Book Review

Let’s Do the Time Warp!

The Faerie Queen: Book I – Holinesse
Edmund Spenser
J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd; London
Introduced & annotated by
Douglas Brooks-Davies

I’m reviewing The Faerie Queen because I’m reading it for the first time. (I wonder how many people read it a second time?) The language is a bit archaic (in fact, I’m suspecting that it was ‘camp’ when it was published in 1590). The author, Edmund Spenser, was secretary to Queen Elizabeth’s Lord Deputy of Ireland, and also an astrologer. He received grants from QE1 to finish books IV to VI. Political propaganda to bolster a ‘virgin queen’? Nah...

Spenser’s imagery is christian arcanery, and his symbolism dense, but once you realize that this is the “Rocky Horror Show” of the renaissance set, and that the Red Cross Knight and Una are the Brad and Janet of Merry Olde Faeryland– what else is there to understand? Yeah, most of the major trumps of the Tarot pay a visit (in fact, a Tarot of the Faerie Queen could probably make someone other than me a lot of money) and there’s a lot of cheap allegory (a Jungian might say that The Faerie Queen is ‘rich in archetypes’, but, hey, so is a walk down the street, at least where I live), but the main thing is that it’s a good yarn and the rhyme scheme makes a kind of melody in your head, and the iambs just keep rolling along. So, now I’m on to Book II. This is habit-forming.

—Ann Athema