Spenser Thoughts on Troubled Blood Part 2

Now that serious Strikers have our copies in hand, we’re off with our part-by-part commentary, and I am delighted to be taking the role of Spenser Color Commentator! I’ve loved The Faerie Queene since I first joined Redcrosse on his quest in my teens, and I’ve always claimed The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenserthat the only reason it wasn’t as popular as the Lord of the Rings was because of Spenser’s use of Chaucerian language, a feature that makes him seem far more ancient than his contemporaries, like William Shakespeare. With the horrible monsters, the beautiful ladies, and the constantly battling knights (one of whom is also in the aforementioned group of beautiful ladies), it’s a recipe for blockbuster gold, so I’m thrilled to see how Galbraith/Rowling is taking  Spenser’s epic as her scaffold for Troubled Blood. Beyond the epigraphs that begin each chapter and section, she has also woven in beautiful connections to the allegorical adventures of Spenser’s knights. Join me after the jump for observations on Faerie Queene connections in part 2 of Troubled Blood. We’ll be spoiler-free up until page 153, so if you aren’t there yet, catch up, and join us for an initial look into our Spenser-flavored mystery!

Fall in is the Air!

As we guessed from the preview of the first 10 chapters of Troubled Blood, which actually took us into Part 2, Spenser’s epigraphs are being used to set the seasons, and this part is fall. “Then came the Autumn all in yellow Clad,” reads the section opener, just as section 1 opened with “iolly summer.” Interestingly, this lovely run-down of the seasons from The Faerie Queene is actually from the last bit of the existing text, the two Mutabilite cantos, specifically cantos vi and vii of the incomplete Book VII, which was to focus on the virtue of The Personification of the Human Subject in Spenser's The Faerie QueeneConstancy. The parade of seasons begins in stanza 28 and serves partly to show the importance of order in Nature, with the regular, predictable patterns of the annual cycle. We’re predicting the novel will cover a full year, and this works with Spenser, since, after Summer, Fall, and Winter, Nature trots out each of the seasons, beginning with March, so Rowling will have epigraphs for any months she wants to use to bring us back full circle.

Using these lines as headers, the lines that come from the cantos in which Mutabilite strives against the moon goddess, Cynthia, also reinforces our theory that cousin/step-mom Cynthia may have a crucial role to play in Rowling’s pageant just as her namesake does in Spenser’s.

A Book from the Restricted Section

Chapter 8 begins with a line from Book III of The Faeries Queene in which in the amazing Britomart, female knight and embodiment of the virtue of Chastity, seeks to free the lovely Amoret from the clutches of the wicked enchanter Buisarane. The line about Buisarane’s evil book of magic spells is a perfect choice, as this is the chapter in which Strike begins reading the biography of serial killer Dennis Creed, The Demon of Paradise Park. With the chilling accounts of Creed’s crimes as well as his horrible upbringing, his biography could easily be as blood-curdling as anything Buisarane might cook up. Interestingly, later in Part 2, Strike questions whether Robin should read the biography, as she may find it disturbing. Considering what they’ve already been through together, that may seem odd, but Rowling is sticking to the concept of the terrible book, and to the fact that it should horrify Robin, because it horrifies Britomart, the main Faerie Queene character with whom Robin is tied. When Buisarane reads his nasty spell book aloud, Britomart’s hair stands on end. My edition of The Faerie Queene, edited by A.C. Hamilton, has a delightful footnote on this passage, reminding readers that Britomart’s hair, according to an earlier canto, hangs to her feet, so having it stand on end is quite a sight.

Robin’s horror at the book about Creed, who kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered women, mirrors Britomart’s reaction to hearing an evil sorcerer recite a terrible spell, while he tortures Amoret, whom he is holding against her will and planning to rape. Of course, Part 2 ends with the realization that Talbot, the police detective whose sanity became unbalanced during the course of the Bamborough investigation, had been drawing pentagrams on his notes, which also include a reference to Baphomet, clearly a figure who would be quite at home in Buisarane’s evil book, which like many of the other evil books in The Faerie Queene, resembles a Satanic perversion of the Bible.

The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser – Kate Macdonald

With Friends like these

Chapter 9 opens with a passage from the second Canto of Book IV. The Virtue theme of this Book is Friendship, also referenced in the opening passage, one of the many episodes in which knights forge an alliance for mutual aid. However, Blandamour, the knight making the request, is a false friend who is getting Sir Paridell into trouble. In Troubled Blood, the chapter is primarily about Robin’s birthday and also includes some pretty iffy friend moments, like left-handed compliments about her independence and the icing on the (absent) birthday cake: Strike completely forgetting her birthday. However, later in Part 2, the dynamic duo operates in tandem, working together to walk through the nearly forty-year-old crime scene, just as many of the knights in Spenser’s epic experience both false and true friendships.Sir Guyon with the Palmer Attending, Tempted by Phaedria to Land upon the Enchanted Islands (Getty Museum)

Is there a doctor in the house?

Chapter 10 focuses on the genteel Dr. Gupta, former colleague of missing Dr. Bamborough, so it opens, appropriately, with a passage about the Palmer, companion of Guyon, knight of Temperance (I TOLD you he’d turn up) and hero of Book II. Like the Palmer, Gupta seems to be a voice of reason, both kind and intelligent. The Palmer is also a pilgrim from the Holy Land, and Gupta is from India, so much so that he jokes about his resemblance to Ghandi. Rowling has a little fun with Dr. Gupta; after setting him up as a parallel to the companion of the knight of Temperance, she has him keep getting fig rolls off the tea tray, perhaps not entirely in the spirit of Temperance. Our preview actually broke off in this chapter, not only to give us the delightful 9 ¾ effect, but also to cut off that preview before the revelation that Roy, Margot’s husband, is both a hematologist and the victim of a blood disease (Dr. Gupta thinks hemophilia). Troubled Blood, indeed!THE FAERIE QUEENE:


Trouble on the Horizon—

Chapter 11 is a brief one, culminating with Little Brother Al’s request for Strike to join the big Deadbeats Dad Event (really, all band names aside, Rokeby is the Deadbeat Dad of the century). Strike’s feelings on the event are encapsulated well in the quotation, a description of Guyon’s first view of Occasion and Furor. These allegorical figures, like so many others in The Faerie Queene, represent negative forces and take shape as physical beings who confront the knights whose persons and quests stand opposed to all they represent. Strike certainly is not interested in the Occasion Al is promoting, and there will likely be Furor over said lack of interest, but I’m betting we’re at that party, primarily because it’s in May, which, if we follow the “seasons first, then months” structure from the Mutabilite Canons, can get us to May by novel’s end.

Flattery will get you nowhere

Chapter 12, in which Robin receives birthday gifts from her co-workers, is appropriately introduced by a passage from Book III of The Faerie Queene in which Florimell, having been carried off by Proteus, is subjected to his flattery and gifts (after this, he takes to changing into various forms, first attractive, and then threatening, to get her to relent to his advances, but to no avail). Of course, this is a great set-up for Morris, the smooth-talker, who clearly thinks his gifts are going to get him somewhere with the disinterested Robin. Does the allusion to Proteus mean Morris will change his form? Will he be something or someone less friendly by novel’s end? Time will tell, but as Florimell resists and eventually escapes Proteus, Robin is clearly not Edmund Spenser - The Faerie Queene and last years | Britannicagoing to fall for Morris’s charm, either.

Lucky 13?

Chapter 13’s opener takes us to the House of Holiness, from Book I of the Faerie Queene, canto X, in which the Redcrosse knight, having nearly given into the suicidal urgings of Despayre before being rescued by the incredible Una, is healed both spiritually and physically at the House of Holiness in preparation for his big battle with the dragon, final boss of Book I. There is a good chance then, that Strike and Robin, teamed up on the Margot case, may face a monster soon, as the reference surely means more than just the fact that they spend this chapter walking around sites which include a church.

The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser – Kate Macdonald

Secret Ciphers?

The very brief opening quotation for Chapter 14 comes from Book III, a passage in which Britomart has a vision of her intended, the Knight of Justice, Artegall. The ciphers on his shield indicate that he wears Achilles’s armor, which he won, just one of Spenser’s many connections with the Trojan War and his British knights. Rowling is using the cipher line to set up the shorthand message in the old police notes, but, as Strike and Robin work closely together the day after her birthday, and as we’ve already seen them as Artegall and Britomart figures, this may also be a good sign for their future prospects together. We certainly do need some good signs, after the creepy occult turn matters take by the end of this chapter and the section.

So, next it’s Part 3! I can’t guarantee we’ll take each opener under the microscope for that section, but we’ll definitely see how the Spenser scaffold is playing out, and since Book III of The Faerie Queene  is Britomart’s book, there are bound to be some interesting discoveries in store! Stay tuned for our next thrilling installment!


Amazon.com: Troubled Blood: A Cormoran Strike Novel, Book 5 (Audible Audio Edition): Robert Galbraith, Robert Glenister, Mulholland Books: Audible Audiobooks

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