The Society is, among other things, a joint fantasy, and one that is very difficult to maintain. The true magic comes when within a Society event we believe, if only for an instant, that we are truly in the Middle Ages. Take that away and what remains is only dross, no more than a gathering of twentieth century people who like to dress up and talk about history-or dress down and hit each other with rattan.
Many things can break a fantasy. A zipper cannot, if it is discreetly hidden, but talking about zippers at an event, whether defending or attacking them, can and does. So does discussing motorcycles. So, more subtly, does every attitude and tone of voice that reflects the feelings and beliefs of the twentieth century, hidden behind a colorful disguise. For the fantasy to work we must, each and all, believe in it as best we can while it is happening.
One of the most serious temptations is the opportunity to make a joke out of the contrast between our medieval reality and the twentieth century reality surrounding it. It is always easy to get a laugh by introducing a contemporary idiom into a medieval speech or juxtaposing an armored knight and an automobile. Easy and deadly; every such joke cracks the illusion, drains a drop of life blood from the fantasy.
Even if we all make the effort, it is difficult to maintain the fantasy in the face of its own inconsistencies. An Anglo-Saxon lady could not co-exist with a courtier from Renaissance Italy or Tudor England. Here again, by making a point of these clashes ("Perhaps you are my great-grandmother") we make it harder to integrate the inconsistent elements into a single whole. Perhaps the best solution is to imagine that, because of our personas' limited historical and geographical knowledge, we interpret different times as if they were only different places. My friend Aelfwine comes from Anglo-Saxon England, which is somewhere off that direction; Michael of York comes from over there. Anglo-Saxon England and Norman England in fact did not coexist, save briefly and bloodily, but they could have coexisted, in different places, and in the Current Middle Ages (which have, after all, no geographical location of their own in the world of the first Middle Ages) they do. Here we all are, drawn from different lands (some of which happen to have the same names but different dates, a peculiarity we would do well to ignore), met together in a land that has no particular place and time save its own.
Additional inconsistencies are forced upon us by the presence of the modern world in the middle of our fantasy. Sometimes they can be ignored, sometimes mastered by creative naming. "Dragon" for automobile is one such attempt, although not an entirely fortunate one. It is well enough to call something a dragon when it comes roaring by, but prudent folk do not travel to a feast in the belly of a dragon. Perhaps "wagon" or "wain" would be better. "Car" would be entirely proper if we were all attuned to its archaic and not its current meaning, which alas we are not.
The quest for authenticity, while an eminently worthy part of our activities, poses dangers of its own, to which I, for one, have too often succumbed. One cannot, within persona, criticize anything-food, clothes, poetry-for inauthenticity. Being oneself a medieval person, one has no basis from which to recognize it as inauthentic. One tempting solution is to disguise the criticism as a question. "I have never seen anything like that, my lord, where does it come from?" The hearer may take the question as question (although, if he really is being inauthentic, he has no answer within the fantasy) but the questioner knows well enough what he is about. He has broken the fantasy for himself, within his own mind, if nowhere else. Better to leave all such questions for conversations the next morning, between mundane persons inhabiting those same fleshly shells that walked some hours before as lords and ladies through the enchanted lands.
In accordance with which principle, as this letter could not have been written by a medieval Moor, I must sign myself
[Guest editorial, Tournaments Illuminated no. 42, summer 1977]
Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir