My favourite parts of Paradise Lost are the parts in which I recognise people being real people, which is why I found this hilarious. Beelzebub has just proposed that the angels send a champion to Earth to tempt mankind.
“…Expectation held / His look suspense, awaiting who appeared / To second, or oppose, or undertake / The perilous attempt. But all sat mute, / Pondering the danger with deep thoughts; and each / In other’s countenance read his own dismay / Astonished.”
It’s like every evening in my house when my mum says, “Right, who’s going to make the tea?” and my sister and I look at each other and see our own dismay at the prospect of getting up off the couch reflected back at us.
Eventually, Satan puts himself forward because he needs to prove his bravery and earn his sovereignty in Hell. This made me stop to consider Satan’s character because I can never tell whether Milton is on his side or not. Obviously he’s not recommending that we all “out of good…find means of evil”: this is obviously perverse and scary and highlights Satan’s utter single-mindedness. He goes on to say that “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
Let’s just sit back and appreciate that antimetabole for a second.
These lines make Satan attractive because as readers we recognise the truth in them. Sometimes, though, Milton presents Satan’s stubbornness as heroic in itself – for example, in his grand speech, Satan says, “Long is the way / And hard, that out of Hell leads up to light… I abroad / Through all the coasts of dark destruction seek / Deliverance for us all. This enterprise / None shall partake with me.” I’m sorry but Harry Potter could definitely have said that – well, the last bit… In 20th century English.
So what is the difference between Harry and Satan? Satan undertakes his quest alone as a matter of “monarchal pride” whereas Harry, as the Chosen One, has isolation thrust upon him by a prophecy. Incidentally, this is also what distinguishes Satan from Aeneas, whose fate is preordained, which is why he has to leave Dido even though it sucks. Alfonso Cuaron chooses to symbolise Harry’s lack of choice in the Prisoner of Azkaban scene above by having everyone else step back rather than Harry step forward. (In the book, he volunteers himself to show that he trusts Hagrid and so should everyone else – but maybe also because he’s getting used to the idea of self-sacrifice and to foreshadow the end of Deathly Hallows.) The prophecy wouldn’t have been fulfilled if Voldemort hadn’t tried to kill Harry as a baby, thus horcruxifying him, which suggests that Voldemort, in making his adversary and engendering his own quest for the next 17 years, is actually the Satan of this story. Besides, when Harry tries to take on everything by himself, he genuinely wants to protect his friends from harm; somehow I just don’t get that vibe from Satan.