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Last week I posted Michael Haykin’s suggested reading guide to Augustine’s The City of God.

Here is Leland Ryken’s reading guide to John Milton’s Paradise Lost:

The best way by far to read Milton’s masterpiece is to read it as a story, starting at the beginning, settling down for the archetypal “long read,” and moving forward as fast or slowly as one’s time and attention span allow. As C. S. Lewis once said of long poems, a reader needs to be prepared for flats and shallows as well as mountaintops.

For people who find the prospect of reading the entire poem daunting, my advice is to read more topically and meditatively, foregoing the narrative as a whole.

Here are the key passages that can comprise such a reading:

Book 1:

Satan and the demons in hell, a spectacle of evil and its punishment.

Book 3, lines 1-415

God and the Son in heaven, determining what to do about the impending fall of Adam and Eve.

Book 4

The best of the best! Milton’s portrayal of life in paradise, offered as a picture of how God intends human life to be lived.

Book 9

The temptation and fall of Adam and Eve.

Book 12, lines 552 to the end:

Adam’s response to the vision of future history, followed by Milton’s magnificent description of Adam and Eve’s departure from the garden; everything is a balance between sadness and consolation here at the end.

—Leland Ryken, “Paradise Lost by John Milton (1608-1674),” The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (IVP, 2004), 150-151.

See also Ryken’s entry on Paradise Lost in his Christian Guides to the Classics.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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