People who are really into medieval stuff are weird. For example, when I was in college, there was a campus medieval club that would set up a canvas tent outside of the building where I worked an early-morning custodial job. Around this tent, they placed two or three guards to keep watch over their collection of wooden swords and home-made chain-mail (you know, just in case anyone wanted to steal them). One morning, maybe to raise my twelfth century street cred, I told one of them that I had an interest in medieval literature. The thane looked at me with a ye olde twinkle in his ye olde eye, and said, "Then you are a friend."
The sincerity of his words were moving, but I still thought it was a weird thing to say.
I've kept an eye out for medievalists since then. They are generally easy to spot, mostly because they are the only ones in the neighborhood who dress like Robin Hood. They like to do medieval things, like lay siege to a dog house or storm a mailbox. Also, they are the only people you know with names like "Ulf" or "Hrothgar" or "Erowen."
It is easy to poke fun at these people. Outsiders interpret their behavior as a strange attempt to escape the modern world. I don't know if that is the case, but I wouldn't put it past either Ulf or Hrothgar. Anyone who would lay siege to a dog house is escaping something.
Still, I think there much that we--the outsiders, the modernists--could learn from these medievalists.
Take Sir Harry Andrews, for instance. Harry Andrews was a committed medievalist. He spent the last fifty years of his life building a medieval-ish castle (christened "Chateau Laroche," but best known locally as the "Loveland Castle") along the Little Miami River in Loveland, Ohio.
Why did Sir Harry do it?
Good question. During my recent visit to the Loveland Castle, the man who took my admission fee ($3.00 a person) explained that Harry built the castle because his loyal knights (who were actually members of his Boy Scout troop) needed one.
Fair enough, I thought. At least he didn't do it to impress girls.
* * *
Although I grew up only a town away from Sir Harry's Chateau Laroche, I never got around to visiting it until this week. My expectations were high; I had heard and read a lot of good things about the castle. On their official website, for example, Sir Harry's knights, the Knights of the Golden Trail (KOGT), describe it (and themselves) in these terms:
"Chateau Laroche was built as an expression and reminder of the simple strength and rugged grandeur of the mighty men who lived when Knighthood was in flower.
"It was their knightly zeal for honor, valor and manly purity that lifted mankind out of the moral midnight of the dark ages and started it towards the gray dawn of human hope.
"Present human decadence proves a need for similar action. Already the ancient organization of Knights have been re-activated to save society.
"Any man of high ideas who wishes to help save civilization is invited to become a member of the Knights of the Golden Trail, whose only vows are the Ten Commandments.
"Chateau Laroche is the World headquarters of this organization, started in 1927."
Wow! Who wouldn't, on the "simple strength and rugged grandeur" of that description, expect anything but the best from the world headquarters of a society that "wishes to save civilization" from "present human decadence"? Personally, I was so inspired by those words that I nearly forsook the modern world and changed my name to Unferth.
Good thing I'm not a drinking man.
What can be said about Sir Harry's magnum opus? The exterior of the castle is impressive, especially when you consider that Sir Harry did it all with his two knightly hands. And, to their credit, the KOGT have done a nice job keeping Sir Harry's castle grounds courtly and colorful. I mean, if I were throwing a medieval-themed wedding (or even a medieval-themed Tupperware party), I would throw it there. As castles along the Little Miami go, it's one of the more picturesque.
Still, inside the castle is a different story. While the KOGT are big on saving civilization, they are not big on dusting. Walking through the castle, I felt like I was taking a tour of the home of Pig Pen, Charlie Brown's perpetually dusty friend. Everything--Sir Harry's framed photographs, swords, and suits of armor--was covered with the stuff. I think I even saw where some medieval smart aleck had taken a finger to the dust and written the words "WASH ME" in both Celtic and Old English.
Don't get me wrong: the Loveland Castle is worth the three dollar admissions fee--even with the dust that hasn't moved a millimeter since 1985.
You see, Sir Harry's Chateau Laroche is a monument to the Independent Spirit. To the rest of us, Sir Harry and every other hard core medievalist seem like they're three motes shy of a drawbridge, but they don't seem to care. They are who they are, chain mail and all. They seize that independent spirit with a gauntlet of steel.
It takes a lot of courage to be a dork in this world. It takes even more courage to be a dork with a big dream. Sir Harry had a big dusty dream, and he made it a reality. That's more than most people can say.