Willard, like the subject of her A Visit to William Blake's Inn, pays homage to John Milton's Paradise Lost. But unlike Blake, whose poem Milton was a kind of intellectual embellishment to Milton's perspective on Genesis, Willard's aim here is to "invite young readers into the tale" of Paradise Lost, and she remains faithful to Milton's version of the events, even as she softens his tone. While Milton begins, "Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit/ Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste/ Brought death into the World, and all our woe," Willard opens with a familiar fairytale form: "Long, long ago, before the world was, before minutes ticked and seconds tocked, before beginnings had endings, there was a war in Heaven." Willard, a poet herself, works in prose here, a choice that in some ways removes some of the passion of Milton's writing, but also allows readers to get past his initial fire-and-brimstone tone to the captivating events within. She also preserves the lyrical qualities of Milton's poetry: "on his right/ The radiant image of his glory sat,/ His only son" becomes, in her words, "On his right hand sat his only Son, who was the radiant image of his Father." Like Milton, she emphasizes Christ's presence from the beginning, offering assurance of a larger plan, and the events in Eden being part of a greater whole. God as depicted here is more vulnerable and sympathetic than in last season's The Garden by Elsie Aidinoff, and the two books together could spark lively discussion. Willard may well achieve her goal of sending readers off in search of Milton's milestone work. Daly's full-color paintings with their primitivist perspectives soften the often violent events, and she creates a visual feast in her landscapes of Eden. Often conceived as triptychs, her graceful images suggest altarpieces. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
This is a beautifully-illustrated prose retelling of John Milton's famous poema good introduction for readers who might not otherwise be familiar with the mythic tale of a battle in Heaven, and the fall of the angel who becomes the king of Hell. Vivid descriptions of Hell, Heaven, and the gulf between the two invoke Milton's poetic imagery, and paint an engaging picture for readers. Satan is gleeful when he learns of a world created by God where he can wreak havoc and attempt revenge against Heaven. The story of Adam and Eve and the banishment from Eden is complemented nicely by full-color illustrations. Young readers may be disturbed by the condemnation of women in this traditional tale: Eve as the instigator of disobedience, woman as temptress, and pain in childbirth as woman's punishment. For mature readers, or those who are reading with an adult who can help interpret the story and discuss the meaning of biblical references. 2004, Atheneum Books/Simon & Schuster, Ages 12 up.
John Milton may well have to move over and make room for this retelling of his epic interpretation of the creation of heaven and hell. Willard does a delightful job of putting Milton into poetic prose that even the most reluctant teenage reader will follow with ease and enjoy. Equally well done are Daly's wonderful but few illustrations, which are a delight and add immensely to the text. Milton, known as a wonderful teacher, would most likely be proud to have Willard's rendition of his work available for modern students. Because he believed so fully in freedom of the press, it is easy to imagine that he would encourage the kind of work Willard has done for the sake of making a canonical piece of writing accessible to a wider audience of young people. Willard is fully loyal to Milton's poem. With wit and insight, she successfully captures the esteemed author's portrayal of the biblical story of the creation of the world and Adam and Eve's fall from grace. The brief biography of Milton at the end of the text and the short list of further reading is just about perfect for the targeted audience. This great rendering of a well-known story is one that many people will see on the shelf and want to purchase for someone they know. English teachers might want a classroom set to read this title side-by-side with Milton's original-it is that good. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Atheneum/S & S, 160p.; Further Reading., Ages 11 to 18.
Elaine J. O'Quinn
High marks for ambition: Willard recasts Milton's epic poem into measured, often powerful prose, preserving the original's plot and themes, and at least a sense of its grand vision, but condensing or excising its long speeches, wordy descriptive passages, and sermons. Satan's beguiling (to some) pride and courage still come through clearly ("Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven. Hail Horrors! Receive your new ruler"), as, later, does Eve's culpability-"What if I'm banished? Adam will marry another Eve and live happily in Eden with her. No, Adam must share my fate"-and the Archangel Michael's concluding recitation of Old Testament events and New Testament redemption. Tiny figures act out the story's central moments with elfin grace in Daly's small, occasional, delicately detailed paintings, adding a sort of distant elegance. Willard retraces Milton's narrative arc, though she divides it into 17 chapters, rather than the original's 10 (later 12), and closes with a biographical note. Readers expecting a radical or modernized retelling may be disappointed, but even in this reduced form, it's still a huge and moving story. (Fiction. 11-13, adult)