Carnage, blood and Kind Men Carving Hooks: A review of the Oslo Middelalder Festival.
There are few things I love more than a spectacle. So when hundreds of people gather dressed like lords and ladies whilst selling wooden bowls and dead foxes, I’ll definitely be there. Unfortunately dressed like this:
Had I understood the event’s complexity, I may not have dressed for a Tennessee barbecue. Not only do I love a spectacle, but I particularly love a Medieval one. A staple of my childhood was a theme park called ‘Medieval Times,’ where you enter an arena and eat chicken with your hands while knights beat each other with various weapons. The show is scripted and choreographed, but these guys do real flips off horses.
2010, aiming for “Medieval” but achieving “The Most Unpopular Kids In School Who Definitely Did The School Play”:
Look into our eyes. Look into my medallion. You can see the magic that only a fake universe ignites. The magic that I’d spend my entire life pursuing, that would one day draw me to Oslo Middelalderfestivalen. 7 years after this picture was taken, I visited the rival Medieval gathering across the world.
In some ways, I had very high standards for the Middelalderfestival, and in most ways I had very low standards. And with a lifetime of standards, I was dying to find out how legitimate this Norwegian circus actually was.
The event that I was most excited for was the joust, or two people dressed in armor riding full speed at each other on horses trying to stab each other with long sticks. From my past experience in this industry, I was expecting a dramatic, choreographed narrative. I wanted staged romance and treachery, for a traitorous wizard to kidnap the princess. The joust disappointingly turned out to be a very real with people actually stabbing at each other and then taking 15 minute breaks. Bored, I decided to move on, rating this event a 2/5.
THE 1200 NOK AUTHENTIC GARB
Most of the vendors were easy to pass by, as I had no need for an enormous tooth that was also a horn. But then I set eyes on a red peasant dress perfect for milking cows. When I asked for the price, the vendor looked me up and down and said “700 kroner. Oh, I mean 1200 kroner.” Did I buy the dress? No. But I gained something more significant—the experience of being nearly and authentically swindled by a wench, as would have likely happened during the Dark Ages. Invigorating 4/5 experience.
THE BBQ BURRITO
After the historically-accurate dress incident, I was excited to see what the food and libations tent would offer. Haggis? Meade? Nay, the main course was truly a BBQ Burrito. I will boldly attribute this cuisine to Mexico, not Norway. I abstained. 1/5 disappointing local fare.
THE KIND MAN CARVING HOOKS
Whilst wandering, I encountered a Kind Man Carving Hooks. Wearing a modest robe, he carved and refined hooks to be used for a tent that he maybe lived in. He was very kind, and carving real hooks. 5/5.
THE CHILDREN CHANTING “MORE BLOOD”
I ended the experience by accidentally stumbling into mass carnage. At first I thought it was a circle of children singing folk songs, then realizing that it was actually a circle of children (and their parents) chanting “More Blood.” as armored knights fought hostile farmers to the fake death. I found out from the Kind Hook Man that these moves were NOT choreographed—the fights were real, and the children’s thirst was even more real. As farmer beat down knight with a rake, as knight kicked farmer in the ribs, as shrieking child ate apple on a stick, I had finally found the authentic time transport I’d been look for. I dare to rate this event a 6/5.
THE FINAL SCORE
While comparing the circus of Medieval Times with the passion of Middelalderfestivalen, I understand the entertainment value of both. The events indulge a desire to time travel, and maybe even play a character. Whether I’m at a festival in Oslo or Illinois, I can prance around wearing a cone on my head and be welcomed with open arms, or at least politely ignored.
I don’t think one Medieval event is better than the other. But I do think that above the ability to time travel, we value the simulation of people trying to carve each other with ancient weapons. I am a peaceful, liberal, artistic, free spirit, but let me eat food with my hands while watching “fake” violence and I will be my most authentic self.