Sunday, January 26, 2020

Some More Notes about the Kerrville Renaissance Festival

We did feel like royalty, yes.
Photo from Sonya Elliott's phone,
helpfully taken by a kind passer-by
𝔍ust yesterday, my family and I returned to the Kerrville Renaissance Festival (still @kerrrenfest on Twitter, even if the Twitter feed does not update much, as well as on Facebook and as #KerrvilleRenFest on several platforms). We went last year and had a pretty good time of it, so, when I once again won free one-day tickets, we figured on going again. The weather was not quite so kindly to us this year as last, unfortunately, but we still had a pretty good time of it--and I have a few comments to make about the experience this time that I did not last time around.
Some things carried forward from last year, as might be expected for an event run by the same people. We were privileged to see the return of the Bedouin Dancers out of San Antonio, as well as the Last Chance Forever Bird of Prey Conservancy--and we got to see more of the latter's exhibition this year than last. I noted with some interest John Karger's comments about vultures and cockroaches; he remarks that, despite the annoyances they might sometimes provide, such creatures are vital to the balance of nature and deserve respect therefore. It is a good message that bears repeating.
Last Chance Forever in exhibition
Photo my own.
Too, there were the standards of such festivals, including parades and pageantry, wonderfully anachronistic food stall (including an excellent Caribbean food stall that seemed to fit well with the anachronistic pirate-garbed folks wandering through the event alongside steampunk-wearing people and the occasional furry). Last year's remarks about the wonderful blend of times and peoples, and about the chance for people to be more themselves, seem in large part to apply (though I have a bit more to say about such things below).
The young Ms. 8 with someone feeling very much themself
Photo my own.
The event seemed fuller this time than it did last time, both in terms of having more booths and attractions available and in terms of having more attendance. I count it as a good thing; an event that brings in more people, year to year, is an event likely to be offered again, and more events in my hometown makes for a better hometown for me and mine. It's selfish, I know, but I don't think it's the kind of selfishness for which I can be too much blamed.
The San Antonio Recorder Society performing
Photo my own.
Among the stuff that was new to this year was a period musical group from nearby San Antonio, Texas: the San Antonio Recorder Society. As it turns out, there is a thriving early music community in San Antonio, which might not be expected of the Alamo City but which adds to the cultural richness of Central and South Texas. It was a pleasure to listen to them, and it is another good to see them get more attention.
New to me, though not to the festival, was an attempt at archery. All three of us--my daughter, my wife, and I--tried our hands at sending shafts out to stick into butts, and all three of us had a good time of it. My daughter landed the most arrows on target; I was actually able to put one into the hind end of a boar-shaped target, despite having a bow that had perhaps too high a draw-strength for me to handle well (if "well" can be applied to the performance of someone who'd never picked up a bow before). Playing at archery highlighted one of the major benefits of such events, though: the otherwise rare opportunity to have a bit of hands-on experience with the daily lives of those who lived centuries ago.
Ms. 8 trying her hand at the bow
Photo my own.
One thing that I did notice this year that I did not notice last year (which does not mean it was not present, just that I did not notice it) was the prevalence of a group that might well be called bloated neckbeards presuming to lecture the exhibitors and performers about "how things really were" in the medieval and early modern periods being represented and refigured at the festival. As someone who can make some small claim to knowing about the times in question--and who, admittedly, has noted what such festivals get wrong about the times--I found myself somewhat galled by the audacity. I may make note of inaccuracies, but I do not stand and berate vendors who cannot rebut as deserves, and I listen to those who make more of their living doing such work than I do anymore; they know things from the embedded experience that I do not and, as I am now, cannot. There are jerks in every crowd, I guess.
Sonya trying her hand at the bow
Photo my own
I understand that the event organizers cannot regulate attendees' behavior that they do not witness, and there's little way to anticipate which customers will decide to abuse the unequal power dynamics involved in sales relationships. But they can see when people come in openly wearing overtly white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and misogynist emblems and insignia (as opposed to the often-coded use of medieval/ist symbols as such markers, about which others have written more eloquently and at greater length than I can). Certainly, I saw such people walking about the festival, and I did see many of the people of color at the event--exhibitors and attendees both) growing apprehensive at their presence. The event is in a Texas Hill Country town; there is a large Hispanic population, and there are a lot of weapons on display, with presumably more that are not shown openly. Knowing this, and knowing there are people espousing hate walking around, I understand the apprehension. I share it.
Me trying my hand at the bow
Photo by Sonya Elliott
Despite seeing such--and I must confess my own failure in not confronting them openly in the moment--my family and I had a good time at the festival. My wife and daughter have expressed a desire to go again next year, and perhaps to do so in period or other festive dress; I expect I will join them, and I have even considered how I might be a more active participant in it. (I doubt that such scholarship or commentary as I might offer would find a willing audience, but I have other skills I might ply in such a venue, to be sure.) There are other, similar events in the area that we will doubtlessly attend, and I have similar thoughts about them, similar concerns about how they allow unfortunately prevalent narratives about a mythical past to be reinforced--but similar hopes about how they can serve as a corrective to those narratives and present a more inclusive, ultimately accurate, idea of the past that was, and promote celebration of the nuance and difference that have pervaded all times and more places than people commonly recognize.

Friday, January 24, 2020

An Update on #Kzoo2020

𝔄s a follow-up to "Starting for #Kzoo2020," the Society is pleased to note its presence at the upcoming International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A sneak preview of the Congress program is available here, and it reports that the Society has two events, both on Friday, 8 May 2020:
  1. At 1:30pm local time in Bernhard 209, the panel discussion "Deadscapes: Wastelands, Necropoli, and Other Tolkien-Inspired Places of Death, Decay, and Corruption"; and
  2. At 6pm local time in Bernhard 213, the annual general meeting provided for in §5.1 of the Society Constitution
Image result for wmu
An image of the school, taken from the school's website for commentary

Known agenda items for the meeting are
  1. Election of a new Vice-President (At-large) and Secretary and 
  2. Determination of what panels, if any, will be proposed to the 2021 Congress and other conferences that might emerge as being of interest. 
Other items can be sent to talesaftertolkien@gmail.com; we're happy to hear from membership about them!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 2.7, "Reunion"

Read the previous entry here!
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As the second season of the series ends, Bow gets a bit of backstory, and a clear direction is laid out for the story to continue.

2.7, "Reunion"

Written by Noelle Stevenson and Josie Campbell
Directed by Jen Bennett

Synopsis

Yeah, a red, flashing screen's not a good sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Considering his findings, Bow receives a sudden summons and races off to answer it. He is later missed by Glimmer, who recruits Adora to pursue him. They are able to follow him easily, despite his admonishment that he needs no help. Glimmer points out the oddities of Bow not noting his background, and she finds his bow and arrows just outside a structure that turns out to be a library. Bow and Glimmer and Adora surprise each other, with Bow hiding their weapons as his dads, Lance and George, enter--and welcome them warmly.

No tension at all...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone, Catra sends searchers out after Shadow Weaver. Scorpia expresses concern, to no avail, as Bow's dads entertain a nervous trio. The lies Bow has been telling about his life outside emerge amid the almost oppressive kindness of the dads, as does their distaste for the princesses and the war against the Horde.

In private, Bow confesses to Glimmer and Adora, finding some rebuke from Glimmer. The family tensions at work emerge, but Bow notes that his dads' work offers them some avenue of insight into the problems of Mara and the signal.

It's not only flashing red that's a bad sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Catra frets in the Fright Zone, and Scorpia asks her for clarification. Scorpia tries to offer comfort, as well, and Catra reveals that Shadow Weaver has escaped. They are overheard.

Bow suffers through a tour of his home as Lance and George show off what they have. There is much material to review, and Adora's ability to read the ancients' language produces interesting results.

He does cut a dashing figure.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
While Adora "helps" Bow's dads, Glimmer upbraids Bow for not telling her about his family and background. She urges him to come clean to his dads, and he demurs. And Adora activates a guardian device while "helping," and a fracas ensues, revealing that Adora is She-Ra, that Glimmer is a princess, and that Bow is a more-than-competent warrior. Explanations follow, and reconciliations immediately thereafter. And Lance and George figure out that part of the message is a star-chart, indicating where the trio needs to go.

Back in the Fright Zone, Hordak summons Catra to account for her failures--and for lying to him. It does not go well for her. And Shadow Weaver suddenly stands over a sleeping Adora...

Discussion

Bow's dads might be thought to be an immense departure from medieval history; popular conception certainly holds that, prior to "modern" "loosening morals," particularly in the "pure" European medieval, there was no sanction of homosexuality and that all practitioners of it were punished--severely. And while it is true that particular behaviors have occasioned rebuke at various points in the past, to assume that Bow emerging from a loving household headed by a pair of married men cannot be parallel to the medieval is flatly incorrect. Examples Berkowitz cites, for instance, point toward same-sex marriages (and what might be called "civil unions" closer to now); they are echoed by Pickett at Stanford, and Lyne points to similar examples in Ireland being not merely tolerated, but celebrated, just as others were solemnized with ceremony. Rather than being a deviation from the medieval, then, Bow's dads are a reiteration of it--if a less familiar aspect of the medieval for many.

The names of Bow's dads, too, evoke the medieval, both calling to mind legended warriors--Lancelot and St. George. Their characters do not correspond so much to the names as others (Lance from Voltron: Legendary Defender comes to mind as an example), but there might be a backhanded comment to be found in their inability to address the fight in the later part of the episode when Bow is able to act successfully (namely via the battle of Crécy, in which English archery decimated Continental chivalry). It is, admittedly, a thin joke, but one that is not unfit for either the poorly-punning George or his and Lance's avowed vocations as historians.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 2.6, "Light Spinner"

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A long look backwards shows that some things have stayed the same in the penultimate episode of the season.

2.6, "Light Spinner"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nolfi
Directed by David Dwooman Woo

Synopsis

Pretty looking place, this.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
In a floating kingdom, a sorceress instructs her students, while another student shows off his prowess. The relationship between the two, Light Spinner and Micah, is clearly close for an instructor and student, and Micah chafes at not being able to study at what he perceives as his potential. A shift reminds that Light Spinner is a former name of Shadow Weaver, and Catra interrupts her imprisoned reverie to taunt her.

In the Fright Zone, Hordak is assembled, injuries upon him clear as Catra reports to him regarding her efforts with Shadow Weaver. He bids her be sent to more forceful imprisonment; Catra demurs, but Hordak insists, giving her a deadline for interrogation. He also rebukes Catra for her interest in Entrapta's work.

He's awfully young for a grad student.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Catra returns to Shadow Weaver, who continues to reflect upon her earlier life as a sorceress in Mystacor. Her teaching Micah is a focus of her memory; he was her star student, powerful but undisciplined. She enlists him in her projects, somewhat clandestinely, finding him of surprising assistance. Light Spinner tells Micah of her plan to combat the newly-arrived Horde.

Scorpia joins Catra as she mulls over her task. The stakes involved are made clear, and Catra's jealousy is noted. The complexity of the relationship between Catra and Shadow Weaver is reinforced.

It does look like a faculty meeting...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the past, Light Spinner explicates the danger of the incoming Horde to her peers. She proposes a ritual she believes will be efficacious against them; her peers reject the idea. Forcefully. And in the wake of the rejection, she enlists Micah to her aid.

Amid the reminiscences, Catra returns to taunt Shadow Weaver with her impending fate. Shadow Weaver asks for a token.

In the past, Micah initially proves helpful to Light Spinner, but the spell breaches their control, and he flees. Dark forms take Light Spinner, changing her as the others in Mystacor arrive. She upbraids him for his cowardice, and the others rebuke her; she makes her escape, joining the Horde she had originally purposed to oppose.

Shadow Weaver asks Catra why she persists. After an initial flippant comment, Catra offers a more honest, considered response. Shadow Weaver works upon Catra, finding that, in a paroxysm of pity, Catra has provided the requested token.

It's not a pretty thing.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Shadow Weaver reflects upon the arrival of Adora at the Horde; she recognizes her potential and takes over her upbringing. And she enacts her escape from the Horde, using the token that had been brought to her. Catra arrives shortly after, finding herself betrayed. Again.

Elsewhere, Glimmer, Adora, and Bow try to track down a curious signal. It is a clue about Mara.

Discussion

Earlier-noted tensions surrounding maternal relationships are reinforced in the present episode; once again, Shadow Weaver's maternal behaviors are a focus. Even prior to her fall, she seems apt to manipulate those for whom she stands in loco parentis, as witness her near-successful attempt to cozen a young Micah into completing the forbidden ritual. It is a persistent problem, and one that likens her to the decidedly (early) medievalist work in The Faerie Queene. In the first canto of the first book, the Redcrosse Knight fights the spawn-consuming Errour, and while the idea of a monstrous mother consuming her own get is not new to Spenser, it does help to note that the trope pervades medievalist works, so that its inclusion in the present series helps to reassert the medievalism of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. (I am also in mind of the different motherhood depicted in Voltron: Legendary Defender, as well as many works critiquing how motherhood is presented in children's programming. But I am not up enough on such things to be able to form some cohesive statement about them, at least not at the moment.)

I also note the focus on the carceral experience in the episode. It is another thing that has parallels in the medieval, though it is far from original to it. A 2009 issue of Huntington Library Quarterly makes much of the matter, and such medieval works as Malory's--already long-tied to the series in these re-writes--also feature imprisonment prominently. There is some subversion of usual patterns, however, in that Shadow Weaver merits imprisonment, while most of those depicted in various carceral works do not or argue that they do not. But Shadow Weaver's extended reminiscence on her earlier life does seem to fit the common mold of longing for freedom--though not motion toward penitence, certainly, not with how she acts towards Catra.

Indeed, Catra is more and more a tragic figure. What end she will come to, and whether or not she will super her unfortunate background and continued disregard, has yet to be seen.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 2.5, "White Out"

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A surprising amount is laid bare amid conflict, making things more tragic than they otherwise might have been.

2.5, "White Out"

Written by Noelle Stevenson and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Lianne Hughes

Synopsis

Looks like a cool place...
Image taken from the episode, used to inform terrible jokes
In a cold and snowy region, Catra, Scorpia, and Entrapta search out a piece of ancient technology. Entrapta crows about available data, and sinister creatures begin to present themselves.

Sea Hawk escorts Adora, Glimmer, and Bow to the same location. Glimmer explicates their reasoning; they are reconnoitering, following reports of Horde activity in the north.

Scorpia tries to increase her intimacy with Catra. Catra rebuffs the attempts at advances Scorpia makes. She does notice a piece of ancient technology that Entrapta cautions her about the technology, and Catra realizes the potential of the technology to thwart She-Ra. Trouble interrupts their conversation.

Decidedly not a good sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
As Adora, Glimmer, Bow, and Sea Hawk advance, Adora grows apprehensive, and Sea Hawk explicates rumors of strangeness. Entrapta confirms them just before a confrontation begins. Bow tries to talk Entrapta out of working with the Horde; she refuses. Catra takes the chance to infect She-Ra with the programming problem she'd experienced when first meeting Entrapta. It sends her into a berserk rage in which she cannot distinguish friend from foe. Scorpia manages to restrain Adora, and the Horde takes her captive as sinister creatures look on.

Also not a good sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Glimmer, Bow, and Sea Hawk take stock of their situation. It is not great, but they proceed to rescue Adora. She is incapacitated, as if drunk, but the Horde installation comes under attack from the local megafauna--which has been affected by the programming problem. Glimmer, Bow, and Sea Hawk fall under the same attack. The enemies are forced to work together to extricate themselves from the threat, though Catra is not pleased at the event. Nor yet is she pleased that Entrapta had long succeeded at the mission of retrieving ancient technology.

Discussion

Sea Hawk seems to have come down a bit from his earlier-noted mimicry of Sir Kay the Seneschal. Though he still seems obsessed with his public profile, and he is still given to overwrought bombast, he seems to have accepted his limitations. It indicates a degree of character development that seems to be absent from the medieval antecedent.

Something that does seem to align with medieval antecedent, if not to be congruent with it, is courtly love; it is clear that Scorpia suffers from it, as does Sea Hawk (to a lesser extent). In both characters appears a critique of the concept; yes, both speak and act as if their devotions to their beloveds--Catra and Mermista, respectively--ennoble them, but both also express their misgivings about the ways in which they are treated as they try to demonstrate their devotions. (It is notable that Scorpia does more and better in her devotion to Catra than does Sea Hawk in his to Mermista. Might there be a comment about relative maturity to be found therein? Or perhaps an elevation of affection that reads as divorced from procreative impulses?) Both reaffirm their devotions, however, with Scorpia doing so in rather emphatic fashion, so the critique is nuanced.

I find myself unsure how to regard the nuance. Scorpia recommits to a relationship that seems woefully one-sided, verging on abuse if not outright engaging in it. She is, in the main, a strong character, one of a few who breeds sympathy for the antagonistic forces in the series; for her to be treated so, and to allow herself to be treated so...again, I am unsure how to regard it. I think this is a place where others, better informed about such things, are better positioned to speak; I hope to have the chance respectfully to listen.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 2.4, "Roll with It"

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A punning title points to a potential set of references in an interesting aside.

2.4, "Roll with It"

Written by Noelle Stevenson and Josie Campbell
Directed by Jen Bennett

Synopsis

Screen and all...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Adora, Glimmer, and Bow assail a Horde fortress that commands a passage. The assault goes poorly, despite some reasonable planning. It is fortunate, then, that the whole matter is but a game, soon reset.

The trio is gaming out strategies to take the real Horde fortress from its occupiers. Adora frets about the lack of successful planning in their past exploits, worrying about the quality of defenders--though Scorpia seems to be in command of the Horde forces in the fortress.

Glimmery.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Glimmer takes control of the gaming situation; narrative and artistic styles change to suit. Even so, the proposed plan games out as unworkable. Others soon join the "planning" sessions, with narrative styles and planning change--though no more effective plan emerges.

In the fortress, the Horde becomes aware that princesses are in the area. They send out a robot to gather intelligence, finding the princesses amid planning. Scorpia is convinced of the "plans'" veracity before the reconnaissance feed ends.

Yep. That looks like victory.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Adora has an outburst, from which Glimmer talks her down. United, the princesses and Bow proceed to assail the Horde fortress. It has hardened itself against the incoming assault, but it is not able to hold out against the attack. Despite a struggle, the Horde is beaten back.

Discussion

Given the content of the present episode, a passage from my earlier write-up of an episode of Voltron: Legendary Defender would seem to apply:
As a loving and evidently well informed call-out to Dungeons & Dragons, the episode is inherently medievalist; the game referenced is itself noted for its medievalist origins, borrowing extensively from Tolkien and from various military and political histories of the Middle Ages. Borrowing from it, in turn, is a continuation of the trope it embodies--one that itself pervades medieval literature and art, with the frequent appropriation and refiguring of characters and whole stories by other creators in other times and places. (The retelling of Chaucer's Miller's Tale in Heile van Beersele, per Frederick M. Biggs's 2005 Review of English Studies piece, "The Miller's Tale and Heile van Beersele," offers one example. The accretion of myth around King Arthur, beginning in Gildas and Nennius and extending through Geoffrey of Monmouth through Malory, offers another and more extensive. There are any number of others.)
The call-out is every bit as overt in the present episode as in the Voltron episode; a screen on the table is a giveaway, and references to "making checks" cement the invocation. It also hearkens back to Dungeons & Dragons' origin story; by report (attested in Daniel Mackay's The Fantasy Role-Playing Game, Gary Alan Fine's Shared Fantasy, and Lawrence Schick's Heroic Worlds, among others), the game emerged from tabletop miniatures wargaming, which gives occasion for the competing narrative views on display in the present episode. What was true of the Voltron episode, then, is also true of the present episode, in terms of its medievalist leanings.

Such 80s. Much wow.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Notable also amid the call-out is the shifting narrative and animation style. While each shift presents an homage to another artistic style--including one to the original series--the shifts themselves echo the multiple textual traditions that emerge in medieval practice. To explain: a lecture by Prof. Chris Healy at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette makes reference to the "medieval Xerox," which, maugre some popular accounts, is not a person but a process. To wit: medieval copyists would, per Healy, not seldom work from oral readings. That is, one scribe would read aloud, while another or others would write what they heard. Owing to differences in pronunciation, hearing ability, and the lack of orthographic standards, different versions of the same text would emerge from such sessions. While a simplification of processes, it is a useful explanatory model, and one that seems to be at work in the present episode; each of the rebel narrators works with the same basic structure but imposes a wildly different interpretation on it. In the end, the fact is that something corresponding to parts of each is present; it is textual transmission in reverse, but inversion is a common appropriative technique...

Thursday, December 26, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 2.3, "Signals"

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Hints of a far wider world emerge as Hordak comes further forward in the series.

2.3, "Signals"

Written by Noelle Stevenson and Katherine Nolfi
Directed by Lianne Hughes

Synopsis

Is lime green ever a good color to glow?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Hordak works on a strange project in his laboratories in the Fright Zone. It fails, to his annoyance.

Glimmer, Adora, and Bow proceed through the Whispering Woods as they confer about Entrapta. Bow tinkers as he walks, explicating the peril of their circumstances. Swift Wind joins them, announcing their approach to their destination. Glimmer reinforces the need to reestablish contact with an outlying outpost, Alwyn. The approach leaves Adora uneasy, however.

Entrapta continues work, finding problems with her workspace and making to solve them. Catra calls on Hordak. He is displeased with her interruption and her lack of progress, and he voices that displeasure emphatically. But he also offers her a chance to redeem herself.

Nope, not scared at all.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Swift Wind notes strangeness as the group approached Alwyn, which they find deserted. There is no sign of struggle, and scans taken are inconclusive. Glimmer reports stories of the area being haunted, which puts the group on edge--the more so when Adora contributes similar information.

Catra ponders Horde logistics, aided somewhat ineptly by Scorpia. The demands of managing the forces tell on her, not aided by Entrapta's interruption as she looks for a tool she needs--ranging to Hordak's laboratories, over Catra's objections.

Glimmer, Bow, Adora, and Swift Wind investigate Alwyn, finding no people but signs of sudden departure. Further searching finds more of the same, and tension mounts. They also find a standing obelisk.

Entratpa enters Hordak's lab as another experiment fails. She takes the tool, and she works on Hordak's materials. He is initially displeased, but after seeing the results of her work, he changes his opinion of her. He also lays out his plan to open a portal to other worlds.

Catra calls on Shadow Weaver for information. The latter takes the chance to pry at Catra's insecurities. Catra also notes the disappearance of Entrapta. Following her, she arrives at Hordak's laboratory; he repudiates her, commending Entrapta. The rebuke stings.

It's one way to test a theory.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Meanwhile, apparitions begin to appear in view of Glimmer, Bow, Adora, and Swift Wind. Adora investigates, finding little, but Bow begins to piece together the mystery of the place; it is an active, if defective, transmitter, and the apparitions are holograms. He enlists Adora to translate and deactivate the facility. With some sorrow, she does, but matters return to normal--with the exception of a single message Bow picks up and puzzles over.

Elsewhere, something else awaits...
Not ominous at all.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.


Discussion

The Exeter Book poem "The Ruin" comes to mind as a particularly apt point of reference for the present episode. The poem, easily accessible in edited early English and modern English translations, describes a city as enta geweorc or "the work of giants," fallen into disrepair and neglect. It is an old place, formerly splendid, but now decrepit due to the work of wind and weather and unkind hands--and even the poem itself exists in fragmented fashion, words and lines and letters burnt and branded away. For an episode that focuses in large part on degraded messages recorded long ago and never transmitted by equipment that has long since fallen into quiescent disrepair, the text makes an eerie parallel, and I have to wonder if the writers had the poem in mind, somehow, when they drafted the episode.

Related, at least tangentially, is the idea hinted at in the episode that Etheria is a backwater, disconnected from a vibrant celestial life outside. The "work of giants" in "The Ruin" is, at times, asserted to be a Roman ruin, likely in Bath, England--and the British Isles were something of a backwater to the Western Roman Empire, not removed from it entirely but effectively abandoned by the receding Empire in the decades before the city, Rome, was sacked. Given the admittedly muddled but certainly present Arthurian overtones of the series and the linkage between Arthuriana and the years between the withdrawal of Rome from the British Isles and the beginnings of the English, as such...the idea seems to push itself forward a bit.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 2.2, "Ties That Bind"

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Progress in some areas meets problems in others as the second season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power presses on.

2.2, "Ties That Bind"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Laura Sreebny
Directed by Stephanie Stine and David "DWooman" Woo

Synopsis

Conquest seems to agree with Catra.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Horde banners rise as Catra looks on, the Horde having formally assumed command of Entrapta's kingdom. Some of the locals flee.

Elsewhere, Adora fights against encroaching Horde robots as part of her ongoing training. Light Hope urges her to incorporate Swift Wind into her training, citing a connection with the horse shortly before he introduces himself. Light Hope stalls out before completing her message.

In Bright Moon, Glimmer reacts to Bow's news that Entrapta lives. They purpose to rescue Entrapta, thinking her a prisoner. News that Entrapta's kingdom has fallen gives them an avenue of attack--and Glimmer intends to go without additional support.

It's a common enough story.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Light Hope resumes operations and directs Adora and Swift Wind to repair some of her outlying systems. She stalls out again as Adora and Swift Wind depart.

Glimmer and Bow infiltrate Entrapta's castle, finding it difficult to navigate. They overhear Entrapta's work, and Glimmer rushes in. Melee ensues, and Glimmer and Bow flee, occasioning pursuit. They are able to escape--with Catra taken prisoner.

Adora and Swift Wind proceed on their errand, albeit with some difficulty occasioned by Adora's stubbornness. They do find their target, however, and proceed to work on it. Meanwhile, Glimmer and Bow debate what to do with Catra. She works upon their uncertainties as they purpose to take her to Bright Moon. Neither pair makes good progress.

Horde reinforcements join Catra; Glimmer offers to trade Catra for Entrapta, and Catra threatens to kill Entrapta. Glimmer struggles against her desire to finish Catra, and Bow reminds her that they are not the villains. It does not help, and Entrapta reports a desire to stay with the Horde, demoralizing Glimmer and Bow.

Equatorial rings always signal something big.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora despairs of her mission and her duty as She-Ra. She and Swift Wind arrive at an understanding, and they return to the work of repairing Light Hope with renewed purpose--and more success. The restored system affords greater capabilities.

In Bright Moon, Glimmer and Bow confer about their exploits. Adora joins them, exuberant until she learns their news.

Discussion

What comes to mind for me in the present episode, in terms of how the series embodies and presents medievalist tropes, is the subversion of expectations of feudal structures. As typically depicted in medievalist media, loyalty flows reciprocally up and down feudal hierarchies, particularly in their upper reaches. Redirections of those flows are generally significant, and they almost always betoken evil intent on the part of those who shift. The examples late in Malory of those lords and knights who align to Mordred despite having been awarded lands and titles by Arthur point it out, although even that example is somewhat nuanced by the fact that, in milieu, Arthur had been reported dead, and it is not a bad thing to leave off loyalty to a dead king in favor of a living one that might well be thought his heir

Similarly, in the present episode, there is a nuanced treatment of Entrapta's shifting loyalty. While it is as disheartening for Glimmer and Bow as might be expected, it is not a repudiation of them, as is typically the case in shifts of feudal loyalty, as commonly depicted. It is, instead, something of a happenstance; Entrapta is more worried about being able to conduct her research and experimentation than about the political overtones of that work and where she does it, so that her falling in with the Horde is almost incidental. (It is easy to read it as a comment on the work of STEM absent solid humanistic education; the dissociation of work in the sciences from an understanding of that work's implications and the ramifications of who has the ability to do what with that work is a substantial problem, and one that does not get nearly enough recognition from those who do the work--to the peril of all.)

Strangely, Entrapta's shifting loyalty is more akin to the actual shifts in loyalty observed than most of those depicted in traditionally medievalist media. Loyalty was rarely a strong force among ruling classes, unless it was loyalty to power--as measured by access to and command of resources. Entrapta aligning herself with the Horde as a consequence of receiving materials support is therefore more "real" than many depicted realignments, even if it scans strangely against them...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 2.1, "The Frozen Forest"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

As the series moves into a new season, it begins to shift in tone--helpfully, as it happens.

2.1, "The Frozen Forest"

Written by Noelle Stevenson and Katherine Nolfi
Directed by Jen Bennett

Synopsis

It is a small force, but destructive.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The Whispering Woods remain frozen as Horde robots press through it. The princesses fight to maintain position, destroying the robots is easy enough, but restraint without destruction is far more challenging. Frosta approaches the task with substantial, if off-putting, enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, Adora trains to gain greater command of her sword and its powers. Catra remains a distraction for her, and Adora cannot strike a final blow against her, despite a month having passed since the Battle of Bright Moon.

No, it's not going well.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone, Horde troops continue to train, as well, if not necessarily usefully. Catra presses the trainees, demonstrating methods. Authority sits well with her, though she is not pleased to see the defensive efforts of the princesses. Entrapta purposes to enhance the offensive forces.

Swift Wind greets Adora and returns her to Bright Moon, where she confers with Glimmer and Bow. Bow voices concerns about their defensive position, and Frosta makes herself obtrusive again. Tensions increase during a larger meeting. Bow advances the idea of capturing a robot to allow useful research; Angella affirms the idea, assigning Glimmer to that end.

Adora reports progress to Hordak. Entrapta's presence becomes problematic until she reveals the improved offensive robots. They plan to acquire more ancient technology to allow more of the new robots to be constructed.

It's another bad sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
As Glimmer sends personnel out on the recovery mission, Frosta emerges again. One of the new robots emerges, displaying its superior abilities; battle is joined, going poorly for Glimmer's patrol. Frosta joins the fight, faring similarly poorly until the robots depart on their own mission; she earns rebuke from Glimmer, and Bow despairs of the mission. The group puzzles out that the robots are on a search mission, headed towards Light Hope's location.

Glimmer moves off to retrieve Frosta. The two resolve some of their tensions in conversation before proceeding back to the rest of the group at Light Hope's beacon. They interdict the attacking robots, ultimately helping Bow to secure one. Catra gloats over Shadow Weaver, who is imprisoned. Shadow Weaver intuits that Adora remains a thorn in Catra's side. And Bow realizes that the robots are Entrapta's handiwork--and that Entrapta is still alive.

Discussion

The present episode looks back to a pair of previous ones (here and here) in addressing the non-death of Entrapta. It is only belatedly that those opposed to the Horde realize that they have, in fact, abandoned one of their own--though they had reason to believe her dead, certainly. Still, the abandonment has ramifications that will take quite some time to fully emerge, and it is not certain they will ever be fully addressed.

That said, it is not entirely clear that the present episode introduces much in the way of new medievalisms. That is, it carries forward the ones already established in the series, particularly (to my mind) its Arthurian overtones, but it does not seem to do anything it was not already doing. Such was true at several points in Voltron: Legendary Defender, as well, and now, as then, the lack of specific new medievalisms in an episode of a series that makes much of its medievalism is not something for which to condemn it. There will be others, and there will be more to say about them, certainly.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.13, "The Battle of Bright Moon"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

As the first season of the series draws to a close, battle is joined--and won!

1.13, "The Battle of Bright Moon"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nolfi, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Stephanie Stine

Synopsis

Target acquired.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Cold winds blow through the woods, freezing all they touch as a storm spreads from the Fright Zone outward. Adora, Glimmer, and Bow race back to Bright Moon to secure it against the coming threats. Catra looks over her handiwork and its devastation with no small joy. Entrapta is enraptured by her own efforts, and Catra plots how to capitalize on the situation: an attack on Bright Moon.

In Bright Moon, Angella uses the rune-stone's power to repel the storm and summon aid. Adora, Glimmer, and Bow return, and they assess their status. Adora realizes an attack is imminent, and planning to resist it begins. Matters look grim, indeed; allies are not coming, and Glimmer still suffers her strange malady. Adora volunteers to stand in defense alone, knowing that Catra will be leading the incoming attack. Light Hope's earlier comments about endangering her friends ring in her ears.

It is a touching moment, if an unfortunate one.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer opens her personal armory to Adora and Bow. Angella confronts her, initially, and confers her father's weapon on her. The attack comes then, and the Bright Moon forces rise to meet it as best they may.

Battle is joined, but it is clear that the Horde anticipated the defenders' likely reactions. Adora's efforts are blunted, though she struggles valiantly, the more so after Catra presents her self directly. Still, the fight goes poorly for the defenders; they slow the assault, but they cannot stop it. Not alone.

The cast shot seems obligatory.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
It is fortunate, then, that they are not alone; the other princesses join the fight, relieving the siege and repelling the Horde. Catra escapes, coming to be appointed to a higher position in the Horde, but in the wake of the battle, the princesses are reconfirmed in their alliance. Clearly, more is expected to follow.

Discussion

Regarding the present episode, comments I made here and here suggest themselves as needing further consideration. In the earlier commentary, I note that "there is not necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between characters in the series and antecedents in the romances," while in the latter, I remark that "While it is the case that Adora evokes Arthur in many details, in her conduct, she tends to be more of Lancelot or Gawain." In that same commentary, I point out--in insufficient detail, to be certain, but I am not so much an academic now as once I was--that there are parallels between Adora and Lancelot; the present episode seems to point out more parallels to Gawain, particularly as he is presented later in Malory and in some others such as Chrétien de Troyes. Both characters are powerful, yes, and possessed of both notable swords (whether Excalibur or the Malorian Galatine for Gawain); both also notably have special horses (Gringolet for Gawain, Swift Wind for Adora). Both are also headstrong and intemperate, given to excess anger and to charging in without considering the ramifications of their actions. (Victoria L. Weiss's 1976 "Gawain's First Failure" stands out in my mind as one useful discussion; Gawain's first expedition as a "dubbed" knight in Malory presents an example, too, here.)

In some ways, having Adora presented as such a pastiche of characters--borrowing from Arthur, Lancelot, and Gawain in Malory, as well as other sources--is a frustration. It would be far easier to make arguments about the medievalism of the series were there a direct correspondence between her and a single figure or even a relatively restricted group of them. (And, lest it be noted that "Round Table Knights" is a "relatively restricted group," there are 150 of them in Malory at any given time, so while it is a restricted group, it is still far larger than admits of easy analysis in such a medium as this.) That I have not been able to point one such out is something that might well be used to argue against the position that the series is more than minimally, nominally medievalist, and that such scholarship as I might still perform should be directed to other ends (or that the fact I write as I do justifies the refusal of institutions to accept my applications for tenure track positions, back when I still sent them in). And I have to accept that there is some (small) merit in such critiques--as in the refrain I have often heard when discussing this kind of work: "It's just a cartoon; it's not worth getting so wrapped up in."

At the same time, the fact that there is not a direct, one-to-one alignment of characters is representative of medievalism, generally. That is, works that make use of the medieval rarely do a straight lifting of the medieval into other settings; there are almost always refigurings and adjustments. Some may have to do with translations across languages; some may have to do with translations across media. More, though, lines up with Paul Sturtevant's assertions in The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination (about which more here) and which I end up noting here--namely that the broader "popular" audience does not come to medievalist materials with a particularly informed understanding of the medieval (because they are not, themselves, scholars of the material--which is not meant as a slight, though I recognize it might be taken as such), and that even those members of it who do, following Kavita Mudan Finn, are not always using good sources. It is the kind of thing that leads to the woeful misapprehensions about the medieval that permit presentist bias, and it is the kind of thing that allows execrable racist jackasses to ground the filth that they claim as their rhetoric in a pseudo-intellectual justification that too many scholars who damned well ought to know better will not even bother to repudiate with feeble, pallid words--though they will happily lambast those with the audacity to rail against evil. (I am echoing Cato in some ways, I know. Carthago delenda est, with racism as Carthage.)

When they are not taken to foolhardy or outright evil ends, though, medievalist works tend to work in an amorphous amalgamation of what is perceived of as the medieval. Characters are compressed together, as are centuries and nations and continents. Adora borrowing from so many characters as she does does not make her less medievalist; it makes her more typically so. And given that the medieval sources themselves often borrow from, compress, and amalgamate their own antecedents, rather than necessarily following a one-to-one correspondence, she and the series in which she presently appears find themselves in abundant, long-lasting company.