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This report is taken from PN Review 178, Volume 34 Number 2, November - December 2007.

Milt Frank Kuppner

When I noticed on the library shelves a copy of Stanley Fish's How Milton Works, my sense of guilt at never having read more than an occasional essay by the incomparable Fish neatly joined up with my guilt at having neglected Milton since my student days. What choice did I have? I duly took the thing off and read it from cover to cover.

Brilliant it was too. Indeed, perhaps a bit too brilliant. Even a Francis Jeffreyesque 20,000-word response would have to leave very much untouched. But I was reading the book with a couple of specifically theological points in mind (put there chiefly by A.J.A. Waldock and Antony Flew) - and, although Fish's book could just as appropriately be shelved under Theology as under English Literature, I wouldn't say he dealt with either of them head on.

Perhaps the lesser, more ignorable one is the striking suggestion that Lucifer when he fell took a third of the angelic hosts with him. (Fish quotes the relevant Miltonic passage: Paradise Lost, VI: 156 - evidently the bureaucratisation of a dithyrambic detail from Revelation 12: 4.) A surprising level of disaffection, one might think, for any Paradise worthy of the name. How, one has occasionally wondered, does imperfection arise in Heaven? How does badness ever get its first foothold in a perfect state? Can there be a somewhere utterly else for ...


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