July 8th, 2011

politics

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earthsea

July Books 6) The Faerie Queene: a selection of critical essays, edited by Peter Bayley

I have not read a single line of Edmund Spenser's late sixteenth century epic, The Faerie Queene, but I am uncomfortably aware that if I am ever to try and grasp the history of Ireland in Spenser's time, I must some day give it a try, and this collection of scholarly essays on the poem seemed a plausible way in.

Perusing academic analysis of a work which one has not actually read risks being as boring as hearing about other people's hilariously funny dreams, but the editor chose well here, and most of the essays are at least comprehensible and some even interesting. The ones that stood out for me were by Rosemond Tuve (who I hadn't heard of previously), C.S. Lewis, Frank Kermode, and the editor himself (Peter Bayley). But they all gave me useful pointers to navigate the poem when I do get around to it.

I did wonder about Spenser's possible influence on two later writers; I don't think I have seen him cited as such in either case, but both must have read The Faerie Queene given what I know of their careers. The first is Tolkien, of course, who shared Spenser's goal of writing a national epic for England, and like him succeeded to an extent. There are of course differences - Spenser was vehemently anti-Catholic, Tolkien quietly pro - but I sense a congruence in the political/cultural goal of the work. The second is Roger Zelazny, whose Amber books, though rooted in a framework which owes a lot to Arthurian influences, wander around rather like Spenser's knights seem to, without really reaching a conclusion but with some very pretty writing along the way. My eye was caught by Spenser's character Florimel, also the full name (or maybe nickname) of Zelazny's princess Flora.

Anyway, it's a short book, and more digestible than many such volumes.