Getting Past the Milton of It All?

Legendary Pictures chairman and chief executive Thomas Tull wryly remarked back in the March 4, 2007 New York Times article on the Paradise Lost film project that his initial reaction to the prospect of making Milton’s seventeenth-century epic poem into a movie was, “Well, that’s going to make a lot of older folks relive bad college experiences.” Yet he came to believe that the film could be made appealing to a broad audience “if you get past the Milton of it all,” in the words of Tull, who explained, “if you get past the Milton of it all, and think about the greatest war that’s ever been fought, the story itself is pretty compelling…” Making a film adaptation of Milton’s masterpiece and proceeding to try and “get past the Milton of it all” was certainly a suspect sentiment, but what did Tull mean by this?

Milton - Paradise LostMilton’s Paradise Lost is certainly Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is to say, although the Puritan poet was retelling literally the oldest story in the book—the Fall of Man at the dawn of Creation—Milton’s presentation of this age-old tale in Paradise Lost was unique unto him. For one thing, as Milton states early on in the poem, his ambition was to outshine the Classical epics of the Greek Homer and the Roman Virgil—“to soar / Above th’ Aonian Mount” (I.14–15)—with his own Christian-themed English epic. A byproduct of this aspiration was challenging the pagan epics on their own ground, Milton setting out to demonstrate that pagan heroism pales in comparison to Christian virtue—as personified in none other than God’s Son, “By Merit more than Birthright Son of God, / Found worthiest to be so by being Good, / Far more than Great or High…” (III.309–11). Thus, Milton declares in the proem to Book IX that he dismissed for his Christian epic the traditional epic subject of warfare, “hitherto the only Argument / Heroic deem’d,” which lamentably left “the better fortitude / Of Patience and Heroic Martyrdom / Unsung…” (IX.28–29, 31–33). Milton opted for the subject of “Man’s First Disobedience” (I.1), a subject he found “Not less but more Heroic” (IX.14) than those found in the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer and the Aeneid of Virgil, for through the primeval disobedience of Adam and Eve, the Son of God becomes the glorious savior of disobedient Man. This, for Milton, completely eclipsed the Classical heroes’ martial valor, assumed in Paradise Lost by Milton’s Satan, “the proud / Aspirer” (VI.89–90) who is “by merit rais’d / To…bad eminence…” (II.5–6). (Of course, Milton’s demonization of the Classical virtues via imbuing Satan himself with them was part of what made Milton’s Devil far more appealing than intended.)

John Martin, Paradise Lost, Book II (ca. 1823-25)
John Martin, Satan Enthroned (ca. 1823-25)

As if Milton’s theological aspiration wasn’t task enough, the poet included in Paradise Lost a significant political component as well. Paradise Lost was composed during the Restoration, the republican Milton writing—or dictating, actually, as Milton was at this point completely blind—amidst his dashed dreams of an English commonwealth free from the bondage of monarchal tyranny. Paradise Lost was subsequently infused with a strong antimonarchical message, and while Romantic radicals saw the regicidal Milton reflected in his arch-rebel Satan, who fashions himself as the “Antagonist of Heav’n’s Almighty King” (X.387), Milton repeatedly suggests that earthly monarchy came straight from Hell (II.672–73; IV.381–83; XII.24–74) as a sinful imitation of “Heav’n’s matchless King” (IV.41).

These complex literary, theological, and political positions embedded in Paradise Lost are part and parcel of “the Milton of it all,” but one would imagine that a film adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost would jettison these weighty issues in favor of the grandness of the story and the cosmic conflict of its outsized characters—“the greatest war that’s ever been fought,” as Tull put it—which would surely make for plenty of onscreen spectacle. Yet even certain aspects of Milton’s presentation of his story and characters would likely prove puzzling to modern-day film audiences. For instance, Milton prolongs his War in Heaven into a three-day conflict, Satan and his rebel angels, after suffering a terrible loss on the first day of battle, inventing cannons to even the odds on the second day (VI.469–634). Milton is at his most peculiar in Paradise Lost, however, when he (via the archangel Raphael) goes out of his way to explain the complexities of angelic anatomy and physiology (VI.344–53), including angelic digestion (V.404–13) and sexual intercourse (VIII.620–29).

“Sin” – concept art for Paradise Lost by Dane Hallett
“Sin” – concept art for Paradise Lost by Dane Hallett

Speaking of supernatural intercourse, one would have to imagine a film adaptation of Paradise Lost would excise the Satan, Sin and Death episode, wherein Satan’s daughter Sin explains that when she burst full-grown from her father’s haughty head (II.749–58), Satan saw in his offspring his own “perfect image” (II.764) and in turn “Becam’st enamor’d” (II.765), copulating with Sin and inadvertently creating Death, Satan’s “Son and Grandchild both” (X.384). Death, Sin relates, tore from her womb and proceeded to rape his mother, deforming Sin’s lower half into a serpentine monstrosity (II.761–802). Paradise Lost’s incestuous and monstrous unholy trinity is surely part of “the Milton of it all,” but would a film adaptation dare to go there? Well, as revealed by the demonic concept art of Dane Hallett and the Milton on Film book by Paradise Lost’s script consultant Eric C. Brown, Sin was set to appear in the film, albeit in an altered dynamic (Milton’s devoutly loyal angel Abdiel was recast as “the Angel of Death,” who would surely replace Sin’s incestuous son). What’s more, it is safe to assume that Tull’s comment about “get[ting] past the Milton of it all” was not necessarily about Paradise Lost’s challenging language—seventeenth-century English epic verse rife with Latinisms—as Sin, according to Brown’s book, “was so insistently Miltonic in her speech as to be dubbed ‘like Yoda times a thousand.’ ”1 Perhaps the Paradise Lost film was more Miltonic than Tull anticipated?

Yet perhaps the need to “get past the Milton of it all” pertained more to the character of Milton’s Satan than to his Sin or Death. “The depiction of Satan may be a polarizing one among scholars,” noted Michael Joseph Gross in his 2007 New York Times article. “Some, in line with Romantic poets like William Blake, will want the dark prince to be the hero; others won’t be happy unless Satan is a self-deceiving hypocrite, and the story an education in virtue and obedience.” The latter was certainly what Milton the Puritan set out to accomplish, but the former was undeniably what Milton the poet ended up achieving. “Milton gives the Devil all imaginable advantage,” observed Percy Bysshe Shelley in his unpublished Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20), Shelley questioning Milton’s status as a Christian and speculating that he may have masked his Satanic sympathies within a literary work so as to evade the inevitable persecution such heresy would call down, given the oppressive climate in which Milton was writing: “Thus much is certain, that…the arguments with which he [Milton’s Devil] exposes the injustice and impotent weakness of his adversary are such as, had they been printed distinct from the shelter of any dramatic order, would have been answered by the most conclusive of syllogisms—persecution.”2

F.P. Simon, after Richard Westall, Satan Exulting
F.P. Simon, after Richard Westall, Satan Exulting

Shelley’s extreme position that Milton was a conscious Satanist is unwarranted, and the more plausible (and frankly more intriguing) theory is derived from the infamous dictum of Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93): Milton was “of the Devils party without knowing it[.]”3 Either way, the Romantic Satanists’ reading of Paradise Lost, to be fair, did “get past the Milton of it all” insofar as they liberated Milton’s Satan from the Christian confines of Paradise Lost—an epic poem designed by Milton to “justify the ways of God to men” (I.26)—which enabled the fallen angel to ascend as a Promethean Romantic hero. Then again, as far as the Romantic Satanists were concerned, Milton had with his Satan created a character—inadvertently or otherwise—so sympathetic and sublime that he was destined to break free from the pages of the poem. “As if misplaced in the ideological structure of Milton’s epic,” notes Peter A. Schock in his study of Romantic Satanism, “the figure of the fallen angel invited his own excision and insertion into different contexts,” and as a result

Milton’s Satan assumes in the Romantic era a prominence seen never before or since, nearly rivaling Prometheus as the most characteristic mythic figure of the age. A more active and ambiguous mythic agent than the bound, suffering forethinker and benefactor of humanity, the reimagined figure of Milton’s Satan embodied for the age the apotheosis of human desire and power.”4

Considering Milton’s Satan “the hero of Paradise Lost”—a phrase employed matter-of-factly by the Satanic School’s Byron and Shelley5—was for the Romantic Satanists entirely central to “the Milton of it all.”

If, in the end, “the Milton of it all” refers to the theological Puritanism of Paradise Lost, and if a Paradise Lost film that “get[s] past the Milton of it all” means that Milton’s Satan could be translated to the big screen as “the apotheosis of human desire and power” for our own age, as he was for the Romantic age, then from the perspective of a neo-Romantic Satanist it is to be wished that a Paradise Lost film “get past the Milton of it all.” It remains to be seen, however, whether the film adaptation of Paradise Lost—should it ever make it to theaters—will deliver the complex ambiguity of a Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer or Legendary’s Thomas Tull simply meant that Milton’s masterpiece would be reduced to a superficial angelic action film.

 

Notes


1. Eric C. Brown, Milton on Film (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 2015), p. 332.

2. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Essay on the Devil and Devils, in Shelley’s Prose: or the Trumpet of a Prophecy, ed. David Lee Clark, pref. Harold Bloom (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1988), p. 267.

3. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, rev. ed. (New York: Anchor Books, [1965] 1988), p. 35; pl. 6.

4. Peter A. Schock, Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 3.

5. Lord Byron, quoted in Jerome J. McGann, Don Juan in Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), p. 25; Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound (1820), in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat (New York [2d rev. ed. 1977]: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002), p. 207.

The Satanic Scholar & The Satanic Irreverend: An Informal Discussion

The Satanic Scholar & The Satanic Irreverend: An Informal Discussion is a ten-part talk on the subject of Satanism and its cultural components between myself and Gavin Baddeley, the author of Lucifer Rising (1999) who, when conducting research for his Book of Sin, Devil Worship, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, was granted an honorary priesthood in the Church of Satan by its founder, “the Black Pope” Anton LaVey, who codified Satanism as a modern (ir)religious philosophy back in 1960s San Francisco.

Gavin Baddeley—the self-proclaimed Satanic “Irreverend”—is an English author who specializes in the dark, decadent, and devilish aspects of Western culture. The scope of his scholarship is vast, and the manner in which he presents his material is not only thoroughly informed, but remarkably witty and humorous as well. While authoritative on all of the subjects he covers, I have always singled Gavin out as the best spokesman for Satanism, as his presentation of the equally fascinating and controversial subject is truly unparalleled. For most Satanists, Satanism simply started in 1966—and, as far as aboveground, organized Satanism goes, it did—but the concept didn’t just appear magically out of a puff of smoke; Satanism’s roots reach deep into the Western world’s past—most significantly for The Satanic Scholar, of course, into English Romanticism—and a large part of what makes Gavin stand out from his Satanic peers is his penchant for digging up these roots and subjecting them to the analysis they deserve. Gavin felt my effort to preserve the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer was worthwhile, and he was kind enough to provide constructive criticism and share invaluable insight when I was first getting my Satanic Scholar site off the ground in early 2016. Not long after, I had the pleasure of having Gavin as a house guest during his stay in New York. Gavin and I had many interesting conversations during his stay, the last of which we decided to commit to film: The Satanic Scholar & The Satanic Irreverend: An Informal Discussion.


 

Part 1

 

GB: “I still have things to say about Satanism; it’s still something that’s very close to me; [‘Satanist’ is] still something I’d identify as.”

CJC: “I would say I’m…a neo-Romantic Satanist at heart.”

 


Part 2

GB: “You can have as many guys in dressing gowns in basements as you like, and they won’t have an iota of the influence of somebody who knows what they’re doing with art, literature, film… The Dark Arts are the arts.”

CJC: “A big part of [Romantic Satanism] is being an exiled figure—an outcast.”

 


Part 3

CJC: “I do think that there has to be an underlying idealism to [Satanism].”

GB: “[Compared to Satanism,] atheism feels like a copout. And it’s not as much fun!”

 


Part 4

CJC: “Back to the myth: Lucifer has a third of Heaven on his side, so it’s sort of the original counterculture.”

GB: “Christianity has over the years…imagined this foe—this Satanic faith, this Satanic bogeyman—and in their limitation of imagination has imagined that it’s what [Christians are] like in a funhouse mirror.…Of course, the opposite of belief is not belief in something else; the opposite of belief is doubt.”

 


Part 5

CJC: “What’s so appealing about the myth [of Satan] is that he is doomed. That’s what makes him Promethean—that’s what makes him actually excel Prometheus, as far as I’m concerned, because Prometheus’ suffering ends, but with Satan it’s eternal.”

GB: “[The Devil] has a habit of escaping from the pages. Once you give him a personality, he creates problems, and the problems are always interesting.”

 


Part 6

CJC: “I think of Satanism as a slaughterhouse for sacred cows, whatever they might be.”

GB: “Satanism is unusual in being not exclusivist, but not expansionist.”

 


Part 7

CJC: “You can’t pooh-pooh mythology. It’s something that really taps into these things that are relevant to the human psyche. [Myths are] these human stories just writ large—projected onto this cosmic canvas.”

GB: “Religion likes to pretend that it has this Golden Age [and] these sacred texts.…Satanism evolves. There’s even a good argument to say that Satanism might want to evolve to the point where it’s no longer necessary.”

 


Part 8

CJC: “Rebellion for its own sake is not inherently positive. It has to be based on something, and again I think the characteristics of the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer are very positive and principled.”

GB: “You can take a rebellious stance and say that imperialism had positive aspects—that the British Empire is or was admirable in many respects.…For me, a Satanic political position is: I’m a proud imperialist, so I will fly the flag for Britain and fly the flag for the British Empire because nobody else is.”

 


Part 9

GB: “Satan is often referred to as ‘the Prince of Lies’.…but from my experience of Satanism, a lot of it is about just speaking the truth.”

CJC: “Perhaps [Satanists] need to move away from shock to surprise.…Perhaps it would be easier to emphasize this idea of Satan as the rebel hero if it were matched up with imagery that went along with that.”

 


Part 10

CJC: “ ‘Occult,’ as I understand it, means ‘hidden,’ so it has this esoteric connotation to it.…What can be more occult—insofar as it means hidden or esoteric—than taking a seventeenth-century epic poem…and exploiting the potential of its mythic [Satanic] figure?”

GB: “Milton’s Satan is…an archetype for this Western cult of the individual.…What you have in the Miltonic Satan is an emblem for this idea that you can break out of a monolithic, totalitarian system.…This is a myth that expresses how this happens, and that’s in a sense what’s important about Satanism: it says you can express yourself; it’s worth doing this regardless of the cost; sometimes the self is the most important thing; there’s something incredibly noble about this. And it’s a selfish thing to do, but it’s also a selfless thing to do, and a noble thing to do.”

 


Additional Footage

In case ten parts simply weren’t enough…

The following is additional footage captured after the above discussion. The initial idea was to have cutaway shots in case they were needed during the editing process, but of course the ever insightful Gavin Baddeley wound up sharing more substantive commentary.

“Satanism always has a hoof firmly planted in the past…and a hoof firmly thrusting into the future.”

 

Onetime Paradise Lost Director Was of the Devil’s Party—and Knows It

Pioneer of Romanticism (and Romantic Satanism1) William Blake famously theorized in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93) that the sublime grandeur surrounding Satan in Paradise Lost makes sense given that Milton, as “a true Poet,” was “of the Devils party without knowing it[.]”2 It appears that infernal inspiration lies behind all the arts, as Alex Proyas, the onetime director of the Paradise Lost film, recently revealed that his effort to bring Milton’s masterpiece to the silver screen made him realize his own place in the Devil’s party.

“While attempting to make Milton’s Paradise Lost into a movie,” Proyas wrote in a Facebook post on October 24th,

I had an epiphany of sorts. I’m obviously not the only guy who has had it, but it felt very personal at the time. Can good exist without evil? Further to that, it seems the God of Paradise Lost actually manipulates Lucifer in such a way that his only recourse is to become Satan, and thereby He invents the very notion of evil itself. There was no good before God made it, and therefore no evil either. And that is why Paradise Lost was considered so blasphemous when it was written and continues to be challenging even today. That is one of the reasons why the movie was never made.

Alex Proyas, onetime director of Paradise Lost

Proyas had made a similar comment concerning the real reason for Paradise Lost’s cancelation prior to production via Facebook back in December of 2015, when he was still working on his ill-fated Gods of Egypt (2016) film: “…[T]he [Paradise Lost] project fell over not because the budget was too big (as reported in the media),” Proyas claimed, “but because I really do think the material is just too out there for Hollywood. Let’s not forget Milton himself was branded a heretic for writing it.” In any event, the director’s analysis of Lucifer being forced to become Satan—the heavenly Morningstar compelled to become the hellish Prince of Darkness—was but a more subdued variation on the analysis the Satanic School’s Percy Bysshe Shelley offered in his unpublished Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20).

As far as Shelley could see, because Milton’s Satan possessed an “unconquerable Will” and the “courage never to submit or yield” (I.106, 108), the fallen archangel “was so secure from the assault of any gross or common torments that God was considerably puzzled to invent what he considered an adequate punishment for his rebellion; he exhausted all the varieties of smothering and burning and freezing and cruelly lacerating his external frame, and the Devil laughed at the impotent revenge of his conqueror.” Given how remarkably undaunted Milton’s Satan remains in the face of his damnation, Shelley explains, Milton’s God resorted to corrupting the fallen angel’s “benevolent and amiable disposition,” the omnipotent tyrant diabolically coercing Satan to corrupt the innocent Adam and Eve, thereby magnifying the intensity of his own suffering:

At last the benevolent and amiable disposition which distinguished his adversary furnished God with the true method of executing an enduring and a terrible vengeance. He turned his good into evil, and, by virtue of his omnipotence, inspired him with such impulses as, in spite of his better nature, irresistibly determined him to act what he most abhorred and to be a minister of those designs and schemes of which he was the chief and the original victim. He is forever tortured with compassion and affection for those whom he betrays and ruins; he is racked by a vain abhorrence for the desolation of which he is the instrument; he is like a man compelled by a tyrant to set fire to his own possession, and to appear as the witness against and the accuser of his dearest friends and most intimate connections, and then to be their executioner and to inflict the most subtle protracted torments upon them.…Milton has expressed this view of the subject with the sublimest pathos.3

Amelia Curran, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1819)
Amelia Curran, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1819)

In his radical reinterpretation of Paradise Lost, Shelley lays the blame for the Fall of Man on God Himself—just as Milton’s Satan does (IV.373, 386–87)—and while this particular apology for Satan appears on the surface of it to overstate the Devil’s case, it ironically has the most textual support. After all, we are reminded early on in Paradise Lost that it is none other than the Almighty who frees Satan from the burning lake of Hell so that “with reiterated crimes he might / Heap on himself damnation” (I.214–15), as well as garner greater glory for God, for Satan’s “spite still serves / His glory to augment” (II.385–86). In Eden, Milton’s Satan sheds tears for the human couple whose ruin he must precipitate in order to avenge himself and his fallen brethren on God and divide the Deity’s Empire by conquering the “new World” (IV.388–92). It appears quite safe to say that the Paradise Lost film was going to be faithful to the spirit of this uniquely sympathetic Satan imagined by Milton.

As I have explained, I became a believer in “the guy from The Hangover” playing Lucifer not only because of Bradley Cooper’s heartfelt love for Paradise Lost but the unabashed passion for Milton’s Satan that the actor expressed, Cooper having openly asserted that he “fell in love with that character because I couldn’t believe how appetising he is in that poem. Satan is the hero.…It’s about the father [God] betraying the [Satan] character.” Regardless of what the other filmmakers had in mind for the presentation of Paradise Lost, that Cooper was clearly going for a Romantic portrayal of Milton’s Satan was to me rather reassuring back in late 2011/early 2012. I am now further impressed—and in turn further disappointed that the film never made it to the production phase—to see that Proyas shared a Romantic vision of the poem and acknowledged that his cinematic version would be just as “blasphemous.” To be fair, during preproduction Proyas had shown that he intended to stay true to the deep ambivalence of Milton’s Satan when he related that “Lucifer was the brightest and smartest of the archangels, and even as he descended into evil and evolved into Satan, he’s not just some black-and-white villain,” which is yet another variation on Shelley: “Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil.”4

As promising as Proyas’ pitch was a half-decade ago, to now hear from the director that working on Paradise Lost induced a Satanic “epiphany of sorts” is quite a reminder of the power and influence of Milton’s epic poetic treatment of the rebel angel. It’s a shame that the film fell through, and I can only hope that Hollywood will eventually muster the audacity to bring Paradise Lost to the big screen—with Milton’s fallen Morningstar as the Satanic star of the film. Proyas estimates it will take Hollywood another half-century to do so, the diabolical director promising, “I will haunt the cinemas at that time to make sure they’ve done it right.”

 

 

Notes


1. See Peter A. Schock, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Blake’s Myth of Satan and Its Cultural Matrix,” ELH, Vol. 60, No. 2 (Summer, 1993), pp. 441–70.

2. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, rev. ed. (New York: Anchor Books, [1965] 1988), p. 35; pl. 6.

3. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Essay on the Devil and Devils, in Shelley’s Prose: or the Trumpet of a Prophecy, ed. David Lee Clark, pref. Harold Bloom (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1988), p. 270.

4. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry (1821), in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat (New York [2d rev. ed. 1977]: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002), p. 526.

Castlevania Summons (and Vanquishes) the Miltonic-Romantic Satan

The Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer makes an interesting appearance in Castlevania, the action-adventure videogame series that made its U.S. debut in 1987 (debuting a year earlier in Japan), spawning a plethora of sequels spanning several gaming platforms. Castlevania was essentially a great homage to the horror genre, paying tribute to Dracula in particular, the series’ vampire-hunting Belmont family incessantly hunting the immortal Count from game to game. Castlevania was rebooted with 2010’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which resulted in a 2014 sequel, and in these last two installments of the undying series, homage was paid to a character far greater than Dracula: the Devil himself, as descended from the Miltonic-Romantic tradition.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, set in an apocalyptic eleventh century, follows Gabriel Belmont of the “Brotherhood of Light,” an order of knights responsible for protecting the world from otherworldly enemies. The Lords of Shadow of the title have disrupted the natural order by casting a malevolent spell keeping the deceased in a perpetual limbo, preventing them from crossing over to the afterlife. Gabriel’s quest to defeat the Lords of Shadow is personal, as his wife was slain by a supernatural creature (or so he believes). An elder member of the Brotherhood by the name of Zobek (voiced by Patrick Stewart) informs Gabriel of “the God Mask,” which has the power to restore life to the dead. Longing to bring his wife back to life, Gabriel ventures to defeat the three Lords of Shadow and obtain the three pieces of the God Mask. When Gabriel’s journey reaches its climax in the Land of the Necromancers—a tempestuous, ethereal realm not dissimilar to the Hades of the second act of Lord Byron’s Cain (1821)—Zobek reveals that he is the nefarious Lord of the Necromancers, who deceived Gabriel to set him on a journey to eliminate the competition of the other two Lords of Shadow. Zobek explains that he had ventured to Hell in search of the power that would enable him to disrupt the natural order and set the events of the story in motion. Orchestrating this charade included compelling Gabriel to take the life of his own wife, which, when revealed to our hero, naturally plunges him into despair.

As Zobek, with the God Mask in his grasp, revels in his victory before the subdued Gabriel, he suddenly hears a diabolical laugh, followed by a sinister voice. “Hail, Mighty Zobek,” mocks the unseen speaker, who proceeds to explain to the frightened Zobek that it was he who granted the supernatural strength beyond Zobek’s own reach. It is revealed to the manipulative, self-serving Zobek that he, like Gabriel, was but the tool of another’s plan. “I planted the idea for this whole elaborate ruse into your tiny mind in order to serve my own higher purpose,” announces the voice. “I no longer need your assistance. The power is now mine!” With that, Zobek spontaneously combusts, crumbling to the ground. Casually walking through the flames and stepping over the corpse of Zobek, Satan enters the scene and takes possession of the God Mask.

Satan now in full sight, it is clear how indebted this interpretation of the fallen angel is to the Miltonic Devils depicted by Romantic artists. Like the portrayals of Milton’s Satan wrought by Barry, Lawrence, Fuseli, and Blake, this Satan is wingless (although he can summon “shadow wings” at will during the actual boss battle) and nude, with the superhuman form and the dignified bearing befitting a Greco-Roman god. This Satan has no horns, hoofs, or tail, but an athletic figure, his head crowned with long black hair (with little of the character of many a Romantic Lucifer’s locks, it must be said), which drapes down his back and chest. Satan’s demonic aspects are relatively subtle: translucent skin, menacing eyes (pitch-black sclerae punctuated by glowing pupils), and an ethereal darkness that swirls about his lower half. A convincing portrayal of Satan as “Arch-Angel ruin’d,” as he is “Majestic though in ruin” (PL, I.593; II.305), this Satan’s majesty and menace are complemented by his haughty voice, executed perfectly by Jason Isaacs, who in the 2000 film The Patriot had played the English Colonel William Tavington, who was, in the words of proud Englishman and Satanist Gavin Baddeley, “absurdly evil…”1 Castlevania’s less absurd Satan, gripping a massive staff much like Milton’s Satan grips his mastlike spear (I.292–96), lifts his malevolent gaze skyward and vaunts his “higher purpose”: “Father! I come for you… Before the end YOU will bow down to ME!”

As Gabriel is miraculously restored to life by spirits at the behest of his wife’s ghost, Satan attempts to form an alliance with the man, drawing parallels between their doomed dispositions: “So… he has abandoned you, too? So be it. Join me. I will love you more than He!” Turning to face Gabriel, Satan reminds the devout knight that he, first of the damned, was once Heaven’s preeminent angel: “I was adored once above all others. I too didn’t deserve to be cast out… abandoned. Now you know what that feels like, don’t you…? Hate can bring us back, give us strength. Embrace it!” It is a moment very much reminiscent of Lord Byron’s Lucifer, who approaches Adam’s firstborn son Cain as something of a Promethean patron, professing, “I know the thoughts / Of dust, and feel for it, and with you” (I.i.100–01), styling himself and his human counterpart as reflections of one another: “Souls who dare look the Omnipotent tyrant in / His everlasting face, and tell him, that / His evil is not good!” (I.i.138–40). Yet, while the Byronic Cain can relate to the arch-rebel Lucifer—“Thou speak’st to me of things which long have swum / In visions through my thought” (I.i.167–68)—Castlevania’s Gabriel Belmont is not swayed in the slightest by the Tempter. “He loves you as he loves me,” Gabriel reassures the fallen angel, the knight reaffirming his faith in God: “We have only to ask for forgiveness deep within ourselves and be welcomed back.” Ever the arrogant angel, Satan gibes, “You monkeys don’t deserve redemption.”2 Satan’s scorn for mortal “monkeys” may betray the dishonesty of his proposed alliance, but then again we are once more reminded of Byron’s Lucifer, who expresses respect for Cain in his likeminded defiance of Jehovah, yet as a spirit—indeed, a “Master of spirits” (I.i.99)—holds humans in disdain as “dust” and “clay.”3

The Satan of Paradise Lost’s “Monarchal pride” (II.428) and ambition “to have equall’d the most High” (I.40) are overstressed in Castlevania’s portrayal of the Prince of Darkness: “It is MY divine right to rule by his side as an equal… Or perhaps more than that…”4 “You would rather rule in power and might than to offer forgiveness and love?” asks Gabriel, pitying the fallen angel for his waywardness: “This is why you are cast out, unholy one!” Satan’s pride is needled by Gabriel’s “blasphemy,” which underlines his sense of his own godhood, and so Satan promises to deliver Gabriel his death. After a Castlevania-style slugfest, Gabriel subdues the God-Masked Satan, and a pillar of divine light envelops the two. Despite his contemptuous defiance, Satan is unmasked and vanquished by the unseen hand of the Almighty, the tempestuous Land of the Dead calming with the Devil’s disappearance.

In the game’s epilogue, set in modern times, it is revealed that Zobek still lives and that Gabriel has been cursed to live on as the immortal Dracula. Zobek has come to inform Gabriel/Dracula that “Satan’s acolytes are readying for his imminent return.” Knowing full well that Gabriel yearns for the release of death, Zobek promises to free him of his vampiric immortality in exchange for his help in dealing with the Satanic crisis.

In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, which largely (and jarringly) takes place in a modern urban setting, Gabriel/Dracula and Zobek work together to hunt down Satan’s acolytes. At the end of the unevenly paced game, the third acolyte—a demonic-looking Crowley type by the name of Guido Szandor (after Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan)—successfully summons Satan to the mortal plane in appropriate supernatural spectacle. The third acolyte falls to his knees before his Lord, who spreads his dark wings to reveal himself. It is immediately apparent that this Satan possesses none of the subtlety of his incarnation in the previous game. Satan is now a massive, hulking figure with a pallor more haunting than Dracula’s, his lower half covered in spiky silver armor, his forearms dripping with tar. Satan’s black hair is shorter and stringier, and his eyes are now pronounced by their glowing purple irises. The only interesting aspects of Satan’s significantly altered appearance are his tremendous black-feathered wings—albeit strangely protruding from his lower back—and his facial scars, which was a feature of Milton’s portrait of Satan (I.600–01) missing from all artistic renditions.

While Satan’s last acolyte stares up at his Lord in awe, Satan looks down with disgust, clearly irritated by the sight of Gabriel/Dracula, still alive and well after all this time. Satan slowly steps forward and lifts up the bowed head of his acolyte, as one would a loyal dog, but suddenly jags his fingers into the acolyte’s throat and peels off the man’s face, delivering his faithful servant a painful demise. Satan tosses the shocked face of the acolyte aside in disdain and remarks with a shrug, “I despise incompetence.” Satan once again proposes an alliance with Gabriel: “We could share this world…you…and I…” Dracula and his son, Alucard (“Dracula” reversed), remain silent, Satan chuckling, “But you desire to destroy me… I see that now.” Satan then shifts his motive from conquest of the world to its wanton destruction: “I’m very well aware of your power, Gabriel. However…I desire to destroy this world.” With that, the room begins to quake and split apart, and as the surroundings crumble, Satan vaunts, “If I cannot rule the world of men…then no one will!”

A massive, wormlike leviathan bursts through the floor, Satan surfing the beast into the sky. Dracula and Alucard mount the ascending leviathan and, of course, manage to slay the monster before it is able to carry out Satan’s command to destroy the world. As the debris falls, Satan transforms into tarry ethereal form and possesses the body of Alucard, as he believes Gabriel will not be able to harm the body of his son. After the game’s final boss battle, the two fall from the sky and crash into a city street like meteorites. “You won’t kill your son to destroy me,” mocks the incapacitated Satan/Alucard. Gabriel begs to differ, and as he proceeds to stake the body of Alucard in dramatic slow-motion, Satan dives out of the boy’s body and assumes his own form. Having anticipated this, Gabriel thrusts Satan against a gate and daggers him, at which point the impaled Satan goes limp and collapses. In an anticlimactic ending, Gabriel revives his son Alucard with blood from his own veins and exits before sunrise, leaving the demonic corpse of the fallen angel lying on the pavement.

Satan’s first Castlevania incarnation was subtle, the Prince of Darkness given an angelic beauty slightly sullied by his exile from Heaven, much akin to Romantic renditions of Milton’s Satan in the visual arts. Satan likewise possessed the Miltonic-Romantic arch-rebel’s aristocratic demeanor and titanic ambition, and his mixed sympathy and contempt for the Gabriel character recalled the ambiguity of the Byronic Lucifer. Satan’s second Castlevania incarnation is as different from his first as could possibly be. While he formerly sought to re-ascend into Heaven and bring the Almighty to his knees, here Satan’s ambition is far more measured, as he wishes only to rule the mortal world and settles for demolishing it. While he formerly reflected on his prestigious place in Heaven, brooded over his infernal ruin, vaunted his patricidal/deicidal endeavors, and exuded an air of monarchal divinity, here Satan is given few lines (a terrible waste of the vocal talent of Jason Isaacs), all of which completely lack the complexity of his dialogue in the first game. The entire Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 game builds up to an epic confrontation between Dracula and Satan, but they hardly exchange words and their battle is terribly brief, the payoff in terms of story and gameplay tremendously unfulfilling for the player. Alas, if Castlevania summoned the Miltonic-Romantic Satan in the first Lords of Shadow game, its sequel vanquished him with little care, having recast the regal apostate angel as a monstrous, muscle-bound brute roid-raging through the cosmos.

 

 

Notes


1. Gavin Baddeley, with Dani Filth, The Gospel of Filth: A Bible of Decadence & Darkness (Godalming, Surrey: FAB Press Ltd., [2009] 2010), p. 42.

2. This Satan’s dialogue, it must be said, appears to be somewhat indebted to the Lucifer of the 1995 film The Prophecy: Lucifer, as played with relish by Viggo Mortensen, asserts, “I was the first angel, loved once above all others,” and in the end amusingly pleads for the male lead’s alliance thus: “I love you! I love you more than Jesus!” Mortals are routinely referred to as “monkeys” by the disdainful angelic characters throughout the film.

3. Certain critics of Byron’s Cain have insisted that its portrayal of Lucifer is traditional, the rebel angel’s companionship with Cain a false face. See, for example, N. Stephen Bauer, “Byron’s Doubting Cain,” South Atlantic Bulletin, Vol. 39, No. 2 (May, 1974), pp. 80–88, and Wolf Z. Hirst, “Byron’s Lapse into Orthodoxy: An Unorthodox Reading of Cain,” Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 29, (1980), pp. 151–72.

4. This is also reminiscent of St. Anselm’s unique assessment of Satan’s self-sought apotheosis in his essay On the Fall of the Devil (ca. 1080–1086). Anselm explains that Lucifer aspired to godhead not by attempting to overpower the Almighty—an impossible act that a supernatural being as intelligent as Heaven’s highest angel could not possibly have believed—but by merely being prideful, which is to say, by valuing his own self-will above the will of God. In exalting his own will above God’s will, Satan’s ambition, according to Anselm, was to be not only equal to but in fact greater than God: “Even if he didn’t will to be completely equal to God, but instead willed something less than equality with God that was contrary to God’s will: by that very fact he willed inordinately to be like God, since he willed something by his own will, which was not subjected to anyone else. For it is the prerogative of God alone to will anything by his own will in such a way that he does not follow any higher will.…Now he did not merely will to be equal to God by presuming to have a will of his own; he willed to be even greater than God, in that he placed his own will above God’s will by willing what God didn’t want him to will.” (Anselm, On the Fall of the Devil, in Basic Writings, ed. and trans. Thomas Williams [Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2007], p. 178.) See also John M. Steadman, “Satan and the Argument from Equality,” in Milton’s Epic Characters: Image and Idol (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, [1959] 1968), pp. 160–73.

The Ambivalence of Horror’s Homage to Milton: The Video for GosT’s “Arise”

Milton’s Paradise Lost has proven to be popular within the horror genre.1 The latest example of horror’s homage to Milton has come in the form of the video for the song “Arise” off the 2016 album Non Paradisi by GosT, the skull-masked, synthwave solo act. GosT’s label, Blood Music, is described as an organization “dedicated to anthropological and cultural preservation of extreme metal music,” yet “Arise” is very much reminiscent of a 1980s, John Carpenter-style, synthesized horror film soundtrack. Proudly donning its Miltonic influences on its sleeve, GosT’s Non Paradisi album is described as “a loose musical adaptation of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, concerning Lucifer’s fall from Heaven and ensuing ascent from the Lake of Fire.” The video for “Arise”—itself a reference to the call with which Milton’s Satan summons his fallen legions in Hell (“Awake, arise, or be for ever fall’n” [I.330])—charts this Satanic epic, with imagery commingling traditional illustrations of Paradise Lost and Halloween-style horror.

While the video for Delta Heavy’s “White Flag” had a smooth and cartoonish Super Nintendo look, the video for “Arise” has more of a gritty and violent Sega Genesis style, which works well for GosT’s 80s horror aesthetic. I’m not convinced that it works for the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer, however. “Arise” highlights the ambivalence of horror’s adoption of Paradise Lost, as the genre’s homage to Milton’s masterpiece can have a negative impact on the epic poem’s unique vision of the Satanic. With the exception of the video’s original opening—the silhouettes of rebel angels in their retreat and Lucifer’s ejection from Heaven—most of the imagery is lifted straight from the artwork of Gustave Doré and John Martin (in some cases depicting moments preceding and following those captured by the artwork). Yet the majestic artwork of Doré and Martin does not mesh well with the Halloween imagery the “Arise” video is suffused with: an overabundance of skulls, skeletons, inverted crosses, and monsters.

Paradise Lost has some elements of the monstrous, such as the native denizens of Hell—“worse / Than Fables yet have feign’d, or fear conceiv’d, / Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimeras dire” (II.626–28)—and Sin and Death (II.648 ff.), but such monstrousness does not quite extend to the fallen angels. Of course, Milton does in the end bring Satan and his coconspirators horrifyingly low: when he returns to Hell after triumphing in Eden, Satan is transformed into “A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone” (X.514) at the conclusion of his exultant speech, Satan’s supporters suffering the same ignominy, “all transform’d / Alike, to Serpents all as accessories / To his bold Riot…” (X.519–21). Satan’s judgment seems reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno insofar as his punishment in Hell correlates to his crime on Earth, Satan “punisht in the shape he sinn’d, / According to his doom” (X.516–17), but in truth Milton’s judgment is far less harsh than Dantean torment because it is a temporary punishment. Milton writes of his writhing fallen angels, “thir lost shape, permitted, they resum’d,” explaining to the reader that this ignominious metamorphosis is merely an “annual humbling certain number’d days, / To dash thir pride, and joy for Man seduc’t” (X.574, 576–77).

The lost shape Paradise Lost’s fallen angels resume is rather dignified: Milton likens the Hell-doomed host to a lightning-scorched but nonetheless stately forest (I.612–15)—a far cry from the horribly deformed faces of the angels tossed into the fiery pit of Hell in the “Arise” video. No, Milton’s rebel angels, despite their diminished glory, bear “Godlike shapes and forms / Excelling human, Princely Dignities…” (I.358–59). None are as princely and godlike as Satan himself, who stands “above the rest / In shape and gesture proudly eminent / …like a Tow’r…” (I.589–91). As the heavenly Lucifer he was “Sun-bright” (VI.100), yet even as a ruined archangel in Hell he retains much of his “Original brightness” (I.592), Satan still likened to the Sun, but as obscured by a misty horizon or eclipsed by the moon (I.592–99)—“Dark’n’d so, yet shone / Above them all th’ Arch-Angel…” (I.599–600). The only trace of genuine deformity in Milton’s Satan is that “his face / Deep scars of Thunder had intrencht” (I.600–01), yet these battle scars only serve to make him seem more heroic, Satan’s thunder-scarred visage merely magnifying the impressiveness of his “Brows / Of dauntless courage, and considerate Pride” (I.602–3). To its credit, the “Arise” video depicts Satan’s facial scars, which have been entirely ignored by all artists of Milton’s poem. Unfortunately, the scars do not stop at a cracked porcelain face; by the end of “Arise,” Satan’s face has decayed to an almost skeletal state, and the horns protruding from his head are no less unflattering—no less unMiltonic.

“Arise” delights in depicting such monstrous decay, and the triumph of the horror elements over the Miltonic-Romantic iconography is illustrated by the precedence the GosT character assumes in the video. Among the many Doré pieces the video employs is Doré’s towering Satan summoning Beëlzebub, but in this case Satan is recast as Beëlzebub, now looking up in awe at the towering figure of GosT, which makes for a jarring image. GosT’s eponymous frontman explained in an interview that the video’s variation on Paradise Lost was “casting GosT…as the right hand of Lucifer. In our version, GosT is instrumental in helping Lucifer rise from the lake of fire and triumphantly claim his new throne without the unjust hand of God controlling his every move.” Within the walls of “Pandemonium – the City of Satan,” however, it is GosT who is crowned the king of Hell and ascends the infernal throne, once again replacing Satan—this time, the Satan of Martin’s image. Satan’s seat is not only usurped but reduced in significance, Pandemonium reimagined as a gothic horror rock concert, GosT presiding over bestial demons. Meanwhile, Satan ascends to Eden (with raptured skeletons), and in the final shot of the demonic angel (“O how fall’n! how chang’d…” [PL, I.84]) overlooking Eden, it is quite clear that the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer invoked at the start of the video has been consumed by the horror element.

With “Arise,” Paradise Lost is exploited as a means of exalting the GosT brand—the symbolic significance of which is the GosT character’s coronation—but at the expense of the imagery of Milton’s poem, particularly as brought to life by Doré and Martin (and many others). GosT’s “Arise” was a nice attempt at playing with traditional Miltonic iconography, but the video highlights the double-edged sword of horror’s homage to Milton’s Paradise Lost.

 

 

Notes


1. See, for example, Laura Lunger Knoppers and Gregory M. Colón Semenza, eds. Milton in Popular Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, [2006] 2007), “Part II: Milton in Horror Film,” pp. 83–124; Eric C. Brown, Milton on Film (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 2015), Ch. 6, “ ‘All Hell Broke Loose’: The Horror Film,” pp. 283–324.

Super Nintendo Satan: Delta Heavy’s “White Flag” Video

Milton’s Paradise Lost as an SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) RPG (Role-Playing Game)—that is what the music video for English electronic duo Delta Heavy’s “White Flag” delivers. The Super Nintendo-style video for “White Flag”—a track off of Paradise Lost, Delta Heavy’s debut album of 2016—was directed by Najeeb Tarazi, who had previously worked as a technical director on Pixar blockbusters Toy Story 3 and Monsters University. Tarazi’s vision for the “White Flag” video was inverting the Miltonic treatment of the fall of Lucifer: “ ‘White Flag’ is about letting your guard down in love…I wanted to try turning the myth of Paradise Lost on its head and tell a story where Satan apologizes after his defeat and seeks a path of love. In reply to Satan’s apology, God brutally punishes Satan again.”

The video for “White Flag” starts with an unmistakably SNES-style title screen, and once the unseen “player” starts the pretend Super Nintendo game, we open to a cherubic (albeit bat-winged) Satan—with curly golden locks and a toga—lying prostrate on Hell’s lake of fire, just as we first see Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost. In this video(game), Satan soon awakens and takes flight across the lake of fire, which is littered with his fellow fallen angels. Magma erupts like rising pillars toward the sulfurous sky, wherefrom more angels haplessly descend like meteorites. Before long, Satan gracefully lands in front of the gates of Hell (a simple sign replacing Sin and Death in this version), and he is soon approached by his second-in-command, Beëlzebub, who is here imagined as a cartoonish, somewhat Lovecraftian “Lord of the Flies.” This buzzing Beëlzebub speaks to Satan in the simple dialogue familiar to SNES games: “SATAN! Only you can save us. Defeat GOD.” With that, Satan “Springs upward like a Pyramid of fire” (PL, II.1013) through the smoke-clouds of Hell and starts his journey through the cosmos (in this case, skipping over the difficult course through Chaos).

Satan darts past the Earth and, with fierce determination in his bright red eyes, heads toward a cosmic chasm, through which Satan enters into Heaven (the steps of which Satan stops at in Paradise Lost [III.498–543]). Satan confidently wings his way up to a cloud, and though he wields a spear, Satan passively takes the blows as he is stormed by a swiping flight of hostile cherubs. The video gives the impression that, as an RPG, the player is given options: “FIGHT,” “RUN,” “APOLOGIZE.” As Almighty God—uniquely portrayed as a cloudy matriarch—descends from up above, Satan chooses to apologize, but he is met with further hostility by the archangel Michael and the Son of God, with amusing messages to the “player”: “GOD summons MICHAEL!” and “JESUS casts LIGHTNING II!” Satan retaliates with only a bright pink cartoon heart that appears above his head. God and His/Her Son disappear, however, and the heart hovering over Satan’s head is replaced by a question mark. As the song’s beat drops, Satan is repeatedly shanked by a titanic hand thrusting down from above, the apologetic angel screaming out in unimaginable pain. Satan collapses onto his cloud, and is soon unceremoniously dumped out of Heaven by two cherubs.

Falling back through the chasm into the cosmos, the unconscious Satan tumbles through the stars like a piece of fruit falling through the branches of a tree. Back in Hell, Beëlzebub pokes through Hell’s clouds to see Satan streaking through the starry sky like a comet. A wide shot of the Earth then shows Satan’s descent through a shaft of light. Now in the Garden of Eden, we see Satan crash-land face-down—not unlike how he started on Hell’s lake of fire—and while the only option the “player” now seems to have is to “DIE,” two shadowy figures (surely Ben Hall and Simon James of Delta Heavy) from behind the bushes toss Satan an apple, the fallen angel transforming into a sort of “Super-Satan,” with red skin, bulging muscles, flaming hair, and horns. Turning his determined gaze heavenward, Satan re-ascends back through the shaft of light. Back in Heaven, Satan—hell-bent on gaining God’s forgiveness—clinches the Son in his arms, transforming back into (fallen) angel form, and the Son’s face appears just as pained as Satan’s when he felt the wrath of God moments earlier. This time, a cataract descends from God’s cloudy throne through the chasm and out into the cosmos. In the Garden of Eden, the rainfall makes the infamous apple drop down onto the Eden serpent’s head—symbolic, perhaps, of this revision excising that portion of the story, Satan having turned over a new leaf. As flowers begin to sprout up amidst the arid soil of Hell, courtesy of the heavenly rainfall, Satan lands back in front of Beëlzebub, no dialogue exchanged between the two. The video then ends with a shot of the Milky Way, with a cartoon heart at its center, as the “game” announces to the “player,” “GAME OVER.”

The “White Flag” video starts and ends like a Super Nintendo game, but while this 16-bit reimagining of Milton’s Paradise Lost shares a very similar opening to the poem, the ending is entirely different. While, of course, Tarazi nods to the tradition of Satan’s salvation and reconciliation with the Almighty—more popular with the French Romantics1—the conclusion to this video is a bit more ambiguous. In the end, Satan and Beëlzebub still appear fallen (Beëlzebub undeniably so). If this were a Super Nintendo game, this could be explained away by an inability to create any more sprites given the limited memory of the 16-bit system. This is not an SNES game, however; so what might the significance of the ending be? In Paradise Lost, when Satan sets foot on Earth and observes the glory of the Sun, which brings back the bitter memory of his former state, forever forfeited by his rebellion (IV.9–41), Satan contemplates the thought of repentance, ultimately rejecting the idea because he knows his pride would compel him to challenge the Almighty all over again (IV.79–102). God, Satan concludes, as “punisher” is “as far / From granting…as I from begging peace” (IV.103–04), and so “All hope [is] excluded…” (IV.105). The Christian tradition has always identified an element of pride in such despair, however, as people who believes themselves irredeemable essentially state that not even God Himself can save them, which is a curious assertion of superiority to the Almighty. Tarazi seems to turn this on its head, showing a Satan strong enough to force Almighty God to forgive him after a futile attempt at apologizing. After all, Tarazi’s explanation of his vision for the video makes no hint of God actually accepting Satan’s apology: “…Satan apologizes after his defeat and seeks a path of love. In reply to Satan’s apology, God brutally punishes Satan again.”

The God Tarazi describes is reminiscent of the Romantic view of God as omnipotent tyrant, and in turn Tarazi’s Satan, imagined as a fallen but forgiving angel, resembles Shelley’s Prometheus in Prometheus Unbound (1820). Whereas Byron’s vision of the Titan in his poem “Prometheus” (1816) was one of noble defiance of despair—much like the Lucifer of his Cain (1821), who “Prefer[s] an independency of torture / To the smooth agonies of adulation” (I.i.385–86)—Shelley envisioned a Prometheus who repents of his hatred for his oppressor, Jupiter. It is this Promethean power of universal love that leads to the tyrant’s overthrow and the ushering in of Shelley’s vision of a cosmic utopia.

While clearly not the arch-rebel of the Miltonic-Byronic tradition, the Satan of the video for Delta Heavy’s “White Flag” seems closer to Shelley’s scenario of the loving prisoner overcoming the coldhearted torturer than a reconciliation of God and the Devil. In short, Satan is triumphant, but he triumphs because he overcomes his hatred for the cruel God, thereby introducing love rather than chaos into the cosmos. Therefore, this cartoonish, Super Nintendo Satan, ironically enough, makes for an interesting fusion of the Romantic Satan and Prometheus.

 

 

Notes


1. See Maximilian Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, [1931] 1959), Ch. XXII, “The Salvation of Satan in Modern Poetry,” pp. 280–308; Jeffrey Burton Russell, Mephistopheles: the Devil in the Modern World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, [1986] 1990), pp. 194–200; Ruben van Luijk, Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 74–76, 105–08.

“Rattle That Lock”: A Tribute to the Satan of Milton and Doré

“Rattle That Lock” is the title track of David Gilmour’s 2015 stand-alone album, and the video for the Miltonic-themed song, carried out by the company Trunk Animation, brings to life Gustave Doré’s spectacular engravings for Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Polly Samson, wife of Gilmour and lyricist behind “Rattle That Lock,” explained that the inspiration for the song was “the need not to fall into an apathetic or despairing state” in the face of the seemingly unshakeable status quo, which makes would-be protestors feel increasingly hopeless, Samson asserting, “even if you can’t change anything, personally you’ll feel better if you go and kind of shake your fist…rather than just sort of slump.” Samson found the most dramatic expression of this sentiment in Milton’s Paradise Lost—both in the heroic journey the Hell-doomed rebel angel Satan takes through Chaos to reach Eden—in defiance of the God who expelled him from Heaven—and in the exile of Adam and Eve, who take “thir solitary way” (XII.649) out of Eden’s eastern gate. The lyrics for the song unmistakably allude to Milton—with a Satanic Romantic slant on the Miltonic treatment of the Fall:

Whatever it takes to break

Gotta do it

From the burning lake or the eastern gate

You’ll get through it

Rattle that lock, lose those chains…

Gilmour applauded the brilliant video for “Rattle That Lock,” which he found “highlights a darkness in the song that couldn’t have been shown any other way.” Samson commended the creators of the video for capturing that darkness by invoking the spirit of Doré’s vision of Paradise Lost: “I think the animators have done a fine job: paying homage to Gustave Doré…” Appropriately dubbed “the last of the Romantics,” the nineteenth-century French engraver Doré was almost superhumanly prolific, creating scores of incredible wood engravings for the Bible, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and of course Milton’s Paradise Lost. Doré’s fifty engravings for Paradise Lost were commissioned in 1866, and these genuinely marvelous pieces are the most popular illustrations of Milton’s masterpiece. If the layperson has seen Milton’s Satan, it has most likely been Doré’s interpretation of the ruined archangel, and it would be impossible for anyone who has laid eyes on Doré’s depiction of Paradise Lost and its Satan to miss their reappearance in the video for “Rattle That Lock.”

The very first moments of the “Rattle That Lock” video capture the spirit of Doré’s masterful work: serenity, interrupted by catastrophe, which appears somehow magnificent. Opening with celestial light shining through thick clouds in tune with the jingle repeated throughout the song—the jingle that precedes French railway station announcements, actually—robed shades ascend by way of a vast circular staircase, the peace suddenly broken by the lone figure of Lucifer, who plummets rapidly from the light up above. This Lucifer’s look is distinctly Doréan: beautiful and barefoot, but donning a Roman tunic and regal body armor. The shackled angel falls haplessly down through the middle of the spiraling heavenly staircase, his feathery wings molting as he falls. With perhaps a nod to the legend of the emerald crown of the fallen Lucifer residing somewhere in the world (the subject of Swedish metal band Therion’s “Emerald Crown,” incidentally), this Lucifer witnesses the emerald at the center of his armor released into the air. Before long, the armor itself is stripped off, and as the falling angel approaches the fiery lake below, we see true terror in his emerald-green eyes—the only color in the otherwise black-and-white video, made to resemble Doré’s engravings. His final feather plucked by the unforgiving winds, Lucifer is left with scabbed bat-wings, and, having failed to wriggle his wrists out of their shackles, he protects himself from the impending impact by encasing himself within his now leathery pennons, plunging into the lake below.

Even though this Lucifer falls from Heaven alone rather than with his legions of rebel angels, his fall captures the spirit of Milton’s dramatic description of Satan “Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Sky” (I.45) at the start of Paradise Lost. After the fall, the video becomes much more abstract, but a number of Miltonic moments are still discernible. The fallen angel emerges from his wings as if from a shell, having assumed the form of a cormorant. In Paradise Lost, Satan assumes various animal disguises during his covert mission in Eden, first observing Adam and Eve as a cormorant, seated atop the Tree of Life (IV.194 ff.). In the “Rattle That Lock” video, as the Satanic cormorant makes his way through the waters and reaches the surface, we bear witness to the dreary Underworld, which is much more Dantean than Miltonic. While Paradise Lost catalogues mortal misfortune in its account of the Paradise of Fools (III.440–97), Milton curiously makes no mention of the tormented damned, and in fact his fallen angels engage in Olympian Games, mining, music, philosophy, and exploration in Hell (II.528–628). Doré followed Milton’s lead in his engravings for Paradise Lost, illustrating the native denizens of Hell—“worse / Than Fables yet have feign’d, or fear conceiv’d, / Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimeras dire” (II.626–28)—and the Paradise of Fools, but not human torment in Hell. The animators for “Rattle That Lock” opted for Doré’s gruesome depictions of Dante’s Hell.

In the midst of his flight, the Satanic cormorant snatches prey from the air and enters into Pandaemonium—here imagined as the Colosseum—which, unlike Paradise Lost’s “high Capitol / Of Satan and his Peers” (I.756–57), is desolate. The cormorant lands atop Hell’s throne, which actually resembles the throne John Martin imagined for Milton’s Satan, and feeds his prey to the newly hatched serpents seated on the throne, which I assume represent the “Discord, Chance and Rumor” mentioned in the lyrics—a reference to three of the various forces at work in the realm of Chaos in Paradise Lost (II.965–67). The proud Satanic cormorant then takes flight once again, heading toward the gates of Hell, soaring past the vast wasteland of Classical ruins beneath him, his falling feathers bringing bad influence, such as the Dantean wood of the suicides.

Atop the towering gates of Hell are Sin and Death, who differ from their Miltonic (and Doréan) incarnations. In Paradise Lost, Sin—who burst unbidden out of the celestial conspirator Satan’s haughty head (II.749–58), a la Athena from the head of Zeus—is described as a fair woman from above the waist and a monstrous serpent from the waist down, reflecting her father’s transformation from glorious Lucifer to darkened Satan. Sin became so deformed, she explains to her fallen father, because of their incestuous union. “Likest to thee in shape and count’nance bright, / Then shining heav’nly fair” (II.756–57), Sin tells Satan, the prideful angel saw in his daughter his own “perfect image” (II.764), and in turn “Becam’st enamor’d” (II.765), Satan’s sinful self-love made literal. The fruit of their incestuous intercourse is Death, Satan’s “Son and Grandchild both” (X.384), who rapes his mother, marring the lower half of her perfect form into a monstrosity (II.761–802), not least of which are the barking Hell-hounds, which retreat into Sin’s nether region only to gnaw at her bowels. (In the “Rattle That Lock” video, Sin holds the unruly dogs by leash.) In their explosive first encounter, Death boasts that he is Satan’s “King and Lord” (II.699), only prevented from killing his indignantly incensed (grand)father by his mother, Sin (II.704–26). Playing on the biblical passage observing that “when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15), Milton’s infernal parody of the Trinity with Satan, Sin and Death is meant to demonstrate—in horrid vividness—the self-destruction resulting from Satanic self-aggrandizement. While the “Rattle That Lock” video appears to connote a similar idea with the Satanic cormorant’s feeding of the three serpents, which are hostile to one another, there is none of the infernal family feuding here; indeed, Death—who resembles more the stereotypical grim reaper than Milton’s challenging description of a nebulous “shadow” donning on “what seem’d his head / The likeness of a Kingly Crown” (II.669, 672–73), which was a copout several Milton illustrators resorted to—in this case welcomes Satan, Death inviting him to enter through the Hell-gates.

The Satanic cormorant enters through the three layers of the gates of Hell—brass, iron, and adamant in Paradise Lost (II.643–48)—and enters into Chaos. The realm of Chaos proved another difficult Miltonic description, confounding artists who attempted to portray it. Doré’s engraving for Satan venturing through Chaos portrays the fallen angel straddling a mountainous cliff, but in the “Rattle That Lock” video Chaos is portrayed as more of a tempestuous, oceanic space—and, as such, is somewhat closer to Milton’s description (II.890–927). In the video, upon entering Chaos, Satan assumes his final, serpentine form, slithering through the air in defiance of the fierce winds, waves, lightning, and flaming rainfall. Finally, the Satanic serpent pierces through to our cosmos, our vulnerable world reflected in his glassy eye. Darting downward, the Satanic serpent descends toward the Earth in spirals. What follows next: “all Hell broke loose,” in the words of Milton (IV.918), a massive vacuum sucking the Underworld through the gates of Hell and Chaos, the debris (including the chain which bound the fallen angel earlier) swirling downward with the serpent, encircling the Earth. As Nature is disrupted by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the “golden Chain” suspending our “pendant world” (II.1051–52) is withdrawn into the ocean as the serpent and the sulfurous swirls which follow in his wake enwrap the globe, the camera zooming out to reveal the planet free-floating, seemingly alone in the universe, alienated from Heaven.

As the “Rattle That Lock” video ends, we are left with the same ambivalent impression made by Milton’s poem: while we sympathize with the fallen angel who is cast down from Heaven into Hell, and while we admire Satan for his dauntless courage—exhibited not least in his temerity as a voyager—we are made to remember the end result of Satan’s heroic voyage: the infernal conquest of the world. All the same, the dramatic fall of Lucifer at the start of the video is genuinely Romantic: catastrophic loss and liberation intertwined. “Rattle that lock, lose those chains,” the chorus chants as Lucifer plummets toward the lake of fire, the voice of Gilmour reassuring us that “From the burning lake or the eastern gate / You’ll get through it…” The message matches that of the Romantic Satanists: “Whatever it takes to break / Gotta do it…”

Whether it’s the fallen archangel chained on Hell’s burning lake or our postlapsarian parents exiled through Eden’s eastern gate, what matters most is that, even if they could not break their fetters, they rattled their locks. Milton’s Satan could not overthrow Almighty God, but by his doomed defiance, Satan “shook his throne” (I.105) inasmuch as he refused to offer “Knee-tribute…prostration vile” (V.782), and even in Hell disdained “To bow and sue for grace / With suppliant knee, and deify his power,” which, the prideful Satan declares, “were an ignominy and shame beneath / This downfall…” (I.111–16). “Satan wants to go on being Satan,” observed Christian apologist and Milton critic C. S. Lewis. “That is the real meaning of his choice ‘Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n’ [I.263].”1 We can all sympathize with the spirit of this: we face seemingly insurmountable forces in life, but trudge on, wading through the world in a struggle to stay true to ourselves. It a sentiment at the heart of Romantic Satanism, captured quite beautifully in Gilmour’s “Rattle That Lock” song and its accompanying video, which, if nothing else, is the closest we’ve come to getting an animated film of Paradise Lost, demonstrating the potential in such an endeavor.

 

 

Notes


1. C. S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost (London: Oxford University Press, [1942] 1961), p. 103.

Lucifer on Fox – Review of First Season

I decided to cease writing episodic reviews of Lucifer on Fox on account of the show having been entirely uprooted from Mike Carey’s rich comic. The premiere episode of Lucifer’s second season highlighted that the show has become irredeemably campy, with its supernatural characters simply all-too-human and Lucifer himself reduced to little more than a running joke in his own show. The Satanic Scholar’s blog reviews for the thirteen-episode first season of Lucifer on Fox have been relocated here:

S1:E1, “Pilot” (1/27/2016)

S1:E2, “Lucifer, Stay. Good Devil” (2/2/2016)

S1:E3, “The Would-Be Prince of Darkness” (2/9/2016)

S1:E4, “Manly Whatnots” (2/16/2016)

S1:E5, “Sweet Kicks” (2/23/2016)

S1:E6, “Favorite Son” (3/16/2016)

S1:E7, “Wingman” (3/18/2016)

S1:E8, “Et Tu, Doctor?” (3/20/2016)

S1:E9, “A Priest Walks into a Bar” (3/22/2016)

S1:E10, “Pops” (3/29/2016)

S1:E11, “St. Lucifer” (4/12/2016)

S1:E12, “#TeamLucifer” (4/21/2016)

S1:E13, “Take Me Back To Hell” (5/16/2016)

I was someone who read Vertigo’s Lucifer comic religiously, finding in Mike Carey’s Lucifer Morningstar character the Miltonic-Romantic Satan’s true heir. With this in mind, I feel I was quite supportive of the effort to bring Lucifer to the small screen, and exceedingly understanding of the inevitable alterations to the source material necessitated by the endeavor of translating a sympathetic Satan to the mainstream medium of television. I understood, for instance, that while Vertigo’s Lucifer comic could revel in its irreverence, Fox’s Lucifer show would understandably have to soften its sacrilegious aspects so as to avoid early cancelation (the very title of the show alone was destined to court controversy), and that while Vertigo’s Lucifer comic could go wild with supernatural spectacle (a cigar chomping ex-cherub, a living tarot deck, angelic wars, alternate universes, a young girl assuming the Throne of God, etc.), Fox’s Lucifer show would understandably be forced to downplay the heavenly and hellish elements by virtue of its limited budget. Many fans of the Lucifer comic were irate by the time the show’s initial trailer was released, but I understood the multifaceted challenges involved in carrying out Lucifer on Fox successfully, and I was willing to play Devil’s advocate, hoping for the best. All that I expected of Fox’s Lucifer was for it to stay true to the spirit of the comic’s characters, particularly the titular angelic anti-hero, and after spending time watching and writing about the entire first season of the show, I simply could not say that the creators of Lucifer on Fox either accomplished or even made an honest effort to accomplish this.

I understand that the Lucifer show had to be more down-to-earth than the Lucifer comic, but Fox brought the empyrean rebel Lucifer far too down-to-earth, and it served to make the Morningstar more an irritating playboy than an admirable anti-hero. In the Lucifer comic, for instance, the princely fallen angel possessed élite elegance and the aristocratic arrogance to match, and while the Lucifer show tried to make the Devil debonair and smooth-tongued, Lucifer’s sophistication suffered greatly throughout the first season, the titanic rebel against Almighty God displaying a penchant for pop culture and petty gossip. What’s more, while the Lucifer comic always emphasized that Lucifer is a son of God, Carey’s Lucifer was never childish, and he always possessed lofty existential aspirations—namely absolute autonomy, the pursuit of which was his raison d’être. Fox’s Lucifer, on the other hand, presented us with an extremely adolescent version of the fallen angel—a mildly mischievous and oversexed man who with each week drifted further away from his comic incarnation until the last traces of Carey’s Lucifer were lost.

Season one of Lucifer on Fox got off to a tepid start and peaked at its sixth episode, “Favorite Son,” yet even there the contrast between the show and the comic was drastic, for while the writers had starring lead Tom Ellis practically recite lines from the source material,1 the actor’s delivery made his Lucifer come off more as a hurt and awkward child than as the epic personality that bursts off the pages of the Lucifer comics. The final blow to the Vertigo Lucifer character was delivered in the season finale, when a mortally wounded Lucifer begs for his heavenly Father’s help as he vows to amend his ways: “I’ll be the son you always wanted me to be. I’ll do as you ask, go where you want me to.” That is not Vertigo’s Lucifer, and the Devil’s quasi deathbed repentance served to tear the heart from the Lucifer Morningstar character the show is based upon—the uncompromisingly independent figure who, when he at long last comes face-to-face with his Father Yahweh at the conclusion of his 75-issue series, proudly reasserts his independence: “I’ve always been the one who said no to you, Father.”2 Fox clearly failed to do the Devil of Vertigo’s Lucifer justice, instead delivering an ersatz Satan. Perhaps the silver lining of Lucifer on Fox was that it seemed to serve as the impetus for resurrecting Vertigo’s Lucifer comic, teen fantasy novelist Holly Black picking up where Mike Carey left off—and doing a much better job than the creators of the Lucifer TV show.

I believe Lucifer on Fox could have been a decent translation of the Vertigo comic, even if the creators of the show had to resort to the familiar police procedural model to appeal to a broader audience. Yet perhaps the failed endeavor of properly transforming Vertigo’s Lucifer into a TV show demonstrates the danger of the Prince of Darkness being invoked in popular culture: while a popular medium like television serves as an efficient means of exposing mass audiences to modern-day manifestations of the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer, the populism of the medium threatens to dilute any such distinguished Devils in the process. On a more positive note, while Fox’s Lucifer show may have been loosely based on Vertigo’s Lucifer comic, to say the least, it illustrated that it is possible to have Satan as the star of a commercially successful, mainstream TV show—his proud name gracing the small screen—which is a glaring example of the fallen angel’s current cultural ascension. All the same, I definitely would have preferred that the show fail for being too faithful to the comic rather than be successful for straying too far from it.

 

 

Notes


1. See Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Season of Mists (New York: DC Comics, 2010), “Episode 2”; Mike Carey, Lucifer: Evensong (New York: DC Comics, 2007), p. 143.

2. Carey, Lucifer: Evensong, p. 160.

Clips from My Trip to Ricardo Bellver’s Fallen Angel Statue(s) in Madrid

In addition to my write-up for my pilgrimage to Ricardo Bellver’s El Ángel Caído (The Fallen Angel, 1877) in Madrid’s Retiro Park and the replica Fallen Angel statue in the Spanish capital’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando (Bellver’s alma mater), I have edited two short clips of my visit to the stunning statues, which brought the proud Miltonic-Romantic tradition’s Lucifer to life as the very pinnacle of the Satanic sublime.


 

 

 

Christopher J. C.

The Satanic Scholar’s YouTube Debut (Part 3 of 3)

Satanic Scholar Christopher J.C. discusses his site (TheSatanicScholar.com) and explores its aim of preserving the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer.

Part Three of this three-part documentary draws attention to the influence of the Miltonic-Romantic-Satanic tradition on our cultural milieu, which perhaps signifies a nascent movement of neo-Romantic Satanism. Discussed are the Miltonic-Romantic Satan’s reemergence in the Vertigo comic Lucifer—the most Romantic portrayal of the fallen angel since Lord Byron’s Cain—and its adaptation to the small screen on the Fox network, as well as subtler modern-day echoes of this distant tradition, namely New Atheism’s sympathy for the Miltonic Devil in the face of the parties of God.

Romantic Satanism and its Satanic School restored luster to Lucifer’s much tarnished name and image, and The Satanic Scholar—carrying the torch of the Romantic Satanists and perpetuating the memory of the majestic Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer—claims the proud honor of preserving this grand tradition, endeavoring to give its distinguished Devil his due.

(Excerpts from the Romantic Satanists read by Gavin Baddeley, English journalist and author of Lucifer Rising.)