My Camp NaNoWriMo Project

[image description: screengrab of camping scene from the video game baldur’s gate: the original saga. a campfire blazes in the night next to a pitched pup tent in a forest as a full moon rises over distant mountains.]

I’ve struggled for nearly a month over what I would make my Camp NaNoWriMo project this year, assuming I’d even participate, because part of me wanted to work on the novel I’d already started and still am nowhere near finishing, and part of me wanted to leave that on the back burner and just begin a whole new one. Unfortunately though, of all the story ideas I’ve come up with lately that I thought I could probably turn into a novel, none were particularly inspiring me to do so at this time. But since you can choose non-fiction for your Camp project, it suddenly occurred to me that I could use NaNo’s writing incentives to spark a continuation of another WIP I’ve neglected for far too long: the one I’ve been periodically publishing to this blog in the form of short articles under the rather ambitious title of Worldbuilding for Fantasy Writers and Gamemasters.

So my goal this month is to write 50,000 words for that series (I will not be counting the already published blog articles toward that final wordcount) and thereby hopefully the next installment, “The Castle Comes to Europe”, will be available for you to read in full on this blog by Lammas Day at the latest, and I’ll also have plenty of additional material to include in future installments. Just by way of comparison, the wordcount of all ten installments of my worldbuilding series already posted to this blog is only approximately 11,720. So my current aim is to write almost five times that amount in just 31 days. It’s not likely that I’ll succeed, but the challenge will almost certainly motivate me to churn out a lot more words than I might have otherwise. After all, it’s been nearly a year since I wrote anything on the subject at all–long enough, perhaps, for all but my most loyal readers to forget that I had attempted anything of the kind in the first place.

So I’m actually more excited about this than I was the last time I did Camp NaNoWriMo back in April, 2021, because I’ll be able to share the results in increments right here within a relatively short amount of time. And after all, Camp is meant to be a more relaxing version of NaNo, as suggested by the very name. Ever since I went to summer camp as a teenager–and maybe even before then–I’ve always loved the idea of camping. Some of my fondest moments playing D&D or similar tabletop roleplaying games (or even the video games emulating them) have been when the party makes camp, usually in the middle of some forbidding wilderness fraught with unknown terrors, sitting around a roaring fire feasting and drinking and telling stories or singing songs, or just shooting the shit and getting to know each other a little better. There’s something about drawing a circle of warmth against the outside world, even if it’s no wider than the glow of a campfire. For a time you’re safe amongst friends, taking a well-deserved rest between adventures, and you can work on yourself and all the other things that everyday life constantly intrudes upon.

Happy camping!

Witch’s Hill: An Original Fairy Tale

[image description: Avebury Ring by John Spivey. CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons. Modified by me as is permitted pursuant to the terms of the license. The megaliths and land on which they stand are tinted a deep blue, the sky rendered solid black, devoid of stars. The overall effect is of an alien planet, resembling more the surface of the moon than of earth.]

Red blood out and black blood in
My nanny says I’m a child of sin
How did I choose me my witchcraft kin?
Know I as soon as dark’s dreams begin
Snared is my heart in a nightmare’s gin…

~Walter de la Mare, “The Little Creature”

As the young woman entered the lone cottage on the edge of the moors cradling her newborn in her arms, the look on her face plainly registered surprise and perhaps even a bit of disappointment, for it was after all a perfectly ordinary looking dwelling, both inside and out. Even the witch who inhabited it, though incredibly aged with thinning hair as white as snow and skin that resembled wrinkled old parchment, looked otherwise perfectly ordinary as well. And this was despite all accounts of the monks in the village, who had oft described her as a “hell-black hag all covered with boils.” The visitor, in fact, looked more like a witch than the witch herself, with her long disheveled hair as red as hellfire and eyes as yellow as a cat’s.

Now with a toothless smile in a grandmotherly way the old woman beckoned her uninvited yet not entirely unwelcome guest to sit in the empty wooden chair beside hers. Both chairs were situated close to the hearth, upon which a fire was blazing to keep off the night’s chill. Yet despite the draught, which made her shiver, the young woman declined the invitation to sit, instead hovering just inside the doorway of the witch’s cottage, as though still trying to make up her mind whether to leave or stay.

“At least shut the door, child,” the witch admonished, whereupon the girl did as she was bid, and then feeling rather foolish, slowly made her way across the sparsely furnished room to stand before the old woman in the flickering glow and welcoming warmth of the fire.

“My baby is deathly ill,” she said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” the witch replied.

“Was it you? Have you done this thing?”

A look of weariness came over the old woman’s face, but she did not seem at all surprised by the accusation. “Why would I wish to harm your child?”

The young mother stared at her wide-eyed, trembling on the narrow border twixt utter desperation and sheer terror. “They—they say you eat children. And blast crops—and—and—other terrible things. Wicked things.”

The witch arched a bristly white eyebrow. “Do you always believe all that they say?”

The young woman hesitated a heartbeat before answering. “No.”

“Come, child. Sit by me. You’ve nothing to fear from an old woman who’s never done anything to harm anyone, least of all children. Did you know many years ago before the missionaries came to these lands I was a midwife? ’Twas I helped your mother bring you into this world, Maggie Weaver. They never told you that, I’ll wage.”

“No,” the young woman replied. “They didn’t.”

Now she sat gingerly upon the edge of the chair beside the witch, resting in her lap her precious bundle, which was wrapped in furs; and the fire suddenly flared up brighter and hotter, as if to welcome mother and child. Meanwhile, with some difficulty the witch stood, and grabbing a small plain wooden box from atop the mantelpiece, slowly eased back down into the chair again with a complaining groan. Then the old woman slid the lid of the box open, revealing the contents within.

“Do you know what these are?” she asked her youthful guest.

Maggie peered into the box. “Bones,” she said with a shudder.

“Yes,” said the witch. “The bone fragments of my mother, and her mother, and her mother before her, gathered from the ashes of their funeral pyres.”

With that she reached into the box blindly to grasp a handful of the bones, and these she cast upon the earthen floor at their feet, where they scattered willy-nilly. Then she stared at the pattern the bones had made for a long while before speaking again, and young Maggie Weaver, though growing ever more anxious with each passing moment, maintained a respectful silence.

“Who is the boy’s father?” the old woman asked at last.

The girl blushed. “I don’t know.”

The witch nodded slowly, as if this confirmed something she had seen in the bones. Then she continued to stare down at them in silence a few moments more, until the young mother could contain herself no longer.

“What is it? What do you see?” For now she half believed that the witch could indeed see things in the bones; after all, she had not mentioned to her that hers was a boy child, and yet she had somehow known this.

“You will not like what I see,” the witch sighed.

“Will he—” The word caught in her throat.

“I can’t see that far, Maggie…at least not yet. When did his ailment begin?”

“Three nights ago.”

“Did anything unusual happen before then?”

“No… well, yes… he had just been baptised.”

“That explains much.” The witch looked at Maggie, and then at the tiny bundle in her lap, which she now pointed at with one long bony finger. “The black blood flows in his veins… as in yours.”

The young woman’s eyes grew wide and she was scarcely able to choke out her next word, which came out in a whisper: “No!”

“Yes,” the witch insisted. “Your mother was a powerful witch before she converted to the new faith, and you are after all your mother’s daughter.”

“She—she never told me.”

“In order to shield you from the truth, no doubt. But one cannot be shielded from what one is; nor can one ever escape one’s wyrd.”

Maggie looked down at the frail unconscious form in her arms. She herself had never been baptised, but she had been raised in the Christian faith by her mother. “How can it be wrong to baptise one’s child? ’Tis only a blessing after all!”

“A blessing, aye,” the witch admitted. “And also a powerful rite. Yet we are not like other folk. We are subject to the whim and will of ancient spirits. Listen to me, girl. Your son is fey; he is fairy-touched. The Old Things are angered by this dedication of your child to the new god. They are trying to draw him into their world. Only your own power has prevented them from doing so thus far. But they will succeed in the end. ’Tis only a matter of time… unless you do as I tell you.”

“But I have no power,” Maggie protested.

“Your power sleeps,” the witch explained. “But it may be woken.”

The look on Maggie’s face may have been one of doubt. But if it was to whether she had the power or whether she wished to wake it, neither of them could have said at that moment.

Now the girl gazed down at her tiny newborn son once more. He looked so pale, so thin, so fragile; like something on the verge of fading from the world. At the sight of him lying there so limply as though dead, his slight form fairly swallowed by the bundles of fur she had wrapped him in, his distraught mother bit her bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. When she looked at the witch again her yellow eyes reflected the reddish flames that had by now begun to die upon the hearth, and the old woman knew that the power was already awakening within her. “What must I do?” she asked the witch.

“You must take your son to the altar stone, and lay him upon it,” came the chilling reply.

Maggie’s head jerked, as someone waking from a dream. “Altar stone?”

“Yes. You know the one. It lies within the ring of standing stones north of the moors.”

“On Witch’s Hill? Oh no, I can’t go there! ’Tis bad enough that I came here tonight!”

“Then your son will die.”

The will to do whatever would save her son and the will to do right by her faith now warred within the young mother, as was plain to the witch’s eyes. Yet as wise as that old woman was, even she could not tell which would win out in the end. Still, she knew well how strong was the bond between a mother and her child. And she also knew well the grief that attended the loss of one she had birthed from her own womb and nursed at her own breast. She would not have wished that on any woman; least of all this foolish girl whom she had once pulled feet-first into the world.

“Saying I do as you suggest,” said Maggie after a moment, “what will happen then?”

“One of the Gentry will appear to you and issue you a challenge. And listen to me, girl: in this challenge you must not fail, lest your son be lost to you forever.”

“What sort of challenge?”

“That is beyond my ken.”

“What of the evil spirits that haunt that place? The restless dead and other wicked wights?”

“You are not wrong to fear such,” the witch replied. “For the ring of stones is a gateway to the Otherworld, which contains as many things as this world, if not more; not a few of which are harmful or malicious.” Reaching beneath her coarse woolen robes she drew out a small brown leather bag and offered it to the girl. “Take this. ’Twill protect you.”

Maggie looked at the bag fearfully, wondering what horrors it might hold within.

“Take it, child. ’Tis only a mixture of salt and herbs. But in the hands of a powerful enough witch, it may be used to banish any lesser spirit from this world forever.”

“How?”

“If any spirit vex you, toss the contents of the bag at it, saying, ‘In the Erlking’s name, I banish you forthwith.’”

The young mother accepted the small bag offered to her, but said: “I thank you. But I would sooner die than call upon the Devil for aid.”

The witch nodded, as though she expected as much. “No thanks are necessary. By the blood that flows in your veins I am bound to help you… and your babe.”

Maggie gathered her son up into her arms and rose to go. Her knees felt weak, but her heart would not waver, even if she must venture into the Otherworld and beyond. For what she cradled to her breast was a tiny world in itself, and she knew that ever after it would be her world—her entire world—and if it need be buried, then she would be buried with it.

“Always remember, child,” the witch called after her as she made her way toward the door, “that you are one of us.”

Maggie glanced back at her and then down at the bones scattered on the floor before the old woman’s feet.

“No,” she said. “No, I am not. But I will do what I must to save my son.”


The journey to Witch’s Hill was far from pleasant, for it was well past midnight and the sky was as black as pitch, with neither moon nor stars. The wind wuthering across the moors made a ghastly moan, and this was the only sound apart from her own breaths and the pounding of her heart in her ears. For as ever her newborn son was deathly still, so that she had to keep checking to make sure he yet lived; and each time she did so the terror that she would discover that he was in fact already dead mounted in her, until it became almost too much to bear.

In her panic and desperation she had brought neither torch nor lantern, but now she found that despite the lack of light she could see well enough anyway. And after all, why not? For were not witches kin to cat and wolf and owl and bat? She laughed shrilly, shivering with a mixture of stark terror and heady delight at the thought that the black blood might actually flow in her veins! But then she remembered herself, and silently prayed to the Lord of All that she and her son might yet be saved; even though she feared that both their names had already long ago been stricken from the Book of Life.

“Joshua,” she whispered to the tiny bundle cradled in her arms, and then it seemed to her that the dim outline of her son’s face contorted into a fearful visage like unto that of a demon. But resisting the sudden urge to fling the child from her, she instead clutched him ever more firmly to her breast, crying into the chill wind: “Never! I would not do such a thing, were he the Antichrist himself!”

Then the wind died and she could see the hill rising high above the heath: Witch’s Hill, where since ages past the wicked came to gather and celebrate their pagan rites; where ancient standing stones clutched ever at the sky, now blacker than the black night behind them, looking for all the world like a crown upon a giant’s head. And it was giants, folk used to say, that erected the stones, for these imposing megaliths stood taller than the tallest houses in the village; taller even than the steeple of the newly-built church.

The blood of how many men had watered the stones and the cursed earth in their shadow she could not guess, but it was known that the dead haunted this place, along with many other wicked and unnatural things.

Once a young monk by the name of Brother Thomas had warned that to go there willingly was tantamount to spitting on a crucifix.

Now Maggie crossed herself, and prayed to the Lord for forgiveness, and began her long ascent to the top of Witch’s Hill.


A fog had risen by the time she reached the outskirts of the ring of stones. She guessed it to be early morning, yet it would be perhaps an hour or more before the sun rose. There was no wind. Not a blade of grass stirred. All was eerily still and silent as she entered the ring.

There in the centre of the henge stood the altar; a great table of stone perched upon four smaller stones that served it as legs. The tabletop was worn smooth and darkly stained with the spilling of ancient blood. Tendrils of mist curled round its rough-hewn edges like pale ghostly fingers. She shuddered as she approached the altar and lay her newborn son upon it. What if the witch had lied? What if this was but a trick to get her to offer her child as a sacrifice to the evil spirits that dwelt here?

“No,” she told herself. “She did not lie. I would have known if she had.”

Even as she spoke these words she clutched the magic bag the old woman had given her and felt the witch power coursing through her; and yet she kenned that it was not a power that came from the bag or its contents, but from deep within her own body… perhaps from the very blood that flowed within her veins. Did that make her a witch? So be it. All that mattered now was the life of her son. She would worry about the fires of damnation later. But for now she stood before the altar stone and waited… and waited… and then waited some more.

Then at last, after what seemed an eternity, she thought she felt a presence.

Yes, a shadow stirred beyond the stones. Something had come.

“What is there?” she cried. “Show yourself!”

As if in obeisance to her command the shadow approached the edge of the ring of stones slowly, cautiously, almost timidly, and entered therein. Horned and hooved it came on four legs, and as it neared she could dimly discern the many-tined antlers it bore as a crown.

Suddenly conscious that she had been holding her breath this entire time, she exhaled slowly. ’Tis only a stag, she thought, and chided herself for being so foolish as to think that heathen superstition could save the life of her son.

She was about to collect her child again and make her way back to the village when the stag spoke.

“Have you come to beg for the child’s life?” it asked her with a voice that seemed terribly familiar, as one she had once heard in a dream… or a nightmare.

Startled, she made to reach for her infant, her first instinct to flee with him from this dark place and this unholy visitation. But then she stopped and gathered her wits about her. This was what she had come all this way for after all.

“Yes I have,” she replied, her voice quavering.

“You have abandoned us,” the stag spirit admonished. “You have turned your back to the old ways.”

To this she did not know what to say.

“If you would save the life of your son,” the spirit continued, “then you must unbaptise him.”

So this was the challenge. She would be forced to choose between her son’s life and his salvation.

She knew that to choose the former would be selfish. How could she damn her child forevermore just to keep him in this world a while longer? And yet she was sure that this eldritch wight would no more condemn her for making that choice than the old witch would. And if she only did as it asked, it would release her son… perhaps… and perhaps later Joshua might be baptised anew, once the threat had passed.

Having made up her mind, she now asked the obvious question. “How?”

“By baptising him with your own blood.”

The black blood. It made a perverse kind of sense. She looked down at her child lying still as dead upon the altar stone and saw that now beside him lay a long dagger with a deer’s foot for a hilt. Her hand trembled as she picked it up. But recalling the words of the old witch, she knew that she must meet this challenge or lose Joshua forever. So with but a moment’s hesitation she knelt before the heathen altar and wincing pressed the sharp point of the dagger against the flesh of her palm until it broke the skin and her blood trickled out to rain down in droplets upon the head of her infant son.

But my blood isn’t black after all, she thought as she watched it fall. ’Tis as red as anyone’s.

“It is enough,” the spirit said.

She was no longer kneeling, but standing as before, and there was no longer any sign of a dagger, nor any blood. Wondering, she looked at her hand: the pain of the self-inflicted wound had vanished, and she now saw that there was no cut after all. Her act of blood sacrifice had been but a waking dream.

Yet now she could see in the faint pre-dawn light that the eyes of her child were open, and straight away he began to bawl, so she took him up into her arms and offered him her breast, and once again knew the joy of feeling his tiny mouth close tight around her teat as he began to suck.

“You have passed the test,” the spirit said. “Now I know that you are willing to do anything to keep safe our child. Yet you must do more. You must raise him in the old ways.”

Maggie glanced up sharply from the face of her son to that of the stag spirit. “Our child?”

“Yes,” the other replied. “I fathered your son. Though you knew me in a different guise.”

And with that he at once assumed the shape of the beautiful youth she now recalled had visited her in her dreams on what must have been the night her son was conceived: a fairy man with long raven hair and eyes of silver, and skin as pale as milk.

“You!” Maggie cried. “But ’twas you caused his illness!”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“As I said, in order to test you.”

“And if I had failed your test?”

“Then I would have taken our son away with me, and you would have never seen him again. As I may yet do, if I so choose.”

Maggie Weaver felt her whole body begin to shake with rage, only to suddenly grow rigid as a tree rooted in the earth. The wind was up again and now her red hair whipped about her face like a furious fire, and the yellow of her eyes deepened to the orange of flaring coals.

“I see,” she said. “Well, you are right. I would do anything to keep my child safe. And I will also raise him as I see fit. But you were right about something else as well. I must do more. And now that I know the source of his affliction, I shall.”

And with that she raised up the witch’s magic bag and flung its contents into the spirit’s face, crying: In Jesu’s name, I banish you forthwith!

Then came a sound as of a mighty thunderclap, and with a long wail of despair the spirit disappeared, never to trouble any living creature of this mortal world again.

© 2014 by Strider Lee

The Dreamside – Faery Child

Best Laid Schemes

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley

~Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”

[image description: domestic cat with its prey (a mouse). Stiopa, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Once there was a mouse
Who had the rule of the house
‘Til the house’s owner got a cat,
And that was the end of that.

And so the mouse hid in his hole
And didn’t see another soul
For almost twenty days
As he studied feline ways.

He laboured in fits and starts,
Drawing up maps and charts,
Ate only the plaster off the wall,
And hardly slept at all.

He stayed alert by popping pills,
Ran simulations, conducted drills,
Made deductions and calculations,
Thought up different situations,

Considered cause and correlation,
Allowed for every complication,
Chance occurrences and error–
But not his own unreasoning terror.

So it was that, when one night,
Thinking that the time was right,
He boldly ventured forth in search
Of food, the cat from her high perch

Did swiftly pounce, and frozen there,
Our friend the mouse could only stare
As down she fell, eager to sup–
And with fierce claws she snatched him up.

The lesson learned was dearly bought,
His best laid schemes were all for naught;
For life is governed by vicious laws
Splintering bones with crushing jaws.

© 2010 by Strider Lee

The Crimes of the Nation Are Your Crimes, Too

[image description: Pilate washes his hands.*oil on panel.*83,8 x 106 cm.*ca 1626. Jan Lievens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The crimes of the nation are your crimes, too

The sins of the fathers they hand down to you

The blood that you wash from your hands leaves a stain

As large and as lasting as all that you gain

From wrongs that continue to this very day

And you’re guilty as hell for still looking away.

© 1998 by Strider Lee

Medieval Monday: The Labors of May — Allison D. Reid

May Day marks the beginning of summer in the medieval world. The weather is really warming up, and there are lots of new chores to begin. Planting and harrowing continues, and weeding the grain fields becomes an important chore. Cabbages, leeks, onions, and garlic are ready to be planted, as are those plants used in […]

Medieval Monday: The Labors of May — Allison D. Reid

Ren Faires, Robin Hood, and the Merry Month of May

[image description: a photo my sister took of me standing on the stone walk by our front porch on a sunny afternoon in spring, with our unkempt lawn and woods as the backdrop, and a wheelbarrow turned on its side just behind me. i have a full grey beard that’s grown fairly long and could probably use some combing, but i’ve a long way to go before i look like gandalf the grey. i’m wearing a dark green medieval overtunic and bowman’s hood over a black undertunic, and i’m holding a large horn mug in one hand with the triple horn of odin symbol surrounded by knotwork designs painted on it. a brown leather coinpurse hangs from my darker brown leather medieval belt. a replica of the elven brooch from the lord of the rings movies is clasped to the bottom of the hood, where the cape of the hood parts in front, between which a replica of the icelandic wolf cross is suspended from a silver chain worn around my neck. image copyright 2022 by “strider” lee.]

Throughout our adult lives, the New York Renaissance Faire has been something for my sister and I to look forward to every year. When we could afford to, we would often go every weekend during its run. But even when we were broke, we managed to make it at least once a year, usually because a friend who worked there got us complimentary tickets. The last time we went was the summer before the pandemic, but since then we’ve made a point of having “Ren Faire at home” every now and then during the summer months. We’ll order bottles of mead beforehand, as well as a few cases of beer, and sometimes even plan to cook a meal typical of the kinds of food you’d find at the Faire. And then we’ll get into our garb (costumes), play medieval and Renaissance music on Pandora or YouTube (Blackmore’s Night is a longtime favourite), and reminisce about all the good times we’ve had, not only at the Faire in Tuxedo, but also the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park back when we still lived in New York City.

The picture I chose to head up this blog entry was taken on April 30th of this year. The medieval bowman’s outfit is one I purchased online years ago, along with a longbow and quiver of arrows, which are pictured below (from a photo I took at the Faire in 2016). It consists of a black undertunic and a forest green overtunic with a separable hood (the black pants I’m wearing in the photo are just my pyjamas). I was pleasantly surprised that it still fit. I bought the belt separately, and the “coinpurse” dangling from it is just the bag of polyhedral dice from my rewards for backing the Kickstarter for The Legend of Vox Machina. I also hung my St. Christopher medal on that because its chain had recently broken. The elven brooch was my sister’s idea, because she chose to dress up as a Hobbit this time around. She asked me if I wanted one to match and I said, “Hell yes!” so she ordered two.

[image description: a photo taken on a bright summer’s day of a dark brown leather quiver of arrows with wooden shafts and white fletching propped up against a wooden fence separating a gravel road or walkway from lush green brush. next to it, draped over the top railing of the fence, is the separable hood from my bowman garb, and next to that, propped up against the end of the fence, is an english longbow of dark brown wood. image copyright 2016 by “strider” lee.]

I recall fondly the first time I wore my brand spanking new bowman’s outfit to the Faire, effectively making my debut as a “playtron“. It certainly got a lot of attention, and parents would sometimes come up to me and ask if they could take a picture of their children with me. “They think you’re Robin Hood,” one mother of two whispered conspiratorially as she ushered them over. I smiled and was happy to act the part for the little ones. But there was in fact already a Robin Hood at the New York Ren Faire–had been for as long as I could remember, along with Maid Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, and the rest of his Merry Men. They were an official part of the shows at the NYRF, and so were Nottingham‘s men, who were constantly on the lookout for the infamous outlaw. This led to a funny, if sometimes mildly annoying gag whenever I walked by one of these soldiers of the villainous Sheriff, in which they pretended to think I was Robin Hood. One of them winked and swore he wouldn’t tell on me–which made him a traitor to his lord, but hey, it could happen. Later, another eyed me suspiciously and then proceeded to interrogate me. All in good fun, and quite harmless, though I sometimes didn’t know what to say to them.

Anyway, this time around we chose May Eve for our first “Ren Faire at home” of the year because, even though we normally associate the Faire with the months of August, September, and October, which is when the NYRF has its run, the Faire actually has a few associations with the rites of May, and the characters of Robin Hood and Maid Marian are among them. I remember thinking it odd when I was younger that the NYRF had a maypole, for example, given that it was held in late summer and early autumn. It wasn’t until I did some research that I understood that the Ren Faire is a circuit–many of the performers and vendors actually travel across the country with it, as with a circus or carnival. The first North American Ren Faire begins in Southern California in April and lasts through much of May. So that explains the maypole–but what do Robin Hood and Maid Marian have to do with the merry month of May?

Everything! The tradition seems to have started in Tudor England, in Nottinghamshire, the birthplace of the Robin Hood legends, which “has been described as the ‘May Day county’ by local historian Frank Earp. May Day festivities have long been associated with Robin Hood folklore and the characters of Robin Hood and Maid Marion were crowned, in Tudor celebrations, as the May King and May Queen” [source]. So not only was May Eve an excellent time to have a Ren Faire at home, it was also the perfect occasion to dress up like Robin Hood! In this case, a much older version of course–or maybe just one of his Merry Men.

Blackmore’s Night – Renaissance Faire – Live in Paris 2006

Medieval Monday: The Labors of April — Allison D. Reid

Spring is here! Farm work really gets underway—harrowing and sowing are important chores for this month. Crops planted in April included grains, like barley and oats, and legumes like beans, peas, and vetches. Grain seed was planted by standing with one’s back to the breeze, and flinging a handful of seeds outward from the waist. […]

Medieval Monday: The Labors of April — Allison D. Reid

Welp, I’m a day late for #MedievalMonday, but this is my last chance to reblog Allison D. Reid’s “The Labors of April” this year (at least within the designated month), so here it is. Enjoy!

Easter With Excalibur

This post includes spoilers for the 1981 film Excalibur.

[image description: screenshot from Excalibur (1981) in which Nigel Terry as King Arthur receives back the mystical sword of kings, Excalibur, from the Lady of the Lake after having broken it in his pride and rage (Fair Use).]

Watching John Boorman’s epic 1981 fantasy film Excalibur has become an Easter tradition in my family, not just because at one point a priest praying for deliverance from the film’s main villain, Morgana, intones the words: “and on this Easter day, when Christ rose from the dead…”, but due to the film’s overall theme of death and resurrection.

Central to this story are the Celtic Arthurian motifs of the Wasteland and the Grail, so it is fitting that the film should have a theme of springtime renewal and rebirth. In medieval times, shortly after the feasts of Christmas and Twelfth Night came the solemn period known as Lent, from an Old English word which originally meant “spring season”; an observance still held today by Christians the world over, to both commemorate and emulate Christ’s forty day fast in the desert, lasting until Easter Sunday. To medieval folk the terms “desert”, “wilderness”, and “wasteland” were often interchangeable. The Wasteland therefore became an important spiritual metaphor in Christian interpretations of the Grail myth, and Excalibur makes good use of it in the final act. The Grail itself has also become linked with Christ, as it is often held to be the very cup he drank from at the Last Supper, which caught his divine blood at the Crucifixion.

Curiously, an undated copy of what purports to be the final draft of the screenplay of Excalibur contains another Christological reference which did not make it into the final cut of the movie itself:

Mordred kneels on one knee.

                                     MORDRED
                         Father...

                                     ARTHUR
                         Rise, Mordred.

                                     MORDRED
                         I have come to claim what is mine, 
                         Father.

                                     ARTHUR
                         I recognize you only as my son, no 
                         more.

                                     MORDRED
                              (his tone is scathing)
                         And you are the great King? The lords 
                         have rebelled. Invaders attack the 
                         coasts. Crops don't grow. There is 
                         nothing but plague and hunger in the 
                         land. Only I am feared. I will be 
                         king. You may have lost Excalibur, 
                         but I have found my own weapon of 
                         power. There.

He points to the huge lance. The page pulls a string and the hood drops, revealing a diabolically sharp spear tip, its metal glinting menacingly.

                                     MORDRED
                         The very spear that pierced the side 
                         of Christ as he died on the cross.

                                     ARTHUR
                         Your mother told you that?

Mordred is thrown off by the doubt Arthur has cast. Arthur looks upon his son, desperately trying to read him.

                                     ARTHUR
                         I cannot offer you the land, only my 
                         love...

                                     MORDRED
                         And I offer only this, Father. To 
                         commit with passion and pleasure all 
                         the evils that you failed to commit, 
                         as man and king.

Arthur goes forward to embrace his son, a desperate attempt. Mordred recoils.

                                     MORDRED
                         We will embrace only in battle. 
                         Father, and I will touch you only 
                         with the blade of my spear.

The implication, of course, is that Morgana lied about the spear’s origins. But it’s still an interesting connection beyond that of the Grail, and yet complementary to it, and also very much in keeping with the idea that Arthur is himself a Christlike figure, having suffered a mortal wound from the very Lance of Longinus, only to be borne away to the mystical isle of Avalon until such time as he might rise again to become king once more.

[image description: screenshot of the final battle scene in Excalibur (1981), in which King Arthur is pierced through the midsection with a spear wielded by his son Mordred (Fair Use).]

But before any of that happens, we are slowly and inexorably led through the Wasteland alluded to by Mordred when he first confronts his father, in which “Crops don’t grow,” and “There is nothing but plague and hunger in the land”, as the Knights of the Round Table wander it seemingly aimlessly in their perilous quest to find the Holy Grail, until finally all are dead except the one called Perceval. After initially failing to obtain the Grail, and undergoing his own Christlike death and resurrection upon the hanging tree, it is this most faithful knight who finally solves the riddle and gains the cup that will bring the king–and therefore the kingdom–back to life.

Percival’s name is variously rendered “Peredur”, “Perceval”, “Parzival”, and “Parsifal” in medieval Arthurian tales. He was the protagonist of the romance tale “Perceval, the Story of the Grail” (late 12th century) by Chrétien de Troyes, and several derivative works.

In the film, Perceval is the only knight who is worthy of the Holy Grail. This follows the version of the Arthurian tales told by Chrétien de Troyes…. In later versions of the Arthurian tales, the Grail-worthy knight was Galahad, an illegitimate son of Lancelot. [source]

“I am wasting away. I cannot die and I cannot live.” ~Arthur

[image description: screenshot from a scene in Excalibur (1981) depicting the Arthurian knight Perceval, naked from the waist up, holding the Holy Grail, which in this cinematic adaptation of the tale is an ornate chalice (Fair Use).]

“Drink from the chalice and you will be reborn and the land with you.” ~Perceval

Excalibur (1981) King Arthur and the Holy Grail

“Perceval… I didn’t know how empty was my soul, until it was filled.” ~Arthur

Happy Easter to those who celebrate.

Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

[image description: full colour digital photograph of the top shelf of my bookcase circa 2005, dedicated to what i consider some of the greatest works of english literature. hardcover books from left to right: the holy bible, king james version; homer’s iliad and odyssey (english translation); william shakespeare the complete works; dante’s divine comedy (english translation); the complete tales and poems of edgar allan poe; grimms fairy tales (english translation); heloise and abelard by george moore; the elric saga by michael moorcock; three-volume set of the lord of the rings by j. r. r. tolkien. in the foreground are several new line cinema lord of the rings figures, including top left to right: large saruman action figure, bust of the mouth of sauron, lurtz action figure, and bottom left: three miniatures of rohirrim on foot, including eomer and eowyn; center, in front of bust: witchking on horseback; and left, six uruk-hai hauling grond battering ram. image copyright 2005 by “strider” lee.]

This post contains spoilers for both the book and film versions of The Lord of the Rings.

March 25th is Tolkien Reading Day, because that’s the day J. R. R. Tolkien gave for the climactic event of his epic fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, when the One Ring went into the fire and the Dark Lord Sauron was defeated, and his Dark Tower of Barad-dûr was utterly destroyed. The holiday was started in 2003 by the Tolkien Society, in their own words: “to encourage fans to celebrate and promote the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien by reading favourite passages.” Every year on this day libraries all over the world host related events, with good reason, but as much as I’m a bibliophile I can’t totally exclude any of the movies based on his works from my own celebrations, so I’ll be re-watching the Peter Jackson films as well.

But there’s also a good reason for me to do so. As my most loyal readers may recall, I started re-reading The Lord of the Rings in its entirety back in September of last year, renewing an annual tradition I once shared with my namesake Christopher Lee (R.I.P.), but over the years mostly abandoned except for a few abortive attempts. It wasn’t so much that I had less time to read than I do now (thanks to the pandemic). Rather I blame the internet, and especially, smart phones. Too many things were competing for my attention, I guess. But even though as a result of this the Peter Jackson films became more familiar to me than the books on which they were based, now that I’m reacquainting myself with the original text I find it worthwhile to keep watching the movie trilogy over and over again for purposes of comparison, and then sometimes to blog about it, if I think it’s worth doing so.

This year is also special because my sister has decided that March 25th will be an extension of her birthday festivities (over the years we’ve both tended to expand our birthdays into month long celebrations which as we get older threaten increasingly to be the death of us due to heavy alcohol consumption). I’m not exactly sure of everything she has planned, but I know that Second Breakfast will consist of tomatoes, sausages, and nice crispy bacon. We’ll also bake bread, and as an extension of last week’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, I plan on making colcannon, so we’ll get some taters in there as well.

As for the reading aspect of the celebration, I’ve got that all planned out. Inspired by Burns Night, I will be reciting some of Tolkien’s poetry as well as playing songs on YouTube of his poems set to music (for a few examples, see the playlist I made for Hobbit Day last year). I hope you’ll join us, whether you’re new to Tolkien or not. You can use the hashtag #TolkienReadingDay or #TolkienReadingDay2022. But even if you don’t join us on social media, I think one thing the pandemic has shown us is that we can gain a sense of connection with others of like mind just from participating in these sorts of events on our own, even if we’re not actively engaging in some sort of social activity, whether virtual or IRL, just by knowing that millions of fans all over the world are celebrating the same thing at the same time. So in that spirit, once again I say happy Tolkien Reading Day!

Fear the Fearless

Those who rule through fear,

fear the fearless

Who, broken on wheels that break

bones, but will never break vows

Sing out the song that is a battle cry

Resounding to the furthest reaches

Of the human imagination, we soar

On wings woven for us by some

Reckless Daedalus

out of a tapestry of dreams.

And we know

the taste of freedom–it is

the taste of blood.

There is no death so bittersweet

As that which comes unjustly

To the just because they would not bow

to injustice–

there is your soul;

You are clutching it now;

Though you may not not know it

It is a pearl beyond price–

Lest you cast it before swine

Heed now this precious moment;

this alone is yours, and the choice

of what you will do with it.

Choose not to bow, not to succumb

Nor to let others determine

the course of your destiny.

This is the love the tyrants fear

Trembling upon their thrones;

This is the music of freedom, this

And its simple refrain–

Those who rule through fear:

Fear the fearless.

© 2001 by Strider Lee
YouTube Playlist: Protest Songs in Response to Military Aggression