Faerie Queene? Give me 30 seconds

Don’t fret. The old English language, haughty and portentous style, in combination with the straightforward and painfully obvious allusions and metaphorical characters is bound to confuse any sensible reader. How could a book with such seemingly confusing language be so surprisingly simple in plot and depth?

Spenser’s Faerie Queene is impossible to describe. It is it’s own level of simplicity disguised in a shell of complexity and falsely hailed as the second coming of English literature. This book initially seems to be difficult to describe to any person, and this would be true, but I feel if I were to attempt to describe Faerie Queene to an IT professional or other mathematically wired brains I would be pleasantly surprised at how easy this task would prove to be. Faerie Queene is not only a predictable story but also the morals and lessons to be taken for the story are interlaced throughout the story in a manner one would expect from a children’s storybook. There is no creative element to such a regimented book and once one can understand the pattern there is nothing more to discover from a book written in such style. The book is so blatantly planned that I would compare it to an algorithm. By describing Faerie Queene as a program that at certain points must reinforce Christian morals and beliefs while denouncing the sins of the world, all the while attempting to mask this with confusing language (complicated programming interface), then I think an IT professional could grasp Faerie Queene with surprising speed.


By Aneel Henry

Back in My Day, The Pen Was Mightier Than the Sword.

But with the use of computers (and therefore keyboards) constantly on the rise, this phrase is fairly outdated. Therefore, so us people that still adhere to the power of prose and poetry can keep up with the hipness of the times, I propose an amendment. We will now say, “The wording pwns the swording.” Ignoring the fact that sheer lameness might be worse than being outdated, I would like to take the time to point out that it is simply the terminology and not the literature itself that is outdated.


So, you enjoying your LOTRO account? Heck, you enjoying any sort of video game or movie or modern book that employs the use of magic, dragons, wizards, knights, or any other variety of mystical creatures? Go ahead and send props to a guy named Spenser, then. The “older” writers like Tolkien and such totally riffed off him — legitimately and in good fashion, but riffed off him nonetheless. It’s Spenser’s work, The Fairie Queene, which you have to thank for your ability to send a ball of hurling fire from your palm into the face of a charging knight.


Granted, Spenser himself worked off of even older dudes like Ovid. Ovid’s the Roman guy who wrote the epic, The Metamorphoses. Don’t confuse him with the German Kafka, who wrote a completely different book by the same name. Don’t confuse Kafka with Kefka, the evil villain from Final Fantasy VI either, for that matter. He’d be insulted and call you an awful vermin. But yeah, even with taking his writing from Ovid and the like, Spenser’s the first who really made an impacting writing with an English Influence rather than translating the actual legends themselves.


Now, I often found myself as an outlier in high school due to the fact that I could read Shakespeare. That doesn’t mean Shakespeare was easy for me; much of his writing was quite difficult to muddle through. That being said, Spenser’s difficult level smacks Shakey. I was thoroughly intimidated after reading the first couple stanzas. But once you can get into the flow of reading the lyrical nature of his sonnets, Spenser is fascinating. It’s much the same as putting on some techno music and grinding out some levels on your MMO of choice. After realizing the depths to which his words plunge, it’s no surprise that hundreds of years of literature in multiple genres can be traced almost exclusively back to this one work, The Fairie Queene. Yeah, it’s a tough read. It’s a bloody hell of a read. But bloody hell is what you’re into dark magic and conjuring demons for anyway, right?

Another Language

Okay, so you’re an IT professional, right? That means you’re pretty good with computers and computer programming. I, for one, could never deal with computer programming. To me, even the simplest HTML code is completely and utterly unintelligible, but for an IT professional, code can be an intuitive way to send richly detailed messages. Here’s an example:


Sample HTML Code



There is no way I could translate this code into standard English; maybe a professional can, but I am certainly not one. I can, however, understand bits and pieces of it though, and gather a few bits of information from it. I can guess that the </html> symbols at the beginning and end symbolize the start and finish of the code. By seeing “blueborder.jpg” in the text, I can deduce that this code will display something on a computer screen, and it’s probably something blue. Furthermore, I know a little bit about color hex codes, and a quick Google search of “#FF0000” tells me that some text will be written in red. Finally, I can also see that the text will be written in the font “Brush Script MT.” So you see, I can understand parts of the code, and gather some information, but I cannot visualize completely what this code is trying to tell me.

Likewise, the same can be said about Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Although it is written in English, it can look like a foreign language to some. For example, modern English doesn’t tell us to include “bounti-hed” in our vocabulary, but Spenser tells us that it means “cherished.” Sure, we can take bits and pieces from the text, and get a general understanding of it, but unless someone is very well trained in Medieval English, they will have a lot of trouble while reading Faerie Queene.

Both Faerie Queene and HTML code are similar in that they are written in “almost” another language. While they are both technically in English, they are very difficult to understand for the untrained. This is where the value of reading becomes obvious. To an IT professional, and to the common reader, new languages allow us to understand more of our surroundings, of our history, and of our future.

-Matt Thumser

That is soooo 489 years ago.

Ah, the digital age. I have almost every conceivable medium of entertainment available from the comfort of my laptop. I could download a 70-hour long RPG, if I choose. A movie, maybe? Weeks worth of music might suit my mood, instead. And, of course, I could also read a book online, provided that it’s been uploaded. An IT professional like Prof. Hall is, of course, familiar with this flexibility of engaging media. So, then, what value could the most antiquated of all these experiences possibly hold? In a time when we are greeted by immediacy in the form of audiovisual engagement, can a poem over 450 years old still enrapture us as it did audiences of the Renaissance period? Spenser’s The Faerie Queene provides a strong case for the affirmative.

The Faerie Queene is a tough read, make no mistake. However, this primarily arises from the nonstandardized spelling of Spenser’s time which can easily throw off modern readers. But, if a reader delves deep enough into the work, they will find that it contains infinitely more meaning and significance than even the most complex games and movies. Allegories abound, and the poem overflows with symbolism. Whereas a movie or video game can be breezed through without interruption, a reader quickly glancing over a stanza of The Faerie Queene could easily lose every bit of meaning jam-packed in that passage. References to the Bible, Dante’s Inferno, and other classic works would be marred by a patience-desensitized mindset.

Of course, this last bit more or less summarizes the underlying cause behind the relative unpopularity of literature in modern culture. While the newer forms of media require less effort to fully understand, classic literature still remains open to interpretation. Simply put, many people (IT professionals included) have been, in a sense, pampered by the relative “easiness” of movies, video games, and music. Of course, Professor Hall is on the more intelligent end of this spectrum; he is not a good case study for the average IT professional. I personally have known many IT workers (as I have, in fact, almost worked in an IT department myself as a part-time job), and I can tell you that many of them far prefer a great game to The Great Gatsby. This obviously does not mean that tech-savvy people are not as intelligent as literature junkies; it merely comes down to a learned preference.

In The Faerie Queene, Professor Hall will find a much less immediately accessible experience than that of, say, Lord of the Rings Online. However, coming from someone with the same basic preference of media, I believe that there is just as much, if not more, value in this excellent work of classic literature. While it may require more effort to properly interpret than modern culture has taught us to use on almost anything (we live in an age of convenience and instant gratification, directly brought about by technology), there is easily much more to be gained from it than most other forms of media. The journey is arduous, but the destination is a treasure trove of depth and meaning.

-Billy Bunce

The Physical Nature of Poetry

If you are an IT professional, you are probably used to reading about computers, software, and other things of that nature. I am used to reading about science myself, and I always dread reading poetry because I can never understand what is going on. My attitude towards poetry was like that of one of my favorite physicists, Paul Dirac, who said, “The aim of science is to make difficult things understandable in a simpler way; the aim of poetry is to state simple things in an incomprehensible way.” When you can understand it, poetry can be interesting, but I can seldom understand it without help. The Fairie Queene is an example of  incomprehensible poetry, that completely baffled me when I first read it. However, I gradually began to understand. Here are some tips that someone with a background of science can use to read The Fairie Queene:

1. Read each passage slowly, and read it at least twice

When read quickly, the poem seems like a haphazard jumble of strange words, without any meaning or discernable story. After multiple readings, sometimes you can pick up meanings or themes that you may have missed the first time.

2. Look up words that you do not understand

You cannot ignore words you do not know, just as when working an equation, you must look up constants that are necessary for calculations. Although you may think that skipping a word every now and then won’t affect your understanding of the poem, they can be crucial to it.

3. Understand the symbols

The poem is full of words that are not meant to be taken literally, but instead are symbols for something else. In science, equations are also full of letters or symbols that stand for a number or quantity. It is important to understand from the context what these symbols mean if you do not know what they are.

4. Get help from others

Sometimes, no matter how much you try, you cannot understand a passage. At this point, it is best to consult with a peer, someone who does understand the poem, sort of like having a science paper peer-reviewed by other scientists.

Like an extremely complicated equation, The Faerie Queene takes a lot of effort to read or understand, and you may not even want to read it. If you do, however, these tips can help you enjoy and comprehend the poem a little bit better.

-Kashyap Saxena

It’s no “Questionable Content” or “Penny Arcade”, but…

Breon W. Guarino

(Wolfgang is not my middle name at all.)


“I’ve enjoyed this greatly. In all seriousness, I am thrilled with the prospect of continuing the process of pulling out the awkward (to my untrained mind), deeply-embedded, and persistent allegories of Spenser’s work. It is deep reading, almost as though one was slogging through a marsh made of candy and deliciousness that one must work for. It is like reading Shakespeare while under the influence of morphine, so utterly beautiful in its Middle English verbosity that it presents a massive buffet of purely enjoyable poetry, the likes of which that has not been seen in centuries, at the least.”

I wish I could say that with a straight face, but it should not be assumed that the accompanying grin is one of mischief. I’m not sure why, but I find a great joy in reading The Faerie Queene. It would not be dishonest to say that I aspire to find a copy and set about reading it myself. It may be some sort of academic masochism that causes this, or perhaps I simply want to be able to hold that accomplishment over the heads of any other English majors that I meet. In any case, I view it in the same way I viewed leveling in LotRO or writing stories.

It is a challenge. After all, it’s pretty rough getting through the convoluted Middle English terminology. There are letter sequences that I do not recognize, but the work of others before me has paved the way towards a slightly more accessible understanding of the material. In a sense, working on The Faerie Queene is like using open-source software, in that the efforts of several people (at least hundreds if not thousands, in the case of The Faerie Queene) have come together to make the original basis more useful to an everyday user that happens across it. It would be a serious personal accomplishment to read through the entirety of it, and there is a certain pleasure to noticing the way that the spoken English language has changed in five hundred years. It’s akin to pillaging the archive of a long-running webcomic and watching as the author develops his or her skills, except that it is AN ENTIRE LANGUAGE that is being developed over the course of CENTURIES. Besides that, a reader can see the perspective of an entirely alien society within the pages. Things have changed since the time period in which the work was made, but the blunt allegory of the poetry was effective in its purposes during its original time, and it makes one wonder about situations and events that could have changed the perspectives of that day to become those of ours.

I would wager that, in the end, I’d say to an IT professional the same thing that I would say to anyone else interesting about reading this work (because I doubt strongly that we would be discussing it otherwise). It’s an interesting piece of work with its own rewards for reading it, it’s proving to be as challenging (or perhaps even more challenging) than I anticipated, and I heartily enjoy that fact to the point that I look forward to continuing it. It is a matter of perspective, and it requires a rather specialized mindset, but it has proven to be highly interesting for me, if nothing else.