Friday, March 23, 2018

Call for Nominations

As noted here, the Tales after Tolkien Society will be electing a slate of officers at the 2018 Annual General Meeting at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. To remind readers, the following offices will be up for a vote:
  • President, term 2018-2021
  • Vice-president (At-large), term 2018-2020
  • Vice-president (USA), term 2018-2019
  • Secretary, term 2018-2020
As such, we need nominations! So, if you're a member and would like a leadership role, or you know someone who is a member and might do well in one, please send an email through this link. Please include your name in the email so your membership status can be verified.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.4, "Hole in the Sky"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
Read the next entry in the series soon!

The series continues with another example of dark mirroring--and what is reflected is the beginning of a back-story.

3.4, "Hole in the Sky"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Chris Palmer


An alarm sounds on the Castle of Lions, noting to the Paladins a distress signal sent in an old Altean code. Despite Keith's misgivings, Allura determines to press ahead and enact a rescue; as they approach the source of the signal, they find an Altean ship caught in a rift of unusual type, identified by Corran as quintessence. Allura demands more action, cajoling the other Paladins into investigating, and, as they breach the rift, they lost contact with Corran, who grows worried.

On the other side of the rift, the Paladins begin a search-and-rescue operation, finding long-dead Alteans and the source of the ship's fate--a comet familiar from Alfor. They also find violent opposition in the form of an alternate Slav (the multiverse-perceiving researcher rescued from Beta Traz) and a look-alike of Shiro--one Sven. It is their appearance that allows the Paladins to realize that they have stumbled into an alternate reality not long before other Alteans arrive. They recognize Allura and the divergences in the universes' histories begin ot be explicated.

Meanwhile, it is revealed that Lotor has conspired to bring about events and waits to steal the comet from the ship--a comet composed of the same stuff as Voltron.

Pidge, through study, arrives at the same realization--the comet is the same stuff from which Voltron is made. Slav and Sven continue their sabotage work, and the commander of the native Alteans lures Allura with promises of a utopian empire while the other Paladins come to recognize the dark nature of the alternate Altea--it relies on mind-wiped slave labor. A fight breaks out, as is wont to happen, and the Paladins depart under fire--with Sven dying along the way.

While Voltron is able to take the comet from the alternate Alteans and escape--and though Corran is happy to see the Paladins returned--victory is not ultimately theirs. Lotor, having been watching, sweeps in to steal the material, spiriting it away to some other end, one about which the Paladins must fret.


Followers of the franchise will be pleased to see Sven in the episode. The call-out to the 1980s cartoon is a welcome inside joke.

The episode returns to the idea of mirroring that presents itself in "Red Paladin," doing so far more forcefully than the earlier episode. In that earlier episode, Lotor and his followers mimic the Paladins; the present episode follows the long-standing science-fiction trope of the dark mirror universe (most notable in that genre perhaps for its permeation of the Star Trek franchise), presenting an almost-inverted image of an Altea that might have been. Again, the idea of dark mirroring was one eminent in the medieval mind--insofar as there can be said to be "the medieval mind"--largely due to 1 Corinthians 13:12 and its presentation of the view of the world as occluded by bad glass. So in that, the episode seems strongly to echo the medieval.

It is only a seeming, though; the episode is far more medievalist than medieval. (Clearly not a problem for this webspace.) "The" medieval mind tended to view the "real" world as the dark version, the impure and imperfect iteration of how things ought to be; more contemporary "dark world" depictions, of which the episode is one, view the other world as the dark one, with the "real" world as the best of all possible realities. So while the episode does partake of tropes that partake of the medieval, those tropes are not medieval in themselves, and the episode bears only a tenuous connection to its more remote forebears as a result.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.3, "The Hunted"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
Read the next entry here

The third season of Voltron: Legendary Defender focuses on concerns of leadership--with the Paladins learning a lesson their foe already knows.

3.3, "The Hunted"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Eugene Lee


Following Keith, the Paladins pursue Lotor. The approach is uncertain, as some Paladins are yet familiarizing themselves with their Lions. Hunk observes as such, seconded by Lance; Keith determines that they must press on. Lotor, however, is pressing for time and information; he goes out personally to test them; the unfamiliarity of the Paladins with their Lions shows, as Lotor easily surpasses their abilities, Allura's pronounced determination, and Keith's bravado. An attempt to form Voltron fails laughably, and Lotor withdraws. Keith determines to continue pursuit, and Lotor plots to lead them into a trap, sussing out that the Paladins are in disarray.

The Paladins follow into Lotor's prepared trap, faring as poorly as might be expected as they lose sensor capacity and are forced to navigate blindly amid Keith's blind determination. The Lions are separated amid the strange environs, and Lotor attacks them. Lance manages to convince Keith to work to rejoin the group, despite his mission focus--but he still presses on, forcing the others to follow despite their misgivings and the environmental problems. Lotor follows them, and his lieutenants summon assistance as he leads them on a merry chase into the full trap. Hunk realizes that it is a trap, and the Lions assume a defensive posture to no avail.

Lotor then engages Allura, chasing her as she panics. At length, she evades him--and Lance confronts Keith, who is experiencing a crisis of faith in himself. Lance cajoles Keith into action, and they collect the other isolated Paladins. Allura tries to call out while Lotor searches for her, the stress of it forcing her into connection with the Blue Lion--just in time to fall under attack again. She has more success evading this time, the Lion giving her guidance about how to proceed. Following it, she successfully defends herself against Lotor, who withdraws. She then collects her colleagues, and the group finds itself faced by Galra forces. They successfully form Voltron and effect their escape; Keith allows Lotor to escape, in turn, and Lotor plots his next moves.


As I watched the episode again, it occurred to me that the pilots of the left side of Voltron, Pidge and Hunk in the Green and Yellow Lions, respectively, are the most stable and reliable of the Paladins. They do not shift around as the others do, and they reliably fulfill their non-pilot roles without much strife or angst. It seems an interesting inversion of the long association of the left and the unpleasant.

More overtly medievalist is the episode's musing on the nature of leadership. Throughout, Keith fares poorly as a leader, while Lotor does quite well--although there are common points between them. Both engage their foes directly and personally, not asking others to do what they are not willing to do. And both do acknowledge that there are times when leadership must give way, although the revelation comes relatively late for the Red Paladin. (Of course, that he is impetuous makes Keith more like Arthur, who is depicted in the words of the Gawain-poet as "sumquat childgered" and described in many other sources as often being rash.)

But Lotor does not push his lieutenants in the episode, restraining them, rather--and Keith does exactly the opposite, forcing his fellow Paladins into battle before they are ready. And they need not join a fight so soon, though his comments about needing to track Lotor closely carry some merit; they could follow in the Castle and use the time to practice rather than charging in without looking, as Keith has them do.

It is easy to read Keith's failure as an indictment of too much marital aggression, a comment that the right hand that holds the sword should not govern the head--and it is not wrong to do so. Just as it is easy to read Lance's actions in the episode--disagreeing with and outright rebuking Keith--as being something of a perfected version of Lancelot's relationship with Arthur. For Lancelot served most often as Arthur's enforcer--when he did not cuckold him--but Lance serves as a useful foil for Keith, not undermining him but ultimately pushing him to be a better leader. It makes of him an excellent right-hand man (I do not apologize for the pun), and, along with Keith and Lotor make the episode a study in effective leadership, the which was a preoccupation of many medieval European writers no less than among their contemporary American counterparts.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.2, "Red Paladin"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
Read the next entry here

The third season of Voltron: Legendary Defender continues with the matter of succession--and strange mirroring.

3.2, "Red Paladin"

Written by May Chan
Directed by Chris Palmer


A planet whose people are rebuilding their civilization--with Voltron iconography on display--is assailed by Lotor's four lieutenants: Axca, Ezor, Narti, and Sethrid. The lieutenants display their exceptional prowess by subduing the locals without having to kill any, and before Voltron can be summoned to aid. Lotor takes control of the planet, showing an unexpected mercy to the inhabitants.

Meanwhile, at the Castle of Lions, the Paladins, Allura, and Corran confer about who would succeed Shiro. Team roles are discussed, somewhat facetiously, and Keith reveals in an outburst that Shiro named him successor. There is tension about who will take the Black Lion--and Corran reminds all that the Black Lion will choose its own pilot. Allura affirms that she will participate, as well, and the Paladins present themselves. Allura fails to awaken the Lion, as do Pidge, Hunk, and Lance. Keith presents himself reluctantly, and the Lion responds to him. Allura commends him, followed by the others; Keith continues to reject the choice. Lance ultimately convinces him of the rightness of the decision.

The Paladins then address the question of who will succeed Keith in the Red Lion. Allura presents herself, thinking to succeed her father, who had piloted it before; the Lion does not accept her.

Lotor and his lieutenants confer about current circumstances. The lack of the Black Lion and of the coherent Voltron is noted. Narti is dispatched to gather information.

The Paladins discuss who to bring into Voltron until they are summoned to aid the suborned people.It is a trap, although they do not know it. Keith, again reluctantly, pilots the Black Lion, accompanied by Hunk and Pidge. Lance falls behind, the Blue Lion not answering his commands. Battle is joined, Lotor announcing himself and engaging them. Amid the battle, which goes poorly for Keith, Pidge, and Hunk, Lance and Allura determine what is the matter; Lance is now to pilot the Red Lion, and Allura the Blue. Once they join the fight, along with the Castle, matters improve for the Paladins--because Lotor withdraws. The need to learn more is noted, and the new Paladins begin to settle into their new roles--which includes Keith leading aggressively, pursuing Lotor.


A matter of particular note in the episode, and one that emerges only across the entirety, is that the Paladins as they become and Lotor's personal forces are mirrors of one another. Both consist of five primary operatives--the five Paladins, Lotor and his lieutenants--each possessed of complementary skills and attitudes. Both are ostensibly headed by princely rank--neither Allura nor Lotor has fully succeeded the previous monarch, although both are ranking members of their people. The gender-balance of the groups does not quite match--the Paladins are more evenly distributed than Lotor's group--but Lotor's are more unified in purpose, even so. They thus constitute a speculum obscurum for each other--although, given the clear situation of the Paladins as the progatonists, Lotor's group is meant to be the "dark" version (as their clothes convey, though their skins are more diversely colored than the Paladins').

That they are a clearer counterpart to the Paladins than Zarkon is made manifest in their seemingly gentler methods. What Zarkon sought to do with force and could not sustain against determined resistance, Lotor and his lieutenants accomplish with guile--and successfully. They are a thinking enemy, and therefore more dangerous--not only because of Evil Overlord List concerns, although those apply, but also because they are more than a brute against whom rallying is easy. Like the Paladins, they are not so easily misdirected--and with the shift in leadership among the Paladins, there is some suggestion of greater danger.

For Keith has assumed Shiro's station, and if he is like Arthur--even to having Lance at his right hand, along with his special sword--then he is also, as the Gawain-poet puts is, "sumquat childgered," and it shows in his inept leadership in the fight against Lotor. And a hot-headed, impulsive leader is not the kind to put against cold, cunning calculation.

A Note of Congratulations

On the off chance that these haven't already been noted, congratulations are in order for Shiloh Carroll and Carol Jamison, both of whom have new books out!

Shiloh's is here:

Carol's is here:

Buy them! Read them! Let us know how awesome they are!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.1, "Changing of the Guard"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
Read the next entry here

The third season of Voltron: Legendary Defender deals with successions--for good and for ill.

3.1, "Changing of the Guard"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Steve In Chang Ahn


In the wake of the climactic battle with Zarkon, Keith searches through the debris left by the fight, reflecting upon the combat and the loss of Shiro. He acknowledges that Shiro is not to be found and returns to the Castle of Lions. There, Corran and Allura confer about diplomatic matters. She worries about whether the newly-freed worlds can effectively unite and fight the still-mighty Galra Empire. Additionally, actions against the Empire continue, spearheaded by the Paladins and assisted by the Blade of Marmora. Although the actions are successful, there is tension associated with the Galra fighters, despite their resistance to the Empire.

Pidge follows up on the search for her family, conferring with Corran. They tumble to the idea that a loosely organized resistance is forming organically. Corran checks up on other Paladins and the unification efforts--and the inability to form Voltron in the absence of Shiro. Keith rejects the idea of finding a new Paladin.

Meanwhile, Zarkon lives, attended by Haggar. Zarkon's commanders seek audience, but they are dissuaded by Haggar. Lotor's agent marks the tension.

A diplomatic meeting begins on the Castle of Lions. It proceeds poorly despite the promise of effective resistance; the lack of Voltron is a sticking point for many, and Keith's repeated outbursts do not help.

Lotor attends and competes in gladiatorial combat among the Galra, stifling talk of dissent against his regency. His unorthodox methods occasion significant comment. His personal agents also prompt concern. Still, he is clearly effective, and he garners support thereby--although he still deals harshly with those who oppose him.

At the Castle of Lions, the Paladins, Allura, and Corran comfort Keith as he determines to succeed Shiro--as was intended.


Notably, the introductory animation continues to feature Shiro as the pilot of the Black Lion, despite his disappearance from it in the previous episode. As noted in the write-up thereof, the idea of Shiro as an Arthurian "once and future" leader is present in the series--his return is like to spur celebration.

Aside from that, however, the issue of succession to power is one that emerges frequently in medieval and medievalist work. In the medieval European, particularly, with its oft-reported emphasis on the divine right of kings to rule, it would seem that fighting over who would take over after the death or incapacitation of a ruler would be unnecessary--but that does not mean it was not often engaged in and used as an ad baculum argument for legitimacy. (Admittedly, there would generally be attempts to legitimize the rule in other ways, but it was violence that secured it.) Such is the case with Lotor, whose parentage should have made him an incontestable successor but who nonetheless had to defeat a potential rival in public combat before being able to assume command.

It is of some interest that the "typical" medieval succession--"legitimacy" covering violent accession--is associated with the antagonists in the series, rather than with the protagonists that mark earlier treatments. The Malorian Arthur, after all, had to fight battles against no few kings to secure his rule--despite Merlin's machinations and the complicity of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The War of the Roses was a succession struggle, the Hundred Years War was fought in part over succession, and the Norman Invasion was conducted similarly. And while it is the case that victors write histories, so that the protagonists in the narratives of those events are generally those who successfully concluded wars, the pattern of "good guys" fighting their way into power remains a long one; its subversion therefore attracts attention. Consideration of it would be welcome.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 2.13, "Blackout"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
Read the next entry in the series here!

The second season of Voltron: Legendary Defender ends with the expected, climactic battle--and motion towards a new enemy to come.

2.13, "Blackout"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Eugene Lee


Voltron assails Zarkon's vessel to disable or destroy it utterly. Against Haggar's recommendation, however, and the concerns of his own technicians, Zarkon dons the armor that had been in preparation for him--a mimicry of Voltron--and makes to engage the Legendary Defender personally. Haggar enacts a ritual to drain power from Voltron, and the mighty robot is incapacitated as Zarkon enters the fray.

The Castle of Lions is able to interdict Zarkon's attack briefly, buying Voltron enough time to reactivate and join the battle. Agents of the Blade of Marmora escort Allura to Zarkon's ship to prevent Haggar from performing the ritual again, and more fighting ensues.

Amid the conflict with Zarkon, Voltron is forced to separate back into the five component Lions, and Shiro suffers from it. The other Paladins press Zarkon to buy him more time, and he wakes amid their efforts. Directing himself toward Zarkon, he engages him in a new manner, the Black Lion passing through Zarkon's armor and retrieving at long last the Black Paladin's bayard. Voltron reforms in the wake of it--as Allura faces and bests Haggar, recognizing her for an Altean.

The Castle of Lions and Zarkon's ship come back online nearly as one, and Voltron makes one final blow against Zarkon, defeating him--although he survives, if only barely. The Castle recovers the Lions, only to discover that Shiro is gone, somehow--and Haggar calls for the summons of Prince Lotor.


The series has had some Arthurian overtones throughout, and they continue in the present episode. For if the Paladins are in some ways mimetic of the Round Table, then Shiro is in some ways evocative of Arthur--and particularly so in the present episode. For he is able to recover a weapon that was illicitly acquired or retained, much as the Malorian Arthur is able to recover Excalibur from Accolon (who had it by aid of a witch, not unlike how Zarkon is empowered by aid of Haggar). And although he gravely wounds his foe in the final battle and himself falls, he is not dead--he leaves no corpse that would confirm his death. Rather, like Arthur, who "is not deed / But had by the wylle of our lord Ihesu in to another place," Shiro is simply gone, somewhere other than he would be expected to be after a confrontation that left the Black Lion wholly intact.

The episode is the end of the second season, so the maneuver works to set up the next one--particularly in conjunction with the announcement of Lotor's summons. Those who watched the 80s iteration of the series were no doubt waiting for him to appear; it seems they will now be able to do so, and what the reimagined series does with him will be something worth investigating.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender 2.12, "Best Laid Plans"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
Read the next entry in the series here!

The Paladins' plans hasten toward their conclusion in the penultimate episode of the season.

2.12, "Best Laid Plans"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Chris Palmer


Following a motivational speech that re-explains the plan against Zarkon, and as Thace endures more interrogation, the Paladins and their allies set out to enact that plan. Shiro offers himself as bait; Zarkon enlists Haggar's aid in his search and takes that bait, and, despite the Blade or Marmora's recommendation that the mission be aborted in the absence of communication from Thace, the plan proceeds.

Keith offers himself as an infiltrator to spur the plan ahead; Allura takes a moment to apologize to him for her treatment of him. He launches, and the mission continues, with Shiro cutting a path through the Galra onslaught to allow Keith access to Zarkon's own ship. Meanwhile, Thace makes an escape and proceeds along his part of the mission, long since assigned him.

Shiro begins to falter in his lone battle, but receives aid from the other Paladins as Thace is pursued and Keith rendezvous with him. Struggles to keep the Galra at bay and enact the plan to disable Zarkon's ship ensue, but, with a self-sacrifice by Thace, the plan succeeds. The Galra are thwarted, Zarkon's ship sent far away--and the Castle follows, with Voltron forming to enact a final end to the Galra Emperor.


The episode, focusing on a daring strike against the Galra leader, is primarily taken up with intense action. But this is not discordant with medieval chivalric literature--or its own predecessors, such as the Classical epics. Individual and group combats receive substantial attention in such works as Malory's, as witness such occasions as Gawain's first fight after being knighted, or the battles in which Arthur consolidates his kingship, Lancelot's judicial combats on Guinevere's behalf, or the final battle between Arthur and his nephew-son, Mordred. Neither, however, is it necessarily so restricted, although whether because of the strength of tradition or from some underlying other cause is not clear, at least to my eye. So, while what happens in the episode is not, in overall form, out of line with what the medieval the series largely evokes does, neither is it straitly bound to it--but the medieval is polyvalent, so it makes sense that the medievalist would be, as well, and there may well be more to see in the episode.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Bit Less TaT at Kalamazoo 2018

In a bit of unfortunate news, both panelists for the 2018 Tales after Tolkien Society paper session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies have withdrawn; unforeseen complications seem to have afflicted both. As such, there will be no paper session for us this time around--although the business meeting is, at this time, slated to proceed as normal. So if you're in the area at the appropriate time, come on by and see us!

Thank you for your continued support.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 2.11, "Stayin' Alive"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
Read the next entry in the series here!

The Paladins' plans approach their enactment in a straightforward episode of the series.

2.11, "Stayin' Alive"

Written by May Chan
Directed by Steve In Cheng Ahn


Allura proceeds to the Balmera to collect a particularly large crystal with which to enact the plan to defeat Zarkon. As she does, Coran contacts her, and they exchange updates on their progress. Allura also confesses some of her concerns, which Coran allays. And when she arrives at the Balmera, she is welcomed by the locals, although the Robeast that had been defeated there receives some attention.

Meanwhile, a druid reports continues espionage to Haggar. She orders specific surveillance.

At the Balmera, Allura is able to retrieve the crystal and get it to the Castle of Lions. Not long after, however, the beaten Robeast re-emerges and attacks; a fight ensues, and the Castle of Lions is hard put to defend itself.

Haggar's orders yield results. Thace, retrieving stolen data, is taken and sent to Haggar for her special attentions.

Allura, under attack, calls for the Paladins to return to the Castle. They do so, form Voltron, and defeat the Robeast. In the wake of the victory, they reunite again, with Allura continuing to hold her hatred for all Galra--including Keith--and the rest looking ahead to the fight to come. Coran confers with Allura about the coming events, as do the Paladins; all look forward to a universe in which Zarkon is no longer a threat--all while Haggar interrogates Thace, upon whom their plans depend.


The episode is fairly straightforward, seeming more to serve as notice of what Allura and Coran are about than as offering any particular character development (as the preceding episode does for Lance) or making much of any given trope. There is something of the magical princess about Allura yet, although that had already been treated at some length in the earlier Balmera episodes, and her racism remains as problematic as it had previously been.

One thing it does well, however, is to remind viewers that Allura is not the kind of princess depicted in much chivalric literature; she is active and engaged, and if she is not the fearsome combatant that, say, Shiro or Keith is, she is nonetheless capable in her own right. And even if she has some less fortunate aspects to her character, she is, at least, an equal character, rather than merely an object of veneration, in whose name deeds are done.