Sunday, June 06, 2010

Medieval Fantasy as Performance: the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Current Middle Ages, by Michael A. Cramer

Michael Cramer is a theater scholar, an active dramatist, and a longtime member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. I know him reasonably well and am not shy about promoting my friends when they publish, but I can honestly say that this is a very interesting book that will appeal to a number of different audiences: thoughtful members of the SCA, people interested in postmodernism and medievalism on the theoretical level, and those who find dramatic theory useful in analyzing what people do in daily life.

One of the best features of this book is that Kramer is willing to be honest about his own feelings about the organization he has belonged to for so many years. If some aspect strikes him as worthwhile, he doesn't hold back from saying so either implicitly or explicitly. If some incident or feature strikes him as problematic, that comes through, too. He is neither bashful nor chauvinistic. I can guess that he feels that if some readers are going to dismiss the SCA or his study as too weird for words, well, then, they should read another book. This straightforward approach to the material makes it a lot more lively than a lot of cultural/anthropological studies.

As an informed reader with a great deal of SCA experience myself, I got some good laughs from his accurate observation. It didn't hurt that I know or have heard of most of the people he interviewed, quoted, or told good stories about. For somebody like me, this book could almost be entitled Famous Eccentrics of the SCA. For readers coming to this book for scholarly treatment, Cramer's deft use of anecdotes is actually a strength, because they are well-chosen and well discussed. They're not just there for freak-show value. Cramer is far from condescending to his subjects; if a famous eccentric in the book it's for a good reason.

I am not sure how this book will be received by theorists of performance or postmodernism, but I've always thought that the SCA was an interesting cultural phenomenon, and I think this may be the best, or at least most sophisticated, treatment of that phenomenon.

Image: the cool cover. There are lots of cool pictures on the inside, too.


  1. Lori Taylor8:57 am

    Steve - How do we purchase the book?
    Viscountess Lore de Lorraine
    (also a shameless supporter of Jarl Valgard ;-)