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Gloriana by Michael Moorcock

Gloriana (1978)

by Michael Moorcock

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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940814,125 (3.65)17
  1. 10
    Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: Both fantasy titles explore the seedy underbelly of London, one in Tudor times, the other more recently in London Below.

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I genuinely didn’t think I was going to like this. I’ve only had one encounter with Michael Moorcock before and that was in my early teens, when I found a copy of Behold the Man among my dad’s 1970s sci-fi books in the attic, and was promptly traumatised. Not that I was religious or anything like that. I was just shocked to see Jesus and the Virgin Mary depicted in such a way. What an innocent I was. Youthful shocks have an impact, though, and I’ve steered away from Moorcock ever since, thinking him far too weird for me (I have the same feeling about Alasdair Gray). But times change. I recently found myself looking at Gloriana in the library. It was an allegory, a fable, a Tudor history set in an alternate universe, an Elizabethan extravaganza. Why not give it a shot? So I did. And, Reader, I liked it. There was one scene I didn’t like, true, but for the most part I was utterly absorbed by this sprawling, dense jungle of a book, which wears its affection for Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast very clearly on its sleeve. A seething stew of sex and sycophancy, full of tunnels and intrigue and secrets and bravos and debauchery and honour and twisted goodness and dreams and hope and horror… it defies description...

Nevertheless, I try. For the blog post, see here:
https://theidlewoman.net/2019/02/01/gloriana-michael-moorcock/ ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Feb 1, 2019 |
When I started reading Gloriana -- maybe even before that, when I read about the premise -- I was very doubtful about whether I'd like it. The way the plot revolves around the fact that Gloriana can't have an orgasm just baffled me: it made it sound like that was the most important thing in life, which... it isn't. Still, actually reading the book, and especially the ending, made me think that aspect of it is actually a metaphor. I understand people who find the ending abhorrent: there's a rape scene which may seem to imply that someone who is anorgasmic just needs to be raped.

Reading both the original and revised endings, though, I don't think that was where Moorcock was going with that. In both, he emphasises that what finally allows Gloriana to find fulfilment is not anything really to do with sex, but that for the first time in her life, she can focus solely and entirely on herself. For the rest of the book -- the rest of Gloriana's life -- she's too concerned with being a queen, with being a country. But here, in both scenarios, whether she takes control of it or not, she becomes an individual in her fear.

Now, why that had to be via sex and sexual violence is a question that's definitely valid to ask, but it is important to read something carefully if you're going to critique it. More immediate to me are the questions about consent concerning children and animals, which are not dealt with critically at all -- rather the opposite.

In any case, all of that aside, I really liked Gloriana. Not so much for individual characters as for the whole idea, the plotting and scheming, the setting. Which is not to say that the individual characters weren't of interest -- they were, in their tangle of motivations and confusion of feelings. Montfallcon, particularly, was interesting because of the way his motivations were unveiled piece by piece, slowly. The labyrinthine world of the court as a whole, though; that, I really liked. I haven't actually read Gormenghast, but from what I know of it, I think Moorcock made a worthy tribute to it in many ways here.

The writing itself was, to my mind, easy to read. He doesn't go for any false archaisms, though the style isn't contemporary, and while he piles on the adjectives and so on, I do feel that's an intentional embarrassment of riches, like the court itself.

I can understand why people dislike this book, or never finish it, but I'm glad I did. ( )
4 vote shanaqui | Aug 4, 2014 |
*note to self. Copy from A.
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
I read this for a book club, but it's the kind of book I like anyway.

Moorcock dedicated this book to the memory of Mervyn Peake, and it is indeed very Ghormanghastly. The huge palace with its complex of interlinked buildings and roofed-in alleyways, hidden rooms and secret passages behind the walls is a perfect setting for a tale of courtly intrigue, spying and seduction. I was glad to find that it has a straight-forward narrative, unlike some of his other books such as the Jerry Cornelius novels, where you have to keep your wits about you to keep up with what is going on.
The story is set in an alternative history version of Elizabethan England. Instead of England in the throes of the Reformation, we have Albion where Christianity and Islam do not appear to exist and it is still the pagan feasts of Yule and May Day that are celebrated at court. There are mentions of a 'High Tongue' that presumably is something other than Latin. Gloriana's empire encompasses the Americas and much of Asia, and the American diplomats at her court include representatives of the Sioux and the Aztecs as well as of the Europeans who have settled in Virginia.

"The corruption lies in the fact that a myth was used to manufacture an imitation of reality. Could Albion fall so swiftly if the foundations were secure?" ( )
2 vote isabelx | Jan 1, 2011 |
Moorcock has posited himself as the rebel of fantasy, sapping the high walls built by Howard and Tolkien. He is a well-spoken and thoughtful critic of the complete lack of romance in either of these would-be romances, but the love in Gloriana's court is anything but courtly.

There is a delightful Quentin Crisp quote about how innovation is not 'seeing your neighbor to the left has a straight walk and your neighbor to the right a curved and thence making your own diagonal', suffice it to say that contrariness is not the mother of invention.

Moorcock's Elric was, in many ways, written to be contrary; to be the antithesis of the fantasy that came before. However, Moorcock is not being contrary in this case. In fact, he's not even being particularly original. In most regards, Gloriana reads like an abridged Elizabethan take on Peake's Gormenghast books (which, incidentally, are the origin of Crisp's quotation, by way of his introduction).

Gloriana is considered by highfalutin Moorcock fans to be perhaps his most remarkable and original work. It is certainly in no way genre Fantasy, and though the characters may not be easy to empathize with, you certainly won't be stuck resenting them for flimsily facaded archetypes.

Though they are not based upon those same silly cliches, they are still immediately as one-dimensional and unchanging. The book is really nothing so much as an eroticized rewrite of Peake, and Moorcock does not have the capacious wit necessary to evoke Peake. It is more of a fond imitation than a reimagining.

That being said, it takes a skilled writer to draw any comparisons to Peake, even when that's precisely what they are trying to do.

The book will also teach you the word 'seraglio'; a one which I hope to have more and more a need to use in the future, hopefully in the same sentence as 'odalisque'. ( )
3 vote Terpsichoreus | Jun 9, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michael Moorcockprimary authorall editionscalculated
Malczynski, ElizabethCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moreau, GustaveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The palace is as large as a good-sized town, for through the centuries its outbuildings, its lodges, its guest houses, the mansions of its lords and ladies in waiting, have been linked by covered ways, and those covered ways roofed, in turn, so that here and there we find corridors within corridors, like conduits in a tunnel, houses within rooms, those rooms within castles, those castles within artificial caverns, the whole roofed again with tiles of gold and platinum and silver, marble and mother-of-pearl, so that the palace glares with a thousand colors in the sunlight, shimmers constantly in the moonlight, its walls appearing to undulate, its roofs to rise and fall like a glamorous tide, its towers and minarets lifting like the masts and hulks of sinking ships.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0446691402, Paperback)

A fable satirizing Spenser's "The Fairie Queen" and reflecting the real life of Elizabeth I, tells of a woman who ascends to the throne upon the death of her debauched and corrupted father, King Hern. Gloriana's reign brings the Empire of Albion into a Golden Age, but her oppressive responsibilities choke her, prohibiting any form of sexual satisfaction, no matter what fetish she tries. Her problem is in fact symbolic of the hypocrisy of her entire court. While her life is meant to mirror that of her nation - an image of purity, virtue, enlightenment and prosperity - the truth is that her peaceful empire is kept secure by her wicked chancellor Monfallcon and his corrupt network of spies and murderers, the most sinister of whom is Captain Quire, who is commissioned to seduce Gloriana and thus bring down Albion and the entire empire.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:47 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The vast empire of Albion is ruled by the beautiful and forlorn queen, Gloriana who must battle against a nefarious scoundrel, Captain Quire, and a court soured by debauchery with her wits. First published in 1978, Gloriana is the award-winning story set in the alternate English kingdom of Albion that reimagines Queen Elizabeth's reign.… (more)

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