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You are in: Cambridgeshire > Features > Your County > Milton's lasting impression

Star Wars thanks to Milton?

Star Wars thanks to Milton?

Milton's lasting impression

So apparently we wouldn't have superheroes, or space exploration or the phrase "beam me up Scotty" if it wasn't for John Milton. But surely that's all just an exaggeration? BBC Cambridgeshire takes it upon itself to find out.

It's been 400 years in the making but Cambridge University is celebrating the birth of one of its most famous graduates with a series of exhibitions, you can find out more via the link below.

It's been touted in many circles that during his Cambridge years, Milton was concocting characters and environments that, while whimsical at the time, would set the grounding for almost every fantasy novel, film and TV series that explodes from our telly-boxes.

John Milton

John Milton

Born in London in 1608 Milton enrolled at Christ's College in 1625 with the aim of becoming an Anglican priest and finally left in 1632 with a Master of Arts.

It had been thought that due to his long hair, an unwillingness to partake in comedy performances at university and the nickname "Lady of Christ's" that he was ridiculed by his peers. However Christ's College Fellow Dr Gavin Alexander is not so sure.

"We're not quite sure how to take that. New research is showing that rather than being a shrinking violet while at Cambridge, he was probably one of the lads," says Dr Alexander.

Later in his life Milton would write many pamphlets and argumentative literature, promoting legal divorce (he was in an obscure marriage to a 16 year old) and the freedom of choice of religion.

However, it was not until 1667 - with Milton completely blind - that his most famous work was released.

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass - Milton influenced

"He peppers Paradise Lost with extraordinary scientific imaginings. He's not able to travel in space but he tries to imaginatively. It's really that science-fiction aspect of the work which I think has born fruit only in the 20th Century once our own scientific imaginings have been able to take us much further."

Paradise Lost is a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and the battle of the fallen angels, led by Satan, against God and Christ, a war which the Devil inevitably loses. Dr Alexander points to how the story of a clash of cultures across imagined spaces is everywhere in our modern tales.

"You get things like Star Wars for instance, which takes that epic pattern of a clash between two cultures and sets it on a universal scale."

Not only has the great man given us flying superheroes and light sabers, he's also furnished our language with a plethora of words that have infiltrated our everyday lives.

Christ's College

Christ's College

"We think there are over 600 words he introduced to the English language," says Dr Alexander. "Some of these are just taking a word that exists in a different form. For instance he's the first person to use the word terrific."

"He's the first person to use the word space, not to define a limited area, but to define the illimitable cosmos of the universe."

It is believed that Paradise Lost alone gave us words such as dreary, pandaemonium, acclaim, rebuff, self-esteem, unaided, impassive, enslaved, jubilant, serried, solaced, and satanic.

If you would like to learn more about John Milton, visit the Christ's College website via the link below or go and visit the exhibitions at Cambridge University.

last updated: 17/01/2008 at 17:13
created: 16/01/2008

You are in: Cambridgeshire > Features > Your County > Milton's lasting impression

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