Another summer, another Saturday of escape into a fantasy of the past. In the depths of winter my husband and I share a litany of future joys, as certain in our life as the rising sun. Part of our litany is always, “We’ll go back to the Faire.” The Bristol Renaissance Faire, midway between Milwaukee and Chicago, has never failed us yet.
Each year delights us with a blend of familiar and fresh. While our favorite porcupine wasn’t at this year’s petting zoo, we got to gape at a large horned zebu cow from Africa. We missed a couple of bands we enjoy and happened onto others that kept us smiling. I shot six arrows from a miniature crossbow. Only one hit the target.
What do you suppose time travelers from Elizabethan England would make of it all? Would they find anything familiar? Not the fairy wings, accordion music, or chocolate-coated bananas. It doesn’t matter. Historical accuracy matters a lot for nonfiction, quite a bit for historical fiction, and not at all for playing at the past. Getting to pick and choose makes the Faire a lot more fun—not to mention safer and more healthful—than if we could actually travel back in time.
The drive home took us through Wisconsin countryside devastated by flash floods. Roads and bridges were out, vehicles half under water, farm fields transformed into ponds. I’ll bet a flood disaster would make perfect sense to visitors from the Renaissance. In real life they, like the residents of this week’s flood-land, didn’t get to pick and choose.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.