Karl Marx (left) and Christopher Marx of Juneau fight during the Society for Creative Anachronism demonstration at last year's Southeast Alaska State Fair in Haines. The group will return to the fair this weekend for another demonstration.
Nate Webb, left, of Haines, participates in the Society for Creative Anachronism demonstration at last year's Southeast Alaska State Fair
The device for the Shire of Earngyld, the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Story last updated at 7/28/2010 - 12:10 pm
The Shire of Earngyld will be going north to demonstrate their prowess on the field and attempt to conscript new fighters.
This is not from the pages of a fantasy novel, but rather the newest event put on by the local branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), the international medieval and Renaissance reenactment group. The Juneau-based chapter will be convening at the Southeast Alaska State Fair for battle demonstrations and recruitment of members.
This is far from pure fantasy for those involved. Just talk to the marshal of the group. Juneau resident Karl Marx - yes, that is his real name - is like a walking European historical encyclopedia. He casually discussed the intricacies of 14th century Germany, covering politics, weaponry, geography and cuisine without missing a beat.
Marx, who now works for the state, spent three years in Germany when he was in the military.
This isn't just people dressed up in costume hitting each other with sticks, he said. The group delves into the culture of the epochs, and tries to be as accurate as possible with dress, meals, dancing and crafts. The weapons and armor should be handcrafted when possible, he said.
"The SCA is much more receptive to people bootstrapping it themselves," he said.
Though he takes his history seriously, Marx is quick to point out that the group is really about playing with that history in imaginative ways. Although the SCA boasts more than 30,000 members worldwide, he said there aren't enough people adopting personas of specific time periods or regions to have separate groups. The various players are mixed together at times.
"Not that it doesn't make it less fun to see a Viking beat a samurai," he said.
"The majority of our samurais are blond," he added.
The Shire of Earngyld has been around for decades, Marx said. Some of the members live in smaller communities like Haines and Ketchikan, and it's a trip for some of them to get to the fair this summer, he said. The group is open to anyone who wants to join, the only rule being that "some attempt" at period dress is required.
"We're elitist but not exclusive," Marx said.
Southeast has its own unique challenges for medieval weaponry as well.
"Living here, we have to make sure our armor isn't rustable," he said.
For Marx, the change into his persona, the 14th century German landsknecht Karl Helweg, is also an escape from his conspicuous birth name.
"It's nice to get under the radar for a change," he said. "A lot of the members will pick a name like 'Thor Bigsword.'"
Marx said the group is looking forward to hosting an upcoming tournament in Juneau this January. The result of the battle will determine who will be the figureheads of the Shire of Earngyld for the subsequent six months.
"We don't hold elections, we have tournaments," Marx said. "Look at what you wget when you have elections."
The last time the event was held in town was in 1986.
The reenactments of battles are hardly "fake," Marx said, and after the group's Fourth of July demonstration he had plenty of bruises to demonstrate that fact.
"We play pretty intensely," he said.
Overall the SCA safety record is good, however. Marx cited one death he had heard about, which was a participant who he described as a "class four asthmatic."
"Compared to mini golf, which kills six people a year, we're phenomenally good," he said.
Marx's wife Lisa has also been involved with the SCA for decades. She said the local group has created a remarkable ensemble.
"We have people across all different types of jobs in the community, all different economic levels," she said.
In her 21st century life, Lisa Marx works as a mental health professional, a career that demands austerity, she said. There are marked differences between her and the persona she created to live in Earngyld.
"In some ways she's more free than I am," she said, "in the sense that I work in a field where I have to be very controlled. You're always the role model ... always trying to show the types of behaviors you want the clients to show."
All that changes when Lisa Marx puts on her 16th century attire, and transforms into her alter ego, the Savoyan Elisa von Sophey.
"When I'm in costume, I'm not bound to those same things," she said. "So I can go out and shoot people with my bow, and not have to worry about whether I'm a good example."
One obvious disparity in the medieval revival is the role of women, who comprise more than half of SCA membership. Lisa Marx herself acts as "seneschal" of the Shire of Earngyld, which is the rough equivalent of "club president."
"That's where the anachronism comes in," she said. "Back in that period women generally didn't have power, and often your husband was chosen for you. Women don't hold to the same part now."
Lisa Marx said she and her husband tend to be historically oriented in their involvement with the SCA.
"Some go in for the whole 'knight in shining armor, and that's fine," she said. "That's all part of the game."
The group will be at the Southeast Alaska State Fair July 31. For information people can visit its website at www.earngyld.org.
Richard Radford may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.