Monday, September 19, 2022

An Update for #Kzoo2023

A follow-up: Per the Congress, "the ICMS Program Committee has extended the paper submission deadline through midnight Friday, September 23." So if you have 'em, get 'em in!

๐”šell, folks, some news has come it, and it's not the news we'd want.

Put simply: the panel didn't make

Put with a bit more detail: we didn't have enough submissions come in to be able to seat a panel for the 2023 International Congress on Medieval Studies. Given that, and given the expense to Society members of attending the Congress--even remotely--the Annual General Meeting will be held via a Zoom call, date and time to be determined. Agenda items will focus on moving forward.

Thank you for your continued interest and support.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Guest Post: Anne EG Nydam, "On the Virtues of Beasts--A Modern Fantasy Project with a Medieval Inspiration"

The first answer to the Society's recent call for contributions--which is still open; we'd love to hear from you!--comes from author and illustrator Anne EG Nydam, whose Nydam Prints features prints, books, and other artistic sundries. Her 2019 book, On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, is "a bestiary that is inspired by and modeled on medieval bestiaries," as well as by the works of Tolkien. She notes, too, a comparison between medieval bestiary work and contemporary speculative fiction, in that both serve "to inspire a sense of wonder by telling stories about magical things, which holds up a mirror or guidebook to invite the reader to consider how we can live our lives morally."

The text of the post below is furnished by Nydam, in which she reflects on the content and composition of the words and images in her bestiary. The images below all come from her book and are used with her kind permission. Editorial adjustment is kept to a minimum.

โ„‘ am not an academic or a medievalist, but I am an artist and fiction writer who has done extensive amateur research into the medieval bestiary, which I find not only a fascinating genre, but also one that has many common threads with our modern speculative fiction genres. I combined these ideas by writing and illustrating On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, a “medieval style” bestiary of my own, featuring all sorts of mythical, magical creatures. Medieval bestiaries combine elements of art, storytelling, science, mythology, social history, and morality. Right at the outset, I’ll acknowledge that the medieval writers wouldn’t have used any of those modern terms, let alone think of their work as “fantasy” in any way comparable to the way we think of fantasy now. Nevertheless, the blend of all these different elements is what attracts me to bestiaries and is what makes them so much fun!

There are many fantasy “bestiaries,” often presented as if they were books of natural science, and I enjoy these. However, the bit that differentiates the medieval era’s bestiaries from both the Classical encyclopedias before and the Renaissance encyclopedias after is a moral component: the idea that the purpose of learning about the Creation is to gain insight and understanding about the moral lessons that the Creator had embedded in the creatures of the Earth. In Europe, these moral lessons were all about Catholic theology, but the bestiary genre was also popular throughout the Middle East and Persian literary areas, where the moral lessons derived from the natural world were based in Islamic theology. Plus, Jewish art of the same era often made use of similar iconography for similar purposes, although to the best of my knowledge, there was not a bestiary genre in Hebrew literature. In any case, though, what struck me as I discovered more about these texts was the common thread across these cultures of the idea of using stories (especially information about the natural world) to examine moral issues. Moreover, this is a role that speculative fiction often takes on today.

I’m one of the many people for whom Tolkien’s work was instrumental in turning me into a lifelong lover of fantasy. Three of the elements in Tolkien’s success and appeal to me are beauty, wonder, and morality, and these are three major elements in the medieval bestiaries’ success, as well.

First, beauty. Bestiaries were lavishly illustrated, and the illustrations in bestiaries were not marginal decoration, but were important iconography that explicitly illustrated the text. For my own bestiary, therefore, I wanted to make a book that would be physically beautiful. Not only did I illustrate each of the animals featured, but I designed borders to go around each page, decorative initials, frontispiece and illustrations for the index, and so on.

Second, wonder. When we look at bestiary illustrations, as well as their strange descriptions of some of the animals, we tend to think, “Couldn’t they see that isn’t accurate? Surely they must have known?” But often “scientific” accuracy in the way we think of it now simply wasn’t the point. For the medieval bestiaries, part of the point was to inspire the reader with wonder to draw them in and to invite them to think about the divine lessons to be understood through learning about this wondrous Creation. They did this by describing strange creatures from faraway places, by illustrating them with marvelous colors and even gold illumination, and by telling anecdotes of magical behaviors and miraculous properties. This is exactly what modern speculative fiction often does as well; it shows us a world that is explicitly not “realistic,” and draws us in with wonder. For many of us, myself included, Middle-earth was a major introduction to the wonder, beauty, and excitement of magical worlds. Tolkien also created a sense of wonder by writing in a deliberately lyrical, somewhat archaic style. In order to evoke wonder in my own bestiary, I used many of these same techniques used by the medieval bestiary makers and by Tolkien: tales of strange and magical creatures; illustrations of wondrous scenes; and a deliberately poetic, old-fashioned writing style to show the reader that this is not your everyday modern encyclopedia!

Third, morality. The wonder opens our hearts and minds to consider and reconsider the choices we make about the ways we can live in our own world. Modern speculative fiction has a powerful and subversive ability to slip behind our defenses because we are willingly suspending our disbelief. Because readers of fantasy are less likely to object, “But that could never happen!” fantasy can show us visions not only of nifty things like elves, dragons, and magic, but also visions of individuals and societies functioning in ways that we would otherwise reject as impossible. Tolkien used a world of wonder to draw us in to consider the moral dimensions of such big questions as heroism, industrialism, loyalty, power, and knowledge. For my bestiary, I drew a moral from the story of each mythical creature. Rather than medieval Catholic theology, however (which has some thoroughly appalling elements), my morals are more modern messages about the importance of welcome and kindness, care for the natural world, integrity, creativity, and so on.

For years, I toyed with the idea of making a medieval-style bestiary with a modern diversity of creatures and a modern sense of morality. I made illustrations of dozens of mythical creatures, researched their stories, pored over more than a hundred digitized medieval bestiaries on-line. But was I the only person in the world who loved the strange mash-up of old-fashioned writing, relief-printed art, veneer of science, world-wide fantasy, and explicit morality? Would the people who love fantasy accept the moral lessons? Would the people who appreciated moral content understand the fantasy? Would adult readers want a picture book, and would children be able to read archaic, poetic writing? My husband, who likes to deal in data, convinced me that I should run a Kickstarter campaign in order to get some answers. Quite simply, if no one was interested in the Kickstarter, I would know that I was indeed alone in thinking this idea was enticing. On the other hand, if I got a few backers, I’d be able to gauge just how much interest there might be. Lo and behold, when I launched the campaign, it was successfully funded in just a few days, and went on to receive pledges of over five and a half times my initial goal.

Since then, the book has gone on to receive positive reactions whenever I do readings or bring it to events. So it turns out that the modern world is still interested in beauty, wonder, and morality, those same elements that made bestiaries best-sellers of the medieval world. And I also owe thanks to Tolkien, for introducing me to the wonders of medieval-influenced fantasy, of course, but also for making it such a foundational part of the modern fantasy landscape that other readers, too, have found that my own book, although it might seem so hopelessly niche, strikes a familiar and beloved chord.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Another CFP: NE/PCA

โ„‘n response to the announcement about the Society's session at #Kzoo2023, Robin Anne Reid, the Tolkien Studies area chair for the Popular Culture Association, sent along word that her area would be interested in having proposals from members of the Society. She also notes "that the Northeast Popular Culture conference is virtual this fall and is open to work on Tolkien -- and on "Tales after Tolkien" as well--they have a science fiction fantasy area," adding that "anyone who cannot present at K'zoo is welcome to join us at Pop Culture (the conference will be f2f in San Antonio, Texas, in 2023 [...], or to propose at NEPCA (deadline there is August 1) which is virtual."

So, if you have ideas that might've fit well in "Bad Medieval/ism: Mis/Uses of the Medieval in Contemporary Fiction; or, I Know It's Wrong, But I Want to Have Fun" or "Hidden Middle Ages: Where the Middle Ages Hides in Plain Sight in Contemporary Narratives," send them along!

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Some News about #Kzoo2023...And Updates

๐”‘ews arrived today about the panels that the Society had proposed to the International Congress on Medieval Studies for its 2023 iteration. Of the three sessions that the Society had voted at the 2022 AGM to propose, only one was accepted: the paper session Religion along the Tolkienian Fantasy Tradition: New Medievalist Narratives. While it is something of a disappointment to have only one of the three sessions accepted, the Society looks forward to the abstracts and papers that are sure to follow.

The session will broadly examine depictions of formal religion, real-world or in-milieu, in recent (post-2000) works in the Tolkienian fantasy tradition--here, conceived loosely as fantasy works, irrespective of medium, that make use of a more or less "authentic" European Middle Ages (itself a somewhat nebulous term, as has been noted) as a primary reference for their milieux and their trappings. While it is a commonplace that religious observance was a prominent concern in medieval life, Tolkien notably largely avoids substantial overt depiction of religious forms in his works, and those authors who follow after him largely do, as well. Even those authors who are explicit about the inclusion of religion--Martin and Hobb come to mind as attention-grabbing examples, and others can be found--are far less overt about religious practices. The disjunction is curious and invites exploration...such as the session hopes to do.

Submissions for the session will be accepted via the Congress's platform, which should appear on the "Submissions" page once it goes live. Early-career researchers, persons working off of the tenure track or outside academe entirely, and persons from traditionally marginalized populations are especially encouraged to submit abstracts; the Society welcomes diverse voices working from formal and embedded approaches.

Members of the Society are encouraged to spread word of the session and to submit proposals to it, as well.

Information about the AGM will be posted once it becomes available.

Additionally, the Society still hopes for contributions from its members and other interested parties to this webspace. From an earlier announcement of the same:

The Tales after Tolkien Society, which seeks to provide a forum to examine use of the medieval and medievalism in post-Tolkien popular culture, is seeking guest contributors to its blog ( Contributors need not have any institutional affiliation—we prize the voices of those on the outside. Posts can be of any length and can treat any work of any genre in any medium so long as it makes use of medieval/ist tropes and figures. We’re happy to see many topics, including (but certainly not limited to!)

  • How reading / having read Tolkien influences your work, scholarly and creative;
  • How reading medieval/ist work influences your own;
  • How participation in / engagement with fandoms influences your own; and
  • How you see a particular contemporary / recent work or body of work making use of the medieval.
More information is available at Interested? Email the Society at; we’d love to hear from you!

Note, too, that more regular activities will resume in this webspace soon; thank you for reading!

Friday, May 13, 2022

#Kzoo2022 Report (and an eye toward #Kzoo2023)

๐”—he Tales after Tolkien Society continued its work at the online International Congress on Medieval Studies hosted by Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. For the 2022 iteration of the event, the Society conducted its annual general meeting and sponsored and presented a roundtable session. Notes about each appear below.

The Meeting

Per §5.1 of the Society Constitution, an Annual General Meeting of the Society was held during the 2022 Congress, taking place online and called to order at 6pm US Central Daylight Time. Society President Geoffrey B. Elliott presided; Rachel Sikorski, Society Secretary and Social Media Officer, took minutes. In attendance were the aforementioned officers and members Carrie Pagels, Gillian Polack, and Kris Swank.

Formal agenda items to be considered were

  1. Determination of session offerings for the 2023 Congress,
  2. Election of a Vice-president (USA) for the term of 2022-2025,
  3. Election of a Social Media Officer for the term of 2022-2025, and
  4. Concerns for general Society attention and consideration.

As to the first point, suggested in the meeting were five possible topics: a roundtable on medievalism and despair, unconventional medievalisms, medievalism and diversity, medievalism and religion, and medievalists/medievalism and the news. Lively discussion of topics followed, resulting in determination that the Society propose three sessions to the 2023 Congress (with titles amended for clarity and sense):

  • Bad Medieval/ism: Mis/Uses of the Medieval in Contemporary Fiction; or, I Know It's Wrong, But I Want to Have Fun—A Roundtable
  • Hidden Middle Ages: Where the Middle Ages Hides in Plain Sight in Contemporary Narratives—A Paper Session
  • Religion along the Tolkienian Fantasy Tradition: New Medievalist Narratives—A Paper Session

Discussion surrounding the first proposal was particularly lively and engaging, and efforts to recruit speakers for it will be undertaken by Society membership, pending approval from the Congress of the session.

The roundtable has proposed as an online / hybrid event, allowing greater participation / engagement; the paper sessions have been proposed as online panels.

As to the second point, the incumbent in the office was not present at the meeting, and no candidates stood for election. Following past practice, the President has asked the incumbent to remain in office for the span of one year, until the Society's Annual General Meeting in 2023. Response is pending as of this writing.

As to the third point, the incumbent in the office, being present in the meeting, was asked if she wished to continue in office; she assented. A call for other nominees was made, with no response. Accordingly, Rachel Sikorski was acclaimed to the office once again.

As to the fourth point, how to prompt more engagement with the Society blog was discussed. Per discussion and approval from the membership present, verbiage recruiting guest posts will be drafted and posted to the Society's web presence and the Congress's website, and it will be made available to membership via email by request; one such request was made by Gillian Polack, to be answered as promptly as circumstances reasonably permit.

A motion to adjourn the meeting was made by Carrie Pagels and seconded by Gillian Polack. No objections being noted, the meeting was adjourned at 7pm US Central Daylight Time.

The Session

The Society's roundtable session, Twenty-First Century Neo/Medievalisms, was organized by the Society President and presided over by Society Secretary and Social Media Officer Rachel Sikorski; it was presented at 4pm US Central Daylight Time on Thursday, 12 May 2022. The session featured comments from the President, from independent scholar Michael A. Torregrossa, and from Lars Olaf Johnson of Cornell University. Elliott spoke on the use of neo/medievalist and medieval materials in the fifth edition of the Pendragon tabletop role-playing games. Johnson spoke on queerness in Game of Thrones, making particular reference to Society Founder Helen Young's work (of which an example is here, with another here). Torregrossa presented remarks on comic book depictions of Merlin, doing much to trace the history of those presentations and their general shape; the DC Comics Etrigan receives a fair bit of attention in his comments. Discussion of all three topics was lively and engaging, promising more such to come in future years.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

A Call for Contributions

ey, you.

Yes, you.

Do you work with medieval materials?

Do you see them popping up in the world around you?

Do you have ideas about it?

Do you want to see them out in the world?

Maybe we can help!

The Tales after Tolkien Society, which seeks to provide a forum to examine use of the medieval and medievalism in post-Tolkien popular culture, is seeking guest contributors to its blog ( Contributors need not have any institutional affiliation—we prize the voices of those on the outside. Posts can be of any length and can treat any work of any genre in any medium so long as it makes use of medieval/ist tropes and figures. We’re happy to see many topics, including (but certainly not limited to!)
  • How reading / having read Tolkien influences your work, scholarly and creative;
  • How reading medieval/ist work influences your own;
  • How participation in / engagement with fandoms influences your own; and
  • How you see a particular contemporary / recent work or body of work making use of the medieval.
More information is available at Interested? Email the Society at; we’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Once upon a Time Rewatch 2.22, "And Straight on 'til Morning"

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

2.22, "And Straight on 'til Morning"

Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Directed by Dean White


The final episode of the season opens with a focus on a tall ship sailing, one soon revealed to be Hook's Jolly Roger, aboard which Smee encourages Hook's revenge and reports that Baelfire sleeps but will be well. They confer about his origin, Smee voicing fears that Hook allays. Shortly after, the pair confer with Baelfire, who explains his arrival in Neverland and bristles at Hook before announcing his name--which Hook recognizes. The captain welcomes him to the crew.

Are you not entertained?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Following the title card, the episode continues with Henry swinging under Granny's watchful eye. Gold approaches, plotting his grandson's death and working magically to that end. He is stopped in his machinations by the arrival of Mary Margaret, David, and Emma and their challenge of him. Emma moves to Henry, and Mary Margaret imparts news: Baelfire is gone, shot by Tamara and taken by a portal to an unknown place. Gold is staggered by the news, and he refuses to help David and Mary Margaret in his sorrow at his son's loss, staggering off.

Beneath Storybrooke, Hook accompanies Greg and Tamara as they proceed along their orders and retrieve one of the dwarves' pickaxes to use the artifact stolen from Regina, which will undo Storybrooke. Hook challenges them, and they activate the artifact, which begins to unmake the town, allowing the original forest to reclaim the area. Regina returns to herself in company with Emma, Mary Margaret, David, and Henry as the destruction begins. Hook arrives shortly after and is punched and threatened by David in short order; Regina offers to hinder the destruction as the rest prepare to effect evacuation from Storybrooke. Regina offers a sincere apology to Henry.

Near Neverland, the Jolly Roger receives a delegation, Smee encouraging Hook to surrender Baelfire thereto. Hook refuses, citing Baelfire's utility as the delegation boards. The delegation, consisting of Lost Boys, demands the surrender of the boy, searching the ship for him. They do not find him, and they leave with dire warnings for Hook and his crew. Baelfire takes the demonstration to heart.

Gold confronts the dwarves in his shop as they note having found a remedy for their brother's malady. Grumpy offers a dose of the remedy to Gold for Belle as he heads off. Other preparations for the evacuation continue, with David and Hook moving to confront Greg and Tamara.

What arrr you thinking?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Aboard the Jolly Roger, Hook works with Baelfire. He takes the opportunity to learn more about the boy and his circumstances. He relates a sad backstory and gets confirmation that Baelfire is the son of the Dark One in exchange--and learns of the dagger, to boot.

David and Hook confer as they proceed against Greg and Tamara. Melee and pursuit begin, with Hook securing a bean as Greg and Tamara flee. Meanwhile, Emma and Regina proceed to the active artifact. Regina purposes to remain behind as the rest of the town flees; Emma attempts to dissuade her from her self-sacrifice, unsuccessfully. Gold and Lacey face their own ends soddenly, and Gold doses her with the remedy Grumpy gave him; it restores Belle to herself, and the two reconcile tearfully.

Discussion of options ensues, with Mary Margaret suggesting removing the artifact and Emma rejecting the idea as overly risky. Emma is overruled, and she overrules Hook's attempt to escape, in turn. He challenges her about her motives, and she asserts a desire to save Henry from losing another family member, Baelfire already having fallen. The news of Baelfire's loss stuns Hook.

Smee challenges Hook regarding Baelfire. Baelfire challenges Hook regarding Milah and learns the truth of her death. Baelfire demands to be taken back to the Darlings; Hook notes the impossibility, and Baelfire turns away from him in teenage angst.

The attempt to send the artifact away is made, despite Regina's objections, and Emma finds that the bean upon which they had relied is absent, Hook having palmed the object and returned to the Jolly Roger to make good his escape. Near Neverland, Baelfire makes to depart the Jolly Roger, Hook attempting to dissuade him from going. He does not succeed, so he turns Balefire over to the Lost Boys, albeit with some regret--that afflicts him as he makes to leave Storybrooke.

Ooh. Pretty colors.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Regina's containment efforts begin to falter, and tearful goodbyes begin to be said. Regina apologizes again, and Emma realized she can assist, moving to do so. The combined efforts appear to succeed, with reforestation withdrawing--though Henry disappears, taken by Greg and Tamara, who note Henry's greater importance as they abscond with him. Chase is joined, and Greg and Tamara open a portal, taking Henry with them. Means to follow are discussed, and the return of the Jolly Roger betokens hope; combined efforts promise to be enough. Gold charges Belle with instructions as to how to protect the town in what he expects to be his terminal absence.

Baelfire finds himself on the shores of the Enchanted Forest. And Henry, as it happens, is in Neverland, where his father had been taken before--and Peter Pan awaits.


As the final episode of the season, the present episode does not bring in much, if anything, new; it would hardly be narratively appropriate to do so. But I do note the interesting refusal of the series to allow a self-sacrifice by one of the major characters; Regina had a chance at redemption by remaining in place to ensure the rest could flee, a gesture that would resonate with modern viewership no less than with medieval readership regarding a similar thing, John 15:13 being a common point of reference. For the earlier, Christianity would be taken as a given (if not always accurately so, as others can attest more fully than I), and self-sacrifice is at the heart of Christian ideology; for Regina to act in such a way would be an eminently fitting gesture. And for the latter, self-sacrifice remains lauded, as lists of honors and awards, both civilian and military, attest.

Admittedly, production reasons--described by TV Tropes as "Status Quo is God"--suggest why the gesture would be refused; it's hard to keep a character in place who is dead, after all, and resurrecting a character after a sacrifice cheapens the sacrifice (comic books might learn such lessons usefully), while disposing of a popular character is likely to have adverse effects on ratings. Still, it's a strange thing to consider from not only a perspective of medievalist interpretation, but also from a perspective of "this is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles" so often voiced about the United States (albeit not accurately and with a decidedly slanted interpretation of Christianity, as recent events amply demonstrate), whose population can be presumed to be the primary audience of the series.

But that's an argument for another place and time, one far more emphatic and immediate than my commentaries here can ever be.

As a reminder, there will be a break before I take up Season 3. Gotta make sure I'm ready for #Kzoo2022--and then I'll need a rest!

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

One More Update for #Kzoo2022

๐”—his was mentioned previously--28 January 2022--but the Society will be having its Annual General Meeting via the ICMS online platform at 7pm US Eastern Time on Monday, 9 May 2022. Items to be discussed include

  • What panel/s, if any, to propose for the 2023 ICMS;
  • Election of a Social Media Officer, 2022-2025; and
  • Election of a Vice-President (USA), 2022-2025.

No panel topics having yet been proposed, the Society will accept suggestions from the floor during the meeting. Similarly, no nominations for the positions having yet been received, the Society will accept nominations from the floor during the meeting.

Other business may be discussed at the Society's discretion.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Once upon a Time Rewatch 2.21, "Second Star to the Right"

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

2.21, "Second Star to the Right"

Written by Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg
Directed by Ralph Hemecker


At least the signage is good.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
After a recapitulation of series events, the episode follows the adolescent Baelfire after his separation from his father, a portal opened by a magic bean depositing him alone outside Kensington Gardens. The episode continues to follow Baelfire faring poorly in London six months later, sneaking into an open window to steal bread, where he is swiftly confronted by a girl and her dog; the girl offers him the bread and introduces herself as Wendy Darling.

Baelfire wakes in Storybrooke to find Tamara getting ready to train. She leaves him sleeping. Meanwhile, Gold and Lacey accost Whale until interdicted by Baelfire; Gold dismisses Lacey in favor of talking with his son. The exchange goes poorly for both of them, though worse for Gold. Seemingly at the same time, Emma and David enter Regina's office under arms in search of the magic beans, clearing the room and finding that it has been burgled. The search continues, Emma voicing her theory about Tamara and sending Mary Margaret and David to talk to Gold.

Tamara puts in at the town's docks, joining Greg as Hook restrains Regina. Tamara reports the magic beans, and the two exult in their success. After an exchange with Hook, Regina is subjected to torture by Greg.

In Victorian London, Baelfire is living in the walls of the Darling home, aided by Wendy until her parents confront her. Wendy's mother determines to take him in, despite her father's objection. In Storybrooke, Emma again searches Tamara's room, finding evidence that she has been lying to Baelfire. And back in Victorian London, Baelfire settles into the Darling household, where he is bidden watch for a strange shadow with the children--one possessed of magic. Baelfire warns the children against the magic, citing his experience, and they agree to remain apart from the shadow.

Are we suddenly in grad school?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
David and Mary Margaret call on Gold for assistance with Regina, David calling in an owed favor to compel the assistance. He completes a working that facilitates a connection between Mary Margaret and Regina, and he dismisses the pair. Lacey reenters, having overheard the conversation, and she challenges Gold over his abilities. Mary Margaret uses the tool Gold provided, linking her perception to Regina's amid the latter's torture.

They really pack these in...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Victorian London, Baelfire sees Wendy looking out at the shadow again, despite her promise. Baelfire warns Wendy again, and she refuses, taken up with the thrills offered by Neverland and departing thence. In Storybrooke, Emma and Baelfire search out Tamara and Regina, finding the former on the beach. Tense conversations ensue, and Emma's search continues. Tamara, however, repairs to where Greg is torturing Regina, and she and Greg note their intent to destroy magic in the world, noting their previous successes and their group's. Mary Margaret, having lost her link to Regina, reports what information she can--which is not much amid the pain. The smell of sardines she notes, however, gives away the location of Regina's confinement--which happens to be near where Emma is walking, coincidentally, and Emma summons aid to her location.

Baelfire wakes in Victorian London as Wendy returns to the Darling house. She reports her experiences in Neverland, noting her reasons for return: the shadow wants a boy, and will be taking one of Wendy's brothers. She admits the correctness of Baelfire's warning, and he purposes to protect her.

In Storybrooke, Gold prepares another working, demonstrating for Lacey. She grows greedy for what his power can provide, and he notes the possibility of his own undoing. She encourages him to eliminate the threat to him. Meanwhile, Emma and Baelfire move ahead of assistance to search for Regina, encountering David and Mary Margaret. The search continues, observed via camera by Tamara; she prompts exfiltration, which Greg refuses in favor of finding his father. Tamara departs, and Greg proceeds; Regina reports having killed Kurt long since.

Dark, man. Dark.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Victorian London, Baelfire arranges matters with the Darling children to hinder the advance of the shadow. They secure the room as best they can and wait for it to come--which wait is brief. The shadow comes, and Baelfire interposes himself between it and its target, sacrificing himself for the Darling family. The shadow takes him swiftly aloft above London and thence to Neverland.

In Storybrooke, Greg tortures Regina into unconsciousness. Greg flees, and David and Mary Margaret make to secure her, biding Emma interdict Greg. Tamara reveals herself then, entering via heavy pipe, and confronts Baelfire with the truth. She shoots him, and melee ensues. Tamara deploys one of the stolen magic beans, creating a portal and using the distraction of it to cover her escape. Emma and Baelfire admit their love for each other, and Baelfire sacrifices himself to preserve Emma.

Elsewhere, the fled Greg digs in the woods for his father's remains, finding evidence of his death. The Mother Superior heals Regina, and Emma returns to report events; her parents attempt to comfort her. In Neverland, Baelfire struggles against the shadow, falling from its grasp into the dark ocean and eluding its search--whereupon he is rescued by the crew of the Jolly Roger. And Tamara joins Greg in the woods, holding the crystal that Regina had meant to use to destroy Storybrooke--which they now intend to use for that purpose.


As in the previous season, and as in previous series, the end of the season (the present episode is its penultimate episode) admits of less new medievalism, being focused on drawing a storyline to a close. Given the nature of serial television, of course, it is setting up for the next major story-arc (this is a rewatch, after all), but it is not introducing much new material even with that; it is clear that the series will be going into Peter Pan, but that was already an option with the initial appearance of Captain Hook, so that's hardly new.

A bit of a note: after wrapping up the season and addressing the coming International Congress on Medieval Studies, I'll be taking a bit of a break. Just so you know.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Once upon a Time Rewatch 2.20, "The Evil Queen"

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

2.20, "The Evil Queen"

Written by Jane Espenson and Christine Boylan
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton


After a recapitulation of series events, the episode begins with a bound Hook being confronted by Greg and Tamara in the ruined clock tower in Storybrooke. He refuses, citing the death of Rumpelstiltskin--and he is shown that Rumpelstiltskin yet lives. The demonstration convinces him to aid in recovering Kurt in exchange for assistance in killing Rumpelstiltskin.

Where's Wat Tyler when you need him?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The episode pivots to a scene in the Enchanted Forest during which Regina leads a small party to investigate a cottage where Snow White had been hiding. The villagers are gathered and pressed for information, but none is forthcoming, prompting an execution order.

In Storybrooke, conversation about returning to the Enchanted Forest between David and Mary Margaret ensues. Regina, disguised, overhears the conversation and proceeds on her own path. In the Enchanted Forest of the past, she confers with Rumpelstiltskin about her failure to elicit cooperation from the peasantry regarding Snow White, and he makes Machiavellian comments regarding her reign that she contests with little success. She asks for further magical assistance from Rumpelstiltskin, plotting revenge; he agrees to assist her in exchange for cutting trade with George's kingdom. The deal is concluded, and Regina, disguised, proceeds upon her plan to find and kill Snow White.

In Storybrooke, Regina meets with Henry confusing him. She shows Henry the magic beans she has purloined. She works to suborn Henry to her against the plan to leave her behind when they return to the Enchanted Forest. She overplays her hand, however, and Henry balks at the idea, resisting until Regina ensorcels him to wipe his memory.

Things seem remarkably regular, uniform...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Disguised as a peasant, Regina stalks through a local market. Amid doing so, she overhears talk lambasting the queen and rails at it. She is taken prisoner by local authorities, forgetting the constraints of her disguise.

In Storybrooke, Hook meets Regina in her office. He asks her for sanctuary, noting Greg and Tamara's plans and trying to argue for another arrangement of his own. She notes the presence of magic beans and her own plan to abscond with Henry--which will also defeat Rumpelstiltskin.

Hell of a cheat sheet.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Emma runs into Tamara at Granny's, noting a strange list as she helps her pick up dropped goods. They confer briefly, awkwardly, and Emma realizes Tamara's deceit--and Tamara, Emma's understanding. She reports her suspicions to Mary Margaret, who tries to allay her concerns. Henry overhears and plots to assist in investigating Tamara. And Regina and Hook proceed into the caverns beneath Storybrooke's library.

In the Enchanted Forest, Regina faces summary execution and calls out to Rumpelstiltskin for aid. She is saved by an attack from Snow White and flees from town with her.

Regina and Hook proceed, Hook musing on revenge. As he does, he displays a token that Regina's mother had given him; she demands it back from him, and he obliges her. In the event, it mutes her magical abilities, perilous as they move to confront Maleficent and she uses Hook as bait for her as she reconstitutes herself from ash and dust. Melee ensues, going poorly for Hook. Regina, meanwhile, retrieves another bit of magical apparatus.

In the Enchanted Forest, Snow White attends the still-disguised Regina. Conversation alludes to other adventures on Snow White's part, and Snow White rehearses her story with Regina. In Storybrooke, Henry and Emma confer about how to proceed investigating Tamara. Henry talks about travel to the Enchanted Forest, longing for the life that might be available there. They snoop, Emma finding a loose floorboard before being warned off by Henry as Neal approaches. Neal realizes Emma is snooping about and he confronts her about Tamara. They investigate the floorboard, finding nothing, and Emma reluctantly withdraws.

Remarkably tidy deaths, these.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Enchanted Forest, Regina rises to find Snow White preparing to evacuate against the approach of Regina's own patrols. She accompanies Snow White into the woods and presses her about her relationship with the queen, and Snow White opines on it. Regina is somewhat taken aback, and her ruse begins to falter. They come upon the massacred village, and Snow White's heart is soured against Regina; Regina's ruse is broken, and she flees.

In Storybrooke, Regina returns from her expedition to find Hook waiting for her, to her surprise. He confronts her with Tamara and Greg, and she finds her magic has been muted. Meanwhile, Emma and Henry confer about their hindering, and David takes Leroy and Mary Margaret to investigate the bean field. They find it burned and despoiled.

Regina confronts Rumpelstiltskin for the removal of the spell he placed upon her. She accepts his Machiavellian ideas, and he restores her to herself. And as the evil queen, she faces Greg and Tamara, who take her captive.


One brief note of interest: There is an extra in the episode played by a man credited as Hrothgar Mathews. รžรฆt wรฆs god freรณlsman!

There is a common conception that medieval rulership was absolute and monolithic. As with many common conceptions, it is incorrect. Even a fairly broad overview of medieval theories of rulership indicates as much, noting that even in the highest and holiest instances of medieval rulership, there was an understanding that bad rulership could rightly be overthrown. While what counted as "bad" might very from place to place and time to time, the fact that such justifications were seen even in relation to the pinnacles of governance is...telling. And it is seen, indeed, even in such commonplace medieval/ist works as those treating Robin Hood and the wars of dynastic succession that constitute and inform so much; how many would rise up against a system they see as working well for them?

Consequently, the attention the present episode pays to the unrest against Regina's reign in the Enchanted Forest--surprisingly more so than against her governance of Storybrooke, which takes place in an explicitly election-driven dynamic--while seeming at first blush to run counter to "medieval" thought in favor of pandering to a predominantly American audience, accords more closely with reported medieval understandings than is typically supposed. That it is intentionally so is doubtful; there's enough the series gets wrong, as has been noted repeatedly, that makes clear "correctness" is not a major concern (with some justification, of course). But even an unintentional act has effects, and what we do without thinking about it says quite a bit about us as we approach the world.