Friday, January 14, 2011

American Nerd

American Nerd: The Story of My People
Benjamin Nugent
New York: Scribner, 2008

Nugent pens a highly readable and amusing tale of his youth and experiences among the nerds: Dungeons and Dragons players, computer gamers... and of course, members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, of whom the author says "...they're nerds who have banded together and found a way to make themselves non-nerds within a separate universe."

The book is quite literate and sophisticated. Nugent does not seem to have been a SCA member but merely to have been aware of the organization. He describes a visit to the Estrella War with evident enjoyment and fairness. "...they've found a way to solve the old problems that Muscular Christianity and the Victorian sports advocates with their physique buttons sought to address."

Time Machines

Time Machines: The World of Living History
Jay Anderson
Nashville, TN: The American Association for State and Local History, 1984

This now rather old volume has a chapter on the Society for Creative Anachronism, from p. 167-172. Anderson, a reenactor who has written at least two more books on living history, didn't seem as impressed with the SCA as he was with many of the more authenticity focused organizations he could observe. But he gives the SCA of a quarter-century ago a fair hearing.

The chapter is titled "Prince Valiants" and the author makes a rather good point when he says

The ladies and gentlemen of the SCA use anachronisms creatively to improve the quality of contemporary life. Their approach to the Middle Ages, the period of history from roughly the Fall of Rome to the seventeenth century, is straight out of Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant." And their premise is that a sojourn into this magical time will help the modern time traveler endure the altogether too obvious examples of strife and pestilence that characterize our modern world, the epoch of 1984.

For those who never read Prince Valiant, especially the great old stuff from the 30s and 40s when Hal Foster was in his prime (it's been reprinted in several formats), the strip was ostensibly set in King Arthur's time, and the author/artist took some care to depict aspects of the Middle Ages and historical events... but in a fun mishmash of twelfth century armor, Arthurian legend, late antiquity historical hijinks and various other anachronisms. The SCA does in fact come to mind to the modern day fan of Prince Valiant.

Anderson goes on to point out the distinction between other reenactor groups and the SCA: "While most other buff groups now make it relatively difficult to join their organizations - the American Mountain men require the pilgrim to do a year's probation, for example - the SCA offers all manner of assistance..."

Time Machine's take on the SCA is fairly brief and a bit superficial, but it lacks the inaccuracies one has often seen in materials written by non members. If one can find a copy, it's fun to see the old early 80s armor in photos... we really used to look like that.

I might mention here that the book also discusses living history museums, research projects and reenactor groups in entertaining detail.

Friday, January 07, 2011

More on "Suburban Knights"

This NPR slideshow and article describes the "Suburban Knights" book I briefly reviewed a few posts ago.