Source:Prithee, the White Knight lost?
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Des Moines Tribune
22 March 1978
Bob Whearley; photo by Dana Downey
Prithee, the White Knight lost?
By Bob Whearley
Prithee join us as we hie ourselves off to a kingdom in which men are men and women whatever they damn well want to be...
The White Knight Clanks onto the field of battle, the gossamery favor of his lady fair fluttering from the hilt of his wooden broadsword.
There is a pained expression on his face. Possibly he is thinking that next time he will buy his Adidas jogging shoes a size larger to accommodate the chain mail socks he is wearing.
Forsooth! The Black Knight is ready for him. The Black Knight lunges, parries, thrusts and then raises his arms in smug victory as his foe sinks to his knees, hors de combat.
So much for the workout, kids. Who brought the Big Macs?
The alert observer may detect something ever so slightly amiss with our scenario. Wooden broadswords? Adidas jogging shoes? Big Macs?
Besides, isn't it the Black Knight who's always supposed to bite the dust?
Fear not, o faint-hearted reader. In the Society for Creative Anachronism, all things are possible, and the most unlikely things probable.
No apple-cheeked schoolchildren these, but honest-to-God grown-ups — business people, computer programmers, librarians — who meet twice a month to cast off their 20th century shackles and act out fantasies.
Nationally, the society claims about 16,000 followers spread among five kingdoms.
Here in the Middle Kingdom, 25 members turn out for meetings of the Shire of Coeur d'Ennui, which is the roundtable tag for Des Moines. Loosely translated, it also is French for "heart of boredom."
Surely this is no subtle commentary on life in our little metropolis?
"Unfortunately, yes," admits Elizabeth of Lymond, pursuivant (or junior herald) of the Shire of Coeur d'Ennui.
Elizabeth of Lymond is better known to her friends — and certainly to the king's tax collectors — as Beth Nugteren, a librarian at the Franklin branch of the Des Moines Public Library.
She was one of the moving forces in organizing the shire about a year ago.
Nugteren had heard about the organization (founded "like many other strange things" in Berkeley, Calif.) and was stirred by its credo:
"It is romance that lies at the base of the society — romance and the dreams of romantics. It is an organization for people who want to do things they cannot do between 9 and 5, who want to learn things they cannot learn in school, who want at least to try to be more gracious, more courteous, more honorable — better — than they can be anywhere in this modern world of ours."
Pure escapism, then?
Yes and no. Nugteren concedes that members are "maybe not exactly pleased with everything that's happening in the present," but that the society also has its educational side.
Follows study up on life in the Middle Ages — from the years 1000 to 1650 — and dabble in the arts and crafts of that period such as calligraphy, armoring, silversmithing and costuming.
Nugteren's bag is costuming. She's already made a couple of snazzy gowns a la the Middle Ages, and her next project is to turn out a hennin — one of those long, pointy hats that resemble a dunce cap.
But members do more than create suits of armor and dresses. They also create for themselves a "persona" — an imagined personality to be played against the backdrop of their fleeting fantasies.
Tom Johnston, a Des Moines optician, becomes Azar Notshhoj, seneschal (or chief bailiff) of the Shire of Coeur d'Ennui. Bill Fesselmeyer, who works for the Railroad Retirement Board, is Lord William Coeur du Boeuf, knight marshal of the shire.
Not only do the knights whip out their own boilerplate, they also meet a couple of times a week to practice hand-to-hand combat. A public demonstration is planned for 7 p.m. Thursday, Apr. 6, at the Franklin branch library.
As we indicated earlier, women in this make-believe world can be whatever they damn well want — so the sword-swinging tourneys are open to the, ah, gentle sex, too.
There don't happen to be any girl gladiators in Des Moines at the moment, but Nugteren says she knows of one in Minneapolis who's a holy terror at the Doug Fairbanks bit.
In the eastern kingdoms of the society, combats are held on a much grander scale. The highlight of the year's schedule is a full-fledged border war.
"The winner," says Nugteren, "gets Pittsburgh."
The loser probably has to settle for Philadelphia.
Civil libertarians will be pleased to note that the Society for Creative Anachronism is an equal-opportunity throwback.
There is, Nugteren said, plenty of room on the rolls for Mongol hordes, Aztec chieftains and Swahili warriors, just as long as one targets in on a group that was in business during the Middle Ages.
So polish up your breastplate, put a sander to Excalibur for the last time, and wade in. The spires of Camelot beckon.