"Dream not of Other Worlds": C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman and the Ghost of Milton
This thesis examines how two authors of fantasy fiction attempt to re-imagine Paradise Lost in their works and analyses how they each deal with Miltonic influence in a markedly different way. The two works that are the main focus of this thesis are C.S. Lewis’s science-fantasy novel Perelandra, and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a young adult trilogy consisting of the volumes Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. I will draw on Harold Bloom’s theory of poetic influence outlined in The Anxiety of Influence for my reading of these texts as two distinctive ‘misreadings’ of Paradise Lost. Whereas C.S. Lewis reads Paradise Lost as representing Christian orthodoxy, Philip Pullman is partial to a neo-Romantic interpretation of the epic as highly subversive, even satanic. Both of these readings are misreadings in the Bloomian sense, which seek to clear creative space for these authors and their own retellings of the Fall myth. I argue that both Lewis and Pullman intend to strengthen their own authorial profile by intertextually linking their works to Milton’s epic; Lewis, in his self-fashioned role of ‘Christian fantasist’, sets out to correct supposed poetic mistakes that weaken the Christian message of the epic with Perelandra, whereas Pullman highlights the subversive elements present in Paradise Lost in His Dark Materials, in order to support his image of ‘atheist rebel’. Their opposed readings of Paradise Lost profit from the critical debate surrounding Milton’s intentions with his epic that has been going on almost from the moment of its publication, and William Blake’s famous notion that Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it”. It is not my intention to uncover or defend a ‘true’ or ‘correct’ reading of Paradise Lost; rather, this thesis seeks to highlight how two authors use the intriguing appeal of Milton and his greatest work to enrich and support their respective self-fashioned authorial images. This thesis will illustrate that Perelandra and His Dark Materials are so highly indebted to their predecessor’s work, however, that they both are haunted by what I call Milton’s ‘ghost’; Miltonic influence seeps into Lewis’s and Pullman’s works, so much that any attempt to break free from this strong literary predecessor results in a weakening of plot, story and characterisation in Perelandra and His Dark Materials. By trying to escape Milton’s influence, both authors end up being trapped by it.
Advisor: Tribble, Evelyn; Tankard, Paul
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: English
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Paradise Lost; Milton; Influence; Self-fashioning
Research Type: Thesis