusses his views on how Milton's theology played a role in this epic. Lewis debunks the view that Milton had compassion for Satan. It was a good introduction, which I read before the poem because I thought it might help me comprehend the poem while I'm reading it. It was helpful, though it managed to make me more skeptical that I'll comprehend Paradise Lost.
Josh
Whether you intend to read Milton's epic, or not... whether you are a fan of verse, or not: this work by Lewis is a must read for anyone who desires to be educated as to what makes a great story "Great". Lewis pulls back the curtain on writingcraft and storycraft, using Paradise Lost as the model. Forget those "How to be a (better) writer" books--here is one that will truly instruct.
Jennifer
Lewis' very orthodox Christian reading of 'Paradise Lost' that focuses on what Lewis believes Milton would have meant, rather than the supposedly incidental sympathy with the Devil and portrayal of God as a tyrant. I found this book very interesting, though it was quite limited to literal interpretations. The discussions of the tradition of epic poetry were also interesting and useful.
Mark
I read "A Preface to Paradise Lost" by C.S. Lewis after reading Milton's "Paradise Lost". It is a series of lectures given by Lewis as a college professor and it is very academic in nature. Having already read Milton's magnum opus I was very interested in his insights and commentary given in these lectures. A great resource to have when plunging into the depths of English literature.
Tortla
Really interesting. But cut back on the pretentious allusions to other works, C.S. Lewis. It makes you look like a tool. A tool who quotes people in other languages. Without properly integrating said quotes. Now I see why Philip Pullman dislikes you. You're also sexist. Are you dead yet?
Adam Talbott
An essential companion to Paradise Lost. Fish is probably right about Milton wanting us to fall again, but Lewis made Milton come alive for me. His chapter on Eve is probably the healthiest perspective on femininity the modern church has produced.
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1069006
CLIVE STAPLES LEWIS (1898–1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954. He was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than th...more
More about C.S. Lewis...
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) The Chronicles of Narnia (Chronicles of Narnia, #1-7) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #3) The Magician's Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia, #6) Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia, #2)

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