By Sir Guillaume de la Belgique
(©2005 Scott Farrell)
T’is the night before Christmas, and all through the castle, there are no gifts to be found, ’cause even in the Current Middle Ages, shopping is a big ol’ hassle.
Those timeless words are sure to be uttered many times in the next few days, as friends, relatives and other well-meaning acquaintances look for the perfect gift for someone they know in the SCA. Of course, they will not be able to find the “perfect gift” because they’ve never been to an SCA event. The only thing they know about the SCA is that you wear funny clothes, change your name and cheer for the knight whose color is the same as the seat cushion you’re sitting on — or maybe that’s Medieval Times restaurant. They’re not really sure.
The fact is, whether you’re new to the SCA or have been around for many years, the holidays can be a little hard on those friends and relatives who don’t really understand that weird thing you do on weekends. They want to buy you something nice that will help you enjoy your hobby, but having listened to numerous conversations involving descriptions of court and wars and knights and costumes, they’re no longer really clear on the boundaries between “hobby,” “lifestyle” and “cult.” What those friends and family members need is a thorough and informative gift guide that will help them in selecting a useful, appropriate present for the SCA member in their life.
Unfortunately, that’s not what they will find here. Instead, what we offer in this month’s Crown Prints is a guide to this year’s crop of wacky, tacky, and off-the-racky quasi-SCA gift items that were apparently designed on Planet Quizmakks, where extraterrestrial aliens, having suffered severe brain damage after exposure to heavy cosmic radiation and incessant Christmas carols, are marketing products with the philosophy: “People who will put metal buckets on their heads and strike each other with rattan sticks are not exactly discriminating gift recipients.”
So, in order to prepare you for the bizarre array of holiday gifts you may find yourself admiring with sincerely feigned delight on Christmas morning, we have painstakingly researched as many gift ideas as we could by entering words like “armor,” “Renaissance,” “gothic” and “chain mail brassiere” into a search engine until we got bored, then reviewing the results based on the following criteria:
1) Did the website feature either buxom women holding beer steins or men desperately trying to appear dignified and regal despite wearing cheesy plastic crowns?
2) Was any comically inappropriate language — such replacing “night” with “knight,” or words spelled with extra E’s for no apparent reason — used in the promotional copy?
3) Were any of the following terms used in a manner as to make them seem indistinguishable from the SCA: “LARP,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Everquest” or “Burning Man”?
If any item met several, or possibly none of the preceding criteria (but at least made us laugh a lot) then we included that item in our gift guide. This rigorous evaluation method is identical to the one used by Consumer Reports magazine, except that Consumer Reports has a huge staff of technicians who put their products through objective quality assurance tests, whereas I have a staff of Felinah who tells me it’s time to stop playing around on the computer and come eat dinner.
With that in mind, here are some gifts you may receive this year from cheerful relations and well intentioned associates who are a little confused about what you do with your spare time.
The Grim Reaper Toilet Brush; $21.99, www.TrueSwords.com
Every fearsome warrior should be surrounded by images of death and mortality, which serve as reminders of the gruesome, awful battles they’ve survived — and if the Grim Reaper toilet brush is any indication, the most gruesome and awful of those battles probably involve a bottle of Lysol and a pair of latex gloves. For the barbarian warrior who fears nothing but an untidy bathroom bowl, the Grim Reaper is a life-sized plastic skull that contains the business end of a bone-shaped toilet brush. Terrifying and sanitary, both at the same time!
Mighty conquerors like Gengis Khan and Attila the Hun could only frighten their enemies by guzzling wine from the skulls of their defeated foes — now you can go one (or even two) better! Imagine your adversaries using your guest bathroom and recoiling in awe at the sight of the Grim Reaper placed alongside your commode. Those who are faint of heart might even loose control of their bodily functions — but don’t worry, the equipment needed to clean things up will be close at hand when they do!
Schleich Castle Squire; $4.99, www.CreativeBrainsOnLine.com
Knights of Caid, how many times have you looked around and thought, “Now where has my squire gone?” Of course, you could struggle into your own armor using only inanimate objects, such as a tree, a chair, a big rock or a former baron of Calafia, to help you — but now you can have a tiny plastic squire of your very own standing ready to assist at any time. The Schleich Castle Squire 3″ action figure, unlike most actual squires, is ever-ready to fasten buckles, sharpen swords and receive witty yet caustic verbal abuse from his knight. The Schleich Squire will even fit in your belt pouch for those times when you need a helper immediately to saddle your trusty steed, to fasten on your gilded spurs, or to fly across the feast hall and hit Earl Joseph of Silveroak in the head. (Perhaps you Teutonic knights out there noticed that “schleich” means “creep” in German — which may explain why this little guy is molded with a ridiculously obsequious expression on his face.)
War Wolf Trebuchet Kit; $59.00, www.TrebuchetsStore.com
If having a real trebuchet in your back yard seems somewhat excessive (or, if you’re Master Quinn Failen, if it just doesn’t seem like “enough,”) why not have a scale-model trebuchet that’s only slightly less dangerous than the real thing? That seems to be the marketing strategy behind the War Wolf: a three-foot tall siege engine powered by two 10-lb. iron dumbbells suspended from its lever arm, which can launch a golf ball at speeds only slightly lower than the muzzle velocity of your average .44 magnum. The catalog says kids will enjoy using this toy to “throw treats for Fido.” Yes, Fido will certainly yelp with glee when he tries to catch a Milk-Bone traveling at 112 mph or so. Plus, you can use it to ward off the enforcement officers when the neighbors call the ASPCA!
The catalog also says that the War Wolf is “perfect for Six Sigma executive training seminars.” I do not know what sort of executive training seminar would require the use of a working trebuchet replica with throwing arm made of solid red oak, but I can only presume it would involve a cigarette and a blindfold. I think they should sell tickets!
Regional Cooking from Middle-Earth: Recipes of the Third Age; $25.00, www.Amazon.com
Is there anything more appetizing after a long, strenuous day of battle than sitting down to a plate full of Sauron’s Eyes? Okay, possibly sitting down to a plate full of roasted stink beetles in gym sock gravy would be more appetizing, but that doesn’t really matter, because of course the 194-page Regional Cooking from Middle-Earth cookbook isn’t really documentable evidence of the culinary habits of the people of Gondor, Mordor or Rohan. This book is, as the Valanorian elves of Numenor used to say in the time of Illuvitar, a “thinly veiled marketing ploy.”
The author of the book (whose title deftly avoids use of the trademarked Lord of the Rings moniker) maintains that his recipes have been assembled with the highest standards of accuracy, authenticity and cultural appreciation possible when dealing with food from a make-believe fantasy world. In order to lend validity to his claim, he points out that none of these Middle-Earth recipes involve the use of microwaves; they are all meant to be cooked on gas and electric ranges, just like the hobbits used. Featured recipes include (I swear to you I’m not making this up) the “Mount Doom Bacon Cheeseburger” and “Balrog Pie.” Personally, I hope the book includes a selection of Gollum’s favorite sushi recipes, as well as some sort Uruk-Hai holiday roast with meat that tastes “just like chicken.”
Read more of Guillaume’s hilarious tales, or …
Enjoy more amusingly irreverent articles on medieval history and life in the SCA in Guillaume’s books and CDs, including “We Are Not Amused, Sir Guillaume!” and “Here Comes the Reign, Sir Guillaume!”