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All that research for my contribution to last week's Escapist-wide coverage of Dungeons & Dragons left me with an itch for swords and sorcery that could only be scratched with a trip back to Days of High Adventure. Fortunately for me, the Faire was in town. I'm not quite sure how or when Renaissance Faires became more accurately described as Medieval Faires and then most accurately described as Medieval-Fantasy Faires, but the moment was surely a flashpoint in the evolution of geek culture, near to the genesis of fan conventions, fandom in general and - of course - cosplay.
King Richard's Faire is located in Carver, Massachusetts - quite literally in the middle of nowhere. In the Northeast, nowhere is easy to find: When you start seeing more churches than Dunkin' Donuts, you're there. While many such Faires are mobile in the style of most carnivals, KRF - while generally open only in September and October - is a permanent installation built deep into 80 acres of Carver's pine forest, an assortment of structures loosely recreating the feel of an outdoor 16th Century marketplace.
From a design standpoint, the location is rather ingenious. The forest surrounding the place effectively cuts off unwanted intrusion by the real world outside while the towering trees growing right in the middle of it provide consistent day-long shade everywhere save the appropriately dusty, sun-scorched jousting field. The effect is genuinely immersive - right up until you raise your cell phone to take a picture of it, of course.
If you've never been to one, a Renaissance Faire can be a slightly jarring experience. Not only a hodgepodge of different vaguely medieval motifs, but of different motivations and personalities - they straddle the line between whimsical childhood fantasy and mischievous adult escapism. As I enter, there's an older gentleman playing a flute, costumed with striking authenticity as a genuine Renaissance minstrel. Not far from him, on the other hand, strides a man (I think, it was sort of hard to tell) in a suit of armor adorned with talons and skulls that wouldn't have been authentic in any time period, but would be quite at home on Azeroth. Little girls in princess gowns skip about in a daze, swept up in awe, while princesses of a more mature vintage drift by, as elaborately corseted as extras from a Xena rerun.
I pass a crusader in full chain mail eating a turkey leg, and an elf maiden of Rivendell. Down at the jousting field, a sword duel is in progress. These are professional stunt performers, doubtlessly well protected by their gleaming armor and wielding their deadly-looking blades with rehearsed precision - but tell that to the six year-old in the knight Halloween costume (by the design of it, he may technically have been dressed as Peter from the Narnia movies) who cranes his neck by the railing, completely transfixed by what must look utterly like fantasy-made-flesh unfolding in front of him.