Literature student Ivy Li '20 adapts The Faerie Queene into a visual comic

Published on: February 26, 2019

A comic about forgotten heroes

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is a book-length poem by a contemporary of Shakespeare that combines national epic, chivalric romance, and moral allegory. From 1596 on, Spenser’s readers have been interacting with the poem to produce new paratextual material: tools to navigate and understand the text, adaptations in other genres and media, additions to a work that is both massive and notoriously unfinished. In 21L.709, we spend a semester reading this “lit brick” — and final projects follow in this tradition of active reading. 

This project by Ivy Li (S.B. ’20, Physics and Literature) translates part of FQ’s 4th book into the modern medium of comics. Using roughly a tenth as many words as the original, it makes shapely narrative from a part of the poem that used to be considered incoherent and obscure. 

Ivy also makes sure you get the jokes: Book 4’s theme is friendship, but the knights of Friendship who should be its heroes are characters no one remembers, including Spenser — they disappear less than halfway through “their” book. A tournament aims to resolve persistent, unfriendly conflict over status by identifying the bravest knight and fairest lady, then giving her to him as a prize: but the bravest knight is a woman, the fairest lady an android. The knight ditches the lady, who finally gets to choose: and the worst man wins.  

When the conventions of chivalric narrative fall apart, you can’t root for the heroes — so what Ivy framed was “not a comic about the big heroes, but about the forgotten ones.” A workshop on visual storytelling with Mauricio Cordero supported projects like this one; he teaches a CMS/W class on comics.

But if drawing a comic sounds easy, this one took upwards of 70 hours (after reading the poem): a heroic task in itself!    

— Commentary by Mary Fuller, Professor of Literature

Read the full article at MIT SHASS News