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Just your typical collection of tales about a Magical Land full of Knights In Shining Armor, the evil knights and monsters they fight, and the beautiful maidens they love. Except half the knights are total newbies who have no idea what they're doing, the monsters are personifications of sins (mostly Lust and Rape), and the maiden is just as likely as her boyfriend to be a warrior who has to bail him out of trouble.
Maybe it's not so typical after all...
The Faerie Queene is a collection of 6 epic poems (and the few incomplete Mutabilitie Cantos) written by Edmund Spenser as a gift for Queen Elizabeth. The first three books were published in 1590 and the next 3 in 1596. As outlined in a letter to his friend Sir Walter Raleigh, Spenser's plan was to write 24 books -- the first 12 each starring a knight who personifies one of the 12 Private Virtues, and the rest starring the Public Domain Character Prince Arthur, who personifies the 12 Public Virtues -- ending with an epic battle against the Faerie Queene's Arch Enemy the Paynim King and her marriage to Arthur. Unfortunately, Author Existence Failure got in the way; thus, we never meet the Faerie Queene in person, and Prince Arthur is never united with his True Love.
Gloriana, the Queen of Faerieland, an obvious and flattering Expy of Queen Elizabeth, dwells in the magnificent royal city of Cleopolis where she runs the local Heroes-R-Us, the Knights of Maidenhead. The Knights are human beings who were Switched At Birth with Changelings (a supposedly favorite prank of The Fair Folk in those days) and serve the Faerie Queene in hopes of attaining honor and glory. The pattern of most of the stories is: a nearby kingdom is being terrorized by some threat, someone comes to Cleopolis to plead for aid, the queen sends a Knight to help them, the Knight and his companion go on a journey full of obstacles relevant to the virtue the Knight represents, the Knight defeats the villain. On the way, they eventually run into Prince Arthur, who fell in love with the Faerie Queene after seeing her in a dream. He is on his way to find her but keeps getting sidetracked by needing to help every character he meets along the way.
The poems are strong Christian allegory full of symbolism and British legend. It was Spenser's first epic, a departure from the pastoral poetry he specialized in. It is widely studied in college English classes and a highly interesting read. Don't let the archaic language frighten you.
By far the most famous story is that of "Saint George and The Dragon".
The entire series contains examples of:
- Action Girl: Britomart, Belphoebe, Palladine, giving it probably the strongest female presence of any of the classic epics.
- An Aesop: Combined with Meaningful Name to make it clear that in the end, virtue always kicks vice's butt. Spenser even said in his introduction that he was hoping to demonstrate morality.
- Beauty Equals Goodness
- Changeling Tale
- Different As Night and Day: Separated at Birth twins Belphoebe and Amoret
- The Epic: Spenser's first, as opposed to his Arcadian speciality.
- Evil Is Sexy
- Expy: Not just the Queen but various political figures of the day.
- Final Battle: In each book
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: By "crap," we mean "feminism."
- The Ghost: The Faerie Queene
- Good People Have Good Sex
- Half-Human Hybrid: Satyrane, half human/half satyr; physically looks human but has a wild streak and love for nature.
- The High Queen: See title.
- Jumped At the Call
- Knight in Shining Armor
- Literary Agent Hypothesis
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Meaningful Names: Probably everyone. Some characters are simply named for their symbol, like Redcross the knight. Others have names in Canis Latinicus or Le Français des Chiens, such as Sansloy the rapist and Sansfoy the traitor ("lawless" and "faithless", respectively, spelled in an archaic way).
- Mooks: Vast hordes of mooks are effortlessly put to flight by the good guys.
- Reality Subtext: According to several scholars, including Richard Berleth, the author of the nonfiction book The Twilight Lords, several plot elements were loosely inspired by Spenser's real-life experiences as a soldier in Ireland, where he was part of the Elizabethan army charged with crushing the Second Desmond Rebellion.
- The Red Sonja: Britomart
- Secondary Character Title: Albeit unintentionally.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Britomart and Glauce
- Take That: The Catholic Church is frequently on the receiving end.
- Those Two Guys: Braggadocchio and Trompart, mostly harmless nuisances who go around posing as a knight and his squire
- Violently Protective Girlfriend: Una and Britomart
- Virgin Power: the Action Girls
- Walking the Earth
- Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Spenser uses several archaisms to try to imitate the Middle English of Chaucer and his fourteenth century contemporaries, with varying degrees of success and failure. Several words with the "y-" prefix (used in Middle English to indicate the past participle, already more obsolete and exceedingly quaint by Spenser's time than "thou," for instance, is now) were made up by Spenser himself.
- Protagonist: The Redcrosse Knight, the Knight of Holinesse
- Mission: Slay a dragon and free the king and queen he's holding captive
- Accompanied by: Princess Una (and a dwarf who carries their supplies)
This book provides examples of:
- Bittersweet Ending
- Bodyguard Crush: Redcross and Una
- Chest Insignia: "On his breast, a bloodie cross he bore..."
- Death by Sex: Duessa's previous victim and his girlfriend were turned into trees.
- Deus Ex Machina: Literally -- Redcross defeats the dragon in the end with help from the Lord.
- Distressed Dude: Redcross
- Driven to Suicide: The goal of Despair
- Easily Forgiven: Una (the True - that is, Protestant - Church) to Redcross after he abandons her; she seems more angry at Archimago and Duessa for tricking him.
- Erotic Dream
- Friend to All Living Things: Una
- Heroic BSOD: Redcross makes the mistake of taking on Despair while he is still in the middle of one of these, which leaves him in even worse shape than before. Una has to get her friends Faith, Hope, and Charity to whip him into shape.
- The Hero's Journey: Two -- Redcross is on his own Journey, of course, but so is Una, and the Boon she has to bring back to restore her kingdom just happens to be a knight.
- Hero's Muse: The Redcrosse Knight is guided and inspired by his love, Una, who is the personification of the "true church".
- Humiliation Conga: Duessa
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: Sansloy trying to rape Una
- Living Lie Detector: Una
- Loved I Not Honor More: Redcrosse returning to finish his service to the Faerie Queene after getting engaged to Una.
- Master of Illusion: Archimago and Duessa
- More Than Mind Control: The encounter with Despair
- My God, What Have I Done?: Part of Redcross' encounter with Despair
- Neutral Female: Una in the Final Battle, although she steps in to save Redcross from Despair and instructs him from the sidelines during his first battle with the Dragon Errour. The fact that she finally stays out of it is actually a sign that Redcross has matured enough to handle the fight on his own.
- Noble Savage: Satyrane
- No Name Given: Redcross doesn't know his birth name or anything about his family, until Contemplation informs him he is Saint George.
- Non-Mammal Mammaries: The half-serpent/half-female monster introduced in stanza 14 of canto I, of which it isn't quite specified which half is which, has "A thousand young ones, which she dayly fed / Sucking upon her poisonous dugs."
- Not What It Looks Like: How Archimago tricks Redcross into thinking Una has cheated on him.
- Religion of Evil: Spenser knew that the Catholic Church didn't like Queen Elizabeth I very much, so he created the characters Archimago, Abessa, and Duessa to make the Catholic Church look bad.
- Standard Hero Reward
- The Vamp: Duessa (the False - that is, Catholic - Church)
- What an Idiot!: Redcross, several times
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Una is accompanied by a lamb. When Redcrosse charges ahead and leaves her in the dust, the next time Una shows up, she's alone - lambless apparently.
- Protagonist: Guyon, the Knight of Temperance
- Mission: Arrest The Vamp Acrasia and destroy her Bower Of Bliss, a paradise where she lures knights, sleeps with them, then turns them into animals a la Circe
- Accompanied by: A palmer
This book provides examples of:
- Bash Brothers: Pyrochles and Cymochles
- Beneath the Earth: Guyon's trip to the Underworld
- Celibate Hero: Guyon, to the point where he feels nervous just dancing with a woman at Alma's castle.
- Death by Sex: Acrasia's
victimsclients who are either turned into animals or, if they come to their senses, die shortly after leaving.
- Kick the Dog: The dead couple and their orphaned infant Guyon finds in the forest illustrate the damage Acrasia's evil can cause and how urgent it is that he stop her.
- Post Dramatic Stress Disorder: Guyon's first breath of fresh air after so much time in the Underworld causes him to pass out.
- Power Trio of half-sisters:
- Elyssa, Superego
- Medina, Ego
- Perissa, Id
- Save the Villain: Guyon wants to help Pyrochles against Furor, but the Palmer tells him it's none of his business since Pyrochles released Furor himself.
- Sword Over Head: Guyon to Pyrochles
- Story Within A Story: The histories Guyon and Arthur read at Alma's castle
- The Vamp: Acrasia and Phaedria
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Guyon only ever kills Pyrochles' horse throughout the story (and even considers that shameful), in sharp contrast to Redcrosse.
- Too Dumb to Live: Pyrochles releases Furor and Occasion only to be fiercely attacked by him and suffers injuries that would have eventually killed him if not for Archimago's help. Later, he takes King Arthur's sword from Archimago despite warnings that he will not be able to slay its rightful owner with it. and predictably loses that fight. If he had taken Guyon's sword along with his shield (leaving Arthur's sword with Archimago) he and Cymochles would've likely won that fight (and slain Prince Arthur).
- Protagonist: Britomart, the Knight of Chastity
- Mission: Originally to find the knight destined to be her husband, Artegall, but eventually becomes to save Amoret from the evil sorcerer Busirane and reunite her with her husband, Scudamour
- Accompanied by: Her old nanny disguised as her squire, Glauce
The Book of Chastity breaks away from Spenser's pattern. Britomart is a British princess who has come to Faerieland disguised as a male knight on a personal mission to find Artegall. Book Three also introduces the by-plots of Belphoebe's romance with Arthur's squire, Timias, and the woes of Florimell, a Distressed Damsel who is always on the run because everywhere she turns, she finds another man trying to rape her, until she is captured by the sea god Proteus and thrown in his dungeon for refusing to sleep with him.
This book provides examples of:
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: Isn't it telling that the Knight of Chastity is a woman?
- Attractive Bent Gender: Malecasta falls in Love At First Sight with Britomart, unaware Samus Is a Girl.
- Because Destiny Says So
- Brick Joke: Florimell and Marinell became this when Spenser decided to write more than three books and continued their story in Book Four.
- Casanova: Paridell
- Designated Victim: the Distressed Damsel Florimell, to the point where Spenser feels guilty for all the torment he puts her through.
- Foe-Tossing Charge / Non-Lethal KO: Britomart's magic spear will unhorse any mounted foe, apparently without ever seriously injuring them.
- Florence Nightingale Effect: Belphoebe and Timias
- Hello, Nurse!: Florimell
- Iconic Item: Satyrane concurs Florimell is dead when he finds her golden girdle in the mouth of a beast.
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: Busirane and Amoret, Proteus and Florimell
- Love Before First Sight: Britomart for Artegall.
- Love Makes You Crazy: Timias towards Belphoebe
- My Girl Is Not a Slut
- Overprotective Mom: Marinell's mother is adamantly against her son falling in love.
- The Power of Love
- Prophecy Twist: Regarding Marinell meeting his doom at the hands of a woman, not by falling in love, as his mother assumed, but in battle against Britomart.
- Retcon: After Spenser decided to expand the series beyond three books, he rewrote the ending so that Amoret and Scudamour do not reunite as soon as Britomart rescues her.
- Rescue Romance: Timias falls in love with Belphoebe after she saves his life by healing his wounds.
- Samus Is a Girl: Britomart. Once to the audience, and several times in-story.
- So Beautiful It's a Curse: Florimell
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Marinell and Florimell
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Deconstructed with Malbecco and Hellenore
Book Four is a Continuation of Book Three. Britomart finds Artegall, Florimell is released from her dungeon and engaged to Marinell, but first Satyrane invites all the knights in the land to a tournament and beauty contest. The prizes for the winning knight and the most beautiful girl will be... each other! Entering the tournament are best friends and brothers-in-law (they married each other's sister) Campbell and Triamond from one of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, "The Squire's Tale," another series cut short by Author Existence Failure. Britomart, still in disguise as the Knight of the Ebon Spear, wins the tournament, and enters Amoret in the beauty contest. The judges decide the "Snowy Florimell" (a clone of Florimell a witch made for her son) is the most beautiful girl, but she fails the final test: the real Florimell's golden girdle, which can only be worn by a virgin, won't fit her. In fact, it won't fit anyone but Amoret, which Britomart argues makes her the most beautiful. But the value of virginity and true love is the main point of Book Three. The Virtue of Book Four is Friendship, personified in Campbell's and Triamond's friendship and Britomart's and Amoret's (once Amoret realizes her rescuer is not a man who is keeping her near him to take advantage of her).
This book provides examples of:
- Beauty Contest
- Big Brother Complex: Campbell
- Defeat Means Friendship: Campbell's and Triamond's Backstory
- Fan Sequel: Campbell's and Triamond's side of the story, to "The Squire's Tale"
- The Girl Who Fits This Slipper
- Heroic BSOD: What does Marinell do when he finds out Proteus has his girlfriend? Storm the castle and rescue her? Devise a plan to secretly steal her away? Challenge Proetus to a duel? Nope... he lies on his bed, weeps, and can't eat or sleep until his mother Cymodoce steps in and saves the girl.
- Les Yay: Dear God, Britomart and Amoret drink estrogen and piss yuri...
- Let's remember the scene where Amoret agrees to share a bed with Britomart only after finding out she's a woman.
- Love At First Punch: Britomart and Artegall
- Loved I Not Honor More: Artegall postponing his and Britomart's marriage until he finishes his mission for the Faerie Queene (see Book 5 for that).
- Love Hurts: when the lovers are separated... as a lot in this book are
- Love Makes You Crazy: Timias temporarily loses his sanity, secluding himself in a cave, when Belphoebe thinks he cheated on her. Ironically, Belphoebe realizes how much he loves her when she finds him in this state.
- Also Marinell when he realizes Florimell is being held prisoner by Proteus, to the point where Cymodoce relents and gets Neptune to intervene.
- Mama Bear: Cymodoce
- My Girl Is Not a Slut
- Not What It Looks Like: Belphoebe when she sees Timias aiding an injured Amoret.
- The Power of Friendship
- Prophetic Fallacy: Neptune lectures Proteus on how prophecies are not supposed to be used to deliberately mess with people.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: Four-or-Five Lines No Waiting, actually
- Second Hand Storytelling: A lot of flashbacks
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Amoret's and Scudamour's parties eventually meet up, but Spenser forgets to rewrite the epic reunion scene he cut from the first version of Book Three.
- Protagonist: Artegall, the Knight of Justice
- Mission: Defeat the giant Grantorto and free a queen Irena and her kingdom
- Accompanied by: The man of iron, Talus
In the middle of the book, Artegall loses a duel to the evil Amazon queen Radigund because he refuses to finish her off when he has the chance because of her beauty. When she imprisons him, it's not the famous Arthur who comes to his rescue but Britomart.
- Ax Crazy: Talus. He kills everyone who looks at him the wrong way, and at one point cuts the hands off and drowns a woman who they've taken prisoner. The only thing that keeps him nominally on the side of good is that he works for Artegall, who has to curb some of his more bloodthirsty rampages.
- Broken Aesop: Britomart gives a speech about how women have no right to rule over men... right after she saves all the men from Radigund and her army. This is most likely intentional, as Spenser was writing for a powerful woman and in a misogynist culture.
- Chekhov's Gun: the Blatant Beast
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Radigund makes all the male knights she defeats and imprisons... wear women's clothes! And do women's chores!
- Designated Girl Fight
- Distressed Dude: Artegall getting rescued by Britomart
- Does Not Like Men: Radigund
- Downer Ending: Despite saving Irena from Grantorto, Artegall is shunned when he returns to Faerieland thanks to Envy, Detraction, and the Blatant Beast.
- Expy: Artegall for the Earl Grey
- Fate Worse Than Death: see Cool and Unusual Punishment
- Judgment of Solomon: Arthegall arbitrates a dispute between a squire and a knight over a woman (who is apparently incapable of telling them herself). It turns out the knight kidnapped the woman (and killed his own girlfriend when she objected to his running off with her) and is subsequently sentenced to carry her severed head around for a year as punishment.
- Poisonous Friend: Talus, and how.
- Sequel Hook: The sudden appearance of the Blatant Beast at the end.
- Spot the Imposter: At Marinell's and Florimell's wedding, Artegall outs the Snowy Florimell as the fake, and she melts.
- Braggadocchio's charade of posing as a knight is also revealed, along with his theft of Guyon's horse.
- What an Idiot!: Artegall letting Radigund win their duel
- Woman Scorned: Radigund
- Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Artegall's policy; obviously, he's not too smart about how he uses it.
- Protagonist: Calidore, the Knight of Courtesy
- Mission: Capture the Blatant Beast
Calidore disappears from the radar for a good chunk of the action while the story follows Calepine, his girlfriend Serena, Arthur, Timias (who has regained the will to live and fight after being reconciled with Belphoebe), and their encounters with the Blatant Beast, whose bites cannot be healed and work like rumors, cursing the victims with bad reputations.
This book provides examples of:
- Author Avatar: Colin Clout
- Break the Haughty: Mirabella
- Changeling Fantasy: Pastorella the shepherd girl turns out to be a long-lost princess
- Cliff Hanger: see Downer Ending
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Mirabella broke 22 hearts; she must help 22 men while traveling with and being abused by Disdain and Scorn.
- Diabolus Ex Machina: Calidore eventually captures the Blatant Beast. Then it randomly escapes and causes people's reputations to suffer til this day.
- Downer Ending: the Blatant Beast escapes at the end, any book in which it's recaptured left unwritten.
- Evil Uncle: in Tristram's Backstory
- Love Triangle: Calidore, Pastorella, and Coridon
- Noble Savage: helps Serena and Calepine
- Rescue Romance: Pastorella falls fully in love with Calidore when he saves her from a tiger.
- Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue: Thought to be the source.