‘Minions of the Moon’ is one of the most ambitious things I’ve written, an attempt to fulfil a number of aims simultaneously. My original brief, as worked out in an email exchange with the editor Paul Magrs, was ‘a “Shakespearean comedy meets Iain Banks’ Culture” kind of thing, with lots of Elizabethan science and politics, plus kinky sex,’ and that’s pretty much how the story ended up. I’ve described it elsewhere as ‘part Shakespearian pastiche, part political thriller and partly an attempt to construct a “hard alchemical fiction” story based upon the science of the Renaissance,’ and it’s all of those, too.

All of this makes for a fairly dense text, and although it is my firm intention that ‘Minions of the Moon’ may be read, on its own or as part of the Wildthyme on Top anthology, without any further information, some context concerning the story’s historical, literary, mythological and alchemical background may enhance some people’s reading pleasure. As with my equally dense novel Of the City of the Saved..., therefore, I’ve provided some annotations to the text here.

While my information here comes from numerous sources, two books on the subject of the Medieval and Renaissance worldview which I particularly recommend are CS Lewis’s The Discarded Image and EMW Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture. Marvin Spevack’s A Shakespeare Thesaurus was invaluable to me in constructing the pastiche Shakespearean dialogue, as was the Riverside Shakespeare.

These notes are best read in parallel with the story, or at least with a copy of Wildthyme on Top to hand.

PLEASE NOTE that, if you read these notes ahead of the story itself, you will encounter SPOILERS.

Act I

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Minions of the Moon: The story’s title is a quotation from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One (1597), Act I Scene ii. Sir John Falstaff, in his first appearance in any Shakespeare play, is waxing lyrical about the lifestyle of a thief:

Let us be Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the Moon, and let men say we be men of good government, being govern’d, as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the Moon, under whose countenance we steal.

‘Minions’ is used in its archaic sense of ‘lovers’ or ‘favourites’, although the pulp-SF connotations of ‘henchmen’ are pleasingly fortuitous.

The City of Endymion [...] far-distant shore: Like a number of passages in ‘Minions of the Moon’, the first paragraph is written in iambic pentameter – the blank-verse scheme which governs most of Shakespeare’s drama. Each line consists of ten syllables arranged in five iambic ‘feet’ with the stress on the first syllable. This paragraph would be delineated as follows:

The city of Endymion is built
upon an island in a lunar sea,
whose pewter waters lap against a shore
powdered with ice-blue sand. From where Tom stands –
the topmost turret of the embassy –
he sees the city’s walls and gardens stretch
across the isle’s crenellated breadth.
Beyond Endymion’s unwallèd gate,
a flimsy-looking bridge of loops and strands
extends for miles towards the pinnacles
of mountains on the sea’s far-distant shore.

Note that ‘unwalled’ has to be pronounced as a trisyllable for this to work.

Endymion: In Greek myth, the lover of the Moon-goddess Selene. She was so enamoured of him that she begged Zeus to grant him eternal life: the god agreed, but only on the condition that Endymion spent his life asleep.

Tom: Iris Wildthyme’s companion, first introduced in Paul Magrs’ Doctor Who novel Verdigris (2000), who accompanies her throughout Wildthyme on Top and in the new Iris audio adventures from Big Finish. Iris herself first appears in Paul Magrs’ novel Marked for Life (1996) and is further explored – confirming her status as a transtemporal adventuress – in Magrs’ Doctor Who short story ‘Old Flames’ (1998) and novel The Scarlet Empress (1998). The version of Iris who appears in Wildthyme on Top is the character played by Katy Manning in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas beginning with Excelis Dawns (2002).

Iris’ bus: Superficially the Number 22 to Putney Common, Iris Wildthyme’s conveyance is actually a sophisticated space- and time-travelling vehicle – in Doctor Who terms, a TARDIS.

the Lunaries: The possibility of life in the other ‘spheres’ of the solar system was a long-established one by the sixteenth century, although their inhabitants were conceived as being more akin to angels or fairies than to our modern idea of aliens.

Australia: The universe of ‘Minions of the Moon’ is that of Shakespeare’s plays, andof the Elizabethan English consensus reality which underlies them. As far as mainstream European society was concerned, Australasia did not exist in 1590: the first confirmed sighting by a European wouldn’t occur until 1606, although legends of the existence of a ‘terra australis’ or ‘southern land’ date back to Roman times.

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so totally buggered: This line as originally written would have featured the first occurrence of the F-word in a Big Finish publication – an honour which I believe went to Dave Stone in the end [Something Changed p139]. Ah, well.

jovial vapour: Before it meant ‘jolly’ or ‘hearty’, the adjective ‘jovial’ referred to the classical god Jove or Jupiter (Zeus in Greek). It also related to the planet Jupiter, whose astrological influence was thought to generate the feelings which we now refer to as ‘jovial’. (A comparable process of semantic shift has given planetary names to other temperaments, such as ‘martial’ and ‘saturnine’.) Astrology, and in particular the characteristics of the seven classical ‘planets’, constituted an important frame of reference for Elizabethan thought.

Evidently the Lunaries in ‘Minions of the Moon’ have found an alchemical technique for distilling the influence of the planets in these ‘vapours’, creating designer drugs which induce the same effects.

Harry Peerless: The first ‘new’ character to be introduced, Harry is, like all of the Elizabethans in the story, a recognisable Shakespearean ‘type’. He corresponds with the brave yet feckless Prince Hal of Henry IV Parts One and Two (1598), who later grows up and finds responsibility as King Henry V.

Phoebus the Lunary: Like most of the Lunaries, Phoebus has a name taken from Greek myth. The name means ‘bright’ or ‘radiant’ and was originally applied to Apollo in his capacity as the Sun god. By Shakespeare’s time it was simply a poetic term for the Sun itself, hence this Phoebus’ warm and ruddy countenance.

servuses: ‘servus’ is Latin for ‘slave’ or ‘servant’. The Latin plural would be ‘servi’.

the Moon’s month-long day-night cycle: The Moon orbits the Earth over the space of roughly 28 days, the cycle of which defined a month before the invention of more formal calendars. The Moon’s period of orbit is also that of its rotational day-night cycle, such that it keeps the same face turned permanently towards the Earth. The action of ‘Minions of the Moon’ occupies the space of eight earthly days, from shortly after lunar midday to shortly after lunar sunset.

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Ganymede: One of Zeus’ young male lovers in Greek myth. He served as the deity’s cup-bearer, so the name is vaguely appropriate for the embassy’s Lunary steward.

Tethys: The name of an ocean-goddess in Greek myth. She personified the ocean as a fecund source of life.

Celaeno, Alcyone: The names, again in Greek myth, of two of the Pleiades sisters, and in astronomy of two of the visible stars in the Pleiades cluster. The extensive reference to classical mythology in the story is, of course, another aspect which reflects the cultural milieu of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

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sevenths of the mundane week: These correspond, of course, to the seven days of the week, and are named accordingly.

the planets: Despite the discoveries of Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), the consensus view of the universe in 1590 still placed the Earth at the centre of the solar system, surrounded by concentric spheres in which the classical ‘planets’ orbited. In order, these were the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Astrologically speaking, the planets were responsible for governing the temperament of individual human beings, and were associated with – among their other alchemical qualities – specific metals. They were also associated with the days of the week, to which they (or, in English, the corresponding Norse deities) gave their names.

The planetary spheres were in turn surrounded by the sphere of fixed stars, beyond which (in some sense, and poetry very frequently took the motif literally) was Heaven. Poetic narratives in which the souls of the dead (or, rarely, the living) ascend through the spheres before finally reaching Heaven were common, the best-known example being Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth-century Divine Comedy. The sphere of the moon formed an important boundary between the ‘sublunary’ or ‘mundane’ realm, which was fallen and corrupt, and the pure, incorrupt realms of the higher planets and stars.

the second golden seventh, that of the Sun: Naturally, given the four-week-long lunar day-night cycle, both the lunar morning and the lunar afternoon must be divided into sevenths in order to correspond with a terrestrial week (as must both halves of the lunar night). For obvious reasons the Sun was associated with the metal gold, and so, therefore, was Sunday, to which it gave its name. In astrological terms, the Sun governed wisdom, nobility and philosophy, and brought forth good fortune.

the old nemean: In fact, Nemea is a Greek place-name, located in the Peloponesse. The name occurs in this context because the Nemean Lion, a mythical beast slain by the hero Hercules (and of which more anon), is said to have fallen from the Moon.

Jack Fuller: As the name, and Harry’s description here, indicate, Sir Jack is heavily based on Sir John Falstaff, the corpulent, carousing brigand who appears as Prince Hal’s mentor in Henry IV, is brought back for an encore in The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597), and dies in Henry V (1599).

sack: A Spanish wine much favoured by Shakespeare’s drinkers, Falstaff included.

capons: Chickens.

tun: A barrel.

Sir Malcome Canker: In his misanthropic, puritanical outlook, Sir Malcome is a dead ringer for Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (1602)...

cakes and ale: ...a fact which Tom has clearly picked up, as his line here refers to Act II Scene iii of that play, in which Malvolio is admonished by Sir Toby Belch for his intolerance:

Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?

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Leonardo: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), a Florentine and among other things a painter, sculptor and engineer, will play a larger part in the story shortly.

the Flemish and their astronomy: Flanders was indeed a hotbed of astronomy, which usually went hand in hand with cartography. Flemings who practised both arts included Frisius (1508-1555), Mercator (1512-1594) and the lunar cartographer Langrenus (1600-1675).

azimuths: An azimuth is the compass bearing of a star, which combines with the star’s elevation to give its position in the sky.

epicycles: An epicycle was one of the more complicated constructs of pre-Copernican geocentric cosmology. It was a minor circular movement supposedly overlaid on the larger orbit of a planet, which accounted for the variations in speed and occasional retrograde motion which planets exhibit when viewed from the Earth. Later, as observation of the planets’ motions became more precise, more complex models involving multiple hierarchies of epicycles had to be proposed, until the general acceptance of the Copernican heliocentric model did away with the concept altogether.

magnifying towers: Telescopes per se were unknown in 1590, their invention being generally credited to Galileo in 1609. I envisage the towers as having a single vast magnifying lens at the top, which allows observers to study the Earth’s surface in close detail.

a slavish effigy [...] the usual techniques: To the extent that Lunary society is a sixteenth-century transform of ‘the Culture’, the galactic utopia of Iain M Banks’ science fiction novels, the servuses are the equivalent of the robotic ‘drones’ who quietly keep the whole thing running. This fuller explanation of their origins suggests that in context they derive from the golems of medieval Jewish myth, which were built from clay and animated by the name of God placed on parchments under their tongues. It may be noted that the construction of the servuses involves each of the four alchemical elements: earth (or its lunar equivalent), air (the ‘aery spirits’), fire and water.

Richard Fondling: An almost entirely generic Shakespearean clown character, Fondling is an uneducated menial servant with a fondness for inadvertent, often crude, puns and elementary language errors.

Sir Jack! [...] lascivious depravity: Like most monarchs in Shakespeare (even in predominantly prose scenes) Queen Elizabeth in ‘Minions of the Moon’ speaks entirely in iambic pentameter. Her lines in this scene run as follows:

Sir Jack! Jack Fuller! Wilt thou greet thy prince
with such lascivious depravity?
Sirrah, for this thy disrespect towards
our person, we should have thy harlot’s head!
Struck by the Moon, Sir Jack, or by aught else?
Enchanted how? Did these witches conceal
some lusty philtre in thy Spanish wine?

prince: Here a generic term for ‘monarch’.

Elizabeth of England: This is, of course, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), daughter of Henry VIII (1491-1547) and ruler of England from 1558 until her death. Paul Magrs was keen that the story should feature Elizabeth, whose description here is more reminiscent of her portrayal by a transvestite Quentin Crisp in the film Orlando (1992) than the more familiar ones of Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett or Miranda Richardson.

thy harlot’s head: That is to say, Sir Jack’s head, which is the head of a harlot (and not the head of either Celaeno or Alcyone, neither of whom falls within Elizabeth’s jurisdiction). ‘Harlot’ was a non-gender-specific term roughly equivalent to the modern unisex usage of the word ‘slut’.

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affinity: A usefully vague concept which allows objects in various magical systems to affect one another at a distance. Usually they are able to do so in direct proportion to their similarity with one another. Something of the same belief persists in modern ideas concerning, for instance, the telepathy of twins, or in the fringe scientific theory of morphogenetic fields and their resonance.

triceratops: A three-horned dinosaur with a prominent neck-ruff. The observation is clearly an entirely anachronistic one, the existence of dinosaurs not being even remotely suspected in 1590, and therefore presumably comes to us via the mind of Tom or Iris, or that of the author.

Act II

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It is the seventh [...] alchemist and friar: More pentameter:

It is the seventh of iron, the seventh of
the planet Mars – or, by the earthly way
of thinking, Tuesday. The ambassador
and party are inspecting Brazen’s brain:
guiding them in their tour of its arcane
interior, no less renowned a shade
than Roger Bacon, alchemist and friar.
the seventh of iron, the seventh of the planet Mars: Astrologically speaking, Mars governed war and the warlike temperament, and was an ill-fated omen. It was associated with iron, presumably because of the metals’ use in weapons and armour.

Tuesday: Named, in most Western European languages, after the Roman war-god Mars, but in English after the Norse war-god Tiw. This seems to be a general pattern: Wednesday, for instance, is ‘Mercurii dies’ in Latin (from the Roman god of language and communication, Mercury), ‘Mercredi’ in French and ‘Dydd Mercher’ in Welsh; but in English is named after the Norse god of language and communication, Odin. The one exception is Saturday, which in English as in other languages is named after Saturn.

Roger Bacon: Franciscan friar and lecturer at Oxford university on matters ranging from alchemy to philosophy to magic, Bacon (c 1214-92) was also known as ‘Doctor Mirabilis’ (‘Wonderful Teacher’, although it’s tempting to interpret it in a modern idiom as ‘Dr Fantastic’). His writings and experiments were intellectually rigorous, and have been seen as prefiguring later thinkers’ work in developing the empiricism now associated with the scientific method. They were certainly too innovative for the Franciscans, who banned his works and imprisoned him.

According to later legend, he created a miraculous brass head which he magically endowed with the power of speech, and which was able to act as an oracle, teaching him occult wisdom. The definitive account of this story appears in Robert Greene’s play Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1591). Brazen, the brass intellect in ‘Minions of the Moon’, is presumably a refinement of this technology.

an ‘artefactual intellect’: Or, as we might say, an artificial intelligence. To the extent that Lunary society mirrors that of the Culture, Brazen is one of the ‘Minds’, the all-powerful and godlike AIs which direct the worlds of Banks’s utopia.

a downright rude mechanical: When not being used for the purposes of terribly bad puns, ‘rude mechanical’ is a term for Shakespeare’s comedy menials – first applied to Bottom and his comrades by Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1596) Act III Scene ii. In context, ‘rude’ means ‘crude’, and ‘mechanical’, ‘unskilled labourer’.

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writing the works of Shakespeare [...] Francis Bacon: Iris, like others before her, is confusing Roger Bacon with the Elizabethan nobleman, politician, writer and spy Francis Bacon (1561-1628) – a completely different and unrelated English philosopher, who is nevertheless also sometimes credited with laying the foundations of empiricism. Numerous commentators have also credited him with writing the works of Shakespeare, and all of them (despite what Iris typically claims to have been told by Shakespeare himself) have been completely barking mad.

The Mermaid: A tavern in Cheapside, London, frequented by numerous poets and dramatists including Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and John Donne.

Ooh, that painter?: Here Iris is further confusing the Elizabethan Francis Bacon with his descendant, the 20th-century Anglo-Irish painter Francis Bacon (1909-92).

to waylay the souls of the dead: In Geoffrey Chaucer’s long poem Troilus and Criseyde (c 1385), which was influential on Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (1602), the ghost of the dead hero Troilus ascends into the heavens to dwell with other virtuous action-heroes in the sphere of Mercury. Dante envisages similar journeys for his souls of the dead (who likewise end up in various of the planetary spheres, or in the Heaven beyond the sphere of the fixed stars), although in his Divine Comedy matters are somewhat complicated by the necessity for the dead to delay while their sins are expunged in Purgatory. Shakespeare’s Protestant contemporaries would have had no such difficulties, but according to ‘Minions of the Moon’ they run the risk of being kidnapped by the inhabitants of the Moon en route.

exiled himself from Heaven’s grace: As the boundary between the sublunary and translunary realms, the Moon occupied an ambiguous place in the cosmology of the time. Like Fairies, its inhabitants were sometimes seen as neither fully subject to Heaven nor to Hell, but exiled from both; sometimes they were seen as those angels who had chosen a cowardly neutrality during the War in Heaven, siding neither with Satan nor with God. Accordingly (and appropriately) my Lunaries’ society is resolutely secular.

Illyrians: Originally an ancient kingdom in the Balkans, Illyria (which certainly had no legal existence by 1590) is the fictional setting of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

the mediation of aery spirits: These ‘ethereal messengers’ are of the same variety as (the appropriately-named) Ariel in The Tempest (1611).

ethereal messengers: ‘Ethereal’ is here used in its modern sense of ‘light and airy’: in technical terms, ether or aether pervaded the Heavens and was actually an entirely different element from air, which formed the atmosphere of the Earth. However, since the Moon was the boundary between the two, some mixing of terms as of the elements is arguably reasonable. The term ‘quintessence’ was originally coined to describe this ‘fifth element’.

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because ‘he merrily amuseth me’: It’s not a complete pentameter, but Her Majesty is clearly speaking in iambics again. The real Elizabeth was a great fan of Shakespeare’s Falstaff, and is credited with ‘persuading’ the playwright to give him his own spin-off in The Merry Wives of Windsor, something he did for no other character.

mistress of the buss: ‘Buss’, in this context, means ‘kiss’. It’s a mildly dirty word, like ‘snog’ or ‘french’.

Celeste: The only native Lunary whose name appears to be derived from a source other than classical myth (French, in fact). I’m not really sure why that is, I’m afraid: I think I intended there to be more. Obviously ‘Celeste’ means ‘heavenly’, though.

tobacco products: Although it had long been fashionable in the Spanish court, pipe-smoking had only been introduced to England from the Virginia colonies in 1586.

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Venereal, I’m afraid: ‘Venereal’ literally means ‘of Venus’, the Roman goddess of love, hence its use as a euphemism for sexually-transmitted diseases. Venus the planet governed beauty, sex and good fortune. The Lunaries’ venereal vapour is evidently used as an aphrodisiac (a word itself derived from Venus’s Greek counterpart Aphrodite, etymology fans).

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a lunar utopia: This is the only time the Moon is referred to as such, and of course this is the opinion of Tom, the twentieth-century man. Whether Endymion is in fact a utopia, and whether such a state is desirable, is a question on which the reader is invited to make up his or her own mind. The idea of the inherent limitations of utopian societies, and of human aspirations towards creating them, is one I seem to find fascinating: both my full-length books have been to some extent driven by the idea, as has much of my short fiction.

My earliest idea for ‘Minions of the Moon’ was to send Elizabeth’s ambassadors to Thomas More’s original Utopia, the ideal state outlined in his On the Best State of a Republic and on the New Island of Utopia (1516). However, instead of More’s Christian theocracy they would find (possibly due to Iris’s story-warping influence) a secular, communitarian society along Culture lines. Paul Magrs encouraged me to play up the Banks angle, hence the relocation of Endymion to space, or at least the heavens, rather than the New World.

Virgin Queen: A common epithet for Elizabeth, who never married, possibly most familiar from the 1955 Bette Davies film of that name. Rumours that the studio planned a sequel to be entitled Son of the Virgin Queen are almost certainly apocryphal.

Her bloody sister: Queen Mary Tudor (1516-58), Elizabeth’s elder sister, who reigned from 1553 until her death. Known as ‘Bloody Mary’ in Protestant circles thanks to her violent and deadly enforcement of Roman Catholicism as the state religion (and not because of a fondness for vodka with tomato juice).

enslaving your ancestors: Tom is, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it from reading ‘Minions of the Moon’, black.


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Beneath them [...] courant, rampant: As you might by now expect, this Act also begins in meter:

Beneath them in the valley, chariots
attended by swift-flitting Lunaries
are harrying a lion. The grizzled beast
is vast, its leaden mane shaggy and lank.
Mobbed by the hunting-swarm it bounds across
the vale, rears and swipes at its airborne
pursuers, as if it were posing for
an heraldic diptych: courant, rampant.

This is a fairly free usage of iambic pentameter, more characteristic of Shakespeare’s later plays – because, quite honestly, ‘courant’ and ‘rampant’ wouldn’t have fitted at all well into a rigidly iambic line.

a lion: This is a relative of the monstrous lion said to have been encountered by Hercules at Nemea – which, as previously mentioned, was supposed to have fallen from the Moon, or alternatively to have been birthed by the Moon-goddess Selene, which amounts to much the same thing.

courant, rampant: Heraldic terms, derived from French and used to describe the posture of a symbolic animal on a coat of arms. ‘Courant’ means running, ‘rampant’ means rearing up on the hind legs.

weapons made from iron, bronze or stone: The Nemean Lion was similarly immune, forcing Hercules to kill it by choking it to death with his bare hands. (He then skinned it, using its own claws as blades, and rather cleverly used the hide as armour.) The glass spearheads are a nod to Paul Magrs’s stories, in many of which glass and its properties play a significant part.

Thursday, Jupiter’s or Jove’s seventh: Named in English after the Norse thunder-god Thor, who corresponds to some degree with the Roman sky-god Jupiter. Jupiter was the monarch of the Roman gods, and the king of the planets, governing magnanimity, prosperity and festivity.

It may be noted that the sevenths / weekdays on which the Acts are set are skipping a day each time: Act I was set on Sunday, Act II on Tuesday, Act III on Thursday. This has the effect that the associated planets are following their order as defined by the cosmology of the time: from the Earth outwards, one encounters the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn before hitting the sphere of fixed stars. One might expect that the next Act will be set on Saturday, and one would not be wrong.

the metal tin: The metal, known since ancient times and a vital component of bronze, had rather less mundane associations before its widespread use in the food preservation industry.

‘Tally-ho!’ and ‘Tantivy!’: Traditional, and meaningless, hunting cries of the British upper-classes.

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not in the public eye: Homosexuality was by no means nonexistent in Elizabethan England: every single one of the real Elizabethans mentioned in these notes so far, Elizabeth not excepted, has been identified as gay or bisexual by later commentators. (Which doesn’t necessarily mean that they were, of course.) It was, however, still considered a serious crime, and the accusation was considered as damning as atheism when a playwright contemporary of Shakespeare’s, Thomas Kyd, (1558-94) made it of his former flatmate Christopher Marlowe (1564-93).

a silvered serpent: This is a relative of the Hydra, another victim of the serial monster-killer Hercules. The Hydra (also supposed, naturally, to have emanated from the Moon) was a serpent said variously to have been six-, seven-, nine- or hundred-headed, possibly because of its habit of growing two new heads to replace any which were sliced off. To kill it Hercules needed the help of his nephew Iolaus, who followed up the hero’s head-severing antics by cauterising the monster’s wounds with a flaming torch, thus preventing the regrowth. As with the Nemean lion, the creature’s body was serviceable to Hercules, who subsequently used poisoned arrows dipped in the its blood. (Yes, the Hydra had poisonous blood. This may be relevant later...)

Ferdinand, Duke of Florence: In 1590, the Duke of Florence (more accurately the Grand Duke of Tuscany) was Ferdinando I de’Medici (1549-1609), a mild ruler by Medici standards who had been a Cardinal since the age of 14 but gave up the church on inheriting the Dukedom in 1587. Since ‘Minions of the Moon’ is supposed to be taking a Shakespearean approach to history, however, I felt entirely justified in ignoring the historical reality of Ferdinando’s reign and using the name for my character instead: a villainous, machiavellian ruler of the kind seen in Measure for Measure (1604), As You Like It (1599) and Richard III (1593).

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a manticore: A mythical beast from Persian legend, with a human face (equipped with three rows of fierce predatory teeth), a lion’s body and a scorpion’s tail. Bestiaries often show manticores as elaborately moustached.

If I ever get to write another Iris story, it will be called ‘Wildlyfe’, and will see Iris presenting a nature documentary about an ecosystem of mythical monsters.

a light wooden air-screw: The centrepiece of Leonardo da Vinci’s much-vaunted ‘helicopter’ design. I’ll confess that the Florentines’ technology in this scene is influenced by the industrial revolution ushered in by Leonardo in Paul J MacAuley’s alternative-history novel Pasquale’s Angel (1994).

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Monday, the first silver seventh of the lunar night: The moon, again for fairly obvious reasons, is associated with silver... and I probably don’t need to point out that Monday is named after the Moon.

susceptible to contagion: There was a genuine belief at the time that accumulated accretions of dirt kept disease at bay: Elizabethans did bathe, but rarely and with extreme caution.

So I was taught at school, at any rate.

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hot air balloons [...] chariots pulled by teams of geese [...] thrones elevated by rockets: I really should have checked my facts here. I intended these to be representative of the methods used by the protagonists of various classical and other pre-SF texts where voyages to the Moon were undertaken, such as Lucian of Samosata’s The True History (2nd century AD).

The rocket-propelled-chair technique applies, having been essayed in Chinese folklore by one Wan Hu, an official of the Ming dynasty circa 1500 (who it seems had no particular intention of reaching the Moon, although there is now a crater there named in his honour). The story goes that, when the 47 rockets attached to his throne ignited, there was a huge explosion, after which no trace of either the chair of Wan Hu could be found. His assistants concluded optimistically that he had achieved his dream of powered flight.

The chariot / geese method, which I had thought was Lucian’s, was actually used by the protagonist of Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone (1638), published half a century later than ‘Minions of the Moon’ is set. The hot air balloon approach doesn’t seem to match anything I can find. Still, for the purposes of the story some intrepid pioneers obviously hit on these techniques, after which their success was (presumably because their friends reached opposite conclusions to Wan Hu’s) forgotten by history and legend alike.

a rudimentary knowledge of Elizabethan drama: Anyone with such a knowledge will recall that girls are always dressing up as boys.

Act IV
‘Fondling!’ [...] ‘is’t not?’: Here, uncharacteristically for them, Fuller and Fondling introduce the act by speaking in meter, thus:

FULLER: Fondling! Ah, Dick, some villain has undone me.
By my good name, my guts could not churn faster
if they had swallowed Charybdis herself!
My belly burns, Dick, like the devil’s gorge.
FONDLING: I know it, master. In Devon, is’t not?

Again, the scansion here is loosely applied, with Fuller’s first two lines receiving an extra syllable to supply ‘feminine’ endings, and the rhythm of both his and Fondling’s lines broken up to some extent.

Charybdis: In classical myth, the name of a whirlpool in the Straits of Messina; or more precisely of the monster who, submerged on the sea bed, created the whirlpool by sucking in sea-water three times a day.

gorge: Stomach (and not, as Fondling assumes, steep-sided river valley).

Around Jack’s sickbed [...] sleek and oily black: This descriptive passage supplies the Act’s second dose of iambic pentameter:

Around Jack’s sickbed, miniature orbs
spin as they circulate a sevenfold course:
silver, quicksilver, copper, golden, steel,
pewter and lead. They form an orrery,
whose ticking orison accompanies
the hospitaller as she stilts about,
applying draughts and poultices. Her wings
are raven-feathered, sleek and oily black.

‘Miniature’ has to be pronounced as a tetrasyllable here, and ‘sevenfold’ as a disyllable, thus: ‘min-i-a-ture’, ‘se’nfold’. This may look as if I just couldn’t be bothered to get the rhythm right (which is true), but I was also playing with the unexpected scansion issues which Shakespearean dialogue always throws up for an actor.

silver, quicksilver, copper, golden, steel, pewter and lead: These are the metals associated with the planets – respectively the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. (For the sake of the meter, and of keeping the planets in their correct order, I had to cheat twice by using alloys: steel is standing in for iron and pewter for tin.)

orrery: A clockwork model, mimicking the motions of the solar system.

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lions, serpents, bears: All constellations – respectively Leo, Serpens (or alternatively Hydra) and Ursa Major or Ursa Minor.

Olivia: ‘Harry’ has now revealed himself as an entirely different Shakespearean type, the brave heroine who dresses as a man for altruistic or comedic purposes. (There is a character called Olivia in one of the cross-dressing plays, Twelfth Night, but she is not herself the cross-dresser. This may have been needlessly confusing of me.)

Portia, Viola, Rosalind: The female leads in, respectively, The Merchant of Venice (1597), Twelfth Night and As You Like It, all of whom pass themselves off as young men. Portia does so in order to act for her lover’s interest in court, Viola to seek her shipwrecked brother Sebastian, and Rosalind as a disguise to escape the wrath of the tyrannical Duke Frederick.

Woolf’s Orlando: The central character of Virginia Woolf’s historical fantasy Orlando (1928), based on her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West. Orlando grows up as a young man in Elizabethan England, and for reasons which are never explored never dies or ages: while acting as Charles II’s ambassador to the Ottoman court nearly a century later, he becomes disgusted by the male sex’s warlike nature and undergoes a mysterious metamorphosis to become a woman. She continues to live until the year of the novel’s publication, when history finally catches up with her. In Paul Magrs’s Marked for Life, Iris compares herself with Orlando, claiming similarly to be four hundred years old and to have changed her sex more than once.

Orlando is, in part, a commentary on the gender ambiguities inherent in Elizabethan drama, where female characters (played by boys, since women were not permitted to act) routinely dragged up in order to become young men again. The 1992 film of Orlando plays with this convention, casting Tilda Swinton as the gender-swapping hero, but also (as previously mentioned) the marvellous Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth.

(Again confusingly, there’s an Orlando in As You Like It, but he too is not a transvestite.)

‘Bob’: The cross-dressing character in the BBC’s Elizabethan sitcom Blackadder II (1986), who dresses as a boy to seek her fortune as Blackadder’s manservant, and whose real name is Kate. She (or a descendant) reappears with rather less justification in the World War I sequel Blackadder Goes Forth (1989), but it’s obviously the Elizabethan ‘Bob’ whom Tom is thinking of here.

Merope and Sterope: Two more of the Pleiades sisters.

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The Bull’s Head [...] Mistress Slack: Clearly an analogue of the Boar’s Head in Henry IV and Henry V, and its landlady Mistress Quickly. The other taverns (and landlady) are made up, but intended to suggest the same Falstaffian milieu.

sack-and-sugar: Why one would choose to drink red wine with sugar I have no idea, but it appears to be Falstaff’s, and therefore Fuller’s, quaffing beverage of choice.

without equal: I originally wrote ‘without pareil’ here: the wording was altered at proof stage. Admittedly ‘pareil’ is not an authentically Shakespearean word, whereas ‘equal’ is, but I felt the former gave more of a period flavour.

my close friend, the Duke of Wellington: Presumably Arthur Wellesley (1769–1852), the first of that title, the most famous general on the British side in the Napoleonic wars, and someone whom Ferdinand is therefore clearly not going to have heard of.

the leaden seventh, the Saturnine: Although the story doesn’t specify the fact, this is indeed Saturday – named, even in English, after the god and planet Saturn. Saturn was indeed associated with lead, and governed melancholy, sickness, disaster, contemplation and old age: appropriate, in this Act for the sufferings of both Fuller and Ferdinand.

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Tom, Dick or Harry: I swear, until I came to write this line, I didn’t realise what I’d done with the character names in the story. Unfortunately, none of them could easily be changed: Tom was a fixture of the collection, Harry was of course named after Prince Hal / Henry V, and Dick Fondling’s name is a crude joke. (I could perhaps have called him ‘Willy Fondling’, but ‘Dick’ sounded more Shakespearean.) I decided to brazen it out.

My will is done: my power, and my glory, are sovereign: Shakespeare seems to have been ambivalent on the question of the so-called Divine Right of Kings: while many of his wiser and more peaceable rulers are explicitly associated with holiness, others (mostly, it has to be said, the usurpers) wield their supposed divine sanction as a weapon to intimidate and manipulate their subjects. Antonio in Measure for Measure – actually only a stand-in for the real Duke of Vienna – is the example par excellence. Ferdinand, in this latter tradition, considers himself deserving of godlike authority over his subjects.

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their will [...] done on Earth the practices of this, their heaven: Ferdinand is the only character in ‘Minions of the Moon’ to refer directly to Christianity, here and above by quoting the Lord’s Prayer: even the puritanical chaplain Canker doesn’t. Ferdinand is understandably unsettled by what appear to be the Lunaries’ benevolently imperialist intentions towards Florence and the other earthly states, but typically his concern is entirely one of self-interest.

I am a magician, Thomas, not a doctor of physic: A glancing nod to another popular work of utopian SF.

man is a microcosm: Except where noted, Bacon’s lecture to Tom is accurate, to the best of my ability to make it. It was certainly believed that the individual human being served as a model of the universe and corresponded with it, hence the influence of the heavens and the planets on the human mind and body.

four humours – blood, phlegm, choler, melancholy: These four bodily fluids corresponded to the four elements, and were thought to regulate both health and temperament. Thus an excess of ‘melancholy’ (black bile) gave a person the character we still call ‘melancholic’, while too much phlegm made them ‘phlegmatic’. Most contemporary medicine was based around the ‘four humours’ theory, which was the basis of, for instance, the practice of drawing blood with leeches to damp down a fever. Contemporary dramatists including Ben Jonson often based their character types upon those generated by the humour theory. In ‘Minions of the Moon’, Malcome Canker is a fine example of the choleric temperament.

a lively, a sensitive and a rational soul: Plants had only a ‘lively soul’: they had the properties of nutrition, generation and growth. Animals had in addition a ‘sensitive soul’, and could perceive and respond to the world around them. Only human beings had the third class of soul, the ‘rational soul’. Strictly speaking, the rational soul includes the sensitive soul, which in turn includes the lively, so that a human being has only one soul, not three.

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a generative seed [...] an homunculus: ‘Homunculus’ literally means ‘little man’. The theory of ‘preformation’ – that the reproductive process involved a man implanting such an organism inside a woman’s womb, where it grew into an infant – was in fact not contemporary, arising only a hundred years or so later, with the development of the microscope and the observation of spermatozoa in semen. One can perhaps assume that Lunary alchemy is more advanced than that of the Europeans, although it’s a bit of a cheat.

et cetera ad infinitum: This was a serious objection to preformationism, since although matter was believed to be infinitely divisible, it beggared belief that all conceivable future generations (as it were) could be pre-stored in a man’s testes like russian dolls. Cleverly, however, the preformationists argued that the first man, Adam, only needed to be carrying around enough homunculi to people the world until the Apocalypse. Since the world had been created in 4004 BC and was scheduled to end no later than 2000 AD, this meant a mere few hundred generations’ worth of nested spermatozoa. Which seemed perfectly feasible.

atomies: Tiny creatures. The resemblance of the word to ‘anatomy’ is pleasing but coincidental.

Adam Cadmon: In the Jewish mystical system known as the Kabbalah, the term ‘Adam Cadmon’ (or ‘Kadmon’) originally referred to primitive or primeval humanity. In the Lurianic form of the Kabbalah, formulated by Isaac Luria (1534-72), Adam Kadmon became a more cosmic figure, whose body constituted the universe itself and whose soul is the essence of all things. He is often depicted with a body consisting of the ten Sephiroth, the mystical spheres of the cosmos, seven of which correspond to the known planets. Though Jewish in origin, the Kabbalah represents a mythical system parallel to and separate from that of Genesis and the Bible, and apart from their primordiality Adam Kadmon and the Biblical Adam have little in common.

just so have we Lunaries learned to direct the homunculi within our bodies: This, of course, is where the imaginative leap on my part comes in. This was not a feature of Renaissance alchemical theory, nor indeed of later preformationism.

women have them too, right?: At this point Bacon’s alchemy definitively departs from preformationist orthodoxy: since homunculi corresponded with sperm, not ova, there was no suggestion that women possessed them. The reason for this disparity will become clear in Act V.

alchemical nanotechnology: This is, if you’ll forgive me mentioning the fact, the aspect of ‘Minions of the Moon’ I’m most proud of. Nanotech is a staple of modern SF, and I was determined to envisage a parallel to it using only the proto-science of the Renaissance. It’s a shame that the homunculous spermatozoa are somewhat anachronistic, but overall I’m extremely pleased with what I came up with.

Act V

The fortnight-long night [...] mint and lime: Again with the meter. This is very nearly the last time:

The fortnight-long night has arrived at last:
no sun now lingers, and the sky is bright
with scattered stars. It is the seventh of
the silver moon herself, and the English
ambassadorial reception is
in full progress. Tall torches, arctic blue
like bunsen-burners, flare. The freezing air
is delicately tinged with mint and lime.

Note the internal rhyme in the seventh line, preparing the reader for the story’s somewhat more adventurous ending.

fortnight: A period of two weeks. I only mention this because I’ve known the word to confuse some Americans terribly.

the seventh of the silver moon herself: The Moon governed boundaries, change and insanity. The progression of the planets has crossed such a boundary to start again from the beginning, and the story finishes, horologically speaking, on the world where it’s set.

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malapropisms: Mistaken uses of words, the classic example being ‘an allegory on the banks of the Nile’. The word was coined after the character of Mrs Malaprop in a much later dramatic comedy, Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals (1775), but the comedic device is demonstrated by numerous Shakespearean characters.

Bohemia: The landlocked central European nation to which Shakespeare famously ascribes a ‘sea-coast’ in The Winter’s Tale (1611). This Act introduces (I warn you) a plethora of Shakespearean in-jokes.

Spain: Relations between Catholic Spain and Protestant England were, of course, extremely strained at the time, following the Spanish Armada’s invasion attempt in 1588.

Danes [...] drunk and rowdy: A reference to Hamlet (1601), where drinking and carousing are explained by the titular prince as a national pastime: the original ‘custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance’ [Act I Scene iv].

Polish delegates [...] a sled: Another Hamlet joke. Enmity between Poland and Denmark supposedly dates back to Hamlet’s father, who is said to have ‘smote the sledded Polacks on the ice’ [Act I Scene iv]. Poland is evidently conceived here as a very cold place: whether there was some confusion in Shakespeare’s mind between ‘Poland’ and ‘the Pole’, I’m not entirely sure.

the royal court of Fairyland: As seen, of course, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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once moonlighted as a cabaret artiste: Iris’s days as a chanteuse have occasionally been alluded to in her adventures, and play a more significant part in Paul Magrs’ novel Mad Dogs and Englishmen (2002) and his and Stephen Cole’s audio drama The Wormery (2003).

practically a lifetime ago: Within Doctor Who continuity, Iris is (or at least, claims to be) a Time Lady, and thus a member of the Doctor’s species. This means that, like him, she periodically changes her appearance and personality, and alludes to each of these ‘incarnations’ as if they were a separate life.

Fly Me to the Moon: Personally, I wouldn’t have italicised the titles of individual songs – quotation marks are perfectly sufficient – but again, never mind. A catchy ballad, ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ was written in 1954 by Bart Howard (who called it ‘In Other Words’), and later popularised by, among others, Frank Sinatra.

Blue Moon: The oldest of the songs Iris proposes to sing, ‘Blue Moon’ was written in 1934 by Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame) and Lorenz Hart, and has been covered extensively since. Like several of these Moon-related songs, it features in the film An American Werewolf in London (1982).

Bad Moon Rising: A song from the Creedence Clearwater Revival album Green River (1969), also used in An American Werewolf in London.

Moon River: Composed by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini and sung by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).

Moondance: ‘Moondance’, from the eponymous 1970 album by Van Morrison, plays over the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London.

Old Devil Moon: Another song popularised by Frank Sinatra, written by EY Harburg and Burton Lane in 1955.

Total Eclipse of the Heart: The most recent piece in Iris’s proposed set, the power ballad ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ was written by Jim Steinman (the songwriter best known for Meat Loaf’s magnificent Bat Out of Hell albums) and recorded by Bonnie Tyler in 1983.

Neil and Buzz: Obviously, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first human beings to walk on the Moon. It’s fair to say that even the most unobservant reader will have observed by this point in Wildthyme on Top that Iris is an inveterate, and almost certainly a highly inaccurate, namedropper.

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a whole lot of fuss about nothing [...] all’s well that ends well [...] just the way I like it [...] a measure of this for some of that other stuff: Just in case it isn’t completely obvious... Iris is referencing the titles of four Shakespeare comedies here. I leave identifying which ones as an exercise for the reader.

Your grace imparts [...] your grace’s debt: Once again, Elizabeth is speaking in meter:

Your grace imparts his tidings generously.
It was your grace, we think, who made the news
of Sir Jack’s fornications known to us.
And without your good offices, good Duke,
no rumour would have reached our royal ear
of honest Malcome Canker’s treachery.
England is surely in your grace’s debt.

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when she was Phoebus: One of the first things which occurred to me when asked to write a story marrying the worlds of Shakespeare and Banks was the similarity in their treatment of gender. In Banks’s Culture, physical sex is something people can change at will, amounting to just another lifestyle option. Shakespeare’s heroines (and, occasionally, comedic male characters) can achieve the same by cross-dressing. Given Iris’s own Orlando connections, a cross-dressing, sex-changing gay’n’lesbian romance seemed pretty much inevitable.

ruddy glow [...] paler, more delicate fire: Where Phoebus as a man was compared to the Sun, as a woman she instead resembles the Moon, as this half-quote from Timon of Athens (1608) demonstrates (‘the moon's an arrant thief, / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.’ [Act IV Scene iii]). Since Act I, the narrative of ‘Minions of the Moon’ has seen a progression from Sun to Moon, day to night, masculine to feminine, all of which culminate in this scene.

The Lady Phoebe: ‘Phoebe’, as well as being the female form of ‘Phoebus’, was also a name given to the goddess Artemis in her aspect as the Moon.

Hear me [...] See you later on: Once more Her Majesty is speaking in verse, and this time Iris responds in kind:

ELIZABETH: Hear me, good lunar citizens! And list,
you delegates from all the lands of Earth,
subjects of ours and those of other spheres.
IRIS: Oh heck, I reckon that must be my cue.
Wish me luck, lovey! See you later on.

she’ll end it with a rhyming couplet: A traditional device used in many, many Shakespeare plays to signal the end of an act or of the play itself.

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a song [...] minions of the Moon: These final paragraphs slide back into iambic pentameter for one final time, and (as Tom has anticipated) this time, in an effort to provide the story with a satisfying conclusion, they rhyme:

...a song of interplanetary romance.
The skaters’ movements twirl into a dance.
The motion of the heavens banishes
mundane concerns. When Iris finishes,
time will bring resolution and rewards.
Our friends will lie together afterwards:
Tom with his painter, Iris with her Duke;
Olivia with Phoebe, by a fluke
of lunar constitution now united.
All six will find their passions well requited.
For now, as Iris belts out her first tune,
we’ll leave them be, these minions of the Moon.

a song of interplanetary romance: Specifically, this is presumably ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, but ‘planetary romance’ is the name usually given to the subgenre of SF where the exploration of an exotic planetary environment is central to the narrative – a subgenre to which ‘Minions of the Moon’ could arguably be seen as belonging.

the motion of the heavens: Renaissance poets frequently presented the universe as a dance of creation, wherein God’s purpose was worked out, and in which each occupant of the cosmos had its allotted place and role. The phrase ‘the music of the spheres’ has remained with us to the present day: and while on this occasion that music may be an old Frank Sinatra number sung by a sandpaper-voiced old lush, as the story plays out we are invited to imagine Iris’s song joining together with those of the planets, the stars, the humans and the Lunaries, to form a riotous paean to life and to creation. created and maintained by Philip Purser-Hallard.
All material © Philip Purser-Hallard 2005 except where otherwise noted, and not to be used without permission.
Wildthyme on Top cover © Stuart Manning 2005.