Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wicked Women of Literature / Heroines of Saturday Morning

We’ll get to this lady in a second, after a brief but related detour through academia. Promise.

If there’s one thing that I remember about The Faerie Queene, it’s the length. This sixteenth-century epic happens to be one of the longest poems in the English language. That’s not exactly an achievement, in the way that growing the world’s longest fingernails is a thing, yeah, in one sense, but on a more practical level, no one wants to see that. Cut your fingernails, you weirdo.

If there’s a second thing I remember about The Faerie Queene when my college literature class slogged through it, it would be my surprise at how soul-crushingly boring someone could make a sprawling epic about knights and maidens and sorceresses and dragons. You’d think it would rock. It emphatically does not. Edmund Spenser wrote the whole thing as a mash note to both Queen Elizabeth — whose stand-in in the poem is the title character, Queen Gloriana — as well as to Protestantism, and there’s something mean and deceitful in using adventure stories as a ruse for teaching Christian morality. (“Hey, wait a minute! This apparently fun thing is actually about Jesus! Everyone, they’re trying to teach us religion!”) I remember my eyes crossing as a I tried to differentiate one allegorical character from another — at one point, you meet three knights named Sansfoy, Sansjoy and Sansloy, or Faithless, Joyless and Lawless — and too many of the women have cutesy-cute, on-the-button-nose names that all smooshed into a pink blob in my brain — among them, Fidessa, Fraelissa, Duessa, Belphoebe, Amoretta, Florimell, Hellenore, Mirabella, Abessa and Pastorella.

And if there’s a third thing that I take away from The Faerie Queene, it’s the essay I had to write for the in-class midterm. As an English major, I found these offensive even in classes where I gave a damn about the reading material. We should have been asked to go home and slave over a ten- or twenty-page essay, not scrawl down ideas in a blue book without time to polish the writing in the way we’ve been taught to do. Regardless, I picked the essay topic that had us write on female villains in The Faerie Queene. I jotted down some ideas about how Spenser used the character Malecasta (literally “badly chaste,” figuratively “skank box”), and then I handed in the bluebook, happy to end my interactions with stupid Edmund Spenser and his adventures with the Protestant Jesus.

When I got the graded blue book back in class, I saw that I got partial credit on the essay. I went over my T.A.’s notes — a checkmark here, a “good” there — and then finally a sentence written at the bottom that read more or less like this: “Good points, well-reasoned, but you really needed to give the character’s proper name. I think you meant MALECASTA but you put CASTASPELLA. She’s from She-Ra.”

The T.A. was right. I had written “Castaspella” in every spot where I had meant to write “Malecasta.” I was pissed.

I think I threw that blue book away immediately after, but now I wish I’d framed it, as a testament to the fact that Edmund Spenser may have wasted weeks of my time, but he still couldn’t make a dent in what childhood cartoons had done to my brain.

That’s… a victory, right?

“Prisoners of Beast Island” > The Faerie Queene. Filmation > Edmund Spenser. There, I said it.

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