Milton, Martin, Play-Doh

John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost was written in medias res (from the Latin meaning “in the midst of things”), it starts at some middling point of narrative time and space, then eventually circles back to… the backstory. His blank verse wends its way between the rhetoric-spewing Lucifer and the ignorant, but curious Adam and Eve on a quest to justify the ways of God to men.

Have you ever wondered how he decided where (or when) to start on his storytelling, point-making continuum? Well, since he was aiming for epic and got there more than 10,000 lines of verse later… It doesn’t much matter, does it?

It’s hard to imagine such a work gaining popularity today. What population of readers would have the time, attention span, and interest to tackle such a work? A small one, I’d wager.

That said, what IS the length to which the modern audience will go to get to a quintessential existential point? 140 characters? OK, that’s a too harsh an assessment. Lots of people read (or watched on HBO) George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Lots of people wandered Martin’s massive character tree, exploring the moral dilemmas of relationships and loyalty and the thematic threads of religion, affiliation, and faith — both mirrors of Milton motifs.

The major difference between the two? Abandonment.

Can you name a character who was introduced and fleshed out by Milton who was not somewhere ultimately, neatly woven in and tied up? Nope. It’s tight — no loose threads to unravel a reader’s attention and set them to wondering, “What ever happened to…”

Martin? The road is literally littered. Individual characters of dizzying array were fully introduced to readers with enough detail to identify with them. And then nothing. They are never mentioned again. The result is a frayed tapestry with readers left grasping at other loose threads in the hope that they might still remain connected to the greater story through these alternate characters by less natural, forced, fleeting bonds.

I can’t help but think our infinite media cycle is now represented in similar fashion. Who do we identify with? Is it a natural, trusting bond we share with these characters who feed us what we need to hear about issues we care about, or one molded like so much Play-Doh?

Forget what we need to know. It shapes itself so willingly to our wants, warming to our touch. But it resembles nothing like what others have made, nothing another would grasp for. We each hold a lump in the middle of our palm. And it is ours, just as the apple became Eve’s with all that it represented. But when do we circle back and fill in the story, engaging others in the rhymes and reasons for its shape and color? And what relationships and religions (and political parties) allow us to blend the dough of one or more without losing ourselves?

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