SCMLA: Borrowings from the Past- Reception Studies

by Dr Davis on November 1, 2011

In live blogging this conference, I am following the conventions for conference blogging. (Note: While I wrote the post while in the session, I didn’t post till later.)

Fun beginning with all the three panelists reunited grad students (from ULa:L) finishing each other’s humorous sentences. One of the SF/F panelists said he was excited to see this on the program, as it is a special session.

Chair: Geoffrey B. Elliott, Technical Career Institutes

Michael J. Bernstein of University of Louisiana-Lafayette
“The Legacy of Influence, Appreciation, and Revision for Milton’s Paradise Lost
Humorous introduction. Graduating in May 2012 and seeking an academic position.

Whole dissertation is on just about every adaptation of Paradise Lost. I will be looking at three:
1. the most recent, John Troutman’s virtual comic strip
2. Lanzara Paradise Lost: The Novel and Paradise Lost in Plain English
3. children’s work The Tale of Paradise Lost by Nancy Willard

Despite Paradise Lost‘s place on the hierarchy, they imprint their place on the ghost of Milton.
Samuel Johnson said not to adapt the work. To adapt it is to reduce it.

Adaptations of PL are collaborative. They indicate a strong connection on the part of the adapter to the original PL text itself.
Every text is an interpreted text, because any time you read, you interpret. –Leech
Reader becomes an author and the text becomes a second text.


PL as an adaptation of the Bible suggests how adaptations can begin.

We resist Milton’s overwhelming allusions and stilted language.

Several interesting new adaptations:
Angel, Broadway musical
Paradise Lost, almost a spinoff, where angels have kids and sneak all their babies away from Satan in the war, but then forgot about the babies.
But I am only going to look at four, two by same author.

Lanzara’s novelization is a clear attempt to encourage reading PL.
L’s version allows “full grandeur of imagery” without language problems.
Some adaptations exist to keep a strong work in the reading stable of contemporary readers.

No real textual core exists.
PL contains undefinable elements that seem to encourage adaptation.
Language, despite difficult layers, entrances.


Lanzara’s attempt uses a language far more Miltonic than modern.
The syntax is not unique, but he succumbs to the fear of destroying Milton’s majesty.
His diction is not modern: sought, spied…
It becomes a stunted adaptation.
Desire to be faithful to the language rather than to the narrative structure. (Movie version coming out in 2013.) Language fidelity brings Milton adaptation an interesting scope addition.
The novelization seeks to preserve the language.

2009 publishes John Milton’s Paradise Lost in Plain English
line-by-line translation into modern English, very different adaptation
“Heaven got dark and fiery. It was a sign of God’s anger.
Equally scary was the trumpet that blew.
All of God’s powerful army came out when they heard it. It motivated them to go to fight…” (56, 59, 61)

Director and producer are using the novelization, not the poem. The movie version will focus on the war of Heaven. Folks today want the plot, not the language.

Willard’s tale sees Paradise Lost as a tale of pride. She recreates Satan as the fallen/tragic hero. The story is Satan’s. His deterioration will guide the force of the story. Readers are left with a lesson of pride, which does exist in Milton.

“Long, long, ago, before the world was, before minutes ticked and seconds tocked, before beginnings had endings, there was a war in Heaven. The most radiant of God’s angels was also the most proud.” –Willard

“jealous of the Son’s glory, [Satan] stood his ground, determined to win or fall but not retreat.”

Satan’s loss is the greatest in the poem, according to Willard.
Michael laments that the world will be corrupted by Satan and that “evil will often triumph.”

Critical interpretation by transforming the meaning and hero of the poem. Alters language.

Troutman decided to approach PL because he is reading the Norton Anthology. He didn’t know it before and he didn’t read the notes or anything else on the poem.
Prefers his own ill-informed conclusions as considerably funnier.

See Strip 16 and Strip 1.

I would actually argue that in terms of narrative structure and theme, he is one of the more faithful adapters, despite his authorial vision of sole entertainment.
He is writing as a parody.

He neglects criticism, but his following of narrative structure shows that even a new reader will see that the plot is well-constructed and strong.
Unlike some of his other strips, in which he parodied multiple scenes, he took time to plot out his parody of PL. Overall he just makes fun of major characters, but when he gets to PL, he realizes that he needs to preserve in media res and every other aspect of the narrative.

Troutman‘s Eve is bored/frustrated with her chores. “Stupid work. Stupid Paradise.”
Satan says eating the apple will make her work either.
“There’s science in my mouth and everyone’s invited! … And I’m naked.”

Similar to a British satirist, PL Illustrated.

Troutman is making fun of Milton’s text. He is not making her fit with modern feminist paradigm.
Eve’s observation that she has science is important.
Her choice to eat the apple is logical, even if selfish.
Concept of seeing nudity as shameful talks about loss of naivete.

Satan looks like a Calvin Klein model look. Not monstrous, but human.
Also enhances familiarity for modern audiences.
Having Satan look more human heightens his dangerousness, since he is not clearly other.

Demons use popular culture for humor.
“Hell ain’t such a bad place to be.”
“Oooh, we should install a water slide now!”
“You constructed the roof of my palace with one of the softest and heaviest metals in the universe?” Is that bad?

extend serious literary works into the area of comedy
Uses comedy to draw attention to more obscure texts. Provides context and direct connection to the work as well. He also uses his commentaries to crack jokes, too. But they educate as well.
Relevant, relatable, and translatable to modern sensibilities.
Thus Troutman promotes literary works.

Every adaptation of PL is a testimony as to its timelessness.
We continue the epic ritual of passing down stories through adaptation.

PL is “a poem of the infinite theater” (?).

In justifying God’s ways to man, Milton composes the ultimate human drama and justifies why two people would abandon God for love. Explains why a man would get rid of God for his wife. Life without God becomes a life that is worth living.

Wendi D. Wilkerson of Bronx Community College, CUNY
“Permutations of Lilith: Change and Consistency in the Contemporary Myth Creation Process”
ethnographer and editor

Myth has been a great exploration of history, but now it is seen as a compelling part of psyche.
What is missing is how myth has been reclaimed by modern oral tradition.
Myths tend to evolve in the same way as traditional oral experiences.

This refiguring of Lilith has transformed her from a vicious child-killing demon into a strong, loving goddess.
For her followers, she serves as a symbolic element that encourages human-divine connections.
Further transformation into Adam’s first wife and then evil, dark goddess.
Now: queen of Hell and a vampire

She is an enigmatic figure. There is no single narrative that defines her.
Kless, priestess for 20 years: Lilith was the demon who lived in the tree in Gilgamesh.
Sumerian and Babylonian myth also showed her as a demon endangering childbirth.
Jewish myths around the 13th century.
Misdrash texts attempt to reconcile the two creation stories in Genesis.
Lilith was conscripted into the story as a rebellious wife. Adam insisted that she lie beneath him in sex. Lilith refused and flew up. Took demons as her lovers and went to a cave to live with her hundreds of children.
Three angels came from God and threatened to kill 100 children a day unless she returned to Adam. She said no.


One key role of a later passage aligns her with both Satan and the serpent in the garden.

Most shocking story takes Lilith as the wife of God, who has left him sad.

1974 Lilith appeared as Dracula’s daughter in Marvel.
1996 vampire-role playing game gave rise to new Lilith stories.
Stories revolve around her experience with Cain.

One culturally specific reason: unsubstantiated personal gnosis
The powerful notions that people experience regarding their deity.
But new myth is made possible by peer-corroborated personal gnosis (pcpg) and unverified shared gnosis (usg).
Pcpg has folks who don’t know each other have the same ideas and eventually share them and meet each other.
Usg is when folks in worship experience another gnosis that is a group situation.

Shy(?) dreams about Lilith from childhood. A male child dreaming of a child-murderer. He dreamed he was carried away by a demon. He was terrified. The demon took him to a cave. Woman in cave yelled at the demon and told him to let the child go, because he was awake. The demon let him go. Woman sat next to edge of cliff on an animal skin. Boy remembered how excited the woman was to see the boy in the cave.

Common education or understanding brings associative elements into the narrative of the myth.
Emerging myth becomes integrated by performance.
Lilith followers are highly positive towards new narrative of the myth.
Changes or permutations must match what the folks who are following expect.

One such myth is from Canton, Ohio who refer to themselves as lilitu.
Group had accumulated a large oral narrative about Lilith. The myth drops pre-Hebraic material, but adds Misdrash information.
Lilith and Adam had been one homophradiphic person whom God divided. Lilith was the life and equality of woman. Lilith wanted to name some animals, but Adam had already named them. So Lilith sought out to name things that Adam had not given names. She gave names to the things that Adam was afraid of. She named the night and the moon and the stars of the heaven and all animals that were scary.
She refuses to have sex in the manner Adam wants, but she just goes to the other side of a garden.
Instead of three angels, God comes to talk to her. She says she is no beast to be lain upon.
God curses her and sends her out. “Your desire will be for the comfort of man, but his existence will pain you… You will thirst for the blood of your hymen…”
Other part of myth is that she was already pregnant with a male and female child and has the babies at the caves.
Cain’s rejection by God, Cain believes is because he did not have any blood in his offering. So he slew Able and gave God the blood as a sacrifice.
Cain took as his wife as one of Lilith’s daughters. Their son was named Enoch.


Implications of this myth are astonishing.
Creates a parallel for them to claim.
She is a compassionate mother.
Only time will tell how well this oral tradition will survive or spread.
But the personal insight into deity influences the creation of new myth.

Geoffrey B. Elliott of Technical Career Institutes
“Which Way I Fly is Middle-earth, Myself am Middle-earth; Miltonic Resonance in Tolkien”

Much of scholarly attention has focused on Northern European reception of Tolkien, because of his own work and experience (scholarly, etc) in The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, LOTR. Some of the work is written in OE.
There is significant relation of Tolkien’s work to northern pagan mood.

Some folks argue that it is more Christian, and Tolkien’s letters indicate that it is in fact more Christian.
Milton’s PL and Tolkien’s Silmarillion –especially in presentation of evil
concepts and even wording that is strongly reminiscent of PL
If Silmarillion has PL as a source, then it is even more Christian.

Tolkien’s valar Melchor “the mightiest of those ainurs who came into the world” and the brother of someone very important.

Both Lucifer and Melchor draw together as they call their own forces.
Lucifer says he is calling his folks together to serve Jesus.
Melchor does this same thing, calling folks together, when god is encouraging singing. He begins to bring things into his own creation and his melody changed the music of the ainurs.
Melchor’s disobedience ensnares some of his own kind.

Both L and M first bring their partners away from God without clear, set out evil.

When L says he is going to go against commander (God), angel is not happy.
Adviel? also is said to have been in service to God before the war of Heaven (kind of like Lilith).
Assi, a lesser power of Morgath, but later returns to his original allegiance. Assi has a love of violence. Does echo that of going from service of good, to evil, and back to good.

Satan and Morgath are both shown as northern invaders.
Both attack from an incomplete garrison.
Both attack with never before seen weapons.

Defense against both is mountains.

Defeats are both foretold by stars in the sky.

Even with their ultimate failure foretold, they still cause problems.
Satan->tempts Eve
Morgath->has the elves turn against humans
Neither enjoys full success, but both get some of what they seek against their makers.

Rafael says he ought to call Lucifer Satan, delegitimizing his celestial name.
Melchor becomes Morgath (dark evil of the world) to the elves.

Satan and Morgath both change from beautiful to ugly.
Milton: “how fallen, how changed”
Satan recognizes he must alter his normal form, so that there is no doubt of his alteration.
Milton: says he had awesome majesty, but darkened and scarred on his face “excess of glory obscured”

Tolkien’s Morgath takes on the form of a dark lord, tall and terrible. “in that form he remained ever after”
Retains outward evidence of power.
Also has facial scarring. An angel descends on him and attacks his face.
The pain of his wounds could not be healed.

Association of both figures with darkness are unsurprising.
A specific presentation of darkness
Milton hell = flames of darkness
Tolkien = as Morgath rapes trees of light he uses “unlight” “darkness with a thing with being of its own”
The two darknesses are visible, powerful, evil.

Supernatural orders are the same.
Worlds are circular.
Trees with magic fruit.

Tolkien sourced PL for much of his foundational points.

Don’t forget to sign in for the sheet.

Questions:
Wendy, where does Upg come from? 2003 Wiccan article

Do you have a sense of upg as invited through ritual practice?
Yes, usually. Almost always.
Sometimes an individual ritual but sometimes a group ritual.

Notion of heterotopia, luminality
Luminality is precursor.
Sense of otherness.
Time moves from chronos to kairos.

Comments for everybody:
Have you read George McDonald’s Lilith?
Yes.
How does that fit?
As a lit scholar, it fits.
As a polytheistic scholar, not so much. They don’t care. They don’t look at it. They go to the older texts. They either go very far back in time or to specific pop culture references.
Zokar is the preferred text.
Nephilim, children of angel of man, is covered in Midrash. (idea from first speaker that children of angels were taken away from the war in Heaven)

Second you read anything, you adapt it. You are interpreting and it is an adaptation.
The only way we can read is that we have some sort of relation to other experiences/knowledge.

Inter-text fits with reading. The idea that we interpret as we read is very important and that we in lit were re-appropriate the term for other experiences.

Medieval studies are adapting inter-text as language.
Much of medieval studies adapt.

Mark Hall worked on Victorian adaptations in dissertation, so used inter-text.

Calvin Miller: Symphony in the Sand, retelling of PL

Elliott:
Work of Geoffrey Elliott is an older paper that is reworked. You might want to look at the letters and a pub out of Wheaton might be interested in this.
Elliott addressed archetype issue. Think it is more than archetype?
Yes, there is archetype, but Tolkien who said he wanted to create a myth for Britain that was in line with trinity doctrine of Catholicism.

Bernstein:
Does Troutman make money?
Not really.

So he is less motivated by money?
Yes.
He loves doing this. It is his passion. Less motivated by money.

So does that lack of financial motivation create part of the different take on the adaptation?
Somewhat.
Willard can’t be faithful to the language, because for children.

Does the incredible interpretability of PL make it easier or more difficult to be faithful to PL?

Bernstein:
Difficulties of writing about someone who is easy to be reinterpreted:
Bloom Anxiety of Influence
Double-edge sword, because it is so vast, we can pull beautiful scenes (Dore) or story parts.
What do we do with Eve? That’s a hard question for PL.
As an adapter, it is liberating to be able to only use parts of the work of PL.
Dryden says he is a little anxious for adapting PL.
A lot of adapters feel liberated, not feeling anxiety of influence.
I’m going to take on a work that is great and has a marketable niche and I will have a marketable niche.

Elliott:
For Tolkien it is not nearly so problematic an experience.
Partly because of the time he was composing, many of the issues were not on the scholarly radar.
Since he was after creating a British mythology, PL was a perfectly situated work to adapt.

Bernstein:
Fidelity is only an issue with audience.
Only an issue if the audience has read the work.
The differences between Twilight book and movie are seen as fun.
Gone With the Wind the movie was exactly following the book, so it was thought to be absolutely perfect.

BladeRunner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
reach the same level of truth in very different ways
Not just how faithful, but how well it speaks to a truth.

Elliott:
Tolkien fanboys hate Tolkien movies, because of the songs and Tom being missing, etc.
XMen comic fanboys hate XMen movies.

Bernstein:
Audiences love the XMen movies, except the third one. (It was awful.)
Depends on what is important to that audience.

Elliott:
Shakespeare was the most successful plagiarist (adapter) in history.

Question:
Why now?
Why is Lilith exploding now?
Why is PL being adapted now?

Wilkerson:
Not just Lilith.
What it is: elucidating a spiritual experience that is not following the rules.
John Gardner, pagan ideas.
fairies on the West Coast.
Polytheists are embracing worship and ritual. “Yahweh is real, but Zeus is my god.”
Adaptation.

Question: Acceptance of Greek gods?
One friend I know is doing a reconstruction of Canaanite polytheism, from which Hebraic monotheistic religion sprang.

The polytheism is fascinating and a discussion of how monotheism arose from it is interesting too.
Polytheists have communities that are pantheon specific, community-based practice and devotion.

They are looking to recreate traditions because they want the devotional practices within a community context.

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