All posts by tjwest3

About tjwest3

I am currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of English at Syracuse University, specializing in historical film and TV, gender and sexuality studies, and feminist and queer theory.

Reading History: "The Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise" (by Melanie Clegg)

Marie de Guise is one of those Renaissance women who’s suffered something of an image problem. Since she doesn’t shine as brightly as her contemporaries or her descendants–Elizabeth I, Catherine de Medici and, of course, Marie’s infamous daughter Mary, Queen of Scots–she tends to be glossed over by most histories of the period. Since she reigned as Queen of Scotland for such a short time as the consort of the ill-fated James V and was, for most of the rest of her life a regent rather than a regnant, it’s perhaps understandable.

However, as Melanie Clegg argues, this is a grievous injustice, and Marie deserves a great deal of respect for her ability to navigate not only the cutting world of French politics, but also those of the Scots. Born into a family that gradually rose in power, she ultimately found herself wedded to the mercurial James V of Scotland. Upon his death, she did everything in her power to make sure that the throne was kept secure for her daughter Mary, even though this often put her at odds with the Scottish nobility. In Clegg’s deft hands, we find ourselves swept along with Marie’s later life as she skillfully navigates the unfriendly political world of Scotland.

Unfortunately, as Clegg amply demonstrates, Marie’s life was doomed to be marred by tragedy and disappointment. A great deal of this stemmed from the nature of the Scottish nobility, who were always consumed with their own internecine feuds and attempts to grab power for themselves. However, her life was also marred by personal tragedies, most notably her years-long separation from her daughter. For all of her success in keeping Scotland in line, she ultimately died abandoned by all but, ironically, the very men who were her most steadfast enemies.

Despite the book’s title, Henry VIII actually plays a relatively minor role in the book and in Marie’s life as a whole. However, it is true that England’s rulers, both Henry and his successor Edward (as well as Edward’s guardian and uncle Edward Seymour) were to prove formidable enemies to Scottish independence. Marie actually deserves quite a lot of credit for managing to keep the English at bay as much as she did, though they did of course inflict a great deal of damage on the Borders and, at times, even the capital Edinburgh itself.

Clegg has a keen sense of narrative momentum, and she doesn’t allow her biography to get bogged down in the mundane details in the way of some other historians (I love Alison Weir, but she does have a tendency to get down into the weeds a bit). Clegg shows us the highs and lows of Marie’s political life, giving us a good idea of the type of woman she was and how she managed to succeed in the world of Renaissance politics. She also gives us enough details about the material world to give us a sense of the everyday life of the period.

As informative and readable as this book is, however, it does suffer a number of handicaps. Foremost among these is the lack of a comprehensive biography or any notes. Now, for the lay reader this probably doesn’t really pose much of a problem. I daresay that most people read biographies and popular histories for the information, not for the rigour of the historian. However, for someone who wants to know exactly how Clegg is reaching her conclusions, it can be a little frustrating to not have a paper trail of any kind to follow. I don’t hold Clegg entirely accountable for this, as it seems to me that the editors at Pen & Sword should be a little more diligent in ensuring that they’re providing their readers with accurate material.

All of that being said, Clegg deserves a great deal of credit for bringing Marie out of the shadows into the light of day. She truly was one of the most extraordinary women of the Renaissance and, while not native to Scotland, she clearly cared deeply for her adopted country and did her best to govern it as effectively as possible under incredibly difficult circumstances. I’d definitely recommend this book to others, though with the caution about reliability.

Book Review: "Star Wars: Resistance Reborn" (by Rebecca Roanhorse)

Darcy and Winters

As I’ve said before, I’ve recently become a little bit obsessed with Star Wars. Given that, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I’ve thrown myself into the universe with all of the enthusiasm of a recent convert. To that end, I recently checked out Star Wars: Resistance Reborn, and I’m very glad that I did.

The novel moves us along at a brisk pace, showing us the events that transpired between the events of The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. The Resistance, still reeling from its near-obliteration at the hands of the First Order, struggles to find a place where they can begin to regroup. They eventually end up on Ryloth, and while Leia stays there, she dispatches Poe and a number of others to start drawing far-flung allies to the new Resistance.

One of the things that I’ve come to appreciate about this new…

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Book Review: "Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi" (by Jason Fry)

Darcy and Winters

I have to admit that I’ve had mixed feelings about Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, both at the time it came out and subsequently. While I respect some of the risks that the film took, I still feel frustrated by the way that it sidelined Poe in a way that felt untrue to the character, while also asking us to empathize with characters that came out of nowhere. My ambivalence about TLJ, along with my dissatisfaction with the novelization of The Force Awakens, led me to approach this new novel with no small amount of trepidation.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried so much. This novelization makes a number of improvements over the previous volume, and one gets the sense that Jason Fry had a lot more investment in actually translating the film into a book form that stands on its own and isn’t just a mere transcription…

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Book Review: "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" (by Alan Dean Foster)

Darcy and Winters

Having recently watched the final installment of the newly-named “Skywalker Saga,” I’ve become more than a little obsessed with everything connected to Star Wars. I decided that it was time that I dip my toes into the huge pool of books that have emerged

I went into this book with rather high hopes. I’ve always thought that the novelizations of the Star Wars films help to smooth away some of the glaring faults one finds in the film versions. Fantasy giants such as Terry Brooks and R.A. Salvtatore, for example, did a fine job of novelizing the prequel trilogy, and I’m sure that many enjoyed their novels more than the films. Though I quite enjoyed The Force Awakens, I was hoping to gain some new insight into the film, the characters, and the world.

While I enjoyed this novelization, I tend to agree with those critics who see it as…

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Film Review: "Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker"

Darcy and Winters

Warning: spoilers for the film follow.

I’m going to offer a somewhat controversial opinion: I actually really, really liked Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. I thought that the visuals were spectacular, the performances were compelling, and the philosophical themes thought-provoking and timely.

Now, it has to be said that there were some issues with the film. Obviously, the writing in this installment leaves something to be desired. For example, much as I have yearned for and was excited by Palpatine’s return, it did feel like it came out of nowhere. Part of this no doubt stems from Rian Johnson’s decision to have Snoke thrust out of the frame rather abruptly in The Last Jedi (a decision this film mirrors with its cursory elimination of General Hux, a waste of a perfectly fine villain, IMHO). Casting about for a new big bad, and unwilling to let Kylo occupy…

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TV Review: His Dark Materials: "Betrayal" (S1, Ep. 8)

Darcy and Winters

Warning: spoilers for the episode follow.

And so we come at last to the season finale of His Dark Materials. All I can say is: wow, what an episode!

Having finally located her father, Lyra realizes that he is not at all the man that she always assumed he was. In fact, he might be as much of a monster (in his own way) as her mother. Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter finds that her own loyalties might be hopelessly divided, even as Lord Asriel commits a heinous act in his attempt to undo the centuries of repression by the Magisterium.

In many ways, this episode is a fitting climax to Lyra’s journey to maturity. For the first time since Asriel abandoned her in Oxford for his own journey north, she must confront the fact that he is, in his own way, as twisted in soul as is Mrs. Coulter. Just as…

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Enjoying "The Silmarillion": "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor" and "Of Thingol and Melian"

Darcy and Winters

We arrive now at the point in the narrative where the Elves first appear. Before they do so, however, the Valar undertake an effort to capture and imprison Melkor, so that Middle-earth can be made safe for the Elves. Gradually, the Elves begin their migration westward, and while many do make it to Valinor, many more also tarry or are lost.

I’ll be honest. Keeping track of the various Elf tribes can get a little overwhelming, particularly since their names are, superficially at least, similar. Luckily for us, Christopher has included a diagram at the end of the book that shows in visual form the relationships among them, but it does get a bit cumbersome shuttling back and forth between the main narrative and the supplement. It’s also difficult to keep track of the various royal figures, again because so many of them have names that sound quite similar: Fingolfin…

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Reading "The Lord of the Rings": "The Muster of Rohan" and "The Siege of Gondor"

Darcy and Winters

Welcome to another installment of “Reading The Lord of the Rings,” in which we take a leisurely stroll through J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnum opus, dwelling on the beauty, the majesty, and sometimes even the sadnessin these wonderful pages.

In these two chapters, Merry contends with the fact that he’s been left behind by Gandalf. Though he offers his services to King Théoden, his offer is refused and it is only due to the intervention of the mysterious Dernhelm that he’s taken along to the rescue of Minas Tirith. For his part, Pippin must contend with the duties attendant upon serving the Lord Denethor while also witnessing the tightening siege.

Reading it this time, it was hard to put aside my awareness of the fact that Dernhelm is, in actuality Éowyn, to think back to the very first time that I read it and wonder who, exactly, was this young…

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Gay Porn Studio Style: TimTales

Some time ago, I wrote of my intention to write a series of blog posts examining various gay porn studios, looking at not only their house style but how such style influences the types of pleasure that they seek to incite or indulge for their audiences. Well, it’s finally time to unveil the first of these posts, this one dedicated to the studio known as TimTales.

The studio is named after its founder and its most prominent star: Tim Kruger. Tim, like so many of the other tops in the studio’s stable, is tall with a truly gargantuan endowment. In fact, Tim is emblematic of the sorts of men that the studio prefers in its tops (though a muscle bottom isn’t an unfamiliar sight by any means). They also specialize in a very particular kind of sexual pairing: typically a very hung top with a very submissive and slender (sometimes bordering on pathologically thin) bottoms.

A casual perusal of their recent scene offerings makes it clear that a viewer looking for anything remotely resembling tenderness or affection between their models should probably look elsewhere. While there are some scenes that feature a bit of intimacy, for the most part the sex here is brutal, relentless and, some cases, frenzied. In relying on this form of sexual performance, TimTales is trying to both cater to and incite a particular form of desire, one that finds pleasure not in the intimacy of contact between two men, but on the juxtaposition of dominance and absolute submission. To my eye, all too often the sex doesn’t even look particularly enjoyable for the bottoms in these scenes, who are often twisted into all manner of poses that look uncomfortable if not downright unpleasant. For that matter, the tops look like they are merely engaging in a bit of business, and I struggle sometimes to see whether there is actually any enjoyment to be had (either for the performers of the viewers).

However, I would argue that TimTales most notable aesthetic and erotic signature is its emphasis on the effects of sex. Anyone who has a familiarity with mainstream–or at least fairly vanilla–gay porn has probably recognized that there is a certain camera shyness regarding the actual effects of fucking. That is to say, mainstream studios (with some exceptions, of course) seem very reluctant to show the actual hole, as if doing so is somehow an even greater penetration of the male body than that which is already happening in front of the camera.

TimTales seems to have recognized this phenomenon and decided to go in exactly the opposite direction. Time and again in their scenes, the camera dwells lovingly–one might even go so far as to say pruriently–on the effects of such violent fucking on the anuses of the bottoms involved. One has to wonder whether the site of a “wrecked hole” (to use the parlance typical in message board discussions of gay porn), has become itself something of a fetish for a certain kind of gay male viewer. In fact, the entire reason I started this series of blog posts was in response to a comment on a message board that said something to the effect that the poster hadn’t known they had a fetish for seeing a completely destroyed hole. These scenes invite us to take pleasure in the abasement of the male body, to indulge in a fantasy that we, too, can abandon ourselves to sublime oblivion.

Of course, it also goes without saying that, with a few exceptions, the sex here is bareback (this has, for better and worse, become mostly the norm in much gay porn). Part of this no doubt stems from market forces, since as of this writing there are very few studios that still use condoms. Another, equally strong part, however, stems from the aura of the forbidden that still accrues around the practice. What’s more, it also feeds into the notion of a brutal top who cares little or nothing for his bottom, merely taking his own pleasure.

Personally, I do enjoy watching TimTales, though I’m rather choosy when it comes to which of their videos I actually watch. Far too frequently of late they’ve come to rely on that brutal aesthetic, and while I don’t necessarily need to see love between two screen partners, I do like to get the sense that there’s at least a measure of attraction between the two models. There are clearly those who enjoy the studio, however, and for them the dominant/submissive aesthetic is a key part of the appeal.

Enjoying "The Silmarillion": "Of the Beginning of Days" and "Of Aulë and Yavanna"

Darcy and Winters

I’ve decided to change the title of these blog posts to “Enjoying The Silmarillion,” because I do think that one of the things that people often overlook when they read this book is that, if you approach it in the right way, you can actually find yourself enjoying it, not just appreciating it (though hopefully you’re doing the latter as well).

So, with that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s get right into it.

In the first couple of stories of The Silmarillion, we are told of the way that Ilúvatar, the One, created the Valar and the Maiar, great spirits of varying powers and abilities. From the beginning, the vision of the One is challenged by Melkor, the mightiest and most powerful of the Valar. The contest between the Valar who remain loyal to the vision of Ilúvatar and Melkor forms the foundation upon which the…

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