Thursday, April 15, 2021

Sorry, I'm Not There Yet

So.

Skeletor - Evil Laugh GIF - EvilLaugh Laugh Evil GIFs
Such joy at avoiding the comparison...
Image from Tenor.com, used for commentary.

 

At the moment, I'm not amid any rewatches or rereads (other than the ongoing Hobb one), my daughter's watching YouTube life-hack videos, my wife's largely watching other things and reading for work, and my own media consumption is more or less in that same line. Consequently, I've been casting about for things about which to write. An online friend of mine--goes by Box--suggested that I might try to read Skeletor as an iteration of Æþelræd Unræd, and I looked into that possibility; while it could be argued that He-Man is a strange iteration of tropes regarding Danes, putting Skeletor in even such a position as Ironside's father would be a stretch even I am not willing to try.

Too, as I was doing some idle reading, I came across one of what I have found are many private projects positing what the United States might come to look like after an unspecified event resulted in the loss of modern technologies--a feudal America, as it is described. It piqued my interest initially, as could be expected; it'd certainly be a tale after Tolkien, and it's the kind of thing of which no few RPG settings are made (and, honestly, the concept's one that'd be interesting to play in). But as I reviewed the project and its author, I noted some...problems in it--not the relative age of the source, no, because I can work with things done in good faith that have simply been superseded by new information, but in some of the associations and assertions. I'm not linking it here for those reasons.

Honestly, there are enough problems with the medieval, broadly conceived, being deployed by hate groups to bolster execrable ideologies--and it is clear that there are more such groups doing more foul work that should be tolerated. How wrong such things are is amply and abundantly attested by far more intelligent and capable scholars than I--Mary Rambaran-Olm, Dorothy Kim, Adam Miyashiro, Jonathan Hsy, and others--whose work is well worth reading and investigating. I do what I can to address well-meaning errors in my groups; people make honest mistakes, working from information that has been superseded or that they accepted in good faith from people who did not act in the same. And, here, at least, I continue to call for the repudiation of hateful, wrong-headed ideologies that try to prop up systems of oppression and unwarranted violence; I may not be able to raise my hand against the evils of the world, but I can, at least, join others in raising my voice against them.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Dragon Prince Rewatch 3.9, "The Final Battle"

Read the previous entry here.
Will there be another entry in this series?

It's no joke; the rewatch has caught up with the series at last.

3.9, "The Final Battle"

Written by Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond
Directed by Villads Spangsberg

Synopsis

Maybe they'll work better as tattoos...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Callum marks himself with the characters for the spell Ibis uses to give himself wings, preparing to attempt the magic in advance of the coming battle. The attempt fails, and Rayla offers some gentle mockery before the two consider their situation and likely deaths. Soren interrupts to summon them to council, apologizing for his prior misdeeds towards Callum.

Viren's army passes the petrified remains of Avizandum, and Viren praises Claudia for her loyalty and her prowess. Aaravos offers to teach Viren how to drain Zym's power and enhance himself.

The council in the Stormspire progresses, with plan of battle laid out. Zym sorrows amid it, however, and Bait attempts to comfort him. Rayla offers to guard the two and is hailed as the last Dragonguard.

Not a face to see in a back alley...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Viren's army advances, approaching the Stormspire and its arrayed defenders in power and terror. The empowered Kasif rages forward without orders, followed swiftly by the rest of the army, and battle is joined. The use of magic by Claudia and Viren is a factor that further unbalances an already asymmetrical conflict; the arrival of a flight of dragons seems to even out matters initially, but the seeming soon reveals itself as such, as the dragons' fire strengthens the invading army.

Was this the plan all along?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Battle continues, with the dragons coming under restraining fire. Several are brought down.

Within the Stormspire, Rayla accompanies Zym as the titular dragon prince calls upon his mother at last. Despite his clear entreaty, she does not respond, but continues to slumber deeply.

The invading army breaks through the first defensive line. Callum deploys his own magic to interdict the advance, meeting only limited success. He is saved by the arrival of other human forces, led Aanya of Duren; the onslaught helps to balance the conflict, and the newly reinforced defenders make progress against their attackers, finding victory on the field. Ezran calls for tending to the enemy wounded amid freeing the restrained dragons, though there is some resistance to the idea. Viren's absence is noted and the search for him begins.

Pursuing Claudia, Ezran encounters Viren; Soren defends Ezran, confirming that he has turned against his father utterly. It is also revealed that the Viren present is not the real one; the actual Viren is elsewhere, pursuing Zym, whom Rayla and Bait defend in vain. Zym flees but is taken at the pinnacle of the Stormspire despite the attempt to fly away, and Viren begins to drain power from him through Aaravos's ritual. Rayla again attempts to interdict Viren, pitching them both from the pinnacle. Callum leaps to her salvation, finally enacting the spell Ibis used, and saving her; they affirm their love.

A promise of more to come.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
After, the victorious forces confer, with amity among them in the offering as Ezran is recognized again as king. Zym's mother awakens, and the gathered forces present themselves to her as one. And Viren awakens, Claudia having restored his body and life at great cost to herself; Aaravos, however, is absent from him, having metamorphosed into a form that foretells something else...

Discussion

From the episode, in comparison to the films,
used for commentary...
It is clear that the battle scenes borrow from Jackson's Middle-earth films and their depictions of such battles as at Gorgoroth, of the Five Armies, at Helm's Deep, and at the Pelennor. That is not to be wondered at, given the outsize influence of the movies and their antecedent texts on popular culture, generally, and on the presumed secondary audience of the series--the parents of the children who would watch it, including me--more specifically. Such evocation does not make the episode particularly authentically medieval, but it does make it medievalist in the way Sturtevant describes as supplanting or replacing the medieval in common conception. That there are problems of coding in the episode--note the association of animalistic rage with dark-skinned characters on both sides of the conflict--is perhaps one with that, as might be inferred from applying Niels Werber across the similarity between works and looking at the long and amply attested association of medievalist work and racist impetus. Even without overtly racist intent, after all, a thing can reinforce racism, and appropriation by execrable ideologues happens, as is all too abundantly clear.

At a minimum, it is a fraught issue. But I think more than the minimum much of the time.

It should be noted that, while it is clear from the episode there is more story to tell, and press releases have noted that more of the series is to come, there is not more of it as of this writing. If and when more emerges--because renewals, even when announced, are not guaranteed--I will resume the re/watch; until then, though, I will turn to other projects after a bit of a break. I'll have new material on 15 April 2021; I hope you'll return to read it!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Dragon Prince Rewatch 3.8, "Dragonguard"

Read the previous entry here.
Read the next entry here.

In the penultimate episode of the season, forces array against each other in advance of the clash to come.

3.8, "Dragonguard"

Written by Devon Giehl and Iain Hendry
Directed by Villads Spangsberg

Synopsis

Impressive. Most impressive.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

At the towering Stormspire, Azymondias, Ezran, Rayla, Callum, and Bait learn more about the current situation of the Queen of Dragons from the mage, Ibis. She lives, but she is weak and withdrawn within herself, in something like a coma or deep meditation. Zym hesitates to approach her, and the rest proceed, leaving Bait with the young dragon. The immense form of the Queen of Dragons awes them, and Ezran attempts to reach her within herself--to no avail.

Rayla flees, and Callum pursues her, asking after her thoughts; she relates the unease at being where her parents fled and failed. He offers such comfort as he can.

No William Tell Overture here...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
A weary Soren rides across Xadia, reaching the Stormspire and beginning to ascend its many steps. He only gets so far up the slope before beginning to fatigue and suffer from the altitude, and he is confronted by the dragon he had attacked before. Ezran greets him, however, and secures his safe passage to Callum, who works the requisite magic to permit him to breathe at height. Soren is questioned regarding his purpose, and he reports the advance of Viren's multinational army and its magical enhancement.

Birds of a feather...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
After, Callum consults Ibis, who purposes to scout. There is some awkwardness in their interaction; Callum betrays unfamiliarity and asks questions he acknowledges may be rude. Ibis indulges his questions and demonstrates a powerful spell. Callum marvels and asks to be taught. Ibis demurs, and Callum demonstrates that he is capable of magic; Ibis suggests that he flee with Zym instead of facing the perils to come.

Callum reports the conversation to Rayla, who balks at the implication that she should flee as her parents did--though she sends Zym, Ezran, Callum, and Soren on. She asks Callum to remember her as she makes to redeem her family's failure, and he rails against her acceptance of her parents' fate; it is not a happy parting, but, in its wake, Callum realizes there is something to be done, recalling a working Lujanne had done. He follows up on the idea, repeating the working to reveal what had happened when Viren had ransacked the lair of the King and Queen of Dragons. Rayla's parents had not fled, but had been defeated defending their charge from Viren; when Callum reports his findings to her, with all their horror, she realizes her path is her own to follow, and she determines to keep her fate with theirs.

Howdy, boys!
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
That night, the group takes council regarding what to do. Soren reports the depths of his father's depravity and the extent of the threat he poses--and the peril of his seeming virtue in persuading others to follow what they have reason to believe is a righteous cause. Rayla is convinced of Soren's view, and they purpose to fight where they are. Ibis reports the proximity of Viren's army--and the unexpected arrival of Amaya, borne by Janai. The remaining forces of Lux Aurea are arrayed to defend the Stormspire. Preparations for a coming siege begin--on both sides.

Discussion

As the season--and what has been released of the series as of this writing--is drawing towards a close in the present episode, there is little enough of new medievalism to trace. Tropes already in place continue, as does recourse to Tolkien for medieval ideas; there is something of the Battle of Five Armies in the setup the present episode offers.

A few small notes present themselves, however. Soren's comment about not climbing the mountain in armor is one; it evokes conceptions of medieval armor as cumbersome, defying common-sense ideas that fighting equipment needs to allow movement for fighting. Admittedly, the additional weight would be a problem for any heavy activity, however articulated and distributed the weight might be, but earlier instances in the series of Soren undertaking heavy activity in armor do not show the change. Rather, they reflect things others have reported (here, for example), namely that it is remarkably easy to move in medieval armor--the more so for someone long trained to it, as Soren would evidently be. So there is that.

Another is that the series seems to have finally come down against the kind of Crusader mentality on display among the human armies. It might be wondered whether the assertion--which puts the putative crusaders clearly in the wrong--is a comment on real-life parallels, particularly the ongoing appropriation by white supremacist groups of medieval imagery and (outdated) medievalist understandings to support their execrable ideology. But surely no children's program would engage in such persuasion...

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Dragon Prince Rewatch 3.7, "Hearts of Cinder"

Read the previous entry here.
Read the next entry here.

Despair is kindled as the season approaches its end.

3.7, "Hearts of Cinder"

Written by Neil Mukhopadhyay
Directed by Villads Spangsberg

Synopsis

It's a strange squee.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Claudia fawns over the Xadian wildlife as she takes samples of it and the united human armies march onwards. Soren tries to confer with his father about their objectives and goals, but Viren deflects the questions, angrily, and holds up Kasef as a counter-example. Viren privately consults Aaravos about the plan, finding only cryptic answers and a push towards conquest--and control of Azymondias. The nearby city of Lux Aurea, by report, contains materials that victory will require; Viren balks at the prospect of conflict and of his self-sacrifice.

Take the long way home...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
At the Stormspire, Zym, Ezran, Rayla, Callum, and Bait make for the dragon's lair at the mountain pinnacle. There are stairs in abundance, so all can ascend, and Callum mulls over his burgeoning romance with Rayla before they encounter a gate with forbidding writing upon it. They proceed despite the warning, their breathing becoming ragged and labored.

A face of some interest.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Meanwhile, Viren presents himself to the queen of the Sunfire Elves, Khessa, offering information about a fallen former queen. Under guard, he is pressed for the information, demanding passage for his army; Khessa bids him be put to trial, and he faces the light that had beset Amaya. It exposes the corruption of his magics, and Khessa comments that he "will be purified."

Dark tidings, indeed.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Janai calls on Amaya, conferring with her about the arrived Viren. Amaya warns her against him, and they rush to interrupt proceedings before he can work against them. They are too late to interdict him, however, and Viren, supported by the horrifically embodied Aaravos, wreaks ruin upon Lux Aurea and its ruler, corrupting the area's magic and turning it to his end.

As Zym, Ezran, Rayla, Callum, and Bait continue, the lack of air tells upon the humans and the elf. Help for them arrives in the form of the dragon they had aided before, who scratches out a magical symbol. Ezran copies the symbol for Callum, who enacts its spell, enabling them all to proceed together--and they reach the summit of the Stormspire, where they are greeted with dour news.

Viren returns to the armies, empowered, and calls for volunteers to undergo a transformative working. Soren refuses it, but Kasef accepts it and is corrupted as he is given strength and power; Soren flees. Claudia tries to keep him, and he tries to persuade her to come away with him they part in sadness. Viren works the ritual on the assembled armies, transforming them all.

Discussion

As I watch the episode again, I am struck less by the continued medievalism--the tropes already in place remain in place, after all, even if there is more of the overtly fantastic about the episode, but even that fantastic follows depictions of Tolkien by Jackson, Nasmith, and Howe and so touches back upon the medievalist underpinnings of the series--than I am by the postcolonialist critique that seems to be in play in the episode. The exchanges between Khessa and Viren smack of imperialistic powers still scorning the uprising former subalterns that have acquired new tools to use to overthrow the former oppressive power structures--and those tools are clearly evil, even as the innate powers of the elves cannot be said to be inherently or even necessarily good. "You are lesser beings" is hardly an enlightened attitude (despite what entirely too many people still think), and calls to "be content with what you are given" ring of the kind of dismissive attitude still all too prevalent in current and former colonial centers towards those who have been and still are oppressed.

Those who are still more fully engaged in academe than I may well have more to say about the matter, of course; I am not up on my readings anymore, some time having passed since I was even nominally a professor and longer since I could make a full-time effort of being so. But I can note that, yes, the Manichean allegory upon which so much colonialist discourse depends is frustrated (to some extent) in the present episode--although I will note that the worst acts are wrought by the palest-skinned present, which seems a neater inversion than might otherwise be the case. At root, though, there are few if any "good guys" in this--which is as it should be, even in a children's show.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Yet Another Update for #Kzoo2021

 ontinuing on from earlier posts regarding the 2021 International Congress on Medieval Studies, notably here, the Society polling for the date and time of the 2021 AGM has concluded. There were seven responses to the survey posted online and emailed to members whose contact information is current. Majorities carried where available; where not, the plurality was accepted.

Regarding the question of the date of the AGM, two respondents noted preference for each of 12 May and 15 May 2021. Three, however, noted preference for 10 May 2021, the same date as the panel. The plurality carries.

Regarding the question of the time of the AGM, one respondent noted a preference for a 1pm meeting, and two noted a preference for a 3pm meeting. Four, however, noted a preference for a 7pm meeting; the majority carries. Consequently, the 2021 Annual General Meeting of the Tales after Tolkien Society will be held at 7pm on Monday, 10 May 2021 (US Eastern Daylight Time), following the panel presentations. Arrangements for the online meeting are forthcoming and will be announced and emailed to members.

Regarding the question of panel/s to be proposed for the 2022 International Congress on Medieval Studies, the following suggestions were made by respondents to the survey:

  • Medievalism and Diversity
  • Twenty-first Century Neo-/Medievalisms

They join the existing Unconventional Medievalisms topic for discussion, and the first subsumes Legacies of Tolkien's Whiteness. Other topics will be entertained in floor discussion during the AGM, as well, as time and interest allow.

Regarding the question of other concerns for attention, the perpetual call for additional contributions to this blog is again reiterated; guest posts tend to be received well by readership, and, though minor, posts to the blog are reviewed posts in an academic society's official record. Also noted was a desire to avoid conflicting with other panels including "Tolkien" in the title; scheduling decisions at the Congress are at the discretion of the Congress and are therefore outside Society control. Other concerns for attention will be entertained in floor discussion at the AGM, as time and interest allow.

One other concern, not noted on the survey, merits attention against the earlier-noted agenda items for the AGM: the election of a Society President to serve from 2021 through 2024. Current President Geoffrey B. Elliott has indicated willingness to remain in the position, although he notes that he will happily step aside in favor of others in need of society positions for awards, tenure, promotion, and other causes. Those interested in standing for election as Society President (2021-2024), please email talesaftertolkien@gmail.com with your name, affiliation (if any; "Independent Scholar" and similar terms are entirely acceptable), and candidate statement on or before 9 April 2021 for publication on the Society blog. Any member in good standing is eligible for election, regardless of affiliation, academic rank, or lack of either or both of the same. Nominations from the floor of the AGM will also be accepted, although time and other business will necessarily mean they are less thoroughly considered than will those nominations coming in for publication.

Again, please make sure your information is up to date; email talesaftertolkien@gmail.com with updated contact information if you are not sure about it--or even if you would like to join, as Society membership is open to all, by request!

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Dragon Prince Rewatch 3.6, "Thunderfall"

Read the previous entry here.
Read the next entry here.

Some of the background of the current conflicts becomes clear.

3.6, "Thunderfall"

Written by Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond
Directed by Villads Spangsberg

Synopsis

Such drama. Much force. Wow.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Viren--accompanied by Soren, Claudia, Kasef, and a council member--rides at the head of a substantial army composed of forces from several nations. Soren contemplates the insectoid form of Aaravos on Viren's ear, with Viren attempting to deflect attention. The spectral form of Aaravos consults with Viren, asking how the former King of Dragons--"the Thunderer," Avizandum--died at Viren's hand.

Rare and wondrous and suggestive...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Viren begins to relate to Aaravos the story of Avizandum's death. After the death of Queen Sarai, King Harrow had been bitter, desirous of revenge against the dragon that slew her. Viren's research allowed for the creation of a spell to enchant a weapon to enact that revenge; he had captured her last breath, and he had recently acquired a unicorn's horn, thanks to Claudia. Harrow has some misgivings, but he is persuaded to contribute an emblem of his hatred to the work, and the spell is enacted.

Dealt he the death-blow, felling the dragon...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Kasef confers with Soren and Claudia along the way. The siblings confuse him somewhat, and the attention they call to Aaravos leaves him unsettled; he withdraws as Viren's story continues. Viren notes that he and Harrow rode out to find Avizandum, traveling for days to confront the dragon at the Stormspire, his lair and that of the Queen of Dragons. The dragon appears and bids them leave; Harrow refuses and slays Avizandum, Viren aiding him. The mage takes the chance to pilfer the dragons' lair--ostensibly to thwart a blood feud, gaining Harrow's reluctant agreement. Aaravos delights in the report of the dragon's death, glorying in the end of his captor, and more preparations to enter Xadia are begun.

Something of a deus ex machina, but...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Callum, Rayla, and Zym approach the edge of the Midnight Desert, Nyx waking them and giving them directions to the Stormspire. She remarks on the thinness of the air at altitude before she departs. Phoe-phoe carries Ezran and Bait towards the same destination, growing exhausted by the effort but persisting in it, nevertheless. The lot are reunited at the stone corpse of Avizandum, and Phoe-phoe dies and resurrects there. Callum wrestles with his emotions as he looks upon the stone dragon and the evidence of Harrow's involvement; Rayla offers some comfort and points out the nascent hope Zym and Ezran represent.

Discussion

Rewatching the episode brought to mind an earlier modernization of unicorns with which I've had some experience. It also brought to mind some of the medieval lore associated with unicorns, which receives some discussion, here, and which has come up in this webspace, here. In traditional European medieval depictions and those that follow after them, unicorns are associated with metaphors of sexual and other physical purities, such as the elimination of poisons. With that association in place and long-standing connections between celibacy and otherworldly power--whether priestly or sorcerous--there is a strong implication that Claudia is, herself, virginal, which would not normally be an issue except that 1) it aligns her to romantic interest tropes and 2) it juxtaposes powerfully with her involvement in dark magics with the tropes typically associated with the romantic-interest-virgin figure. So that much medievalism, both acting from the forms observed and pivoting away from them, is at work in the present episode.

The earlier-noted Crusading motif remains in place in the episode, as well, reinforced by the overt image of a multinational army marching on what seems unfortunately to fit the rubric of a holy war (although it is notable that there seems to be no baggage train, nor yet packs carried by the soldiers marching; it is a children's show, but even a child might wonder what they will eat on the move). So, too, does the earlier-noted commentary on incarceration, although Aaravos's prison is not so porous as that of Katolis. And there might be echoes of the pursuit of the Questing Beast in the ride against Avizandum--but those parallels are not as strong as others that might be found, adding only a little to the episode's medievalist bent.

Too, the episode confronts the emotionally fraught nature of vengeance openly and overtly. Harrow has to be persuaded to enact it, but he is persuaded. Callum laments its enactment, but he cannot decry it, nor yet can he deny that the tragedy has resulted in a hope for resolution of a longer-standing feud. Throop and Hyams's edited volume speaks to the issue more fully than I can here, of course, but it does even on a cursory investigation point towards the many-fold nature of vengeance; there is justification for it, even as its ends and means do not always or even often work well. Nor need it always be carried out, even when justified; Dream of the Rood makes much of the titular Rood yearning to crush those who had bidden it be lifted up, only to hold fast at the command of the one it would avenge. Yet it is often pursued and carried out, in medieval literature as elsewhere, so the episode confronting the complexity is a good thing to see and in keeping with its antecedents.

If only more medievalist work would confront complexity instead of trying to reduce it to simplistic pap...

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Dragon Prince Rewatch 3.5, "Heroes & Masterminds"

Read the previous entry here.
Read the next entry here.

This Sousa Day 2021 rewatch posting finds forces ready to march forth...

3.5, "Heroes & Masterminds"

Written by Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond
Directed by Villads Spangsberg

Synopsis

Pity more people aren't sad for real children of color in cages.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Ezran languishes in the dungeons of Katolis. Bait visits, bringing him a slew of jelly tarts and squeezing into the cell with him.

At the oasis in the Midnight Desert, Callum and Rayla make to pursue Nyx, who has abducted Zym; their mounts are gone, loosed by Nyx as she absconded with Zym, although they have not wandered far. One of them, however, is trapped by soulfang serpents, and Rayla is unable to save it; she is only narrowly able to save Callum, and they are obliged to wait for dawn to proceed.

Yeah, this will go well.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Katolis, Viren crowns himself king, despite objections from Opeli and others. Those who oppose his accession are swiftly cast out, making to flee to a neighboring kingdom for aid. They are aided, surprisingly, by Soren, who also releases Ezran; he cites regard for the fallen Harrow as motivation for doing so. Somehow, Soren's efforts succeed in getting Ezran out of the castle and to Opeli, Corvus, and the cook; they spirit him and Bait to Lujanne en route to Xadia.

Yee haw, y'all.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
With the dawn, Rayla and Callum set off in pursuit of Nyx, some tension clear between them. The trail they must follow is clear, and they soon catch up to their quarry. Rayla and Callum ascend the towering ambler, confronting Nyx, who admits seeking reward before attempting to escape on the wing. Zym is not amused, however, and rebukes Nyx emphatically. In the fracas that follows, Rayla and Callum save Nyx from soulfang serpents at great peril--and the clear affection between Rayla and Callum emerges fully.

As Viren pores over documents, Claudia calls on him, beginning unknowingly to probe Aaravos. She asks after her father, comforting him; he avers his desire to rule in the best interest of his people and reaffirms their bond. Aaravos notes her utility, provoking a pointed rejection from Viren that seems to matter little to the spectral elf.

It is sometimes braver not to fight.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
That evening, Viren orates before an assembled army as Claudia and Kasef look on, releasing those few who do not wish to fight--but requiring them to bear a mark of shame and the opprobrium of their erstwhile fellows.

Discussion

It is difficult to watch the episode and not to consider the political situation contemporary to its release and presumed production. Nor should a work be studied without regard to its contexts of development and dissemination. But, while noting that there is a fair bit of commentary to be found within the episode--and that directed towards the presumed secondary audiences for the show, previously noted--the focus of discussion here has to be on how the series makes use of medieval/ist notions for its own storytelling.

Some of the earlier comments about medieval incarceration would seem still to apply to the present episode. The prison in which Ezran begins the episode is porous enough to let Bait squeeze in, and it is porous enough to allow an easy escape--with the right assistance. But this is not inconsistent with what is known about medieval jails and about the imprisonments of deposed monarchs--and Ezran, for all the trappings of abdication, is effectively deposed. That he is only imprisoned, rather than killed, speaks to some continued need for him (even within the context of a children's show; the series has had people die already, after all), bringing to mind the Wars of the Roses--a bit of late medieval English history that receives attention as prompting at least one major medievalist work.

Too, some of the Crusading mentality noted in the previous episode persists into the present one. The opprobrium heaped upon the "weakest links" as they take the offer of withdrawal--disingenuously presented as it is--hearkens back to matters Kostick discusses, for one thing. It must be noted, however, that the so-called cowardice for which Viren berates the "weakest links" is not regarded quite as dichotomously by the medievals from which the series borrows as might be thought--and the episode appears to take a similarly nuanced position. Lynch addresses the matter in Arthurian works, with particular resonance for the series, and Morillo notes that medieval battle-planners worked with expectations of cowardice and fear in mind, so Viren's comments regarding the "weakest links" as they leave make sense as a medievalism--even as they point to execrable behaviors and ideologies that are still all too commonly held and vociferously espoused.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Dragon Prince Rewatch 3.4, "The Midnight Desert"

Read the previous entry here.
Read the next entry here.

If there's a theme in this episode, it's the danger of infighting.

3.4, "The Midnight Desert"

Written by Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond
Directed by Villads Spangsberg

Synopsis

This message contains information intended only for the
use of the above-named company / party...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Ethari's message to the Queen of the Dragons speeds along until it is intercepted by a winged figure over a black-sand desert.

Meanwhile, Rayla, Callum, and Zym proceed through the forest, Callum finding difficulty with his mount as he tries to comfort Rayla. It does not work well; she resists the idea of talking about her emotional state.

This kind of thing never works out well.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Katolis, Ezran receives Kasef once again. The prince offers an ultimatum, demanding the military support of Katolis under threat of military invasion. Ezran refuses the demand and is told that Katolis will be besieged. And in the dungeons, Viren receives a strange gift from Aaravos, one for which he had not asked.

It ain't Honeycomb, but it's still big...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
As Callum, Rayla, and Zym proceed, they encounter Nyx, who claims to be an emissary of the Dragon Queen. Rayla is not pleased, while Callum takes the opportunity to perform foolishly. Nyx purposes to take Zym; Rayla refuses, and Nyx offers to conduct the lot of them across the titular Midnight Desert. Nyx lays out the problems of the Desert, its daytime heat and nighttime terror, and offers the solution of an "ambler," a large beast that can insulate the group from the hot sand as it crosses the hostile waste. They reluctantly accept.

He really is young, isn't he?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Ezran watches the Neolandian delegation depart, and he confers with Opeli about next steps. She notes that the Katolis army is superior in training and support, but Ezran rails against the expectation of tens of thousands of casualties. He contemplates the cost of so many lives spent, and one of his courtiers proposes a solution.

As the ambler proceeds, Rayla contemplates events. Callum again offers some comfort, only to have it refused as the ambler encounters a problem. Nyx makes to clear the issue, something like a pothole occasioned by burrowing serpents (and a callback to earlier work from the writers and Callum's voice actor attracts attention). That done, the ambler proceeds to a magically shielded oasis where the group makes camp for the night. Callum explores as Rayla sees to the beasts and their own disposition as they settle in. It is an uneasy night, full of revelations--and the abduction of the Dragon Prince.

All according to plan...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Ezran stealthily enters the castle kitchens, where he confers with the cook over jelly tarts. He asks the cook to see to Bait; the cook agrees, of course, and takes the beast in hand. Sadly, he departs. That evening, Viren receives the awareness of his gift--magically enhanced vision. Ezran sets aside the crown, refusing to lead his people to war or to let them be destroyed by the other kingdoms, allowing himself to be imprisoned as Viren is released and takes power.

Discussion

While the conflict between the Pentarchy and Xadia has deep causes that are hinted at--the use of dark magic and long-time oppression--and the immediate conflict is based in (an inaccurate and soon to be addressed) blood feud and false flag attacks, there is something of a Crusader mentality among the human kingdoms that emerges in the episode. Given the Orientalism already established as present in the series (note here, here, here, and here), the overwhelming thirst for war against the eastern Others rings of "Deus vult"--all the more problematically so against the broader backdrop of white supremacist deployment of Crusader imagery to bolster their execrable positions. Since the Crusades often epitomize "the medieval" in popular conception, even their tacit invocation--because it is not called a crusade, as such, and the parallels are not entirely exact--does much to further the medievalism of the series--not that it was or has been in any doubt.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Another Update for #Kzoo2021

ontinuing on from earlier posts regarding the 2021 International Congress on Medieval Studies, the Society notes the publication of the Congress program online and calls attention to the following from it:

 

The session is the only one the Society has on the program, and it is hoped that people will be able to "attend" the session.

It will be noted that there is no business meeting on the schedule. The Society's business--election of a new Society President and determination of conference offerings moving forward--still needs to be discussed, however. The virtual meeting that took place in 2020 offered a good model, so...

  • If you would like to participate in the meeting, please fill out the form linked here: https://forms.gle/mXxbQcqDe2q6V9Gx8.
  • If you would like to stand for election as Society President (2021-2024), please email talesaftertolkien@gmail.com with your name, affiliation, and candidate statement. That information will be published to the membership in advance of the meeting time that gets worked out.

As an offshoot of the latter, please make sure your information is up to date; email talesaftertolkien@gmail.com with updated contact information if you are not sure about it--or even if you would like to join! Please remember that Society membership is open to all, by request.