The Faerie Queene: A Review


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I have finished reading The Faerie Queene at last! It's a great poem. As you may already know, it's an allegorical piece written by Edmund Spenser. It's divided into six books. The edition I read (Penguin) was well over 1000 pages. Now, I could tell you precisely what happened in the poem, but we'd be here all day. And I could delineate what I think the allegory means, but that would take a long time as well. So I've opted for a shorter review where I just sum up the poem and tell you what I found most striking.

The poem tells about a series of quests given to Arthurian knights by their Faerie queen. Each of them must achieve a virtue, like holiness, temperance, justice or chastity. They must achieve these qualities, although they are beset by much peril. Spenser wrote this “as a moral and political” allegory, and the worldview presented is a robust, romantic and orthodox one. But it is also an exciting story filled with battles, dragons, magic and love. Apparently it “was one of the most influential poems in the English language.” And after reading it, it's easy to see why. (The material in quotation marks is taken from the Penguin edition's description of The Faerie Queene.)




So, on to the elements I found most memorable.

Battles

This book is rife with battles, blood, and generally uncomfortable confrontations. People are killing dragons, monsters, each other. Errant knights are teeming here, our characters come across them every so often, and usually a jousting match ensues. 

However, sword wielding knights and slavering monsters aren't there just for the sake of some violence. These battles and deaths are mentioned to help us think. And because it's an allegory, everything is more – drawn in dramatic lines that guide us to the point of it all. I got the impression that it's a rough and dangerous world. Yet this doesn't mean it is a cruel one. The are still bright spots. Like love.

Love

Even though there are quests and adventures in this book, there's also plenty of love and romance. There are couples in practically every book, but my favorite one is Britomort and Artegall. They are both interesting characters. And their story is well plotted. I like that they both have time to grow as characters on their own before meeting and falling in love. Well, maybe not so much with Britomort, as when we first meet her, she is searching for Artegall. But at least she doesn't just waste away until she meets him.

And while we're on the topic of romance, I might as well mention there's some lust and sensuality in The Faerie Queene. But it isn't presented as a good thing. And that is the key here. It's a part of that big dramatic allegory being used to show us right and wrong.

Oh, The Words

There are a lot of words in this poem. (Well, obviously.) Some were hard to read because I is used instead of J. And V replaces U, and U returns the favor, standing in for V, although not at the beginning of a word. We get some terribly archaic spelling: A floud of poysen horrible and blacke, for instance. And then old, old words that you wouldn't know the definition of unless you page back to the glossary. (Hurray for glossaries!) There are also things that simply aren't good English these days. For example, nobody is said to “chaw the cud of their grief” anymore.

But you know what? It was interesting. It was something different. All the old language, along with the poetic metaphor made for a challenging read. But it was definitely worth it.

Comments

  1. I'm so glad you liked it! I've been slowly gearing up to tackle it, with no little trepidation, I might add. But now, after reading your review, I think it's time to take the plunge! Carpe diem!

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    1. I definitely understand, it's a daunting book at first, but once you get involved in the story it's not bad – I hope you enjoy it! :)

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  2. Glad you enjoyed this read, Candice. :)

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    1. Thanks! It was fun, and I'm glad to have finally finished it, it took me a while! :)

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