Riveting and poignant, Spenser: On the River of Time is a historical fiction that echoes the political climate and civil strife of a world that is divided and conflicted.
Set in the 16th-Century war between Elizabethan England and the rebels in Ireland is a novel that explores the struggles, power, conflict, politics, and humanity of the last four turbulent months in the life of the great poet, Edmund Spenser. Fleeing the great Munster revolt and fighting to survive the invasion of his home at a terrible cost to his family, he lives as a refugee in Cork.
Spenser, is book two of the epic trilogy, On the River of Time that explores the human condition, personal beliefs, culture and humanity.
This book takes readers on a poetic odyssey, written in Spenserian stanza to evoke the Elizabethan period and the poet’s style.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult, young adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
All three books of On the River of Time (this is book two, Spenser) are born from something that happened in 1993. My son, Kevin, and I were on a Fringe Tour presenting Kings, the first two books of Christopher Logue's adaptation of the Illiad, a one-man show that he performed. When we got to Winnipeg, I needed to get something to read and went to an old bookshop. It as there that I discovered an old copy of The Collected Poems of Edmund Spenser.
When I had been in English Honours many years before, I had to read some of Spenser's poems, but for his great epic poem, The Fairie Queene, I had really read only the juicy bits. Now, a forty-year pang of conscience afflicted me, and I bought the book. I read all of The Fairie Queene, and also read his (the author's) biography. It turned out that while he was writing the work, which is an allegorical depiction of the great virtues, he was simultaneously writing a treatise essentially advocating the genocide of the Irish. I was stunned. How could one of the greatest English poets simultaneously hold in his mind both the virtues and genocide?
For the last twenty-seven years, I have pondered this paradox, and the result has been this three-book poetic epic, covering three thousand years at it looks at the hazardous journeys of three men – the mythical hero, Odysseus as he had to make a second hard journey forced on him by Poseidon for his blinding of the cyclops. Poseidon's son, the historical figure, Spenser, who moved to Ireland only to face struggles, and Archer, a fictional actor/director of the early twenty-first century as he tours the country and later Ireland with his company.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
For the first two books, essentially the characters already existed. Odysseus has been home for two years from his ten-year journey back from Troy.
On his new, forced journey, many of the characters involved in the Trojan War appear, Penelope, his wife, and his son, Telemachus, Menelaus, and his wife Helen, Orestes, and many others. Spenser is involved with at times Queen Elizabeth, Walter Ralegh, Walsingham, the Earl of Essex, and other well-known people. The issue was not what characters to choose but to bring them to life.
The coach lurched to a stop; and we stepped out
Into a palace yard, but not in front
A servant led us through halls, roundabout
In passageways, until at last the hunt
Ended at a door where we found to confront
Us two burly guards with halberds who glare
At us but let us in. The room did not flaunt
Wealth, except for rich curtains and a chair;
At the window a regal woman turned to stare
Closely at us. The man bowed low, as did
Myself. “Your Majesty.” “So, Walsingham,
This is the young knight accomplished what you bid?
I then noted two things: the name of the man,
Who heretofore had been a countryman
Anonymous; and that the Queen’s voice was
Musical, but with a tone more dry than
Full, and was deliberately precise,
Meant for business and a warning to be concise.
A sharp nudge from Walsingham brought me tack
To what I should do. Quickly from my breast,
And, showing then an unexpected knack,
I took the letter, knelt before her lest
She be forced to ask, and still self-possessed,
To her proffered it. “Here, my gracious Queen,
Is what you bid me bring you as my quest.”
My gesture and my play on her own words, as Queen
Playfully took the letter and then bid
Me rise. I did so, bowing in retreat.
But now all was business as the Queen undid
The seal and quickly read the entire sheet.
Then she turned to Walsingham. “They ill-tread
The Huguenots still more. He worries much
That things will go worse and we must find discreet
Means to negotiate an alliance such
That they and Charles and we can live in peace. Let’s clutch
“What vantage that we can in holding back
A bloody time. You must work this with me,
Walsingham. And as for you, my young man,
Tell me what you saw there, and what might be
The feeling of those people.” I then told what I
Could of the town and the feeling, harried
And sombre, of the townsfolk. I could see
She listened, alert, sifting chaff from seed/
With respect I saw her do this and I took head.
And I remembered always after how
She looked then—her face a painted mask, more
Like an icon than a woman, her brow
Silvered, her dress ornate, but at her core
A fierce intelligence, and eyes that bore
Into the minds of those before her; and
I knew how truly formidable or
Terrible she could be, yet still command
A nation, and I described vividly the troubled land…
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