It's been pouring rain for three days—a real toad strangler, as members of my East Texas family would say—but that isn't stopping thousands of people from spending their Memorial Day holiday prancing around outside in lace corsets, spandex tights and capes. What's a little rain when there are jousts to fight and mead to drink? Yea, verily, 'tis spring in Waxahachie!
The April showers (May flowers being conspicuously absent) brought with them the Scarborough Faire Renaissance Festival, and with it came the thousands of nerds, dorks, history enthusiasts and goth kids who wouldn't dare let a little rain keep them from meeting other people with a healthy enthusiasm for words such as "thou" and "hark."
Cars, vans and vehicles of both the sport utility and recreational variety stream into the vast muddy field surrounding the soaked fairgrounds, my own dirt-splattered Jeep among them. I park in a spot that looks slightly less soggy than the others and swing the door open only to step down into a puddle. I should be watching where my feet are going, but I'm too wrapped up in the scenes unfolding around me. Fair-goers in various states of undress hover around vehicles applying their Renaissance accoutrements. Across a squishy patch of wet grass, a girl is standing over the open trunk of a Honda.
"Oh shit, I forgot my crown!" the damsel laments, throwing her arms up in desperation before hiking her many long skirts up to her knees and trudging around to the passenger seat to search for the lost headwear. On my way to the front gate, I pass two women in full serving wench costumes passing a silver flask back and forth behind the spare tire of a Jeep Wrangler. These are merely a few of the nearly 12,000 visitors Scarborough Faire often gets in a day.
I have no costume. I also have no one with whom to pass a flask. I am a lone contemporary soul, and I am ashamed of my cowboy boots and my Target sundress. My friends, content to live in the year of our Lord 2007, are too hip to be seen at a Renaissance fair. They're busy doing cool things, like sleeping off Memorial Day weekend hangovers. My boyfriend shirked this opportunity to hear rockin' live lute music and watch jousts, claiming the need to spend the day buying manly modern things such as camping equipment and ground beef.
And so I stand at the front gate, waiting for a man named Orvis Melvin, feeling like the biggest nerd for miles. Melvin, the director of sales and marketing for Scarborough Faire and the Halloween theme park Screams, which takes place on the same grounds in the fall, greets me with a hearty handshake. He's already muddy, having trudged across the 35-acre park to meet me at the gate. He leads me past a teenage girl in a peasant top and broomstick skirt manning one of the entrance archways, and I am transported back in time.
Sort of. While many folk use Scarborough Faire as an opportunity to wear intricately crafted replicas of medieval-period dress, others appear to have just decided to throw on a pair of fairy wings and black lipstick. For others, it's a chance to don full pirate gear or a vampire costume, complete with pale white makeup.
Melvin is in a pair of work boots and cargo shorts and seems kind of nutty—occasionally, he'll begin talking to no one, seemingly out of nowhere.
"I just passed the king on my way to the front," he says, never breaking his stride. Then I notice the clear wire stretching over his ear and down his back into a bulky black radio. He's not talking to the ghost of King Henry, he's talking to ticket-takers, security guards and other staff. Everywhere we went, Melvin is greeted with a "G'day, my lord!" from shopkeepers and actors dressed as jesters, swordsmen and royalty.
We hit the highlights—the mud stage, where actors eat mouthfuls of the goop each day, shops selling everything from salsa to candles and a haunted house through which Melvin has me lead the way, unnerving mainly because it is pitch black and difficult to navigate.
But nothing could have prepared me for the Mythical Monster Museum, an exhaustive fantasy exhibit created by Sir Daniel Raptus and Magnus Krane—also known as Orlando-based theme park enthusiasts and actors Daniel Carro and Allen Hopps. I get chills walking over the threshold into the museum, where lifelike models of fairies, vampires and hundreds of other mythical creatures are displayed. Each is accompanied by a sketch and informative paragraph on parchment. Every nerd hair on my body stands at attention. Here is an entire world of myth, made real. Here, in museum form, is what I loved about reading Harry Potter and playing Dungeons and Dragons—the total suspension of disbelief that allows otherwise cynical, cranky people like myself to become immersed in an alternate universe. Dorky, yes. Geeky, yes. And wonderful.
Sir Daniel, a big, handsome man in a heavy black cape, guides us through the museum, relaying stories of dragons slain and ghosts exorcised. Sir Daniel is a monster hunter, specializing in ethereal creatures.
"I wear black, because ghosts see in the negative," he explains, "and so I appear to them as glowing white, almost angelic." Sir Daniel never breaks character, explaining each exhibit in detail, right down to the monster scat display. These guys thought of everything. I completely succumb to the ruse, asking Sir Daniel why anyone would want to kill a fairy.
"Fairies are evil creatures!" he exclaims, reminding me that the most famous fairy of all, Tinkerbell, was really a pretty big jerk. (Well, he didn't say jerk precisely, but that was the gist.) After all, she was kind of a bitch to Tiger Lily and Wendy, wanting Peter Pan all to herself. And so Sir Daniel shows me his fairy mallet, a black wooden hammer used for smashing the little boogers. Their blood, which is sparkly, is also a mild hallucinogen. I am completely sold on Sir Daniel and his magical world. J.K. Rowling has nothing on these guys. She only wishes she could do something so immersive.
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Eventually, Melvin leaves me to my own devices, and I wander the fair, meeting Dick, a former jazz musician who played clubs in New York City in the '50s. Today, he puts on a red jester-type costume and makes wooden toys, selling them out of a brightly colored tent in Ren fairs across the country. I meet a fourth-generation soap maker and watch a guy named Cristophe the Insulter tell dick jokes in medieval English for a half-hour.
But what I really want to do is hang out with Sir Daniel some more, taking in his sense of wonder and imagination. So before I leave, covered in mud and truly regretting wearing a white dress in the pouring rain, I stop by the monster museum. Sir Daniel is just leaving, on his way to see a singing act on the other side of the park. Together we trudge across the grounds as he tells me about trolls and vampires and the manifold other evil creatures he's slain. I can't get enough of it, and I wanted desperately to join in on the fun. Sir Daniel obviously picks up on it.
"Would you like to be trained as a monster hunter?" Does Jimmy Buffett prefer Hawaiian shirts? Yes! He sends me home with a copy of the Mythical Monster Manual, telling me I can come back next year for a day with Krane and Raptus.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go read up on the undead. I hope there'll be a quiz.