Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Question #11

Our next question is from Araken, who asks:

Was [the name] Una taken from Spenser's Faerie Queene?

The answer to this question is absolutely. I am so pleased to have someone pick up on this little detail of my novel. Not many people are familiar with Edmund Spenser or his brilliant epic poem The Faerie Queen these days. It is a difficult read for modern readers, written in high old Elizabethan English. But once you get into the flow of the story he is telling, it is gripping and beautiful on so many levels.

Una, as she is represented by Spenser in the first Book of The Faerie Queene is a symbolic picture of The Church. She is championed by the brave Redcrosse Knight (St. George, England's Patron Saint), who rides out to battle for her honor.

Una in The Faerie Queene is brave and solemn and pure and noble. Although the Redcrosse Knight is her champion, it is she who guides him on their long journey to the dragon's battlefield. She represents the Church in its ideal, a picture of Heaven, the pure Bride of Christ, serving as comforter and protector, encouraging men to higher and better service.

It is not a difficult stretch to say that Una in Heartless also represents the Church . . . but she paints a very different picture, doesn't she? My Una is vain and flighty, running after the newest and brightest as they come her way. She fails to recognize the value of pure love, proving herself to be the last person deserving of that love. In her desperation to have fulfillment and meaning, she pursues ideals of earthly happiness (in the guises of various princes). When her True Love comes and offers himself to her, she doesn't recognize the value of his gift. He doesn't match the idea she has conjured up in her own head, so she throws his love back in his face.

Una is a representation of us. Of the modern Church. So comfortable and cozy in our religious beliefs that we have forgotten the relationship required in true faith. Always chasing the next Ideal, pursuing Good Works or Christian Service, but forgetting that what God requires from us is devotion and, most of all, love.

Heartless contains several subtle themes that reflect The Faerie Queene. Una is the most significant, and the Dragon is the other. Like Spenser's work, Heartless is a tale of adventure and romance, but contains allegorical significance to richen and deepen the rest of the action.

I strongly encourage young readers to take a stab at reading The Faerie Queene. As I said, it may seem off-putting at first because of the difficult language (Spenser is harder to read than Shakespeare . . . Spenser wrote for his queen, Shakespeare wrote for everybody, and it feels that way). Maybe try finding some simpler retellings at first. I was brought up on Trina Schart Hyman's St. George and the Dragon, which brilliantly incorporates passages of the original poem into the rest of the narrative. It gave me a groundwork from the time I was tiny, preparing me to read the actual poem later on in high school and again in college.

And seriously, since when did it become bad for reading to be a challenge? Not all reading is meant to be like some poor alternative to watching TV! Readers should be constantly seeking to challenge their minds and expand their horizons through all sorts of styles and stories and authors' views. I certainly like to keep my "comfort reads" on my bedside table . . . but I also, as a professional writer, keep those challenging reads close to hand so that I never forget to push my reading (and my writing) a little farther.

You'll be surprised how quickly you are swept up into a period of history and manner of thinking completely foreign to your own. This is how the world connects back to itself . . . through the miracle of the written word!

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