C. S. Lewis

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Student Question

Which passages from "Paradise Lost" does C.S. Lewis cite as evidence of Satan being self-deluded and a figure of fun?

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In Lewis's essay on Satan, he takes a position that is uniquely different from the standard read on the antagonist in Milton's work.  Lewis deconstructs Satan's position with many different uses of Milton's language to demonstrate that Satan cannot be really taken seriously as a misunderstood figure or someone who has a legitimate claim to power.  Lewis suggests that the reader must recognize that Milton constructed a character that is fundamentally weak and immature, reflective of the lesser aspects in human beings.  It is incumbent on the individual to refuse the idea that there is something profound in Satan.  Lewis uses Milton's language to suggest that he is not very coherent in his analysis and motivation, and this self- delusion should be rejected by the thinking individual.

Lewis suggests that the reader's introduction to Satan is significant.  He makes reference to Book I to reflect that Satan's lack of gravity is evident from the start: "The devil suffers from a sense of "injur'd merit" (PL I, 98) something that Lewis reduces to the same condition as domestic animals, children, film stars, minor politicians, and minor poets."  In being able to reduce Satan to the level of "film star" is a direct means of taking away anything profound or deep to the character.  In this reference, Lewis is able to help make a case that from the start of the epic poem, Satan is not a figure that resembles a "serious menace."

Lewis suggests that as the narrative develops, it becomes clear that Satan cannot be seen as a realistic threat to the rule of the divine.  Satan's position is consisting of moving targets and shifting advocacies, reflective of an immaturity where one is simply grasping for any justification.  In quoting fro, Book V, Lewis expands on this:

Hence his [Satan's] revolt is entangled in contradictions from the very outset, and he cannot even raise the banner of liberty and equality without admitting in a tell- tale parenthesis that "Orders and Degrees Jarr not with liberty."  (V, 789)

Lewis makes the case that Satan cannot be seen as n imposing figure because he, himself, is unclear on what form his objection to God takes.  If he is uncertain, the logic goes, how can we, as the reader, take him seriously as an option to the certainty of the divine? Lewis quotes the different forms that Milton suggests Satan takes.  In being able to pull from the different forms that Satan takes, Lewis suggests that it reflects a less than serious characterization of Satan: "From hero to general, from general to politician, from politician to secret service agent, thence to a thing that peers in at bedroom or bathroom windows, and thence to a toad, and finally to a snake- such is the progress of Satan."  In quoting Milton's description of Satan at different part of the narrative, it helps to make Lewis's case that Satan is not one to be seen as a serious menace.

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