Thursday, February 27, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.5, "Remember"

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Despite claims, everything is not perfect as the third season of the series hastens towards its end.

3.5, "Remember"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Roy Burdine and Mandy Clotworthy

Synopsis

Quite the alarm clock, this.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Adora wakes from a dream to Catra's face in the Fright Zone. After startling, she begins to situate herself, with Catra affirming that all is well. Adora is not entirely convinced.

Adora continues to try to situate herself, finding herself in an exalted position in the Fright Zone due to her successes in battle. Her memories are not entirely stable, but her relationship with Catra seems to be repaired. The environment seems to be changing around her.

You'd flee, too.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Accolades for Adora continue, as do strange gaps in the surrounding environment and situation. Shadow Weaver even seems to be pleased. Adora is assigned a new mission, and when she reports for the briefing, Scorpia upbraids her. Adora's memories and the environment continue to shift around her, and Adora flees.

Catra rejoins Adora, slapping her to startle her. Adora continues to experience strange gaps, frightening her and prompting her to question her surroundings. She realizes that Scorpia seems immune to the oddities, confronting her. Scorpia initially rejects her ideas, but she relents when confronted with Catra's behavior.

It takes a bit, yes.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The two proceed to Hordak's sanctum somewhat awkwardly. The environment continues to change around them, and they press on for answers. Reaching the sanctum, they find it empty, and Adora realizes that Catra is to blame for the current situation. They are soon after forced to flee, and the degradation of reality proceeds, taking Scorpia and driving Adora onward in terror. She finds Razz, who prompts her to find her in the woods as everything continues to fall apart.

This is a pretty bad sign...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora makes to flee with Catra, but Catra refuses, her own memories shifting. Adora abducts her and flees from the Fright Zone as it vanishes. Catra wakes and fights, and their progress is halted. They debate, and the fight continues. Catra finally accepts the nihilistic implications of her actions, and Adora flees in tears, finding Razz, who counsels Adora that things can be repaired--as they had been before. She advises her about how to proceed and sends her on her way--to Bright Moon, Glimmer and Bow. But she is not the only one pressing onward...

Discussion

The refrain in the episode that "everything is perfect" attracts attention early on. Coupled with the obviously apocalyptic action of the main line of the episode, the refrain calls to mind once again the "Þæs ofereode; þisses swa mæg" of "Deor" that seems echoed in the similar Voltron: Legendary Defender, even if it serves an opposite function; while the Old English speaks to hope, the refrain that punctuates the present episode is itself the indicator that something is very, very wrong in Etheria.

Another bit of Old English is evoked, if perhaps less clearly, in the changes that afflict Catra after her nihilistic declaration--being happy to let all fall to waste if another can but be made to suffer is hardly the most affirming perspective. Nearly fifteen years ago, now, while I sat in a graduate Beowulf seminar, the late professor James E. Anderson commented that Scyld Scefing is, in effect, the dragon of the later portion of the poem. In that long-ago lecture, he cited their common possessions of a golden standard and their jealous possession of lucre, as well as linking the Danes of the poem to fratricide and Scyld as an ill predating either fratricide (linked to the "scion of Cain," Grendel) or its progenitor (Grendel's mother, whom we might well call "Aglæcwify McAglæcwifface" after an excellent Twitter thread)--hence the initial evil of Satan (often linked to dragons, symbolically). Catra's transformation is not unlike those of the earlier figures, and it bodes ill for those who must face her--even as it promises the hope of her defeat, even as the earlier figures were bested.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.4, "Moment of Truth"

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World-ending consequences begin to emerge once again.

3.4, "Moment of Truth"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nolfi, Josie Campbell, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Dwooman and Diana Huh

Synopsis

She does seem rather emphatic about it.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Bright Moon, the allied Princesses confer about recent events and their current situation. Glimmer calls for an assault on the Fright Zone to retrieve Adora; Angella demands answers from her wayward daughter.

In the Fright Zone, Hordak continues his work to complete his portal machine, aided by Entrapta. She tries to delay him; they are interrupted by the arrival of Catra with the captive Adora and the sword of She-Ra. The sword occasions some interference with Hordak's technology and which Entrapta recognizes as the needed component for generating a portal.

Glimmer continues to press for an attack on the Horde, with Angella demurring from concern for losing anyone else. The discussion between the two grows heated and personal, and Glimmer suggests using Shadow Weaver, which Angella rejects. Angry words are exchanged, and Angella storms out.

It's even worse when he smiles.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Preparations for the portal continue. Entrapta asks Adora for information, and Adora tries to dissuade her from continuing. Hordak seeks to silence her; she rebukes him for interfering in her early life. He rejects the idea and proceeds with his plan--until his body fails him. The sword, unsurprisingly, has ideas of its own.

Glimmer and Bow approach Shadow Weaver without authorization. Shadow Weaver recognizes the danger and offers to augment Glimmer's teleportation abilities. Glimmer demurs for a time, but she is attracted by the prospect of greater power and the pressure of circumstance, and she releases Shadow Weaver from captivity despite Bow's objections.

What is it with cat-women and whips?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone, Catra works to reestablish her position. She notes looking forward to Hordak's impending triumph and flatters Scorpia. Elsewhere, Adora attempts again to persuade Entrapta to refuse to open the portal. It slowly begins to work; Entrapta begins to doubt the plan and conducts more research.

This is the kind of thing that would give a parent pause, yes.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer and Shadow Weaver begin to enact their plan. The other princesses insert themselves into the plan, despite Shadow Weaver's protests. Angella seeks to reconcile with Glimmer, finding her gone and speeding to where she suspects her daughter is. She is unable to arrive in time to halt her daughter, but can only watch in fear as Glimmer and the others teleport away.

The princesses, Shadow Weaver, and Bow proceed through the Fright Zone towards Hordak's lab. They are seen, and a running fight begins, with individual princesses staying behind in sequence to cover their advance against incoming reinforcements.

Entrapta's continued research reveals that the portal will destroy Etheria. She and Scorpia determine not to open the portal, but Catra determines to proceed, regardless. She incapacitates Entrapta and intimidates Scorpia into compliance.

That'll just about do it, yeah.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer, Bow, and Shadow Weaver reach Hordak's lab, where the portal is in process. Catra betrays Entrapta, and, after a brief fight, Catra throws the necessary switch to open the portal.

Discussion

I confess to not seeing much in the present episode that furthers the medievalism of the series, though there is something that matches ideas I have about the medieval as is typically presented. In essence, I have the notion in my head that many of the characters presented in medieval/ist works suffer from a combination of factors that lead to substantially impaired judgment-making abilities. After all, many of those who feature in medieval/ist works are teenagers, riddled with hormones and without the parts of the brain that handle the most rational thinking fully developed. Too, many of them suffer repeated head injuries, suggesting concussions and their concomitant problems. Further, alcohol use is typically seen as typifying medieval/ist life; even academic conferences that focus on the medieval, or scholarly meetings of learned societies that do that take place in larger conferences, focus to a comment-provoking extent on strong drink. And more general trauma afflicts protagonists as a matter of course. So it is not to be wondered at that medieval/ist figures will display astonishing lapses in judgment at times.

That basis for poor judgment seems to be in place for Catra in the present episode. Despite being told by a source noted for being accurate in making evidence-based claims that the plan she proposes will doom the world, she proceeds along that plan--acting out of what appears to be a need for revenge upon Adora. While an argument can certainly be made that Catra is justified in raging against Adora continually benefiting from privilege that she has not necessarily earned,* it is harder to argue that she is justified in killing the planet in pursuit of retribution. It is not so much of a challenge to posit that she falls into the same kind of thought-trap that leads to any number of follies in medieval/ist works--so I suppose that is where the present episode finds its way into furthering the series's medievalism.

*It can. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Adora is treated better by most everyone than is the darker-skinned, wilder-haired, more savage Catra, even though Catra is demonstrably Adora's peer in her performance. This is not to say that Adora sought privilege or failed to work hard with what she was given, but even that can be taken as commenting on social privilege and its effects. Others might write on the topic more eloquently than I, however; I rather expect that they would do so. And my own positions of privilege doubtlessly make it difficult for me to see some aspects of Adora's privilege; I do not claim to have an authoritative perspective, though I will certainly claim to see no small merit to such critiques of the series.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.3, "Once Upon a Time in the Waste"

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Catra follows and darkly mirrors Adora as the third season progresses.

3.3, "Once Upon a Time in the Waste"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Jen Bennett

Synopsis

This is never a good sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Catra and Scorpia venture into the Crimson Waste on Hordak's orders. Catra is not pleased to have the company, but she begrudgingly accepts it. The two find their way to the settlement where Glimmer, Adora, and Bow had encountered Huntara. They venture there, and Catra is again displeased at finding people there.

Going in, Catra makes something of a scene, asserting herself formidably and intimidating information out of others after overhearing talk of She-Ra. She reasons She-Ra is bound for her own target, and she finds the information useful.

It does seem quite the sight.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Out in the Waste, Glimmer, Adora, Bow, and Huntara look upon Mara's ship with awe. They confer briefly before heading in and investigating. It appears empty to initial searches, but interactions with Adora's sword reveal hitherto uninvestigated spaces within.

That's Tung, there, in the mouth. Obviously.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Catra and Scorpia proceed through the Waste, preceded by a pair of the toughs from the establishment. They realize that they are enjoying themselves as they travel together and that they work well together--grudgingly on Catra's part. At length, Catra and her party come upon the headquarters of a desert gang led by one Tung Lashor, led there in an abortive ambush attempt.

Glimmer, Adora, Bow, and Huntara investigate the revealed spaces somewhat fearfully, coming at length upon the ship's control center. Activating systems, they uncover a repeating message from Mara, the previous She-Ra. Adora frets for a bit at the lack of useful information and rages at her circumstances before stumbling into useful data. Another message emerges, one that begins to reveal uncomfortable truths about She-Ra.

Things are looking up for Catra, it seems, at least for a bit.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Beset by the gang, Catra mocks its leader, fighting and defeating him handily. She assumes control of the gang and is lauded. They proceed in short order to confront--and capture--Adora after they have heard as much of Mara's message as survives; at Adora's urging, Huntara escapes with Glimmer and Bow. In the ensuing celebration, Scorpia tries to persuade Catra to remain away from the Horde, but after confronting Adora, Catra determines angrily to return to the Fright Zone to take what she believes should be hers.

Discussion


Watching the episode, I am somehow put in mind of the pseudo-medievalist sword-and-sorcery fantasies of Robert E. Howard. (Yes, I know the title calls back to a 1968 Western--but Westerns are also often medievalist in strange ways, as I have argued.) It is a thin veneer of medievalism for the episode to take on, admittedly, but I have noted several times before that a series does not have to roll around in the medieval every episode to make good use of it.

That said, I can also see something of perceptions of the early medieval Northern European warbands and petty kingdoms in Catra's assumption of power in the Waste. Her reign, as such, begins abruptly "by the dignity of her hands," to borrow a phrase from Malory and elsewhere, with her followers--save Scorpia, who remains a special case--falling into line based mostly upon the presentation of her martial prowess. The truth of such places is, of course, more nuanced than that; while there were certainly usurpations by force, there was also continuity based in part on consanguinity and camaraderie. Despite the assertions by many who would seek--wrongly, for several reasons--to wrap themselves up in mantles of "pure" and "manly" medieval European practice, matters were not quite so bestial as that, at least not always so. In such a system, little to nothing gets done, and things clearly did get done.

Too, the earlier-established medievalisms of the series remain in place. The powerful resonances of She-Ra's sword continue to sound. Adora continues to function as a strange amalgamation of Arthurian knights. Scorpia seems to commit even more fully to her courtly-love-evoking infatuation with Catra--though Catra gives some indication of moving towards reciprocation in the present episode. So the series seems not to be less medievalist at present than it has been, which is good to see.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.2, "Huntara"

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Adora finds a foe in a false friend and a friend in a former foe.

3.2, "Huntara"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Laura Sreebny, Josie Campbell, and Katherine Nolfi
Directed by David Woo

Synopsis

Looks downright homey.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer, Adora, and Bow begin to travel across the hostile desert known as the Crimson Waste. Adora thanks her friends for joining her as they consult regarding their situation. It is not good, but they press on optimistically--despite the Horde corpses easily seen.

In the Fright Zone, Entrapta and Hordak continue working on the portal technology. Their work seems to be progressing decently, though a stable portal still eludes them. Hordak shields Entrapta from injury, and Entrapta puzzles out that a key is needed. Hordak angrily dismisses her.

The formidable titular character
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The continued travails of the desert-going are pointed out. Bow suggests that preparation is needed, and Glimmer sees what appears to be a settlement. They make for it, finding it populated by a rough-looking bunch. Their introduction does not go well, and Huntara makes her presence known--emphatically. She offers advice and warning that the trio does not heed; Adora makes to enlist her, and Huntara agrees to aid her.

Back in the Fright Zone, Entrapta considers her encounter with Hordak. She also sees him in a state of disrepair, accidentally announcing her presence as she makes to leave. She rushes to his aid.

Huntara leads Adora, Glimmer, and Bow through the desert. They approach some understanding of one another as they press ahead, Glimmer and Bow doing so only with difficulty. They also point out problems with the trip--not long before being ambushed and despoiled.

Hordak wakes to find Entrapta tending to him. He confesses his nature as a clone of Horde Prime and glosses the history of the Horde and his own arrival on Etheria.

The trio escapes captivity. Adora berates herself for her folly. They proceed to retrieve their belongings from Huntara and her compatriots.

There's no way this will be a problem later, right?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Entrapta augments Hordak's armor, and some clear attraction between the two emerges.

Glimmer, Bow, and Adora come upon Huntara and her companions where they are exulting in their spoils. Melee is joined, and Glimmer and Bow dispatch their foes with ease. Adora has a harder time of it, but still emerges victorious; her ensuing transformation into She-Ra prompts Huntara's surrender. Huntara confesses her Horde origin and her desertion from its army. Adora invites Huntara to the rebellion; she reluctantly agrees and takes the trio to their destination in the Crimson Waste: Mara's ship.

Discussion

The seemingly romantic (oddly rendered as "friends" despite earlier depictions of romantic couples in the series) exchange between Hordak and Entrapta attracts some attention. For one, it offers some sympathetic view of Hordak--though only some, as he remains a conqueror even if given something like a motivation and something like a love interest. (Earlier comments about Richard in Galavant come to mind as a parallel.) For another, it rings of commonly-understood tropes of courtly love; Hordak makes awkwardly formal declarations on Entrapta's behalf (including an overt challenge to any who would speak ill of her) after she gives him her token (note the purple jewel in his collar, not unlike a tag on a pet's collar, visually). In Malory and in other sources, even antagonistic knights tend to act in such ways. ("Tend" being key; there are many, many exceptions--but the same is true even of the "noble" Round Table knights, such as Gawain.) And while the idea of worthy adversaries is hardly unique to the medieval, the combination of the token amid an armoring scene with the declamation on Hordak's part mark the exchange as a refiguring of medieval/ist tropes, grounding the series just a bit more in the medieval.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.1, "The Price of Power"

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After a short second season, the series resumes--and grows more serious.

3.1, "The Price of Power"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Shane Lynch, Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Roy Burdine and Steve Cooper

Synopsis

It's enough to disturb, certainly.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora sleeps fitfully in Bright Moon as Shadow Weaver looks over her. She wakes, confronting the obviously ill Shadow Weaver, who collapses.

Angella and Castaspella make to interrogate the now-captured Shadow Weaver, conferring briefly. They are joined by Glimmer, Adora, and Bow, and Adora presses to be admitted to the interrogation; Angella refuses all three of them, citing safety concerns. Adora tries to puzzle out the situation, and Glimmer tries to support her mother's decision. Adora tries to sneak in, regardless, but is interdicted. For her own part, Shadow Weaver refuses to answer the questions put to her by Angella, saying she will only speak to Adora.

Also a disturbing way to wake up.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone, Catra wakes imprisoned in the cell that had held Shadow Weaver. She considers her circumstances briefly before Scorpia makes to free her; Catra is to be punished publicly. Catra refuses the effort in despair and mocks Scorpia's concern.

Adora persists in her desire to defy Angella's edict and visit Shadow Weaver, sneaking away from her friends in the night--repeatedly and unsuccessfully. She argues to her friends that others in the Horde deserve the same chance at redemption that she was offered; Glimmer and Bow are moved by the argument.

Another wonderfully disturbing thought, this.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Interrogation continues, with Shadow Weaver resisting the relatively inept attempts of Angella and Castaspella to elicit information. The captors confer about their captive's status and likely motivations. Bow distracts Angella and Castaspella while Glimmer and Adora sneak in to question Shadow Weaver. Shadow Weaver tries to manipulate Adora into aiding her, and Adora is motivated to heal her, despite not knowing how to do it. Shadow Weaver offers to teach her magic and control.

Entrapta makes her case.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone, Entrapta reports to Hordak about her progress, noting new technology and asking for Catra to retrieve it. Hordak notes Catra's failures, which Entrapta refutes based upon the Horde's overall improved performance. Hordak is not quite convinced.

Adora struggles with Shadow Weaver's lessons before being interrupted by Angella's angry entrance. She does accomplish the healing, however, restoring Shadow Weaver; Shadow Weaver confesses that she has been betrayed and cast out, and she details Hordak's plan to summon his fellows through a portal he means to build. Entrapta's skills are noted as key to Hordak's plans, and Adora is cited as evidence that portals can work. She flees from the revelation, seeking advice from Light Hope and finding confirmation of Shadow Weaver's account--as well as fatalistic discourse.

Adora returns to Bright Moon with questions. She purposes to quest for answers; Glimmer and Bow move to accompany her. And in the Fright Zone, Catra challenges Hordak; he has agreed to Entrapta's plan, and he sends her to the same place for which Adora is bound: the Crimson Waste.

Discussion

There is an interesting issue handled in the episode. As Adora continues to try to talk to Shadow Weaver, Glimmer and Bow counsel her to do otherwise, noting that Shadow Weaver is evil because she is from the Horde; Adora replies that she is, herself, from the Horde and opines that she is only accepted because she is She-Ra. The language used in the exchange parallels many of the less fortunate discussions of race and ethnicity: "You're not like them," Adora is told, not unlike the "You're one of the good ones" trotted out unthinkingly by people who belong to prestige groups as they talk to people of other groups (such as attested here and here among many, many other places). Going back to the idea of Adora as Arthurian amalgamation (and the healing scene brings Lancelot to mind, among others), I find myself thinking of Sir Palomides, the Middle Eastern outsider acknowledged as a worthy member of Arthur's court--seemingly the only one in such narratives as Malory's. It is the case that race and ethnicity were considered differently in the European medieval than they are now, but it is also the case that the lines were as problematic, though drawn in different places. Palomides is "one of the good ones" no less than Adora, and if they are accepted because they assimilate:
  1. The reminder that they are "the good ones" is a reminder that they may not always be perceived so, and
  2. Others might similarly be among "the good ones," frustrating the kind of sharp division that too many people want to see between too many groups.
Perhaps the only clear line to be drawn is between those who want such sharp divisions (largely because they overtly desire supremacy or tacitly benefit from it) and those who know that matters are more nuanced and mixed.

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"

Read the previous entry here!
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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.