RenFest is Basically Comic-Con in the Woods
Well, it’s autumn again, and that means it’s time for RenFest. My family and I have been going to Renaissance Festivals pretty consistently over the last ten years or so, first in Maryland and Virginia, and now in Missouri.
My kids love it. The jousting, the archery, the pony rides. And my wife loves getting to wear her medieval dress and crown of flowers. Though the most recent addition to her costume feels decidedly less historically accurate: elf ears.
The first modern Renaissance Festival was held in 1963, at the home of an LA schoolteacher named Phyllis Patterson and her husband Ron. Designed to recreate an actual spring market from the 16th century, the Patterson’s “Renaissance Pleasure Faire” drew 8,000 people and sparked a movement that would sweep across the country.
Over the next few decades, Renaissance Festivals began appearing all over the United States. Usually, the Festivals take place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I or King Henry VIII, and feature late medieval/early renaissance sports, crafts, clothing, and food.
But while the earliest Renaissance Festivals were designed to be “living museums,” with historical re-enactors on hand to educate visitors on various aspects of 16th-century life, the evolution of RenFest over the last generation has been in the direction of incorporating many more elements from the genres of fantasy and science fiction.
Indeed, these days the re-enactors seem to be vastly outnumbered by guests representing characters from fantasy franchises like Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and Dungeons and Dragons, video game universes like World of Warcraft, Legend of Zelda, and Assassin’s Creed, and a slew of characters inspired by anime, manga, and other pop culture sources like Steampunk.
Basically, RenFest has become Comic-Con in the woods.
Now, I’m not judging. Don’t spam the comments with admonitions that I need to pull the stick out of my ass and just let people have a good time. I really don’t care what you wear to RenFest. My interest here is purely anthropological. I’d like to understand why RenFest evolved in this particular direction.