Friday, July 10, 2020

A Update for #Kzoo2021--Hopefully Not Tentative

𝔄s a follow-up to"Getting Started for #Kzoo2021," the Society is happy to report that both of its sessions for the (hopefully) upcoming ICMS have been approved. As a reminder, submissions for either or both need to come to talesaftertolkien@gmail.com on or before 15 September 2020; please include a brief abstract and your PIF. Proposals from graduate students, those outside traditional academe, and traditionally underrepresented groups are still especially welcome, and please let people in your circles know who might be interested!

As a reminder, the panels are these:

Legacies of Tolkien's Whiteness in Contemporary Medievalisms

A roundtable session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University (www.wmich.edu/medievalcongress) examining the continuing effects of Tolkien's depictions of race in medievalist works.

Much criticism directs itself towards racial studies and postcolonial readings of the works of JRR Tolkien, arguing whether his works should be regarded as racist and what attitudes contemporary readers would be well served to adopt in response to them. Much attention in popular media has directed itself towards the use of medieval and medievalist works such as Tolkien's by white supremacist groups to offer themselves pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-historical support for their execrable agendas. The session looks for ways in which contemporary medievalist work (hopefully) unintentionally supports such efforts and what can be done to oppose them as things deserving all opposition.

Deadscapes: Wastelands, Necropoli, and Other Tolkien-Inspired Places of Death, Decay, and Corruption

A paper session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University (www.wmich.edu/medievalcongress) examining depictions of what comes in the wake of war and death in works in the Tolkienian tradition.

Many of the "standard" fantasy works, ranging from the epics through Arthuriana into Tolkien and beyond, make much of grand wars fought on massive scales. They also, at times, look at what is left behind when the war is done, the graveyards filled and memorials erected. The session looks at how such things are constructed in works in the Tolkienian fantasy tradition and what functions they serve for readers in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
We hope to see you at the 'zoo!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 5.5, "Save the Cat"

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She-Ra comes back in full force at last.

5.5, "Save the Cat"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, Laura Sreebny, and M. Willis
Directed by Roy Burdine and Jen Bennett

Synopsis

This does not seem a good idea.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora, Glimmer, Bow, and Entrapta proceed towards Horde Prime's flagship, intending to rescue Catra. They are pulled into the ship, with Adora surrendering to the clones and being taken to Horde Prime. The others infiltrate the ship, searching for Catra and for a means to assail Prime.

As Adora confronts Prime in his throne room, Glimmer navigates the ship with difficulty. Bow and Entrapta encounter opposition. Prime reveals himself as a body-hopper, and one who has faced and defeated Adora's kind previously. Entrapta believes she recognizes Hordak among the clones and tries to retrieve him; the clone attacks, Bow defends, and the clone finds himself bereft of connection to the Horde. Bow and Entrapta suborn him, labeling him "Wrong Hordak."

Back at the scene of the crime.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer returns to the cell where she had been held, finding Catra absent and her group's communications jammed as Horde Prime boasts to Adora. He returns Catra to Adora, having turned her to his own purposes.

Bow, Entrapta, and Wrong Hordak arrive at a sensitive location as Adora understands what has been done to Catra; she is controlled via an implant on the back of her neck. Prime unleashes his forces on Adora's party and leaves Catra to assail Adora. Multiple melees ensue; Glimmer's and Bow's are more successful than Adora's, and they are able to damage Prime's command and control structures.

Reminiscent of the Pieta, this.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The damage loosens Prime's control of Catra, but only just, and she and Adora end up injured. When Prime confronts Adora again, she manifests the full power of She-Ra, seeming more like Mara than her previous self as she effects escape from the Horde, joining the others in the progress of their own exit. And Hordak, after, begins to reassert himself.

Discussion

The Arthurian pastiche in which the series operates already admits of much of the messianic. The present episode does much to reinforce that aspect of the Arthurian, with much being made of rescuing prisoners from bondage (about which Malory and other Arthurian writers make much) and of the sword-wielding hero(ine) returning in the hour of need. In that, then, it adds to already-existing medievalism in the series rather than adding new medievalisms to it--and this despite the imprecations of some commentary that asserts medievalism and those who study it are somehow unreal.

The present episode also accentuates the homosocial, even homoerotic, motions that appear in much Arthurian work. When I had students, and when I had them in classes that allowed for me to bring in Arthurian literature, they were often surprised by the amount of kissing going on between men in the works, as well as the open emoting that occurs throughout. Part of that is different social conditioning and expectation, of course; many prevailing ideas of masculinity call for a partial and inauthentic stoicism, and knights are "supposed" to be exemplars of masculinity. It's the kind of thing that Shiloh Carroll speaks to in her excellent write-up of Game of Thrones, and it may be the kind of thing to which the current series and its present episode respond. Certainly, there is enough tenderness among Adora's group--despite the fighting that has happened among them--to be marked, a juxtaposition that also echoes the Arthurian of which the series appears to make so much use.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 5.4, "Stranded"

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Hope is rekindled along with purpose as the final season of the series persists.

5.4, "Stranded"

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

Synopsis

Note the placement.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora, Glimmer, Bow, and Entrapta proceed through space. They assess their situation, with tension emerging from Bow. Glimmer makes to ask forgiveness for her earlier misbehavior, but problems with the ship intervene. She apologizes to Adora amid the problems, but the ship's suffering a fuel problem prevents more. The group proceeds towards a noted fuel source.

On Etheria, the remaining resistance forces make camp, Scorpia offering encouragement. She confers with Swift Wind as he tries to make contact with the absent Adora. He bemoans his inability to do so, and she comforts him.

Pretty. Also, Arthurian reference?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
On the planet identified as the fuel source, Adora's party finds a wasteland that the Horde had already visited; the fate of Etheria is forecast, and blame for it laid at Glimmer's feet. Sign of the fuel emerges, and Adora, Glimmer, and Bow investigate while Entrapta effects repairs. Bow remains taciturn, and Adora is of little help. A sudden fissure separates the party, sending Adora underground into crystalline caverns. She proceeds into the caves.

On Etheria, Swift Wind continues his vigil. He tries to talk to her, giving a convenient overview of the resistance's progress against the greater Horde. The lack of reply disheartens him.

As Adora explores, she finds signs of others before coming under attack. A brief melee ensues, and Glimmer and Bow reach Adora amid an ongoing resolution among Adora and her erstwhile opponents, the Star Siblings. They share the situation of being in need of fuel--and the fuel is difficult to access. Adora tries to recruit them, but they resist joining her against the Horde. Entrapta joins with a warning of impending seismic activity, and the combined group proceeds to retrieve the fuel.

It's a pretty clear sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The seismic activity intensifies, imperiling the retrieval efforts. Glimmer makes the retrieval while the rest secure their path of egress. As they do, Adora begins to manifest the power of She-Ra once again, and the group is able to escape with the fuel before the caverns collapse. Adora's exertions give the Star Siblings hope, and they agree to join the rebellion against the Horde.

As Adora, Glimmer, and Bow make to retrieve Catra, Glimmer apologizes to Bow; he accepts it, and the trio is at ease once again. And Swift Wind, on Etheria, feels the return of She-Ra.

Discussion

The nascent return of She-Ra fits in nicely with the long-established Arthurian pastiche, the messianic figure of the once-and-future potentate reemerging again betokening the Arthur to which Adora has long been linked. And, truly, Adora did not die, but went into another place--a much, much different one, indeed, what with flying across the cosmos.

The pastiche nature of She-Ra's Arthurian reference also again admits of her evoking Lancelot in her conduct. The return of her powers comes not at her command, not to satisfy her vanity, but in the defense of others, bringing to mind Lancelot's healing of Urre in Malory. The Round Table knight does "not do it for no presumption, but for to bear [his comrades] fellowship," and, just as he succeeds when he approaches the task humbly, Adora is able to summon the power of She-Ra almost reflexively when she is not fighting to retain her prominence but standing stable to support her friends. Nor do either of them exult in the achievement, which is something worth noting.

More of us could do with being more humble.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 5.3, "Corridors"

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Some hope presents itself as what seems to be Act I of the season concludes.

5.3, "Corridors"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nolfi, Josie Campbell, Laura Sreebny, and M. Willis
Directed by Roy Burdine and Christina "Kiki" Manrique

Synopsis

Again, the lime green is a bad sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
A young Catra flees through the corridors of the Fright Zone. A young Adora seeks to comfort her, only to have her lash out. The current Catra reminisces over the event as she watches the Horde bombard a planet before stalking through the corridors, monitors in tow. She tries to evade them, encountering Hordak once again. They confer briefly.

Adora, Bow, and Entrapta pilot Mara's ship towards Glimmer's location, preparing for their encounters. Bow tries to rein in Entrapta's tinkering tendencies and Adora's fractiousness--until the ship begins experiencing problems.

Seems a time-honored tradition.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Glimmer tests the limits of her confinement. Catra interrupts her, and Glimmer asks why she risks the continued contact. They begin to bond, if hesitantly, over their regrets.

Aboard Mara's ship, which Entrapta has christened Darla, repairs ensue. Problems rapidly multiply, however, defying early efforts to correct them.

Catra begins stalking the Horde-clones, two of which proceed to a long-distance teleporter. Horde Prime, through a clone, summons her to what soon reveals itself to be a ritual. He confronts her regarding the launch of Mara's ship from Etheria, and he tasks her with gathering information from Glimmer. And he demonstrates the ritual to chilling effect, so Catra does as she is commanded--ostensibly. Glimmer talks her down, however.

Aboard Darla, Bow tries to find Entrapta; she has left the ship to effect repairs. Bow has trouble processing events--and more problems emerge.

It's a hell of a catch.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary

Horde Prime commends Catra for her contributions. She stalks off, returning to memories of her youth with Adora in the Fright Zone. Her possessiveness of Adora is manifest again, and she once again stalks off, remembering. The weight of memory pushes her to effect Glimmer's escape from Horde Prime's ship, using the teleporter she found earlier to send Glimmer back to the newly repaired Darla. Adora and Bow rejoice in her return, and Catra faces the rebuke of the Horde via the ritual Hordak had endured.


Discussion

As noted.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
The ritual in which Hordak participates is, of course, reminiscent of Christian baptism. The Horde-clones chant rhythmically while their presiding Prime looks on, and the ritual ostensibly serves to "restore" Hordak to "the light" since it will "cast out the shadows" of Hordak's "burden" through his (partial) immersion. Along with Horde Prime's later dismissal of Catra with "Go now in peace," the Horde as refiguration of organized Christianity appears to be emphasized--and, in a series that makes much use of medieval/ist tropes, it does not come off as a particularly pleasant thing.

I have noted the relative dearth of organized religions in at least some mainstream medievalist properties, and I have to think that some of the same impetus is at work in the present episode; I have the sensation that no small part of the presumed primary audience and inferred peripheral audience has difficulties with organized religion, generally, and organized Christianity, more specifically. Certainly, the Crusades that the Horde evokes--more strongly in the present episode through the more overt reference to Christian practice--present no few problems, not least because of their continued misuse by execrable factors. So that seems to be at work.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 5.2, "Launch"

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Plans get well and truly underway as the final season of the series moves ahead.

5.2, "Launch"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Laura Sreebny, Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, and M. Willis
Directed by Roy Burdine and Jen Bennett

Synopsis

One way to ensure an audience...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Horde Prime broadcasts a message to Etheria, one proselytizing himself to the world and calling for the surrender of She-Ra to him. Adora herself continues to suffer exhaustion from her exertions, and Bow tries, with limited success, to allow her some time to rest.

While she does, the other princesses try to plan out a method for finding Glimmer. Entrapta's contributions, while enthusiastic, are not helpful, and her history of focus on machines over people is a point of contention. Still, her expertise is recognized, and recognized as needed.

It does not look comfortable.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Glimmer remains a prisoner on Horde Prime's ship, with Catra continuing the watch her despite Prime's orders. Hordak confronts her until he is taken over by Horde Prime; after, he escorts Glimmer away.

Adora sleeps fitfully, dreaming of Etheria and Horde Prime. She wakes to follow a vision of She-Ra gleaming in the darkness.

The other princesses help Entrapta to triangulate signals from the Horde to be able to find Glimmer. Communication issues interfere. The lack of tactical acumen shows in the attempt.

Horde Prime shows Glimmer a series of artifacts from worlds that no longer exist. He tries to cozen her into helping him acquire She-Ra and the Heart of Etheria weapon. He also shows her that Micah lives, offering to preserve her friends in exchange for her aid. Glimmer rejects the offer.

Typical escort mission...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
The princesses' mission proceeds with difficulty. Entrapta's inattention to her surroundings triggers local alarms, ensuring that a fracas ensues after an emotional eruption. The mission succeeds, revealing the location of Horde Prime's ship--and incoming Horde forces.

Adora, following the vision, finds herself transported to the site of a portal. She confronts her incapacity and rehearses her choices and their consequences, and she arrives at a decision--and wakes back in her tent with new purpose. And she makes her escape from Etheria, with Bow and Entrapta, to retrieve Glimmer. Micah leads the effort to cover their escape, successfully and fabulously.

Fabulously, indeed.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary


Discussion

The penultimate scene, in which Micah poses as She-Ra to draw the Horde's attention away from the launching ship, attracted no small attention online after the final season was released. While some viewers, backward, might look at the tactic as shameful or as an indication that the series is "pandering," others, more aware of medievalist antecedents, might point out Eowyn's participation in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields as a possible referent. Still others, more aware of medieval antecedents, might point out the repeated use of such a ruse in the chivalric tradition from which the series appears to borrow. Marion Wynne-Davies points out at least one such example in Malory's Lancelot, and Debbie Kerkhof later expounds on no small number of examples thereof. And other medieval understandings--the Norse Loki and Þorr come to mind, and others' minds are no doubt more comprehensive than mine--point to similar examples.

Such complaints as get voiced all too often reflect a limited, inaccurate understanding of the medieval European. This is not to say it was a heyday of progressive thought, certainly, but there is all too much misunderstanding of what was at work then, and no small part of that misunderstanding is deliberate. And if it is the case that a children's show can help people to better understand what was and what is, and who they are, then that has to be accounted to the good.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 5.1, "Horde Prime"

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The final season of the series gets off to a disheartening start.

5.1, "Horde Prime"

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

Synopsis

A planetary blockade in three dimensions? Clearly a better class of villain.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The greater Horde armada surrounds Etheria. Its constructs make planetfall, sending out scouts and troops that begin to assail the populace--and that Adora, Bow, Swift Wind, and the princesses fight against. Adora, lacking She-Ra's power, is less effective against the onslaught, though not for lack of trying. Her efforts attract the attention of the titular Horde Prime.

While Adora recovers from injuries sustained in the fight, she dreams of her experiences and of Horde Prime, seeing a golden figure. When she starts awake from the dream, she is greeted by her broken sword and moves to survey the ongoing rebellion. Matters are grim, with many injuries and much fatigue. Bow and Entrapta report problems with Mara's ship and Glimmer's location, and Adora presses them to work more diligently. She also enters an ongoing discussion among Micah, Shadow Weaver, and the princesses about using the Heart of Etheria against the greater Horde; the idea is vetoed once again. Adora volunteers to take a team to act on intelligence reported during the meeting.

The underlying sickly green is a giveaway.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer wakes in captivity aboard Horde Prime's ship. She surveys her surroundings briefly before finding herself without her accustomed powers. Catra observes her briefly.

On Etheria, Swift Wind and Scorpia confer about their just-completed mission. They find themselves in accord, and Adora considers her lost abilities as a counterattack approaches; she charges in.

Catra finds herself summoned to Horde Prime. He confronts her with information taken from Hordak's mind, and she dickers for her continued existence. Seemingly at the same time, Adora dreams again, attempting to follow the golden figure as it stalks off; she wakes again after her reckless assault on the counterattack, having been paralyzed by Scorpia. Bow upbraids her recklessness, but Adora stumbles onto a workable idea to trace Glimmer's location, and they purpose to follow up on it. They proceed to capture one of the Horde clones.

Is Glimmer the canary, here?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer rails against her captivity, and Catra taunts her. Glimmer, however, knows that Catra is also a captive and confronts her with that. They are interrupted by a summons to dine with Horde Prime.

Adora and her companions interrogate the captured clone, who displays a religious devotion to Horde Prime. The clone also affirms that an attack on the rebellion is coming, one heralded by a sign from Micah and in progress before they can arrive back. They do manage to evacuate successfully as the dinner with Horde Prime proceeds--including tacit threats against Etheria, attacks against which Prime shows Glimmer and Catra to compel Glimmer to divulge information about Adora. Glimmer argues for Adora's life, successfully.

This is not the face of confidence.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora realizes her incapacity as she is rescued by her companions once again. Bow reaffirms their group commitment, though, and Adora successfully captains the rebel forces through their evacuation, leading them to a place she has seen with Razz and in visions--where they can be safe, at least for a time.

After the dinner, Horde Prime confronts Catra about her own attachment to Adora--and her seeming uselessness to him.

Discussion


While the season was released before the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, it is difficult not to rewatch the episode against the context of those killings and their painful, pointed reminders of systemic racism--and the greater Horde is overwhelming in its whiteness (despite the voice actor in question, Keston John), as well as being an invading, conquering, rapacious group. The Saxon connection noted in the previous commentary seems to apply, here, then, although the correspondence remains inexact--largely because of the heavily religious overtones imparted to the invasion by the words of the captured clone.

The religious fervor, however, also rings of common depictions of the European medieval. Common understanding pegs it as a particularly devout time, one governed in large part by centralized, organized religion. And there is some truth to such understanding; the Catholic Church in medieval Western Europe did exercise no small amount of influence on daily life. It was not quite as pervasive as is commonly held, of course, and the religion at work was not the same as most modern iterations, as casual glances at various works attest. (Chaucer and the Land of Cokaygne come to mind as examples.) Even so, there seems to be something of the Crusader mentality about the Horde as it approaches Etheria.

It is not something that creates a favorable impression.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 4.13, "Destiny, Part 2"

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In the final episode of the season, matters do not seem to improve, setting up well for the fifth and final season.

4.13, "Destiny, Part 2"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nolfi, Laura Sreebny, Josie Campbell, and M. Willis
Directed by Christina "Kiki" Manrique

Synopsis

Scorpia gives great hugs.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
In Bright Moon, Adora sends Swift Wind with Bow and Entrapta to retrieve Glimmer; she heads to the Crystal Castle to confront Light Hope and stop the Heart of Etheria. Meanwhile, Glimmer and Scorpia stalk through the Fright Zone, encountering Lonnie, Rogelio, and Kyle; the three allow Glimmer and Scorpia to pass, noting their own dissatisfaction with affairs in the Horde.

Hordak attempts to kill Catra for her betrayal. She flees until she can find a position from which to counterattack; she does so successfully, leaving him disabled and trapped.

Glimmer and Scorpia reach the Black Garnet, and Scorpia connects with the gem, summoning and displaying power. As she does so, the Heart of Etheria begins to come online, with all of the princesses suddenly swelling with might and Light Hope preparing to discharge the weapon.

Double Trouble confronts Catra, revealing their betrayal, in turn; knowing of the superweapon, Double Trouble throws in with the princesses. The confrontation leaves Catra shaken, badly, as Scorpia and Glimmer proceed through the Fright Zone in power. Scorpia pleads with Glimmer to spare Catra, and Glimmer agrees.

It does not look easy, no.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Adora reaches Light Hope, and the Heart of Etheria powers up. The hologram reveals that she, not Hordak, pulled Adora to Etheria. Adora resists the activation, albeit with substantial difficulty.

Glimmer arrives where Catra and Hordak linger, defeated. She is there when the Heart of Etheria begins draining power from her and the princesses in preparation for firing; the princesses are caught out in the field, and their power channels itself to Adora, who continues to resist. Light Hope transports Etheria back into normal space.

It is a decisive statement.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Glimmer tries unsuccessfully to thwart the Heart. Adora continues to try to convince Light Hope not to fire the weapon, and, in the end, she shatters the sword of She-Ra to prevent the Heart of Etheria firing.

Adora wakes to find the sword destroyed and Light Hope flickering out of existence with words of thanks. The Crystal Castle is darkened.

Such a smile...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Bow tries to reach Glimmer, only to see her and Hordak taken by Horde Prime, whose ships fill Etheria's skies. Glimmer wakes on Horde Prime's ship, where he rebukes Hordak and takes Glimmer captive--at Catra's sudden emergence and suggestion--in advance of taking Etheria as a weapon for his own.

Discussion

If the episode is to be regarded as continuing the Arthurian pastiche that is legible in so much of the series, then I have to wonder if the arrival of Horde Prime and the incipient invasion of Etheria do not partake of either the attempt by Rome to reassert dominance over Britain (as in Malory, the Alliterative Morte Arthure, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and elsewhere) or the invasion by Hengist and Horsa at the behest of Vortigern--or both, given the pastiche. Certainly there is some of the Saxon-story in the present episode, with Horde Prime having arrived at Etheria at the summons of Hordak, not unlike Vortigern inviting Hengist and Horsa to aid him in subduing the "less advanced" Picts and Scots; too, Horde Prime betrays Hordak, not unlike the manner in which Hengist and Horsa turn on Vortigern. But there is also somewhat of the Roman assertion in the manner in which Horde Prime regards Glimmer; even before Catra's emergence and intercession, he regards Glimmer as a (lesser) royal, while he afterward asserts a claim of overlordship of Etheria--not denying Glimmer's rule, but placing his above it.

As with many things, there are other available antecedents. But it is clear that the medieval Arthurian antecedents are in place, and they do resonate with the long- and earlier-established invocations and refigurings of Arthurian legend that pervade the series. And it may well be the case that a similar end comes, with the Arthurian figures achieving victory over the outside forces that plague them--though it must also be remembered that few of the most notable at the Round Table survive the end of that fellowship...

Thursday, May 28, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 4.12, "Destiny, Part 1"

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Near-misses punctuate the penultimate episode of the season.

4.12, "Destiny, Part 1"

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

Synopsis

It's shocking, truly.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The robot Emily cavorts in Bright Moon's gardens while Scorpia looks on and Shadow Weaver disapproves. Scorpia asks Shadow Weaver about her situation, meeting with annoyance before Glimmer returns, averring her need for Scorpia's aid, asking her to connect to the Black Garnet. The request startles, but Glimmer presses ahead with her plan amid news of Double Trouble's escape.

On Beast Island, Entrapta conducts Adora, Bow, Swift Wind, and Micah to the center of the island. She notes Glimmer's absence, and she exults in the nature of Beast Island. Bow tries to persuade Entrapta to return to Bright Moon with them; Entrapta indicates her knowledge of the Heart of Etheria and rushes off to demonstrate it.

In the Fright Zone, Catra attends to her morning toilet. She is interrupted by Lonnie, Rogelio, and Kyle; she receives their report well, and their comments about Scorpia's abandonment less so. Catra rages against Lonnie, Kyle interceding, and the three being dismissed. Double Trouble makes an appearance, reporting on the princess's movements and the vulnerability of Bright Moon.

That does look about like it.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Bright Moon, Shadow Weaver argues against Glimmer's plan with Scorpia. She presses too far, though, and Glimmer moves her aside in high dudgeon.

Catra watches Horde troops strike out, and Hordak confronts her. He sees the value of her plan, however, and delights in it, commending her for her efforts.

On Beast Island, Entrapta shows off her findings in the central facility, whence the signal proceeds. The facility contains substantial information, including about the Heart of Etheria weapon project and the princesses' entanglement in it. Too, She-Ra's sword is not a control mechanism for the weapon, but for the wielder. Adora panics at the revelation, and Bow points to some small hope.

Glimmer and Scorpia confer about their respective situations. Entrapta has reservations about the plan, but Glimmer is able to connect with her and persuade her to assist.

Adora's group makes to return to Bright Moon. There is difficulty in their egress; they are attacked, and Entrapta resists departing in favor of staying with the machines she loves, but is persuaded at length by the prospect of inspecting Mara's ship.

Oh, this bodes ill.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Double Trouble infiltrates Hordak's sanctum, leading him to the idea that Catra has betrayed him, rather than Entrapta. Hordak moves in wrath against Catra.

Adora and her group arrive at Mara's ship, with Entrapta and Micah both disbelieving. Double Trouble signals Glimmer, and she and Scorpia leave for the Fright Zone as it empties of troops--and even in the moment that Adora and her group return home. Shadow Weaver tells them of her departure, and Hordak attacks Catra for her perfidy.

Discussion

With matters hastening towards completion in the present episode, little if anything new comes to attention in terms of how the series integrates medieval/ist tropes into itself. Interestingly, however, it makes pointed comments about inevitability and destiny; namely, She-Ra is intended to serve as the focus of a weapon she is used to control, rather than over which she has control. It is possible to read into the comments some reflection on militarized cultures such as the traditional concept of the medieval European, with its focus on chivalric deeds of martial prowess, as well as on the military-fetishizing culture contemporary to the series's development and release, with its increasingly militarized police forces and excessive valorization of those who are or have been in uniform. In both cases, fighting seems not to be a choice but an expectation, one imposed upon people; in both cases, fighting is presented as a primary good, if not the only good, with an avoidance of conflict seen as undesirable. And while it is the case that some fights need to be fought because some adversaries or antagonists will not listen to sweet reason, making violence the first recourse has detrimental effects on which the present series, in its present season, and a bit in its present episode, only lightly touches.

Unlike many, it questions the value of fighting, even though it hinges on a violence that seems entirely appropriate and necessary. And how much of it, ultimately, stems from one person, insecure in himself and his masculinity, trying to impress another who is not?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 4.11, "Beast Island"

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Things thought lost are found, and not all to the good, as the fourth season moves towards its end.

4.11, "Beast Island"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, M. Willis, Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Mandy Clotworthy

Synopsis

One can almost hear the doom.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora, Swift Wind, and Bow continue towards Beast Island in Mara's ship. They discuss the wisdom of their choices as they go, and Bow frets about the consequences of their disobedience. Swift Wind voices apprehension just before the ship loses control and begins to fall to the ground. They touch down just offshore of the foreboding Beast Island.

The three proceed to the island, Adora relating the horror stories told of the place by the Horde. They find evidence of Entrapta's arrival, and Swift Wind complains of a strange noise that the other two do not hear. Bow realizes that Beast Island is a dumping ground, and Adora grows concerned regarding her sword--but they proceed, even so.

He has looked better, admittedly.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Strange beasts begin to stalk them as they proceed, and others proceed to attack. Adora finds herself unable to transform into She-Ra, and the trio flees with difficulty. Swift Wind hears the strange sound again as the attack continues. They are saved by the sudden emergence of Micah, Glimmer's father, who had been believed dead.

Meanwhile, Glimmer searches for Light Hope in the Crystal Castle. She initially has some difficulty, but manages to secure an audience with the hologram.

Micah rejects the obeisances of the trio before checking to see if they are real. Introductions are interrupted by more interference from the local fauna; they explain their search for Entrapta once circumstances allow, and Micah notes knowing her. He also warns them against following her, noting that a signal from the center of the island--her seeming destination--has a suppressing effect on the mind. Further conversation is interrupted by more sign of local fauna; they proceed while conferring, soon coming into peril from said fauna and the pervasive signal.

She does know how to make an entrance.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Amid the attack, the group begins to succumb to the signal. Adora returns to confidence and determination, and she is able to transform into She-Ra, rescuing the others from the pernicious transmission. The fauna, however, continues to be problematic--until Entrapta arrives.

In the Crystal Castle, Glimmer manages to get information from Light Hope that she can use to activate the Heart of Etheria. Scorpia is the key.

Discussion

There seems something of Tolkien's Mirkwood and Radagast the Brown in the present episode's Beast Island and Micah. A darkened region fraught with peril on all sides and a somewhat...differently thinking magician are parallel tracks between the two, and it is not to be wondered at that a series would make use of such prevalent pop-culture images--especially given its already-established recourse to the medieval and medievalist. (Nor is it unexpected that a member of the Tales after Tolkien Society would find a way to make a series a tale after Tolkien, really.) And while the parallels perhaps follow Jackson's reinterpretation of Tolkien more than Tolkien, himself, the chain of transmission seems clear enough to point at, or at least to suggest.

Related to Micah's appearance in the same vein as Tolkien's Radagast is the often-medieval association of mental illness and life in the woods. It is to the woods, for example, that Lancelot flees after his violation by Elaine and rejection by Guinevere; it is to the woods that Yvain takes in his great sorrow. (It might also be noted that both do so after breaking agreements with important women in their lives, not unlike Adora and Bow entering the woods with some mental and emotional difficulty after disobeying Glimmer.) While Beast Island is not precisely a forest, it partakes of many of the same tropes associated with "the deep, dark woods," and many of the technological constructs resemble trees in outward form. And it is to such a forest-like place that Micah and Entrapta are exiled by the Horde, the former becoming, and the latter becoming more divergent from typical standards of behavior and understanding. It is a bit of a modification of the trope, but it is still one that resonates, helping the series continue to partake of the medieval it often employs.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Getting Started for #Kzoo2021

𝔄s a follow-up to "Notes from the 2020 Society Annual General Meeting," CFPs have been submitted to the International Congress on Medieval Studies and the UPenn CFP list. Details are below:

Legacies of Tolkien's Whiteness in Contemporary Medievalisms

A roundtable session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University (www.wmich.edu/medievalcongress) examining the continuing effects of Tolkien's depictions of race in medievalist works.

Much criticism directs itself towards racial studies and postcolonial readings of the works of JRR Tolkien, arguing whether his works should be regarded as racist and what attitudes contemporary readers would be well served to adopt in response to them. Much attention in popular media has directed itself towards the use of medieval and medievalist works such as Tolkien's by white supremacist groups to offer themselves pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-historical support for their execrable agendas. The session looks for ways in which contemporary medievalist work (hopefully) unintentionally supports such efforts and what can be done to oppose them as things deserving all opposition.

Deadscapes: Wastelands, Necropoli, and Other Tolkien-Inspired Places of Death, Decay, and Corruption

A paper session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University (www.wmich.edu/medievalcongress) examining depictions of what comes in the wake of war and death in works in the Tolkienian tradition.

Many of the "standard" fantasy works, ranging from the epics through Arthuriana into Tolkien and beyond, make much of grand wars fought on massive scales. They also, at times, look at what is left behind when the war is done, the graveyards filled and memorials erected. The session looks at how such things are constructed in works in the Tolkienian fantasy tradition and what functions they serve for readers in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
For both, short proposals are welcome; please send to talesaftertolkien@gmail.com on or before 15 September 2020. Proposals from graduate students, those outside traditional academe, and traditionally underrepresented groups are especially welcome; please let people in your circles know who might be interested!
We hope to see you at the 'zoo!