Tuesday 31 October 2017

Ultimate Catfish - The Faerie Queene Book 1 Canto 8

An Action Canto!

Spensers verse form really comes alive when applied to action scenes, usually I take a break every 10 verses or so but in this case I read through the entirety of the fight with the Giant and Hydra in almost one go.


  • Arthur fights the giant, cuts off his arm.
  • The Hydra gets involved.
  • The Squire holds off the Hydra.
  • Arthur is driven to the ground and the Squire poisoned by Duessa. It looks like the good guys are about to lose.
  • The Giants blow tears away the veil before Arthurs magic shield.
  • This is so bright it blinds and terrifies both Orgoglio and the Hydra.
  • Arthur murders everyone and the Squire grabs Duessa.
  • They investigate the Giants castle, meet his foster-father Ignario, who knows nothing.
  • The castle is very sweet but unfortunately covered with the blood of innocent Christians and also has a death alter where the souls of Martyrs wail continually.
  • Arthur finds Redcrosse and tears off the door to his iron prison with pure manliness.
  • Recrosse is in a very bad state.
  • Una advises them not to kill Duessa but to strip her of her royal robe, this done she is revealed as the ultimate Catfish and flees.
  • Our heroes decide to stay in Orgoglios castle, despite it being carpeted in innocent blood and having a death altar in it.

Popular verse elements - more brightness metaphors, this time Arthurs shield directly saving the day. If we get a Canto without a brightness metaphor I will eat my eye.

Also more 'subtil engines' this time undermining castles as part of another metaphor. Spenser must have seen some kind of 'subtil engine' at some point, as well as gunpowder, technology made a big impression on him I think,

Trying to make Catholicism look awful but accidentally making it look amazing.
Not certain of the Artist yet.

So there are a few polarities that keep coming up;

One is Spensers dual skill/presentation. One one hand he is a classical telenovella/action movie director, the motherfucker can hit story beats, move people around, manage scenes, a lot of classic but often unregarded talents.

He's also doing all this while absolutely everything in the story is a highly elaborate and specific analogy for various kinds of spiritual and religious whatever.

For the modern reader this presents a kind of split perspective, in which we are simultaneously reading a thrilling genre story while also going to the back to decode his references and work out his religious and political commentary.

But his telenovella aspect is so.. not cheesy, but so common as my mum would put it. Its a crowdpleaser, its Spielbergian, Dickensian. So my cultural programming keeps telling me to look for the trick or the irony, that Spenser isn't really doing both those things at once, that one is actually a kind of cheat so he can do the other one.

But no, I think he is actually doing both for real.

By Walter Crane I think
The second one is the loops of his metaphor and references. Our boy loves him some Greek references, and also talking about the weather and weather effects, all very standard poet stuff. But we see, especially in this Canto, the way he speaks keeps looping back into near-common speech and common references, the high tone modulates into the low, then back again, the complex into the simple and direct.

(There's another with alliteration. Spenser is doing that a lot, I feel like he is alliterating for play, allowing the rhyme and metre to take the heavy load as the 'solid' sound structure and 'painting' with alliteration, but I suppose I will have more time to think of that as we go on.)

As a Podcast

Searching for this; http://pca.st/c44P should find it on most podcasting apps.

Monday 30 October 2017

Tender Parts - The Faerie Queene Book 1 Canto 7

I forget how many time Una faints in this Canto but its a lot.

So, Duessa returns from hanging out with deep mythical archetypes and finds Redcrosse gone. She tracks him down to a stream and;

".. with reproach of carelessness unkind
Ubraid, for leaving her in place unmeet,
With foul words tempting fair, sour gall with honey sweet."

Which is a conversation I think a lot of us can remember having.

Redcrosse drinks from the stream, which it turns out is a sedative roofie stream as the Nymph from which it flows is a lazy good-for-nothing.

Redcrosse is now drugged when the giant Orgoglio turns up. Orgoglio swings at him in a really good stanza with gunpowder metaphors and is about to crush him to powder when Duessa intervenes and trades herself for his safety.

This is interesting as Duessa does actually save Redcrosse's life.

Orgoglio throws Redcrosse in a dungeon and like Duessa as his new girlfriend so much that he gets her a seven-headed hydra to ride about, purely to make her look more awesome and terrifying. I feel like this is a pretty positive relationship for both Orgoglio and Duessa.

The nameless Dwarfe grabs Redcrosse's armour and gear and runs for it, running straight into Una, who them proceeds to wail and faint multiple times in the rest of the stanza. I mean most of the stanza is her fainting and wailing. The Dwarfe wakes her up by;

"To rub her temples, and to chaufe her chin,
And every tender part to tosse and turne:"

And I have no idea if the slightly sleazy double-meaning is intended there but looking at the rest of Spensers writing; maybe.

Una meets the most amazingly-attired Knight, truly a high-level adventurer. He gets multiple stanzas just on his glorious clothes and his diamond shield has multiple magical properties.

Amazingly, from the point of view of the mediocrely materialist 21st century reader, she does not instantly assume him to be either a rapist or a wizard in disguise, or both, despite the fact that 50% of the men she meets are one of the two.


Arthur has an un-named Squire who presumably hangs out with the Dwarfe while Una and Arthur are speaking highly complex conversational stanzas at each other.

The main spiritual or moral problem of the Canto seems to be Una essentially having a meltdown and falling into despair because her Knight is gone, and the long conversation with Arthur is, in 21st Century terms, largely about him getting her to talk about it.

The answer, as it usually is in TFQ, is faith, and also reason.

"But woeful Lady le me to entreat,
For to unfold the anguish of your heart:
Mishaps are mastered by advice discreed,
And council mitigates the greatest smart;
Found never help, who never would his hurts impart."

So, under, or along with the (to us, today) complex and archaic spiritual allegory and glorious chivalric claptrap is something we can understand and perhaps sympathise with.

Despite this the 'quoth he/quoth she' argument is bordering on farcical.

We also get Una's backstory, its a standard parents-menaced-by-dragon story. She's from
"the territories,
Which Phison and Euphrates floweth by,
And Gehons golden waves do wash continually."

Which I think means she's from the middle east?

The Dragon is also from Tartary, so Richard should be happy. But that's probably an allegory for something.

Arthur and Una (and the Squire, and the Dwarfe) join up and go to rescue that fucking idiot Redcrosse, so hopefully lookout for a Giant-fight in Canto 8.

Sunday 29 October 2017

Extremely Non-Consensual; The Faerie Queene Book One Canto Six

This is a super-rapey episode.

We loop back to the end of Canto 3 where Sansloy, after having accidentally jousted Archimago (in disguise as Redcrosse) drags Una off.

Sansloy first tries some seduction stuff, when this fails he goes full non-con.

Spencer spends quite a bit of time how thrilling Unas screams for help are. Luckily, as happens almost never, an ancient Wood-God, Silvanius, and his crew of Satyrs, are hanging nearby and hearing this noise, come to investigate. When Sansloy sees these freaky creatures turn up he runs for it.

This being possibly the first time in myth that someone has been saved from rape by Satyrs.

Una being min-maxed for beauty and purity, Sylvanus, the Satyrs and various other spirits instantly fall in love with her. There is a very strange and somewhat haunting verse where Sylvanus, trying to recall which Goddess this might be, remembers the story of Cypariesse, a 'lovely boy' who killed  a hind with a dart and found it so beautiful that he wasted away from sorrow at the deed. The notes tell me that in myth Cypariesse was a boy Sylvanus fell in love with and who he transformed into the Cypress tree. In the poem, Sylvanus is so old he walks with a Cypress stave, which presumably any educated reader of the period would recognise as Cypariesse.

This whole Canto is wierd.

So Una hangs out with the Satyrs who want to worship her as a goddess, when she denies this they try to worship her Ass, these guys being essentially the savages from colonial fiction.

She is safe, but can't leave (because as a min-maxed character she can't ever do anything).

Time gets really weird here. It seems like maybe she spends a long time in the forest but this might be a Faerie timewarp as we will see later on.

Una needs another rescue so we get the rawest intro to possibly the coolest Knight yet. Batman to Redcrosse's Superman figure; Satyrane.

A sweet lady is betrothed to a hunting-obsessed Knight. He's never home and she misses him so she goes out into the forest to be with him. She is promptly captured and raped by a Satyr who holds her captive till she gives birth to a half-satyr son, then lets her go with the son as a hostage.

The Satyr raises the boy to be utterly and insanely fearless and, essentially, to purposely dick around the most dangerous animals he can find purely in order to teach him to be a badass. He does this so well that the boy terrifies even him and the kid becomes tyrant of the forest, capturing and 'taming' Lions and Boars etc for fun until everything is afraid of him.

One day the boys sweet mother is in the forest looking for him, when she does she is so afraid of him she nearly runs for it but convinces him to be slightly less insanely savage and to act like a Knight, which he does.

So this guy finds Una and schemes to rescue her, which he does.

On leaving the forest, they both come upon 'A silly man, in simple weeds forwarne' who tells them he saw Redcrosse die.

Una freaks out and they go to find the Panym that did the deed, directed by the silly man.

Its Sansloy, who we remember from Canto 3 where he smashed Archimago disguised as Redcrosse, an event which seems recent to him? So only a day has passed out here, whereas in the Forest it seemed like ages had passed?

Sansloy says he didn't kill Redcrosse but will absolutely fight Satyrane. Satyrane speaks this odd but interesting verse;

"O foolish faeries sonne, what fury mad
Hath thee incensed, to haste thy doleful fate?
Were it not better, I that lady had,
Than that thou hadst repented it too late?
Most senseless man he, that himself doth hate,
To love another. Lo then for thine aid
Here take thy lovers token on thy pate."

Those two have an awesome, extended, supermurder throwdown which is still going on as the Canto ends.

Una is so shocked by all of this that she runs off to look for Redcrosse.

Then in the last part the 'silly man' is revealed TO BE ARCHIMAGO



This guy is just fucking crazy with the multiple identities. Also he seems to have just got his revenge for Sansloy jousting him off his horse, something that was entirely his own fault.


So we have the fair lady threatened with rape, rescued from rape by the rapyest possible mythological creatures, then rescued again by a savage badass who is himself a product of rape, then he is tricked into a brutal fight with the original attempted rapist and the lady gets away.

I'm sure it means something but I'm not sure what.

Saturday 28 October 2017

The Faerie Queene Book One Canto Five

Redcrosse and Sansfoy fight. If I'm interpreting this right, Redcrosse is about to lose when Duessa calls out in encouragement to Sansfoy, but Redcrosse thinks her words are meant for him, rallies and wins, driving Sansfoy to his knees.

Then WIZARD TRICKS happen. Duessa hides the body of Sansfoy with a magic cloud, she goes to comfort Redcrosse and take him to be healed.

But its a Tim Burton episode this Canto, because as soon as Redcrosse is out Duessa, like a "cruell craftie crocodille" sneaks away to the body of Sansfoy, then moves at increadible speed to " the eastern coast of Heavan' where she meets Dame Night.

Actual Night, literalised, with her 'Yron Chariot' and black steeds champing at rusty bits. The majority of the Canto is Duessa persuading Night to try to save Sansfoy. Then a marvellous description of Hades (with lots of mispronunciation by me).

Night takes Sansfoy to AEsculapius, a Greek frankenstein guy about whom I knew nothing till I read this. Unlike our Frankenstein, he never even wanted to challenge divine power, he was just a Doctor so amazing that when a hero is falsely accused and torn to buts due to standard Olympian fuckery, and the despairing father appeals for aid, AEsculapius is capable of actually stitching the guy back together and making him live again.

Jove is so irritated/freaked out by this that he sends the Doctor directly to Hades with a thunderbolt where he currently lives chained in a cave, trying to heal the ever-burning fire of his thunderbolt wound.

Night asks him to heal Sansfoy, the Doctor doesn't want to piss off Jove again but as Night points out, he is already as dammed as dammed can get, so he goes ahead.

Then we come back to the world and find Redcrosse has left the house of Pride. His un-named Dwarf has noticed the giant dungeon full of doomed (but great) men from history (there are damned proud historical women as well, but two of the three named are damned for having the temerity to commit suicide, so make what you will of that) and the giant piles of dead people. Thusly confirming that Knights can never notice anything and have to be informed of deception by their followers.

This all happens 'off-screen', we finish on Redcrosse leaving the "dreadful spectacle of that sad house of Pride."

Now no doubt all of this has complex renaissance allegorical religious meanings but I can only talk about it  on a storytelling level, and again, it reminds me a lot of Genre writing/ Spenser really likes taking us on these supernatural journeys and tends to fall in love with his proto-gothic bad-guy characters. Like the loving description of Archimago making a pervy sex-golem of mist and literally summoning dreams from Morpheus, here we find out, in detail, how Night herself can cause a man to be healed from death.

The 'dark' characters have their own world and relationships, and when they are 'on screen' they get as much attention and depth as the main characters.

And the moral complexity of getting a 'proud Panyim' healed by a dammed super-Doctor who's only sin was that he was _too good_ at healing people, well that's very interesting. Again we get, at every step, these alter-stories and mirrors to Chivalry and the Chivalric ethos.

Both Neil Gaiaman and Mary Shelly need to call thier lawyers because clearly Spenser has been ripping them both off.

Sorry for the poor reading today, think I made more mistakes than usual.

Friday 27 October 2017

The Faerie Queen Book One Canto Four

Redcrosse and Duessa (in disguise as Fidessa) arrive at the House of Fame, encounter Lucefera and her six evil Wizards, then meet Sans Joy, the brother to the Sarizen Sans Foy, who challenges Redcrosse to a joust. Duessa meets Sans Joy and promises him secret aid.

As usual, Spenser loves his extended solar metaphors, day never just dawns, instead it gets a whole stanza, as does night, when people fall asleep the metaphor is Morpheus literally beaning them with a lead mace. Queen Lucifera gets a lot of light and brightness metaphors and Duessa uses day/night metaphors to persuade Sans Joy.

Idleness; a Monk on an ass. Gluttony; fat, naked except for leaves, riding a pig, holding a "bouzing can" and vomiting everywhere. Lechery; filthy, black, riding a goat and carrying a burning heart. Avarice; joyless, clad in rags but riding a camel strapped with cash and literally counting money as he goes. Envy; riding a ravenous wolf, chewing a poisonous toad and spitting poison as he goes. Then Wrath in bloodstained rags, eyes like ash, riding a ravenous lion, his hand trembling with raaaaage, a dagger in it.

Hows that for an encounter?

We are only a short way in and its interesting how many ways Spencer has re-combined some very simple archetypes, often by creating their anti-being, putting them in disguise or showing mirror-relationships.

He really is an excellent genre writer, a good storyteller. In the previous Canto we got a primary bad guy accidentally taking out his friend, the evil wizard, who was disguised as Redcrosse, which was a neat dramatic moment for the audience but also a nice bit of drama - the bad guys also have relationships and friendships. Here we get Duessa, in disguse as Fidessa, lying her ass off in order to provoke and aid Sans Joy into killing Redcrosse, almost a complete reversal of the classic "good" chivalric relationship, but indescernable from the real thing.

These manchean, architypal characters don't have depth in the literary sense, but the number and strangeness of the situations they are placed into, especially with the lies, illusions, mistakes and mirroring, almsot project that psychological depth and questioning out into the imagined world.

Thursday 26 October 2017

The Faerie Queen, Book One, Canto Three

Lion meets maiden,
Maiden meets thief,
Lion kills thief.
Wizard disguises self as knight,
Maiden meets wizard,
Wizard meets Sarizen,
Sarizen drops Wizard.
Lion attacks Sarizen,
Sarizen kills Lion.
Sarizen takes Maiden.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

The Faerie Queen, Book One Canto Two

So in the first Canto we got the classic Triumuvate of Heroic Knight, Chaste Lady and eeeevil sneaky Wizard, almost like a fractal of all knightly tales.

Now we add to that a savage Sarizen and a sexy but deceatful hot chick, its interesting just how rapidly the Red Crosse knight is tricked and deceaved. These architypal characters are almost like min-maxed RPG characters, utterly overwhelmingly adept in one particular way but insanely incompetant in others.

The Knight always wins a fight but is fooled by every lie he is told, the wizard can never win a fight but can delude anyone with illusions and lies, (he even has direct contact with Neil Gaimans Sandman), but he can never directly harm anyone, only trick them into harming themselves. The chaste maiden - I'm not sure how I would break that down, she seems to be incorruptible, and no-one ever seems to directly harm her but she can't actually directly do anything, she can only appeal for others to act.

I didn't really get into it in the first Canto but its impressive just how much stuff there is in it. Spenser is a crowd-pleaser, and good at it, we get a cool monster fight, a thrilling twist where the holy man is revealed to be (gasp) an evil sneaky Wizard, some cool very genre-appropriate magic stuff, some creepy sex dreams and then out, all in one Canto. It's almost a pilot episode, and a good one.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Faerie Machine

I'm going to try reading the entirety of Edmund Spensers 'The Faerie Queene'. That's about 1000 pages of poetry and 60-something Cantos with 50+ stanzas each over five Books.

I wanted to do something public to help me get through it. Its in close early modern so it doesn't really need translating.

I counted the Cantos yesterday afternoon and worked out that if I record and post one every day then I will finish almost exactly at Christmas.

Each Canto is looking to be about 20/30 minutes when read out.

I am not that good a reader, I don't go back and edit these so there are coughs, re-reads, line hitches and some moments of failed emphasis, but there you go.

So here is the first book, telling the story of the Knight of the Red Cross.

And I think I've set this up as a podcast which I think you can subscribe to here.