Live Role-play of Medieval Fantasy and its relationship to the Media
By Simon Troon
Master’s Thesis, University of Canterbury, 2012
Abstract: In the postmodern, contemporary Western world of late capitalism, we dream of the Middle Ages. Medieval Fantasy, as an entertainment genre, supplements historical images of the Middle Ages with elements of myth in adventure stories featuring magicians, knights and ladies, castles, dragons, swords, and sorcery that are routinely consumed and absorbed. In some activities they are also played out physically. People dress up, utilise props, and affect their speech and mannerisms like actors in a theatre, conducting pseudo-ritualistic games of mimicry to make these images speak and move in the real world: live role-play.
This thesis examines several organised examples of live role-play: Southron Gaard, a branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism based in Christchurch, New Zealand; larping, as represented by two documentary films, Darkon and Monster Camp, that document the activities of larping organisations in the USA; and ‘Lord of the Rings Tour’, a tourism trip from Christchurch to ‘Edoras’, a fictional location from Middle-earth, the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Novels and Peter Jackson’s filmic adaptations thereof. These organised leisure activities provide platforms for the pursuit of active, physical involvement with the images and ideas of medieval fantasy. In them, participants find ways to bring these fantastic images and ideas onto their bodies in reality and, perhaps as a result, closer to their everyday lives in ways that have more significant social implications than may at first be apparent.
Introduction: A rangy bearded man dressed in a long black cloak and a tall pointy hat stands atop a wooden stepladder. One hand trembles skyward as if to invoke celestial powers. Shouting a ceaseless stream of invective, he laments the passing of the days when wizards ruled the world and castigates the society he finds himself in. Behind him multi-story concrete buildings block out the sky and buses drift past. People walk past too, seeming to keep their distance. Some glance in his direction. This is recording of The Wizard of New Zealand performing in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square, captured on video using a cellphone camera and uploaded to YouTube on 21 February 2008.
Having lived in Christchurch my whole life I am familiar with the Wizard’s performances. He has been conducting them in this way since the 1970s. Standing in the shadow of Christchurch’s Anglican Cathedral – a Gothic Revival icon – I have seen The Wizard challenge and entertain his audiences of passersby. I have watched as tourists, children, and employees taking their lunch breaks gather to listen to him.They sit on benches, and even on the grey paving stones of the Square. Some shout their disagreements, trying to argue with him, but the ranting man carries on seemingly unaffected by the world around him.
The Wizard performs a Merlin-esque character in Christchurch, a modern South Pacific city with a recent colonial history and considerable suburban sprawl, simultaneously invoking fantastic tales of the European Middle Ages as well as popular contemporary media like The Lord of the Rings. Watching him perform, it seems as though an essential part of these tales of adventure andmagic have made an incursion into the mundane space of the contemporary city. The Wizard’s performances are a kind of live role-play that is reiterated and reinforced when they are recorded and disseminated throughout various networks of media.