From Marvel to Milton: An Examination of Parallels between Milton’s Paradise Lost and Marvel’s Thor film series

 From Marvel to Milton: An Examination of Parallels between Milton’s Paradise Lost and Marvel’s Thor film series

John Milton’s Satan and Marvel’s Loki portrayed by Tom Hiddleston in the popular films are both mischievous characters at the beginning of the plotlines of their lives, and soon after become corrupted. The parallels in the films of Thor, The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World hold many similarities with Paradise Lost. While Loki is the primary example of such parallels, the triumvirate of God (The Father), The Son and Satan is maintained as a strong theme in the films through the emphasis on the triumvirate of Odin (The All Father), Thor and Loki.

As discussed in class, the events of Paradise Lost hold themes from a strong subcurrent of political strife that occurred in John Milton’s life, which also transfers over to the Marvel films. In class, it was speculated that perhaps the reason that Satan was written so charismatically sympathetic was that to some extent, Milton was using him as a tool to convey his own emotions. In the 1640’s, England was in the midst of a civil war between the Royalists who supported King Charles I and the Parliamentarians who though that if the king was not doing an adequate job of ruling the country, the people had the right to depose him. In 1649 Charles was deposed and there was no king until 1660 when Charles II regained the throne.

Milton did end up getting punished and thrown into jail for his support of the Parliamentarians, which directly leads to the discussion of Paradise Lost and the Marvel movies for this essay, for this is where we find Satan and Loki after their own sins against the ruling party. At the opening of Milton’s book, Satan has been cast down from Heaven for “aspiring to set himself in glory above his peers” (I.38-39), just as Loki was cast down from Asgard for his aspirations of replacing Thor and taking Odin’s place and is imprisoned in Thor: The Dark World.

Both Loki and Satan are expert shape shifters, and while the angels themselves can alter their figures, the primary use of their abilities is usually relegated to disguising themselves so as to not overwhelm Adam and Eve or reducing their glamour. Satan on the other hand is portrayed utilizing his shape-shifting abilities primarily for malicious or conniving purposes. The difference in these transformations is shown in the descriptions of how each shape shifts. For example, when Michael is sent down to cast Adam and Eve out of Paradise, he is described as changing his shape so that he is “not in his shape celestial, but as man clad to meet man” (XI. 239-240). Michael is portrayed as a powerful and handsome warrior “prime in manhood where youth ended” (XI.245-246).

Michael’s elevated status is emphasized by describing how his clothing is all related to the skies, and therefore by proxy, the heavens, as described by Milton in lines 240-250 of Book Eleven in the “military vest of purple” that “Iris had dipped the woof” (XI.241,244), with Iris being the Greek goddess of rainbows and purple being a color reserved for royalty, thus emphasizing how important and pure Michael is, going on to explain that his “starry helm” (XI.245) was unbuckled and showed his perfection. It goes back to the scale that was discussed in class, with the various states of water, with solidity being at the bottom and water vapor being the most pure and elevated of the stages. Milton is going through great effort to show how high Michael ranks on that scale and by doing so, causing the readers to imagine that if this is Michael debasing himself, what would his glory be when he is not shrouded for human eyes?

Unlike Michael, Loki’s shape-shifting is not primarily utilized for noble purposes or for shrouding himself from human eyes, but rather for making mischief and malice. In Thor, Loki and Thor are discussing one of Thor’s previous triumphant battles in Nornheim, and Loki mentions how he slyly “veiled us in smoke to ease our escape” (Branagh, Thor), much like how Satan disguised himself as a “rising mist” (4.75) in order to enter Paradise so that he could tempt Eve into eating the fruit. Loki also uses his shape shifting to fake his own death, so that he may take the throne of Asgard for himself, as seen in Thor: The Dark world when we see Loki transforming into an Einherjar soldier to return to Asgard, similar to the manner that Satan takes on the appearance of a “stripling Cherub” (III.636) when he returns to Heaven in order to fool Uriel into revealing the location of Paradise. Of course, the primary example of Loki’s malice is the very last scene of Thor 2, in which we see that Loki has somehow disposed of Odin and taken his place and form, ruling Asgard in Odin’s stead.

On the topic of Odin, the parallels between God in Paradise Lost and the film portrayal of Odin must be mentioned. The two characters are both named similarly, just as God is referred to as “th’Almighty Father” (III.55) on multiple occasions, the name Odin is referred to as is “The All Father” (Branagh, Thor, Taylor, Thor: The Dark World). The way Milton portrays God in the text is a possible parallel of his political beliefs. While as a good Christian, Milton finds a way to eventually redeem God by highlighting the Almighty Father’s forgiveness towards Adam and Eve, the unfavorable portrayal at the start could possibly be a reflection of Milton’s personal feelings towards the monarch figure, thereby also making Satan a more sympathetic character than he appears to be in various other texts.

In the films, Odin is just as reliant on Thor, his first-born as God is on the Son in Paradise Lost, portrayed when God says “O son, in whom my soul hath chief delight, son of my bosom, Son who art my Word, my wisdom and my effectual might” (III.168-170).  While Odin is not as verbose as God, we see his favoritism in his behavior towards Thor versus Loki. We especially see this after Loki’s return to Asgard in Thor: The Dark World as a prisoner after he has set ruin to New York and tried to take the Tesseract for his own. When being sentenced, Loki jeers at the thought of Thor becoming king, to which Odin replies “Thor must strive to undo the damage you have done. He’ll bring order to the nine realms and then, yes, he will be King” (Taylor,Thor: The Dark World). This calls to mind the sacrifice the Son makes when God says that he will pardon Adam and Eve and allow for a hope of redemption if someone will go down from Heaven and die for them. Similarly, Odin is content to let mankind die, as portrayed when he tells Thor “Humans lives are fleeting. They’re nothing” (Taylor, Thor: the Dark World), but Thor goes down to Earth anyways during The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World to save the people of Earth, just as the Son volunteered to be the one to go down to Earth.

While in Paradise the actual sacrifice of the Son is not portrayed, the effects of the Son’s sacrifice are explained by god in that “thy merited imputed shall absolve them…and from thee [men will] receive new life…be judged and die and dying rise, and rising with him raise his brethren…so Heaven’ly love shall outdo Hellish hate,” (III.290-298). So by dying for mankind, the Son shall redeem men and his love will overpower the hatred of Satan. This draws a connection to the battle scene in Thor, where Loki has sent The Destroyer to kill Thor and humans. Thor sacrifices himself in an attempt to save humans from further destruction by Loki’s ahnd, saying  “Brother… for whatever I have done to wrong you, whatever I have done to lead you to do this, I am sorry. But these people have done nothing to you. They are innocents. Take my life, and know I will never return to Asgard” (Branagh, Thor).

Thor sacrifices himself for mankind, his Heavenly love saving them from Loki’s hellish hate. He does die, or so it seems in that scene, for Odin stripped him of his magical powers when he cast Thor out from Asgard onto Earth, leaving Thor a stronger than usual mortal man. He is killed by the Destroyer, however, when Thor sacrifices himself to save humans, he is brought back to his former godliness so to speak. Only then is he truly worthy of Mjolnir and his kingship, just as in Paradise Lost, when God claims that the Son shall reign as “both God and man, Son both of god and man, Anointed universal King; all power I give thee,” (III.16-18).

An interesting concept that also helps tie in the analogous features of the film characters and Milton’s characters is the utilization of thunderbolts and lightning. Many creation stories have their gods wielding some type of power, and especially in the Marvel films, Thor is seen utilizing his thunder and lightning powers, as do God and the Son in the text.  Satan himself tries to replicate these powers, by using a canon in the battle of rebellion against God, saying “they shall fear we have disarmed the thunderer of his only dreaded bolt” (VI.490-491). As described in the text, once the Son came into battle, “one spirit in [the seraphim] ruled and every eye glared lightning, and shot forth pernicious fire among th’accursed, that withered all their strength” (VI.848-850).

While one might state that this effect was from the seraphim themselves, and not just because of the Son, the phrase I would like to point to is that “one spirit ruled” (VI.490). If this was just a matter of the seraphim doing that, it would have been their individual selves who were using the lightning, not that great force of the one ruling spirit, which in this case is the Son. Only through the Son can the Seraphim access that higher power of the actual thunder and lightning. Similarly, no one can utilize Mjolnir’s powers of thunder and lightning, but Thor, the Son of Odin, the Allfather.

Furthermore, this is another example of the good graces of the son, and therefore by proxy, God. The Son has the power to kill or rather un-create the rebel angels, created originally by God, and corrupted by Satan. However, he chooses to reign in his powers, not killing them, but instead casting them out of Heaven, for “half his strength he put not forth, but checked his thunder in mid-volley, for he meant not to destroy, but root them out of Heav’n” (VI.853-855). By doing so, Milton redeems that image of a tyrannical hierarchy discussed previously in the paper, and provides an image of forgiveness for the readers to use in the softening of God’s heart through the mercy shown by the Son.

While the Son in Paradise Lost drives Satan out of Heaven, he does not physically throw Satan and the other rebel angels down to Hell. The Son opens the “crystal wall of Heav’n” (VI.860), and the angels are faced with a choice. Either they can turn back to face the wrath of God and the Son, or they can jump and fall to Hell. Therein lies another tool that Milton utilizes to soften the image of God, for the Son, God’s emissary in the battle, gives the rebel angels free will. It is their choice to jump. They are not pushed or thrown out of Heaven directly. They have that last opportunity to put down their weapons and repent, but out of fear of the consequences, they choose to condemn themselves for eternity. This parallels Milton’s perspective that was discussed in class, that Milton believed you were not predestined for salvation or damnation, but rather believed that you chose your way through your own actions.

Just as Satan chooses to jump, Loki chooses to fall from Asgard. After trying to destroy Jotunheim and the Frost Giants in a last effort to prove himself worthy of the throne and Odin’s affection, the two brothers battle it out until Thor and Loki are grasping onto the shattering Bifrost with Thor holding Loki via Odin’s scepter Gungnir. Loki desperately yearning for Odin’s love and approval endears to the Allfather that “I could have done it, Father! I could have done it! For you! For all of us!” (Branagh, Thor). However, when Odin’s reply is “No, Loki” (Branagh, Thor), Loki lets go of Gungnir, choosing to fall from Asgard, as Satan chose to fall from Heaven.

Speaking of the Bifrost, which is the vast rainbow ice bridge that connects Asgard and Earth, there are various other sprinklings throughout the film that are similar to those in Paradise Lost. While they do not fit specifically in the relationship of the triumvirate figures in either text, they still merit mentioning. The greatest one, is of course the strong parallel between the Bifrost itself and the bridge built by Sin and Death. Death uses his “mace petrific, cold and dry” (X. 294) with his mother/sister Sin’s help, the two of them “wrought… a bridge of length prodigious joining the wall of this now fenceless world” (X. 300-303), allowing Death and Sin easy access to Earth, just as the Bifrost allows easy access to Midgard (Earth) for the Aesir (people from Asgard).

The final major connecting point regarding Loki and Satan is their inner nature. The lack of contentment and their misery brews inside them. Contentment is not in their nature, no matter how hard they try to reach that goal of domination. No matter how sympathetic their characters might be, they are not the good guys. Ultimately, they are villains, not tragic heroes, and their inner thoughts and emotions portray them as such. For Satan, that prime point is in Book Nine, where he holds a soliloquy regarding the possibility of repentance.

With envy, he dreams of Paradise on Earth, and wonders what it would be like to return to Heaven once more, but he stops himself, knowing that for him, there would be no joy, claiming that “All good becomes bane, and in Heav’n much worse would be my state” (IX.122-123). As discussed in class, Satan knows that the discontentment and corruption he experiences comes from within. He knows that he cannot “hope to be myself less miserable by what I seek, but others to make such as I… for only in destroying I find ease” (IX.126-129). Loki also carries this with him, explaining to Thor that “Satisfaction is not in my nature” (Taylor, Thor: The Dark World). Loki knows that even if he sees Jotunheim crumble and himself on the throne of Asgard, he will still not be content.

Inherently, the true evil of Loki and Satan lies in that dissatisfaction they both house in their hearts. The reason why God and the Son can rule is because they were supreme rulers, not merely deities who dream of rising up to take the throne for themselves. They don’t hold discontent and try to push that discontent on anyone else. As Thor said “I’d rather be a good man than a great king” (Taylor, Thor: The Dark World), and that is what sets them aside from others. Thor and Odin allow for free will in their disciples, instead of manipulating them like Loki and Satan did. The latter two’s inner corruption ties the films and Paradise Lost together concretely pulling into play all the aforementioned points, the triumvirates paralleling each other through their character traits.








Works Cited:

Milton, John. “Paradise Lost.” The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton (Modern Library). Ed. William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon. New York:          Modern Library, 2007. Print.

Thor. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman,                                                       Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston. Paramount, 2011. DVD.

Thor: The Dark World. Dir. Alan Taylor. Perf. Chris Hemsworth,                                                    Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston,                                      Christopher Eccleston. Paramount,DVD.