[Milton-L] [Fwd: Re: When and how did the canon die?]

Kirby J. Booker kirby_jo21 at yahoo.ca
Sat Nov 19 16:52:22 EST 2005

I don't feel comfortable judging if PL is more influential than ever, but I have noticed several references in readings assigned in my other classes. In Jack Hodgins' "The Invention of the World" cult leader Donal Keneally uses, "What, though the field be lost," in one of his inspirational speeches. I don't have all of the other books on hand but my friends and I have also noticed PL echoes in Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series: he is especially fond of the "palpable obscure," variations on it occur in other books outside the series as well. I think that it is almost impossible for later artists to totally escape the influence of great works like PL, although such works definitely ebb and flow in the popular consciousness (witness Hollywood's revival of classics starting with the success of "Gladiator"). Even those writing against or in mockery of Milton are still obviously influenced by him. 
  K.J. Booker

"Peter C. Herman" <herman2 at mail.sdsu.edu> wrote:
  One should also look at the many, many references to Milton in popular culture. For example, Neil Gaiman's graphic novel, Seasons of the Mist (I'm quoting the title from memory, so it might be a bit inaccurate), overtly rewrites Paradise Lost, as Pullman's equally wonderful series, His Dark Materials, also uses PL. The popularity of that series is why Oxford asked Pullman to write the introduction to the new, coffee table edition of PL cited by Joe Wittreich. 

As Wittreich notes in his forthcoming book, Why Milton Matters, Milton really occupies a unique position in the canon wars. On the one hand, he has come to represent the archetypal DWM whose works are a monument to dead ideas. Yet on the other hand, in non-academic circles, his works are constantly referenced and cited (another example, I remember that one of the Star Trek movies based itself on PL). He's tremendously popular, yet has the reputation of being tremendously unpopular.

Peter C. Herman

At 10:40 AM 11/19/2005, you wrote:
  See the Introduction to Philip Pullman's new edition of Paradise Lost:
"Paradise Lost . . . is more influential than ever . . . .  It will not
go away" (page 9).  Whom do you believe?

-----Original Message-----
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
[mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Carrol Cox
Sent: Saturday, November 19, 2005 12:14 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: [Milton-L] [Fwd: Re: When and how did the canon die?]

This is from an ongoing discussion re coneptions of "the canon" on
C18-L. The penultimate paragraph might be of interest to Miltonists. Is
it accurate?


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: (On Topic) When and how did the canon die?
Date: Fri, 18 Nov 2005 21:50:09 -0400
From: Russ Hunt <hunt at STU.CA>
Reply-To: 18th Century Interdisciplinary Discussion
<C18-L at lists.psu.edu>
References: <BAY104-F389BD70979E62C294E609CB4510 at phx.gbl>

I'm hearing both that the canon never existed and that it's still alive
and well. And, oddly, I agree with both. Depends on what you think it

The question about its relation to school curricula and textbooks is a
powerful one. It seems to me we're talking about a couple of different,
but related things.  One is the set of assumptions about what
constitutes "the essential texts" or "the essential writers" embodied in
the textbook industry and the school/university curricular structures
which are symbiotic with them.  The other is the more theoretical set of
assumptions about the existence and nature of a literary tradition
(examples are, of course, Harold Bloom and F. R. Leavis -- and, on the
other end of some kind of spectrum, T. S. Eliot's redefinition of the
canon as including the metaphysicals and pushing Milton out of the

They're related, obviously; those lists that the Norton Anthology's
tables of contents defines are related to scholarly agreements about
which writers and works embody, in Arnold's phrase, the best that has
been thought and said. It's equally obvious that the relation works
reciprocally: what scholars decide or assume affects what publishers
produce and teachers teach -- but also, what teachers teach from
textbooks shapes the careers of those who graduate, go to grad school,
and start looking for a job. 

But my colleague's view is that the possibility of Irish literature
being taught and studied in mainstream English departments was dependent
on the decline of the idea that we all knew what was "worth teaching"
and it wasn't obscure Irish writers -- or women (except maybe Jane), or
even Canadian or Anglo-Indian or queer. 

I don't think there's any real question that that idea _has_ declined,
even if the Nortons and their ilk are still out there in the market (and
even there, as we all know, the "canon" has been extensively extended,
as those books get bigger and bigger and Dryden and Milton fade into the
subchapters and indexes). 

His question, and mine, is "did that start somewhere, or become
inevitable at some point?" Is there a story here that has definable
characters and events, and maybe even a climax or two?

-- Russ

Russell Hunt
Department of English
St. Thomas University

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