|Phædria is said to|
pilot a "Gondelay."
So here's an idle
Looking at my shelves of criticism, I see a few things that would make a good title for a novel, one way or another. Mimesis might have to be a science fiction novel, though I suppose a novel in which the protagonist is seized by doubts of inauthenticity (merely the simulacrum of a person) would work. If one were going to name a contemporary novel The Faerie Queene, would that lock the writer into high fantasy?
One thing I’ve noticed about The Sense of an Ending (the novel, not the work of criticism) is that Barnes does not spend a lot of time describing anything. He’s keeping any sort of visual information tamped down. Characters have come and gone without the slightest bit of description. Tall or short? Dark or fair? Thin or plump? Who knows? The same is true of the places the protagonist inhabits.
Spenser doesn’t do that sort of writing. In Book II, Canto IV, most of the action happens on a pleasant isle, and we get plenty description of it, though less of its principal inhabitant, Phædria, although with her, perhaps her ornaments are the most important part of her.
Sometimes her head she fondly would aguizeCymochles needs to get across a wide river, and Phædria offers to get him across. Given that she tells him that she is
With gaudy girlonds, or fresh flowrets dight
About her necke, or rings of rushes plight;
thine own felllow servaunt;really should have been a warning. Come on, Cymochles, is one of Acrasia’s servants, a personification of idleness, really going to help you? So she takes him across “the Idle lake” to a fair isle.
For thou to serve Acrasia they selfe doest vaunt
It was a chosen plott of fertile land,Okay, it’s nice. And she is nice. Well, not really. She lulls him to sleep and if that’s not enough she drugs him.
Emongst wide waves sett, like a little nest,
As if it had by Natures cunning and
Bene choycely picked out from all the rest,
And laid forth for ensample of the best:
No daintie flowre or herbe that growes on grownd,
No arborett with painted blossomes drest
Then she with liquors strong his eies did steepe,And while he slumbers, Sir Guyon shows up. He doesn’t get the forewarning that she is one of Acrasia’s servants, but she offers him passage over the water, but the “Blacke Palmer” can’t come along. That should have been warning to Guyon. Plus it’s discrimination. We are told that
That nothing should him hastily awake.
Guyon was loath to leave his guide behindbut he does it anyway. And he complains about the route. She calms her cranky passenger by noting that the wind is unstable and they can just rest at the isle until the time comes when it’s safe to table again. He’s a bad guest, since he doesn’t want to relax, and just keeps pestering her about getting going again.
That wakes Cymochles and the two knights fight, much to Phædria’s dismay. This is an odd bit, because usually the “bad guys” delight when the hero gets into a fight with someone, even if that someone is on their side. Though Phædria seems to be on her own side, and fighting like that is certainly not idle. She says that if they’re going to fight over her, they should do it by competing for her affection.
This is enough to get Guyon asking for a way off the island. Good enough for Phædria, who can recognize a lost cause when she sees one, “a foe of folly and immodest toy.” In the end, “she well pleased was thence to amove him farre.” No battle, he just had to be a joyless prig long enough and Idleness got rid of him.
Meanwhile, what of poor Pyrochles? Furor has set him on fire, though there are no flames, nor help from Cymochles. Pyrochles is in such pain he tries to drown himself in a muddy lake. While struggling with his master, Atin sees the Archimage on the shore, and the Archimage is able to save Pyrochles from what would have otherwise been fatal.
Sir Guyon still manages to keep out a lot of the main action of the plot. Out of fifty-one stanzas, he’s only around in twenty. Instead we see how Faerie holds danger even for its bad characters.
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