|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||15. Nr.||September 2004|
4.6. Re-telling the Past, Mapping
the Future: Feminist Interventions across Times and Cultures
Miteva-Roussanova (University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria)
This paper aims at presenting and comparing certain elements of two works of literary art set almost four centuries apart and seemingly having little in common but the dream of Eve. Milton's Edenic books present an interesting case for study because simultaneously similar and drastically different to the main underlying idea in Pullman's Dark Materials (The Amber Spyglass). The Miltonic epic poem constuction of the ideal woman is intentionally paralleled yet in a quite unexpected way in the last book of Pullman's epic fantasy. Philip Pullman's strive for a new Garden of Eden and a new Eve can be seen as a contemporary version of Milton's Adam's search for, vision of and ultimate union with Eve in the innocence of The Garden.
Obviously enough, two versions of a story, even if they have the same characters, settings and events can differ in what they imply or signify. The later version then often is a "re-version, a narrative which has taken apart its pre-texts and reassembled them as a version which is a new textual and ideological configuration".(1) As far as children's literature is concerned, Pullman being a good example here, it attempts to create ethical and cultural values that replace the older form, especially if it is a religious one. In the case this particular paper presents it is so even with the Miltonic text, it itself being a retelling or 're-version' of the basic original biblical 'pre-text'.
I will first direct your attention to John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost (1667). It is often considered his masterpiece. The great theme of the epic, which turned his controversial poem into a work of genius, can be summed up in the words of the poet himself: "...justify the ways of God to men." (I. 26). The action of the poem happens during five days, with a week's gap between the third and fourth days. There are five distinct locations for the action of the poem: Heaven, Chaos, Hell, World/Universe, Earth/Eden/Paradise. The action of the poem moves between all these locations, though from Book IV onwards, it concentrates on Paradise. Being mostly interested in Eve, for the purposes of this paper, I will select just a few themes from the Edenic Books: Adam and Eve in Paradise, the question of Knowledge, the Fall of Eve and then Adam, and the consequences of the Fall. Taking for granted your good knowledge of the Genesis story and your general acquaintance with Milton's epic, I will now introduce to you the second literary work my paper is based on.
Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy is named after a phrase drawn from Milton's Paradise Lost (II, 910-20), describing the chaotic mixture of the four elements - water, earth, air and fire - left over from the creation of the Earth and swirling in the 'wild abyss', waiting for the 'almighty maker' to use them 'to create more worlds'.
The trilogy begins with Northern Lights (1995), goes on to The Subtle Knife (1997), and ends up with The Amber Spyglass (2000). The story is of a young girl, named Lyra, born in another Oxford in an alternative universe. Every human there has a symbiotic daemon, which is in part an animal expression of the inner self. A strange 'Dust' is leaking to Lyra's world from another earth. The Church that governs society considers both daemons and Dust to be evil, the physical evidence for original sin, and both Lyra's mother and father are differently bent on stopping or destroying them. The big question Lyra raises, however, is 'What if it's really good?'. The second book of the trilogy shows to us the complicated coexistence of several worlds and introduces us to the second major character, Will. He is twelve and comes from 'our' Oxford. Both children have their missions, still unknown to them. Will is the knife-bearer and Lyra will be the new Eve. Speaking of the Mother of all, there has to be a temptor as well. In the trilogy this is a female character, Mary Malone, from Will's and our world. She is an ex-nun, a present scientist and by fate a serpent. The third part of the trilogy is by far the most daring one. The two great powers of the many worlds are lining up for war and Will and Lyra are on their way to battle. Their journey takes them through various places, the world of the dead being just one of them. They fight, they see God dethroned and dying and they run, chased by the Church into the most unexpected of all places - to a form of Paradise, to be seduced and fall, and start an amazing construction, that of 'the republic of heaven'. I will use the third part of the trilogy for my present comparison due to the Edenic theme again.
For Milton 'Paradise' is the name of the garden within the land of Eden. It is situated in an upland region round which grows an impassable wilderness covered by high trees. Above them is the wall of Paradise and higher than that grow fruit trees which, since there were no seasons before the Fall, simultaneously blossom and bear fruit. It is natural, non-symmetric, watered with a fountain. The water circulates, penetrates, and regenerates the land. Finally the waters regroup and decant into a lake, a "clear mirror reflecting back the creation sustained by the flowing waters"(2)
Pullman's Paradise is described in very much the same way, also appealing to all the senses:
"Golden, but also yellow, brown, green, and everyone of the million shades between them; and black, in places, in lines and streaks of bright pitch; and silvery, too, where the sun caught the tops of a particular kind of grass just coming into flower; and blue, where a wide lake some way off and a small pond closer by reflected back the wide blue of the sky.
"And quiet, but not silent, for a soft breeze rustled the billions of little stems, and a billion insects and other small creatures scraped and hummed and chirruped in the grass, and a bird too high in the blue to be seen sang little looping falls of bell-notes now close by, now far off, and never twice the same."(p.441)(4)
What makes the two places different, however, are some of the non-sensual characteristics. The epic Paradise is carefully looked after by Adam and Eve at their "pleasant labour" (IV.625). Moreover, they are the only reasonable creatures, the only humans. Not so with Will and Lyra. When they enter Paradise it is not to work there but to fall there. There are other creatures that tend to the garden-like world - the mulefa, who are not only reasonable but almost human. And what is more, though unspeakably pretty, this Paradise is not entirely safe and it is dying.
There are also some really significant differences between Milton's Adam and Eve and Pullman's corresponding characters. In Paradise Lost Adam and Eve are not only innocent, they are also entwined in the complex net of nuptual relations. They are naked and pure, yet Milton makes it absolutely clear that they make love before the Fall. So they are childishly innocent, yet grown-up. Certain tensions can be observed between Adam and Eve on the basis of freedom and servitude, which leads eventually to the Fall. Some feminist critics like Sandra Gilbert, take Milton's Eve to be the archetype of naivite, gullibility, vulnerability and dangerously unsophisticated instinct. Others like Diane McColley take a more practical attitude to Eve. McColley agrees that in a practical sense Eve plays a secondary role to Adam's, yet she also admits that Milton could not be expected to rewrite Genesis completely or change drastically the seventeenth-century notion of the woman's social role. Eve, however, is a figure no less dynamic (physically and psychologically) than Adam and definitely presented as mentally and linguistically his equal(5).
In The Amber Spyglass, Will and Lyra are anything but innocent in all other respects but love. They have witnessed suffering, they have suffered themselves quite a lot, they have been to the world of the dead, they have met their deaths. Yet they know nothing of love. They are children, yet experienced like grown-ups. The problem of leadership is not really relevant with Will and Lyra. They are presented as typical twentieth-century teenagers, equally succeptible to weaknesses and equally strong to overcome them. Ever since they meet, they are shown side by side, helping each other in a sort of partnership quest, sometimes even assuming non-traditional gender roles (before Will receives his Knife, he cooks and Lyra deals with the technological alethiometer). Still, I would say there can be observed a slight predominence of Lyra over Will in a reversed form of the heroic quest pattern. She is in the story from the very beginning, while Will enters it a whole book later, after she had already gone through quite a lot of adventures on her own, so he is rather the partner in her heroic exploits. She is also the better informed of the two, having been part of all the events about which Will learns later. Both Lyra and Will possess certain instruments (a variant of the supernatural weapon), requiring specific abilities to use, yet Lyra's alethiometer is more complex and is the material entity directing their advancement through the worlds. Will's knife is just the instrument to realise the advancement. But the most important fact is that nowhere in the trilogy is Will indicated as the Father of all, or Adam. It is just Lyra-as-Eve that matters. As if she can be self-sufficient in that mission of hers. To what extent, I will try to show somewhat later.
Not a few critics have argued that Satan is the true hero of Paradise Lost. Maybe it is the case, yet God is still in His place, almighty, omnipotent, supreme. That is definitely not the case in Pullman's trilogy. The Almighty there is weak, incapable of ruling, just a figure, while another is actually in full power - the Angel Metatron. The case of the serpent is also in reverse. Instead of 'he', the serpent is 'she'. We first see Paradise through her eyes, not unlike Satan in the epic and just like him, Mary Malone likes the sight. She settles quite well in Paradise, making it a home for herself and she even enjoys the frienship of those almost human creatures. What is more, they expect her to help them stop the decay of their world. There is no one in Pullman's Paradise to chase the serpent away. A priest, Father Gomes, is sent there to prevent the Fall by killing Lyra, but not by killing Mary. He fails in his task, accidentally killed by a gay rebel angel. So, having no one to threaten her, Mary settles rather homely in Paradise.
Milton's Satan does not feel very much out of place there either. John Milton (and Pullman as we shall see later) treats the Fall of Adam and Eve as 'felix culpa' ('the fortunate fall'). Or in the words of the medieval hymn: "O happy Sin | O blessed crime | O precious theft | Dear disobedience! Adam, blest thief not of the Apple | But of Mercy, Clemency, and Glory".(6)
Before we move on to Eve and Lyra's Fall, however, it's worth considering the Fall of the tempters. Satan's rebellion in Heaven is provoked by the exaltation of the Son. Jesus, on the other hand, is not mentioned in Pullman's trilogy at all. Respectively, the Fall of the temptress is much more different. It has to do with knowledge. Knowledge is among the central themes and images of Milton's epic poem as well. In his talk with Adam, the angel Raphael, combines in one simile knowledge, food and self-restraint:
The question of knowledge is ultimately a question of power, and is crucial to Satan's temptation, which results in the falls, Satan's and Adam and Eve's. Along these lines occures Mary's Fall, too. But in Pullman there is something more to this. Here is part of a dialogue between Mary and her Mulefa friend Atal:
Now that Mary knows this together with her scholarly knowledge from before she is 'ripe' and so somewhat later she finds out the rest of the story about Dust. Mary sees it flowing away from the world of Paradise and sees the fatal results from that. Nature is dying without Dust and so are all living creatures. She finds out that the only way to partially divert the current of Dust is to give yourself up to the sensual. And finally, she stops the fatal outflow of Dust by giving the sensual to the innocent, by serving as a catalyst for the arousal of sensual awareness in Lyra and Will, by tempting them. Yet knowledge is what Milton's Fall was greatly conserned with and in Pullman's story this is the case, too. However, it is the temptress here that knew knowledge first through the already tempted mulefas, and at the bottom of their tempting was the snake again. Knowledge about the Dust is what everyone is after in the trilogy from the very beginning but it is Mary that really finds out about it and vows to become the 'catcher' of consciousness.
Lyra is also interested in Dust. That is the reason all her adventures start in the first place though at the very end she is not tempted by knowledge about Dust but by knowledge about love. In the morning of the Fall Lyra wakes up naked and goes to the nearby lake to wash. Will does the same not much later, so when the talking begins, they are no longer the dirty children that have entered the Paradise world, but cleansed youths. And Mary tells them about love the way she had known it at their age.
And she does. And so does Will. We are not told what Will feels when he hears Mary's words as if he is not really important for us. Both children are there listening unlike the original Genesis story and Milton's presentation of it. Lyra cannot be blamed for she was not alone. For Pullman sin seems to be a very important stage in human development with a lot of positive implications. And so the Fall propper occures somewhat later.
Will makes no choice as Adam does. He is not torn apart between human love and divine love. It is just love and he seizes it just as eagerly as Lyra does, enjoying fully the taste of the little red fruity kiss. Lyra (with Will's help, of course) unwittingly plays the role of 'saviour' of humankind, ignorant as she is of her importance in the grand scheme of things.
One striking feature of Paradise as an idea is that it is always being lost. It is always somewhere else, remote in space and time, not unlike our childhood. Its loss makes the impression from our present state worse, or at least less perfect but its loss also carries with it the hope for getting it back(7). Milton's Paradise changes drastically after the Fall and in connection with nature Adam feels internal storms of passion:
Eve is straightforwardly blamed for this, she apologises and is forgiven, which eventually brings their reconcilement.
With Will and Lyra we observe a completely different course of events. After their Fall "around them there was nothing but silence, as if the world were holding its breath" (p.492) or even more specifically:
So, in stead of corrupted nature, we have nature that is suddenly and happily nurished after starving for so long. There is no one to reproach, there are no apologies and no forgiveness, only unity.
Milton's Adam and Eve are luckier, however. At the end of Paradise Lost Adam is promised:
And further towards the very end we see them happily starting their new life, solitary but together:
Will and Lyra, on the other hand, are forced to suffer from broken hearts. They cannot stay together, they are not one and cannot be. They belong to different worlds and have to return to them with no means of communication because otherwise Dust will find a loop to leak from. They are angry, they suffer again.
"He thought she would die of her grief there and then. She flung herself into his arms and sobbed, clinging passionately to his shoulders, pressing her nails into his back and her face into his neck, and all he could hear was, "No-no-no..."" (p.513) .
Knowledge of good comes only through knowledge of evil. This perception is the foundation of the ancient Christian doctrine of the 'Fortunate Fall', which claims that the loss of Paradise (or, the Fall) was, in certain respects, a good thing for the human race. Both Milton and Pullman adopt this doctrine. They, however, use it in a quite different way. Margaret Kean puts it this way about Milton:
"...the Miltonic text has licenced itself to achieve what other poets can only dream about - it adequately controls the poetic medium both to have and to hold the girl."(8) (WF, 92)
Adam's loneliness Adam's reunion with Eve The formation of Eve Adam's search for Eve Adam's love for Eve Adam's loss of Eve
Pullman's trilogy follows a different approach. Eve is very badly needed to start a new cycle of life. Lyra becomes the new Mother of all not by literally bearing new kind of better people but by diverting the nourishing flow of life spirit. This is achieved in Pullman through the medium of perfect, idyllic, pure, childishly innocent love. For this all you need is Lyra-as-Eve. No Will-as-Adam is essencially required. He is there to support and help but it is the Mother that matters.
Dust escaping from the world Lyra Restoration of perfect life cycle
© Ludmilla Miteva-Roussanova (University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria)
(1) John Stephens, Robyn McCallum, Retelling Stories, Framing Culture, Garland Publishers, 1998, p. 2.
(2) Margaret Kean in C. Sullivan, B.White eds., Writing and Fantasy, Longman, 1999, p.80.
(3) All references to Paradise Lost are from John Milton, Paradise Lost, Penguin Popular Classics, Penguin Books, 1996.
(4) All references to The Amber Spyglass are from Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass, Scholastic, 2001.
(5) Richard Bradford, The Complete Critical Guide to John Milton, Routledge, 2001.
(6) Quoted in Milton: 465 as note to Adam's cry in Paradise Lost, XII, 469-78.
(7) Peter Weston, John Milton: Paradise Lost, Penguin Critical Studies, Penguin Books, 1987.
(8) Margaret Kean in C. Sullivan, B.White eds., Writing and Fantasy, Longman, 1999, p.92.
Bradford, Richard, The Complete Critical Guide to John Milton, London: Routledge, 2001.
Milton, John, Paradise Lost, London: Penguin Classics, 1996.
Pullman, Philip, The Amber Spyglass, London: Scholastic, 2001.
Stephens, John and Robyn McCallum, Retelling Stories, Framing Culture, New York: Garland Publishers, 1998.
Sullivan, C. and B.White (eds)., Writing and Fantasy, London: Longman, 1999.
Weston, Peter, John Milton: Paradise Lost, London: Penguin Critical Studies, 1987.
4.6. Re-telling the Past, Mapping the Future: Feminist Interventions across Times and Cultures
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