Please introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?
I'm a late middle-aged guy who grew up in Victoria, B.C., learned to love birds, fish, and the ocean, and then attended university in Victoria, Sussex, Oxford, and Stanford (California), where I got a PhD in English literature. I've taught at the University of British Columbia for almost the past 30 years.
Why do you think Paradise Lost is one of the great English literary works? Because it does so many things so well and because it manages to speak across the centuries. Anyone interested in good, evil, God, Satan, history, the cosmos -- and in human beings and their relations to those things already mentioned -- will find something fascinating and challenging in this epic. Did I mention how beautiful it is?
It is a religious work, do you think that it holds value for non-religious readers?
Wait: I'm not sure there's such a thing as a non-religious reader. Everybody has ideas about what's right and wrong, about whether life and the world have meaning or not, about whether we have a role to play in some story that's bigger than our own individual story, etc. But OK, I know many people who DO have such ideas still identify themselves as non-religious. And what they'll find in Paradise Lost is lots of interwoven stories and challenging ideas about what's right and wrong, about whether life and the world have meaning or not, and so on. And did I mention how beautiful it is?
What inspired you to do a modern translation of Paradise Lost?
The simple answer is "an English taxi driver." In 1981, as I left the first International Milton Symposium in Buckinghamshire, the driver of the cab I was in asked where I'd been. When I told him, he said, "Oh, yes, Paradise Lost -- I'd love to read it, but I could never get very far with poetry." That planted a seed, and over the next twenty-five years I worked, off and on, trying to put the whole thing into high-level but readable prose.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I think that's a little like asking an athlete what she likes best about working out in a gym. Presumably the answer in each case is that sometimes all the sweating and grunting produces desired results. I find writing itself quite tough, and it really is looking back on one's minor successes that brings some level of satisfaction. The other thing about writing that gives me a thrill is when one single reader emails me and says, "Hey, I liked that!"
If you could write a biography about anyone, who would it be?
Actually, I have written a biography: The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution. Rheticus was the first and only student (and "apostle") of the astronomer Copernicus, and he played an indispensable role in "discovering" Copernicus, convincing him to finish his work, and then getting it published. Rheticus turned out to be a very colourful if enigmatic character, and it was a huge privilege for me to get to know "up close and personal" someone born five hundred years ago.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm trying to bring together my interests in Milton and in the history of cosmology. The book (contracted with Cambridge University Press) will be called Paradise Lost and the Cosmological Revolution.
Tell us about your most recent work and how we can find out more.
I've had a few articles in recent years in the journal American Scientist ("The Bones of Copernicus" and "Ancestors of Apollo" -- the latter marking the 50th anniversary of human space travel). Search me on Google Scholar and you'll find much more. I'm also pretty good at offering brief replies to brief emails (Dennis.Danielson@ubc.ca).
A new edition of Paradise Lost, Parallel Prose has just been released by Broadview Publishing: http://www.broadviewpress.com/product.php?productid=1121&cat=0&page=1
When the book was first released to coincide with Milton's 400th birthday in December 2008, it was reviewed by Stanley Fish on the op-ed page of the New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/paradise-lost-in-prose/
Thanks to Dennis for sharing his thoughts with us, in the next guest author interview we welcome Rosen Trevithick.