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Book I, Canto VIII

March 27, 2010

Arthur, Una, and the Squire follow the Dwarf to the giant’s castle. The gates are shut and the castle silent in response to challenge, so the Squire blows a magic horn that bursts through the gates. The giant runs to see what has happened. Duessa follows him on her evil beast. The giant strikes at Arthur, who dodges a powerful blow that leaves a three yard-deep crater in the earth.

While the giant struggles to get his oak tree back out of the ground, Arthur chops his left arm off. The giant howls with pain and Duessa (who is still mounted) moves to attack Arthur. The Squire faces the beast and blocks the way to Arthur. An angry Duessa turns to her “golden cup” (Revelation 17:4), sprinkling her poison on the Squire, who collapses and is crushed by the beast.

Arthur, seeing his Squire fall, attacks the beast and cleaves one of its seven heads in half. The giant returns to protect Duessa. Now that he is missing one arm all his strength is concentrated in his right arm, which again swings at Arthur, and this time hits him. As Arthur falls his shield’s cover comes off. The beast and the giant are dazzled by the light.

Arthur seizes the moment and cuts off the giant’s right leg, felling and beheading him. The giant’s blood flows around him, and then a curious thing happens: “But soone as breath out of his breast did pas, That huge great body…was vanisht quite, and of that monstrous mas / Was nothing left, but like an emptie bladder was.” I am honestly not sure if this means that he disappeared, or that all his guts just spilled out. Either way it is an interesting end.

Duessa turns to flee but is stopped by the Squire (whom I suppose has quickly recovered). Una praises Arthur and the Squire, pledges her services, implores them to keep an eye on Duessa, and reminds them of Redcross’s captivity. Arthur charges the Squire with guarding Duessa and enters the giant’s castle. It is as silent inside as it was at the gate. Then they see the figure of a white-haired old man, supported by his staff, who walks forward while his head faces behind. His name is Ignaro (ignorance) and he carries the dungeon keys. Arthur asks him where Redcross would be and Ignaro answers that he does not know. It turns out that he answers every question with “I don’t know”, so Arthur simply takes the keys and goes looking through the castle.

He finds treasure but the floors are covered with dead babies (ew). He also finds an altar used for sacrificing true Christians. At last he comes to the last locked room, but Arthur is out of keys. He calls through a grate in the door and is answered by a voice. Arthur breaks the door down only to find a reeking abyss in the next room. Once again the wording slightly confuses me – the poem says that “his foot could find no flore”, but in the next stanza he lifts up an emaciated Redcross. I am not sure if there is a platform, or Redcross is chained to the wall, or what. Anyway, they get him out.

Una exclaims at his appearance and says a few words about vengeance, Arthur replies that bad situations are for our moral instruction and that he has learned an important lesson. Arthur offers Redcross his own personal vengeance upon Duessa, but it is Una’s opinion that Duessa be merely de-robed and set free.

They do strip Duessa, all the way down to her real self – the deformed hag. Stanzas 47 and 48 describe her monstrosity, down to her fox tail and eagle-claw-slash-bear-paw feet. They let her go and rest in the castle.

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