Which edition of Paradise Lost is best for a beginner?
February 18, 2014 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Which edition of Paradise Lost is best for a beginner? I'm reading the poem for the first time, and for own entertainment / education rather than as a class assignment. Any recommendations as to the best edition for someone new to the poem? Or just your own favorite? Thanks.
posted by typer126 to Religion & Philosophy (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think this depends partly on what sort of reader you envision yourself being. If, for instance, you think you might want to delve more into relevant contemporary sources and/or prominent literary interpretations of Milton's text-- OR if you think the language itself will be a hurdle and want a fully annotated edition-- then the Norton Critical edition offers a pretty solid student's copy of the poem with a lot of helpful additional material.

On the other hand, the Norton edition does have relatively tiny text on onion-skin paper that can be a bit unpleasant to read from at times. So if you're good to go with seventeenth-century language/background and just want an unmediated encounter with the text, you might actually look into a vintage edition with nice hardcover binding and big print on thick creamy paper. PL has been pretty continuously in print, so there must be lots of lovely 19th-century editions available for relatively cheap on abebooks.com; textual accuracy might not be cutting-edge, but that shouldn't worry a casual reader. Actually, any decent-sized public library or university library should have multiple copies of the poem, so one first step might be to stop by there, read a few pages in various editions, and see which makes for the best experience for you.
posted by Bardolph at 5:43 PM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

The Modern Library edition is a relatively large and readable paperback. There are a lot of useful explanatory footnotes, but you might be annoyed by jumping up and down while you read.

You can also find it on Gutenberg, or as a free kindle book, but without standardized modern spelling. This can be annoying, but I actually liked it, because I felt more connected to history, and also because it forced me to hear the sound of each word rather than just scanning through them.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:23 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Whichever edition you choose, I would suggest you try reading along to the Audible recording narrated by Anton Lesser. It's excellent, and it helped me appreciate the beauty of the language while maintaining the focus and momentum necessary to actually get through the poem. (I used the edition edited by Christopher Ricks, but I'm sure the Norton is great.)
posted by désoeuvrée at 3:10 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree, the Norton Critical edition is probably the most comprehensive. But I like that sort of thing.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around reading Milton for fun though.

You should be able to pick up a VERY cheap copy from textbook.com (because the minute you're done with the class, if you don't outright burn that mofo, you sell it.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:43 AM on February 19, 2014

I liked reading Paradise Lost in this edition, because it preserves the original orthography.

(Some might find that distracting. For me, it helped in projecting myself fully into the Miltonic attitude. I also recommend reading the work aloud, to the same end. It can get kinda fun, actually.)
posted by bertran at 12:24 PM on February 19, 2014

Response by poster: Great replies, thank you. I will check out the Norton Critical and Modern Library editions. I'm not sure if I would prefer the original or modern spelling, but perhaps the updated spelling would be best for the first read through. I will also give the Audible reading a listen. Thanks again!
posted by typer126 at 10:42 PM on February 19, 2014

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