Monday, August 28, 2017

Book review: Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel

Undertaking to reinterpret a classic is always an ambitious and perilous endeavor. To do it right requires herculean effort. The artist must re-imagine, but at the same time, remain faithful to the original work. More often than not, the effort falls short somewhere. The new work either fails to attain the peaks set for it by the original, or the artist, enchanted with his own vision, loses sight of what made the original profound and significant. Examples are too many to count.

(And we do note the significance of this latter propensity in the context of the title here being discussed!)

Not so Pablo Auladell's graphical representation of John Milton's classic epic poem, Paradise Lost. Auladell's imagery, at times stark, at times deliberately vague, adds severity and depth to the abridged verse that captions the story-line. In particular, Auladell has a gift for depicting facial expressions: Satan's horror and glee, Adam's innocence and corruption, Beelzebub's unfathomable non-expression.

When first I read the original work, decades ago, I was intrigued by the romantic vision of the ultimate anti-hero, just as Milton intended. (Judge Holden, Captain Ahab, meet the original!) Now, with the temperance of middle age and with Auladell's illustrations as a study guide, I more readily saw past the seduction of Satan's seemingly valiant defiance, clear through to the perversity and depredation behind it.

I savored this book, poring over each illustration, parsing carefully the verse, comparing it to the haunting expressions of the characters.

Paradise Lost is a disturbing tale --check that --it is the disturbing tale. In addition, it is the literary prototype for the anti-hero motif. Auladell treats the original work with the reverence it deserves and offers his own convincing interpretation.

The unease that crowds my awareness at this moment, several days after reading it, attest to the power of the story itself.

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