Friday, 22 June 2001

Michael Moorcock: Gloriana: Or, The Unfulfill'd Queen (1978)

Edition: Flamingo, 1986
Review number: 848

Gloriana marks something of a new departure for Moorcock. It is more removed from the swqord-and-sorcery epics which were the inspiration for (say) the Runestaff series and is a longer novel not part of a series. It shows clear traces of its influences, but these are in the most part more literary than before.

It is possible that one of the immediate influences on Moorcock was Queen ELizabeth's Silver Jubilee, but I find it difficult to see him being inspired by this. The novel is set in an alternated England, ruled by Gloriana, who is clearly based on the myth of Elizabeth I, if a little more advanced in technology. When she inherited the throne of the Empire of Albion from her tyrannical father, her benevolent rule brought a golden age of peace and tranquility. She remains unfulfilled privately - not the Virgin Queen (sexual promiscuity is the rule here, as in much seventies literature), but unable to experience orgasm - and this makes her unhappy.

Onto this scene arrives the disreputable Captain Quire, a one-time spy, formerly employed by Gloriana's Chancellor, Lord Montfallcon. He runs a campaign to destabilise the Court for the benefit of his new employers, the Arabians, but then begins a love affair with the Queen of his own accord. The novel is about how he affects Gloriana, and how his intrigues undermine the Golden Age which seems more and more a superficial cloak over the vicious terror of the previous reign.

The two very obvious literary influences on Gloriana are Spenser's The Faery Queen and other Elizabethan allegorical poetry; and Peake's Titus Groan and Gormenghast. The first is more superficial in its relationship to the novel; Gloriana is not an epic poem nor is it a consistent allegory as far as I can see. (It does contain poetry, mainly from court occasions and written in a style rather like Dryden's.) From this source come the names Gloriana and Albion, and that is about all; the mythologised ideas we tend to have about the Elizabethan court are more important.

The Gormenghast connection is more profound. (The novel is dedicated to Peake's memory.) The most obvious parallel is between Gloriana's palace and the castle in Peake's novel; both have the same huge complexity (a fair amount of the action of both takes place in hidden passages in the walls and lost, forgotten rooms). There are also links between the characters; Gloriana is in part Fuschia, Quire (in larger part) Steerpike. Then there is the ceremonial; Gloriana is full of descriptions of masques. There are also, however, important differences between the imagined worlds of the two authors. There is an empty purposelessness about Gormenghast's rituals, reduced as they are to conformance to the letter with ancient texts; Albion has a purpose (replacing tyranny with peace) which is the reason for the crowd-pleasing masques. The subtext is not Chinese Imperial but Spenserian allegorical.

There are also, as usual in Moorcock's novels, cross references to his other works. These include names shared (Wheldrake, Pyat, Una, Li Pao), characters shared with different names (Tallow) and names of gods used as oaths (Arioch, Xiombarg). These connections are more superficial than usual, and Gloriana is much freer than earlier novels from Moorcock's ideas about the Eternal Champion. In fact, it is quite different, and displays a more original kind of imagination, making it a most interesting read.

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