I’m writing a paper about Philip Pullman’s reading of Paradise Lost in his His Dark Materialsfantasy trilogy. As such, this involves me spending a good deal of time and attention reading Milton. Compared to Spenser and Cervantes, the two other authors we are reading in the same class, Milton is awesome. The other two are interesting, funny, complex, but ultimately I find reading them to be a chore. Reading Milton is uplifting like riding the swings at the fair. I haven’t felt this joy at encountering a new work for a long time. He is a delight to read; it’s like going to C.S. Lewis’s “farther up and further in,” or to the island of Numenor, which is not an inept analogy given that Lewis and Tolkien both read, loved, and responded to Milton. I can’t believe I haven’t read Milton before. Paradise Lost is incredible and has obviously inspired so many authors with whom I’m already deeply familiar. Fantasists and mythopoets, my fun reading, take so much from him; friends have raved about the poem before; how did I miss it?
What makes reading Milton exceptional is that I’ve paired it with two bands—Jonsi and Amiina, both Icelandic groups. Listening to this music (reminiscent of Sigur Ros, especially since Jon Birgisson of Jonsi is the frontman of Sigur Ros, and Amiina has collaborated with Sigur Ros on various occasions) is magical; the sounds are both crystalline and sweeping, creating landscapes of emotion and imagination. As I read about Satan escaping Hell to plague the newly-created Earth, Amiina plays a martial drum behind a minor melody on the saw, and I feel Satan’s desperation, his courage and desire, and I see the terrifying landscape of Hell. As we pull in on the Earth, a pendant orb hanging from a golden chain that crosses the Void, Jonsi’s ethereal voice lifts me into the galaxy and I see the beams of light streaming from far Heaven.
It’s especially interesting that something sensory, almost corporeal, can enrich my reading of a poem that is explicitly concerned with the difference between the material and the spiritual. Pullman plays on this theme with his creation, Dust. Although music isn’t something I can touch, sound waves exist, and as a sensory experience, this music is making my reading so much more vibrant. I don't usually think of reading as being a sensory experience, although it obviously is--seeing is a sense! But reading while listening to music transcends what I sometimes feel as the unmediated text-to-brain, pulling in my imagination through the vehicle of my auditory sense.
I want to find more music that connects to and enriches the experience of reading. What do you listen to when you study or read for pleasure?