(Warner Aspect, $14.00; 480 pages, trade paperback; published in August 2004.)
One of British fantasist Michael Moorcock'sgreatest achievements is 1978's Gloriana; or, The Unfulfill'd Queen, a lush alternate history set in the immense and decadent royal castle of Albion -- a fantasized and eroticized Elizabethan England untouched by Christianity. This novel won several awards, including the World Fantasy.
Gloriana explicitly engages two very different classics of British fantasy. Its portrait of the excesses of imperialism and its critique of chivalrous virtue contrast with Edmund Spenser's Elizabethan ode to knighthood and empire, The Faerie Queene. The architecture of Gloriana's castle, its detailed and allegorical descriptions, and its complex intrigues all render homage to Mervyn Peake's similarly constructed Gormenghast cycle.
A disturbing and claustrophobic work, Gloriana is filled with monstrous deeds, vindictive characters, and terrible secrets. Its titular queen -- wandering through an intricate edifice that mirrors her soul -- must hold her empire together and come to terms with sexual longings that no amount of intercourse can satisfy.
In 1993, responding to criticism from Andrea Dworkin, Moorcock revised and sanitized his classic. The problem was with a particularly disquieting -- yet thematically essential -- rape scene in the penultimate chapter.
The replacement scene was ludicrously pedantic and overwritten. The characters suddenly behaved completely out of character; their speech and thoughts -- previously mysterious and subtle -- suddenly degenerated into heavy-handed histrionics. Moorcock had eviscerated and betrayed the dangerous and ambiguous heart of his powerful creation. Every new or changed sentence -- so stilted and awkward compared to the creepy elegance of the original -- felt, ironically, like a rape of the text.
In yet another new edition, Moorcock wisely restores the original chapter -- and, in an appendix, also includes the regrettable revision. Also for this edition, the author provides a new and informative introduction describing and contextualizing the history of his controversial masterpiece.
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© Claude Lalumière 22 January 2005, 23 April 2005