The Faerie Queen

The book I chose was The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. I chose it because it was really very visually interesting, what with being really thick, looking old, and the gold leaf or whatever substance the gold on the cover is caught my attention immediately in a way that the regular beige would not have. It was a pretty thick book, but the paper was really aged and thin and I was afraid I was gonna tear the pages while flipping through. I didn’t lift the book since I was worried about damaging it somehow, but it seemed pretty hefty, and is probably heavy enough to do in a pinch if someone’s breaking into your house and you only have a moment to grab something heavy to try to knock them out with. So I guess you could say that it has sort of a reassuring heft to it. It’s a nice and solid volume. As for experience the book with four of my senses, the whole thing was kind of yellowed with age. The ink was still incredibly dark, in contrast to the faded and worn texture of the pages, and would probably show through the back of the pages really well if I’d held the book up to the light, which I didn’t because as I’ve already said, I was really worried about damaging the book.  The pages didn’t really crackle when I flipped through the book either, which I wasn’t expecting. I did not smell the book because that’s just really weird and I would’ve had to had explain that to everyone around me.

I took this picture myself.

One aspect of the book that stuck out to me were the illustrations. There were a few full spread ones, but most of them were headers for new chapters beginning, or borders for other pages. The handwritten blackletter text written on an otherwise blank page was also really  visually interesting to me. There was an incredible amount of detail in each image, even the borders, and I probably could’ve spent another twenty minutes just hanging out with that book and looking through the illustrations if other people hadn’t been waiting on me to get out of the way. The text was formatted in a stanza sort of way, similar to how Oedipus or other great works were formatted. There’s a word for that format that’s right on the tip of my tongue, but I cannot remember it and I am so frustrated right now. Alas. The point of me bringing that up is that having the words in a column down the center of the page was visually interesting and a lot easier to read, fitting for that book, as something written like that in stanza format would have just been a nightmare to read if it had been formatted like a regular book, especially since this one is considerably larger than most books that you’d be reading in that format. Centering the text like that on each page brings attention to every line and allows the reader to consider the weight of the words.

The main reason that this work is so important is that the entire work is an epic poem, one of the longest in the English language. It was published in 1590 and the second half followed up in 1596. It’s also a pretty clever allegory, as well as having a variety of genres contained within it, and became Edmund Spenser’s best-known work. It’s valuable for that alone, but in addition to that, the illustrations and ornamentation showcase the style of that age very well. If it were to be categorized among some sort of history, I believe the most fitting place for it would be in a Literature History category, as the level of depth and detail in this series – which has been compared to a strange combination between Cabin in the Woods and Lord of the Rings according to a quick google search – as well as the allegorical references and the personification of a variety of common themes as humans or human-like characters is a really intriguing look into the politics and the way of life of people in the 1590’s.

This next answer may be a little redundant, as “Why is this book important enough to collect?” and “Is this book an example of something special?” have a pretty big overlap in their answers in this case. The Faerie Queene is an example of personification of virtues and sins and an allegory first praising and then criticising the rule of Queen Elizabeth, who was monarch at the time that this was published. It is from this work that the type of stanza used, the Spenserian Stanza, was popularized. The Spenserian Stanza consists of eight lines of iambic pentameter followed by one of iambic hexameter, and to the types of people that write things involving stanzas like several 19th century poets, this was just the coolest. So, yes, this is special in that the allegory is good and represents life at the time, and the new form of stanza is spread around by other literary artists.

Edmund Spenser is considered one of the greatest poets in the English language, and The Faerie Queene is considered one of his greatest works, so being able to hold a part of it is like physically being connected to history. A lot of other writers took inspiration from Spenser and The Faerie Queene, which is by the way six entire books or long. I don’t recall which book of The Faerie Queene was the one that had been collected by the NC State Library, but I believe it was fourth or sixth. Having the entire series of Spenser’s Faerie Queene poem available to read or check out from the collected books would give readers the chance to compare and contrast the variety of illustrations. I know however that if all six books were available to me in a convenient place where I wouldn’t have to interact with too many people that I would probably be able to read the series in its entirety, given enough time, and I sure would like to, also. From the descriptions of The Faerie Queene that I’ve read online, it seems like the kind of whimsical fantasy that I would enjoy all of except for the really weird sex scenes that it apparently has. I’m not big on those.