Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kalamazoo Updates

I'm sorry to report that the organizers of the International Congress on Medieval Studies have rejected our proposal for a set of round table sessions on "The Magic of Merlin: Reflections on the Television Series" (proposal details at: http://reel-wizards-project.blogspot.com/2012/06/kalamazoo-2013-proposal.html). Hopefully, we can find another venue for this much needed project and a more appropriate (?) topic for 2014. If you want to help, send me an email. Michael Torregrossa Founder, etc.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Updates

A bit of re-branding in our blog description to reflect the evolution of the mass entertainment industry.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Kalamazoo 2013 Proposal

The Institute has proposed our first conference session for next year's International Congress on Medieval Studies. The topic seems of especial interest to medievalists, and I hope it is looked upon favorably.

Michael



The Magic of Merlin: Reflections on the Television Series (Round-Table) (x2)

Launched in 2008, the British television series Merlin, produced by Shine Television and distributed by the BBC, has become a phenomenal hit and is incredibly popular with audiences of all ages across the globe. The series will begin its fifth season—a record for Arthurian-themed television series in the English-speaking world—in the fall of 2013, yet, despite its acclaim and perseverance, it has thus far received little attention from the academic community. Therefore, in response to this scarcity of scholarship and the overall interest of scholars regarding the series (as revealed this past year at conference sessions and discussions at the Poplar Culture Association Annual Meeting, the Plymouth State University Medieval and Renaissance Forum, and the International Congress on Medieval Studies), the Institute for the Advancement of Scholarship on the Magic-Wielding Figures of Visual Electronic Multimedia is proposing a set of roundtables to further the discussion and debate about this unique example of popular Arthuriana.

Arthurian television (like medieval-themed television in general) has long remained ephemeral, but Merlin represents a new breed of programming existing on screen and preserved on DVD, as well as digital media found on the Internet. The series is also expanded through print media, including adaptations of select episodes, hardback annuals devoted to each season, guides to characters, and an official magazine, and, also, a series of action figures through which viewers can continue the story.  Furthermore, Merlin’s appeal goes beyond our nostalgic impulse towards the Matter of Britain credited for the popularity of Arthurian film, and its generic hybridity suggests fruitful avenues for exploring its impact. The series is only loosely based on pre-existing Arthurian traditions, and, instead, represents a version of the teen drama series—here recast in medieval dress—by focusing on the interactions between characters, their loves, trials, and plans for vengeance. Besides this, Merlin is also a form of telefantasy, and, like Smallvlle, its most immediate inspiration, focuses on the ongoing quest of its hero, a teenaged version of the magic-wielding Merlin, to find his place in the world, a world where (like Clark Kent) difference is seen as deviant from the norm and the cause for much concern in the series, resulting in its frequent recapitulation of the “freak of the week” plot. The representation of magic within Merlin is a topic open to much interpretation. Most intriguingly, magic-wielders and the world of magic itself are often coded as gay or queer, yet the realm of the sorcerous is important both in terms of the past and future of Camelot, as is slowly revealed, and its (re)integration is necessary for a successful community. We hope to investigate these and other aspects of the series through our sessions to gain a greater understanding of its impact as both entertainment and as, perhaps, the most well-known and widely-distributed Arthurian text of the twenty-first century.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Kalamazoo 2012

Here's something you may have missed:

A much delayed posting of our session for 47th International Congress on Medieval Studies (10-13 May 2012). The full program is online at http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/sessions.html.

Saturday, 12 May: 12:00 PM
Valley II (Garneau Lounge)
Alliance for the Promotion of Research on the Villains of the Matter of Britain; Institute for the Advancement of Scholarship on the Magic-Wielding Figures of Visual Electronic Multimedia; Virtual Society for the Study of Popular Culture and the Middle Ages
Business Meeting and Reception

Blog Update

It has been far to long since I've updated this blog, but I do hope to catch up over the summer.

Michael

Friday, September 23, 2011

Blog Update

Hi. The blog is in serious need of updating (again), but, in the meantime, I did want to briefly post that Starz's Camelot is now available for purchase on DVD, Blu-ray, and iTunes.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Camelot on Starz

My apologies for the lack of postings this summer. I'm slowly catching up on things.

Earlier this year, the cable network Starz premiered Camelot, a new series based on the Arthurian legend. The series, which is due out on DVD in September, features both Merlin and Morgan le Fay as magic users, though comments by the series creator Chris Chibnall suggest innovate treatments of both their roles and their magical abilities, as hinted at in the following videos.







Monday, May 2, 2011

The Magic of Aladdin

The Disney animated feature film Aladdin is one that is filled with magic, most notably as worked by the characters of the Genie and Jafar.



The Genie uses his magic to aid Aladdin, the film's protagonist, and serves in the wizard's traditional role as guide. Jafar, on the other hand, is in the tradition of Disney wicked witches; he is the ill-intentioned counselor to the Sultan of Agrabah and uses his magic to usurp the throne and, later, the phenomenal powers of the Genie. Besides sharing a tutelary role, both the Genie and Jafar are adept at transformative magic. The Genie is an especially protean creature:



Jafar also displays skill in shape-shifting and borrows tricks from both the Evil Queen of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:



and Maleficent of Sleeping Beauty:

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jared in Labyrinth

Jared (played by David Bowie), the human-looking Goblin King, of Labyrinth , a film by Jim Henson, is another magic-user, though we never learn if his magic is innate due to his goblin nature or learned. He is essentially a male enchanter attempting to lure the human girl Sarah into his otherworldly realm:



The film was re-released to DVD and Blu-Ray recently as part of a 20th-anniversary edition that includes a commentary track by some of the filmmakers, and Tokyopop has produced a manga series, Return to Labyrinth, that continues the story.

Wizards of The Last Unicorn

Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn features three magic-wielding figures: Mommy Fortuna, an aged witch; Mabruk, a traditional-looking wizard; and Schmendrick, an untraditional mage. The three are primarily engaged in transformative magic, though Fortuna is also adept at creating illusions. The Last Unicorn was first published in 1968 and adapted into a feature film in 1982 and a comic book series in 2010; the film has been released to DVD as part of a recent 25th-anniversary edition and, now, a blue-ray edition with commentary by Beagle.

Narissa from Enchanted

Narissa, the magic-wielding antagonist from Enchanted, is a combination of preceding Disney villains, including the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Evil Stepmother from Cinderella, and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. Narissa is a wicked queen and stepmother plotting the downfall of her stepson and his bride to be, and she uses magic--borrowing tricks from both the Evil Queen and Maleficent--in an attempt to do away with the lovers.

Rafiki the Wizard?

Rafiki, a shaman-like character featured in The Lion King and its various paratexts, serves many of the functions of a traditional wizard in his role as adviser to kings and their children:



Despite a sex change, Rafiki continues this role in the stage adaptation of The Lion King. He also has magical abilities as detailed in the Timon and Pumba cartoon show.

Wizards of The Secret of NIMH

Directed by Don Bluth, The Secret of NIMH is an animated film, based on the novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien, that offers a skilful blending of fantastic and science-fictional themes. The two genres are united in the wizardly figure of Nicodemus, an evolved rat that possess foreknowledge, skills akin to technomancy, and shape-shifting abilities; he also serves, as I noted in "The Way of the Wizard," in the wizard's traditional role as mentor to the film's protagonists. Nicodemus's physical appearance further suits his role as wizard, and he is depicted as an aged figure in long, flowing robes; his alter ego, the Great Owl, shares some aspects of his wizard character, and is both aged and a guide figure.

The trailer for the film can be viewed on YouTube, and the complete film can be watched on Hulu.com and purchased on DVD from the usual vendors. Of note, a recent special edition released on DVD in 2007 includes commentary by the filmmakers,

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ursula in The Little Mermaid

The sea-witch Ursula wields her magic in both The Little Mermaid feature film and its stage version. As with the majority (if not all) of Disney mages, Ursula specializes in transformative magic, which she uses to plot against both King Triton, the ruler of sub-aquatic Atlantica, and his daughter Ariel. Ursula is clearly presented as wicked (like fellow Disney witches Maleficent, Mim, Narissa, and the Wicked Queen), but her evil is compounded by the fact, as revealed in paratexts to the original film, that Ursula is in fact Triton's sister--both are the children of Poseidon--and thus, Ariel's aunt. Ursula presents her raison d'ĂȘtre in the song "I Want the Good Times Back" (below) from the stage show, and works her magics in "Poor Unfortunate Souls", presented in its two incarnations.





Friday, April 29, 2011

Mary Poppins's Magic

Marry Poppins, based on the character created by P. L. Travers, represents yet another magic-user in the Disney film library, and her adventures have also been adapted for the stage in a musical that merges episodes from the film with additional elements from Travers's novels. Poppins seems to be a sort of witch, as Chris Cuomo argues in “Spinsters and Sensible Shoes: Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” and has a wide-range of powers and a collection of magical items. Like the other Disney mages, Poppins's magic is also transformative both physically and, albeit subtly, mentally, and, like many magic-users featured in children's stories, she serves as an educative force in her temporary stewardship of the Bank's family.

Tinker Bell as Magic-User

Created by J. M. Barrie, Tinker Bell, yet another fairy, also has magic powers as featured in various productions of Peter Pan (some included below), and, like Fairy Godmothers and Blue Fairies, her magic is (partially) transformative in that it allows the Darling children, Pan himself (one assumes), and Pan's other allies to fly. Tinker Bell is also important for her narrative role as Pan's cast-off "lover," which results in her actions against Wendy Darling, activities that almost cause the death of Pan and, very nearly Tinker Bell's own death. Tinker Bell's role is extended in continuations of Peter Pan, like Hook, Peter Pan and the Pirates, Peter Pan No Boken, Return to Never Land, and Disney's various Tinker Bell-themed direct-to-video productions. Further details on the character can be found on her Wikipedia page.









Magic-Users of Sid & Marty Krofft

Two children's television series by Sid & Marty Krofft also prominently featured magic-users.

First, H. R. Pufnstuf (1969-71) featured Billie Hayes as Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo, a hag-like witch in the tradition of the Wicked Witch of the West and the Wicked Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The series' opening can be seen at YouTube at http://youtu.be/obxfuFrUTzg.

Later, Lidsville (1971-73) featured Charles Nelson Reilly in a dual role. First, he is Merlo the Great, the stage magician who performs in the series opening and whose hat forms the portal to the otherworld of Lidsville, and, then, he is Horatio J. HooDoo, the monster-like antagonist of the series who, like Merlo, dresses in the attire of a stage magician.

Yen Sid from Fantasia (1942)

The wizard Yen Sid (also addressed in "The Way of the Wizard") is another Merlin-like mage and likewise serves in a mentoring role.

The Pagemaster (1994)

The Pagemaster includes a Merlin-like wizard (spotlighted about :48 in) as the guide to the film's young protagonist, as I address in "The Way of the Wizard."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pharaoh's mages from The Prince of Egpyt (1998)

Pharaoh's high priests (voiced by Steve Martin and Martin Short) invoke the gods of ancient Egypt in their attempt to use magic to challenge the miraculous powers of Yahweh wielded by Moses in DreamWork's The Prince of Egypt as this clip shows. The song is by Stephen Schwartz, who would later write the musical Wicked.