Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Angel Islington: On Repentance

'the Angel is inn'
(Image from Wikipedia)

I've just finished reading Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere, having taken a break from re-reading Jane Austen, and these words of the 'fallen' Angel Islington -- in reply to the question as to whether he intended to return to heaven -- struck me as familiar:
Not for me the smooth agonies of adulation, of hymns and halos and self-satisfied prayers. (Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), page 325)
They remind me, of course, of the famous words spoken by the fallen angel Mammon in Paradise Lost, who demurs at the thought of repentance:
. . . with what eyes could we
Stand in his presence humble, and receive
Strict Laws impos'd, to celebrate his Throne
With warbl'd Hymns, and to his Godhead sing
Forc't Halleluiah's (PL 2.239-242)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, February, 2009.]
Both the Angel Islington and Mammon are somewhat finicky, delicate dandies with a taste for luxury, so Gaiman may have had Mammon in mind. But there's also Satan's famous monologue:
But say I could repent and could obtaine
By Act of Grace my former state; how soon
Would higth recall high thoughts, how soon unsay
What feign'd submission swore: ease would recant
Vows made in pain, as violent and void. (PL 4.93-97)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, February, 2009.]
While the words uttered by Satan don't echo, the thought does. Heaven, it seems, is not a place to which an angel, once fallen, would wish to return.

The Angel Islington, by the way, holds Satan in low regard (and note that angels, being androgynous, are referred to by the neuter pronoun "it"):
Islington smiled superciliously. "Lucifer?" it said. "Lucifer was an idiot. It wound up lord and master of nothing at all." (Gaiman, Neverwhere, page 322)
Not that the Angel Islington, likewise imprisoned (albeit without torment), has much to show for his own ambition.

Anyway, the aims of fallen angels aside, I may have to alter my recent plan of reading only the classics rather than wasting my time on modern novels, and read all of Gaiman's works.

(I perhaps didn't mention this plan, and a good thing, too, or I'd have to publicly rather than parenthetically recant.)

But first, like Door, I need to re-open a book by Jane Austen.

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At 4:47 PM, Blogger John B said...

If you enjoyed NEVERWHERE you should probably try to track down the BBC miniseries it originated in. It was relatively low budget, compared to what we're used to on American TV, but Gaiman was writing specifically towards dramatic production and a lot of it worked better as a visual rather than textual concept.

Also, he just won a Newberry Award.

Gaiman's early work was as a writer for comic books. You will probably find it less compelling. SANDMAN in particular. I haven't read it, because I keep getting it confused with other stuff that came out around the same time.

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, John B. As a matter of fact, my wife ordered four Gaiman books this morning, and I received them the afternoon. Sometimes, Korea is truly remarkable.

Jeffery Hodges

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