Literary References in Queen Songs
Photo by Emiliano Cicero on Unsplash
Bohemian Rhapsody opened nationwide this week and as a bunch of nerds who love Freddie Mercury, we cannot wait to see it. In fact, if you’d put the casting in our hands, we would have chosen Rami Malek too. So, today, we’re looking at the literary references in Queen’s extensive rock catalogue. Feeling under pressure to fill your TBR? Keep reading.
White Queen (As it Began) (1974)
Brian Mays wrote White Queen (As it Began) before Queen was even a band. In fact, this song and its companion, The March of the Black Queen, inspired the band’s name. And as though that’s not enough of an origin story, the song also references The White Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, positioning her as an unattainable lover. The queen is one of the first characters Alice encounters on her journey and along the way we learn that her timeline runs in reverse. Just one side effect of living on the other side of a looking glass!
The Invisible Man (1989)
In this standout song from their 1989 album The Miracle, Queen takes a cue from Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel of the same name. In the novel, Ellison’s unnamed Invisible Man navigates intellectual issues facing black men in the early 20th century – everything from black nationalism to the racial policies of Booker T. Washington. Queen was referencing a more literal invisibility, though songwriter Roger Taylor (Queen’s drummer, natch) does admit he was inspired by the book he was reading at the time.
In Queen’s second album, aptly named Queen II, the band takes inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven. This short piano ballad clocks in at just over a minute – and if Queen II was being recorded today, the song might end up on the cutting room floor. But imagine these gorgeous four-part harmonies providing background music for a campfire reading of the Poe poem. We’re getting chills just thinking about it!
A Winter’s Tale (1995)
After Freddie Mercury’s death, the band released A Winter’s Tale as a tribute to their lead singer. The song shares a title with William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, a play that imagines a life prolonged through fantastical means. In the play, Hermione becomes a statue, frozen in time. It’s only when her husband Leontes has learned his lesson that she becomes a human again, free to live her life in joy and love. We can imagine the other members of Queen wishing a similar fate for Freddie, instead of the tragic end he met.