It’s like a fantasy land!


It was a perfect day at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, and I got my exercise wandering around this huge event — I think I also got my yearly allotment of dirty jokes. When they say it’s kind of like the good parts of the Middle Ages, I think they specifically mean they kept all the ribaldry and threw out the unpleasant bits like poor hygiene, disease, and famine.

This was the weekend of the Highland Games, and the Scots took over. I saw so many burly men in kilts throwing heavy objects that I was starting to feel uncomfortably overdressed, and wondered if I should take my pants off … but after watching the caber toss, I decided that would be too blatantly provocative. This caber business tells me that some people in Scotland are seriously overcompensating for something.

This is not one of those racy blogs, so no cabers for you. You’ll have to settle for a manly hammer throw.


There were also some amazing chain mail outfits on display — I’m also not showing you those. I think the only way those could have been used defensively is that any man would be stunned at the sight. I felt a few palpitations and twinges myself.

The other thing about Midwestern fairs in general is the food. How do people survive this stuff? This is Nathan eating onion rings (classic medieval fare), and cheese fries (ditto), while Skatje actually went the whole barbecued turkey (how many of those were running around pre-Columbian Europe, anyway) leg route. Note the authentic medieval fajitas stand behind her.


Go on, Minnesotans, you know you want to visit this place. Don’t worry about the historicity, just have fun.


  1. says

    I love Midwestern fair food. Especially the fries. And the corn dogs.

    …what? It’s not like I eat that stuff every day.

    Did they have authentic medieval Dippin’ Dots?

  2. fardels bear says

    I attended the RenFair when I lived in that part of the land in the 1980s and early 1990s. I actually display in my office the prize that I won for knocking three other competitors off the log with a stick (no, not a pointed stick).

    The prize was a small piece of wood on a thread. On the wood is the legend “King of the Log” is emblazoned. For years when my wife comes to my office I do a “nudge nudge wink wink, I’m ‘King of the Log’ baby!” to her.

    I’m not sure why she has stayed married to me.

  3. JP says

    What we need isn’t medieval Dippin’ Dots, we need deep fried candy bars and funnel cakes.

    Mmm, artery clogging faire goodness.

  4. Graculus says

    Note the authentic medieval fajitas stand behind her.

    With the half-assed 9th c Insular Majuscule font

    [/SCA calligrapher]

  5. Paula Helm Murray says

    Our Faire (Kansas City Renaissace Festival, same mgmt co as Minneapolis RF) starts next weekend, I work for a jeweler and have a great time BEHIND A COUNTER. There is no way I could stand to be a street persona, I’d punch someone…

    And it is different from my day job (electron herder), AND gives me some extra dougn ($$$) for Christmas/extras. Plus I love the owners, who live in Colorado and who I plan to visit once we are done with the Worldcon in KC in 2009 bid stuff (it will be voted on in Japan next weekend).

    But it does wear me out. Ah, well. Glad you had a good time!

  6. says

    Is there anything more satisfying than a summer Ren-Faire? I used to go annually to the one in Tuxedo, NY, and once, near the Cloisters in Manhattan, they staged some medieval jousting featuring “Sir Terrence from Queens.” He got his butt kicked by some faux-knight from Joisey…

  7. Chris O. says

    Oh man, I was at the ren fair today! And I was watching the Highland Games! I was probably like 10 feet away from PZ at some point and didn’t notice. *goes off to cry*

    I got one of those giant turkey legs too. Quite the challenge.

  8. wildcardjack says

    My HS took a large number of us to the Medieval Times in Dallas in either our sophmore or junior year. They served roasted potatos at some point and I responded with “yes, they are well seasoned, but they are the worst anachronism here”

    The response I got? “Well, would you rather be eating boiled cabbage?”

    At least I know they were running a modern kitchen in the back. In the real middle ages they considered salmonella a seasoning.

  9. says

    I go to the Maryland Renaissance Festival every year. Despite all the culinary and cultural anachronisms (or maybe even because of) it’s still a lot of fun. What good is a Ren Fest without Shakespeare’s Skum, though?

  10. Rey Fox says

    I know I’m toying with fatherly wrath here, as well as probably numerous state laws, but…your daughter’s cute.

  11. David Wilford says

    Damn, I was at the renfest today working in my wife’s shop there selling her art, and I’m very sorry to have missed you PZ! I would have greatly enjoyed showing you around the place a bit and introducing you to the stocks where you could have been pilloried as an atheist… :-)

    God Save The King! The Queen Is Mightily Pissed!

  12. says

    The way to enjoy the Faire is to join a guild, which my family did when our lad was but a wee sprout. He had a shady place to crash and eat and drink, he got to be in parades and shout, “Huzzah!” and, “God save teh Queen!” and jump from hay bale to hay bale with the other Faire brats. See if you can spot yours truly as an Alderman in photos from Northern (CA) Faire from a couple of years ago (hint: long white hair).

    One of our members would walk around as “plague lady” with a walking stick festooned with stuffed (faux) rats, with her skin all pale and festooned with giant buboes, fashioned from play dough. People always gave her a lot of room.

  13. says

    Re: #13:

    3 days later, PZ Myers rose from the dead, bitching and moaning about how irrational it was to be resurrected, and how this was not to be considered evidence of anything religious or superstitious.

    Then he whipped out a cross-bow and shot a couple of anachronistic Creationists.

    His commentary on this received 1066 comments over the next 24 hours.

    And all was well, in the blogosphere and the RenFaire.

  14. SEF says

    It’s like a fantasy land!

    But were there pygmies and dwarfs? Or balloon animals? Or dinosaurs and humans walking together? ;-)

  15. says

    if i hadn’t spent nights mending leather boots and crimping chain mail and tending to live-steel wounds or perhaps trying to get my bracers to fit right i’d totally make fun of you for being a faire geek. luckily….wait

  16. EyeNoU says

    They have a RenFest here (near Houston TX)every year and they are a blast. Make sure to bring a camera!

  17. says

    Ahistorical or not, its just not a Ren Faire unless you have a turkey leg!

    I have gone every year that I’ve been here, but I’ve never gone in costume, though.

  18. says

    Funny how these things are called “Renaissance Fairs” in the US. I guess the word “Medieval” has too strong connotations of torture and dungeons over on your side of the sea.

  19. Todd says

    In defense of Midwestern cuisine, putting food on a stick is quite practical when wondering about in crowds. It may not be very good food, but if someone bumps into you, chances are good it will remain on the stick. Plus, it leaves with some means of protection when attacked by roving bands of carnies.

  20. says

    That brings back memories – we moved away from Eden Prairie in 1982, and I haven’t seen a RenFest that compares to MN’s yet. I’m guessing Puke and Snot are long gone, but do they still have the Ratcatcher?

    I have the same attitude about Renaissance Faires as I do about pirates. The real thing is undoubtedly scary and repellent in most respects, but when you add a fictional modern spin, it becomes fun – the anachronisms are part of what make it work.

  21. says

    Which leads to the old Scottish line “Is that a caber in your kilt, or am I just happy to see you?”

    I’ll take lamb stew over turkey legs personally. :)

  22. says

    Puke and Snot are still there, drawing huge crowds, and still using the same jokes.

    I saw someone dressed as a rat catcher — don’t know if it was the same one.

  23. CortxVortx says

    Re: #26

    I go every year, and yes, in full grab.

    Do you get slapped often? :)

    I went to the Texas Renaissance Festival a couple of times in the 80s. I remember The Ogre on painter’s stilts with his bag of farts, his shaving-cream pustules, and his rude songs. And the Mud Show.

    Last year I attended the Ohio Renaissance Festival. The Mud Show was there.

    I’ve yet to catch the Tortuga Twins, though.

    — CV

  24. SEF says

    I’ve yet to catch the Tortuga Twins, though.

    Perhaps that’s because you weren’t there “in full grab”. You mock but you miss. ;-)

  25. Ray C. says

    Large Man with Dead Body: Who’s that then?
    The Dead Collector: I dunno, must be a king.
    Large Man with Dead Body: Why?
    The Dead Collector: He hasn’t got shit all over him.
    –Monty Python and the Holy Grail

  26. Peter Ashby says

    Oi Myers, when you have tried throwing a caber, then you can cast aspersions. I suggest you come over here, the Highland Games season is not quite over, you can tell the caber and hammer boys what you have said in your blog. There’s usually an ambulance around just in case.

  27. CJColucci says

    The only athletic event in which I ever distinguished myself was the caber toss at summer camp. I wonder what that says about me?

  28. David Wilford says

    I saw someone dressed as a rat catcher — don’t know if it was the same one.

    It is. He’s one of the real old-timers all right.

    FYI, the secret of eating anything off a stick is to coat it in batter and deep-fat fry it. Except Key Lime Pie on a stick – that’s frozen.

  29. Djiril says

    Aren’t Renaissance and Medieval, like, two completely different time periods? The costume mistress was very particular about that when I worked Faire, and it drives me crazy when the media portrays Renaissance Faires with all the participants wearing pointy veiled hats! If I had showed up like that, I would have had my gate pass pulled! (Though I guess not all Faries have the same standards.)

  30. Pieter B says

    Aren’t Renaissance and Medieval, like, two completely different time periods?

    Typical RenGeek reaction to pointy hats & such: “Nice costume. Five hundred years out of fashion, but nice.”

  31. folderol says

    Typical RenGeek reaction to pointy hats & such: “Nice costume. Five hundred years out of fashion, but nice.”

    And then there are the pirates and the occasional elf . . . .