Well, we've finally moved on from Dante to Milton in my literature class. For me, the transition has been a rather sad one, since I love The Divine Comedy almost to excess; it's sad to stop delving into it every day for class (although we do all have to write a large research paper on the book, happily). Milton by contrast I find rather irritating. I'm trying my level best to enjoy the book, but I rather feel towards it as I do about Moby Dick - I can recognize its excellence as a work of literature, but it will never shape my life as the Comedy, Crime and Punishment, Till We Have Faces, or any of those other marvelous favourites of mine have.
Nonetheless, I'm pleased to find that I don't detest the epic. I did in high school, mostly due, I believe to a lack of maturity in my reading: I found it unnecessarily dense and didactic. I still think it's more didactic than would be ideal, but with the guidance of my amazingly brilliant literature professor, I'm beginning to discern the underlying cleverness of many scenes, and even occasional flashes of irony in the narrative and descriptions. As it happens, all these actually interesting parts are the ones with the devils or Adam and Eve. We get to see Satan lying to himself and his followers and to try to follow his twisted logic through all its convolutions. We also get some actually quite interesting points about the nature of rebellion from a being Who is totally good and very good poetic analysis of why any creature would want to do that.
Oddly enough, I believe that the best ideas about God Himself that appear in the poem are those you can discern by interpretation of the demonic accounts of their hatred of their Creator. Through them you see what is not true about God, and even - in some rare moments such as Satan's soliloquy at the beginning of book 4 - what is true beyond the denial of even the diabolical.
Milton's depiction of God as an actual character by contrast seems to be crippled by a certain pretentiousness and an overeagerness on God-the-character's part to justify Himself to the readers. My friends and I complain about this aspect of the book more than any other, I think - certainly over dramatizing the problem to an extent, but aware nonetheless that the problem is a tangible one. How can you make God into a character? If He is as ineffable as Milton believes, the attempt seems nearly hubristic. And really, it doesn't come off well at all in my opinion. Very often Milton interprets God's actions in such a manner: "God to render man inexcusable sends Raphael to admonish him of his obedience" (opening to Book 5). The poem constantly seems to put God into a defensive position which begs the question of whether Milton's God really is as just as He should be.