MAY 1987

The column was now six months old, and I'd done the "origins of holidays" thing to death. Also, no great tradition laden holiday came to mind for the merry month of May. (Memorial Day is fine and dandy, but it's a relative newcomer as holidays go. Nonetheless, now that I think about it, I think we'll go there in the near future . . .)

Anyway, it was time to expand the column's horizons. A couple of years prior to the founding of the newsletter I had briefly been engaged as a wandering mandolin playing minstrel for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire - an experience I enjoyed immensely. It seemed like an ideal topic for the column, to attempt to evoke some sense of what it would have been like to be in a small English town in the late 1500's, preparing to see Queen Elizabeth pass by.

I ended the column urging our readers to check the Faire out as soon as possible, as it was rumored that it was soon to disappear. Sure enough, two years later it was shut down, and though it found a new home in San Bernardino, where it continues to this day, it has never been quite the same.

Ah, but what ever is?

So there I am, sitting by the phone, minding my own business, waiting for some word, some sign, some answer to my heartfelt plea in last months newsletter for feedback from some of you folklore loving readers out there in Reader Land, wondering if all was for naught, or if perhaps a deluge of mail would soon be forthcoming, filled with grateful responses and eager requests for new and exciting topics to be delved into and presented on this very page . . .

Suddenly the phone rings. It's Mom. Hi, Mom, I say. Any word from our legion of faithful readers? Mom replies that one customer had actually called the store specifically to comment on the folklore column and to make a suggestion for future topics.

Oh boy! This was great, this was just the cat's pajamas! Feedback! By phone, yet! After pulling myself down from the ceiling I asked the $64,000 question (am I dating myself here?): What do they want more of? What element from the rich tapestry of past fact and fancy has touched something deep inside them so that they felt compelled to call and share their need with some kindred soul?

Mom had to think for a minute.

Oh yes, she said, it was something about . . .

Rabid field mice.

Now, I like to think of myself as a good sport. As a matter of fact, I thought I could sense a real need here, a real attempt to reach out and make a statement. That's why we tracked down this customer's address, and they'll be pleased to know that approximately two dozen live rabid field mice are on their way to this lucky person's home right now. Call it a goodwill gesture of sorts.

As for the rest of you, I trust we have an understanding.

A Royal Progress


England toward the end of the 1500's was a country with one foot poised at the brink of discovery and world power, and the other foot firmly rooted in its long and legendary past. Queen Elizabeth I was certainly one of the ablest rulers the British people have ever known, with a genius for leading and for choosing able captains to represent her interests abroad, such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Elizabeth was gifted with a great sense of P.R., and would gather up her entourage each and every Spring and travel out of London, out to meet the common folk who loved and revered her. When she would deign to descend upon a small hamlet all work would stop, all prisoners would usually be pardoned, and a special holiday would commence.

This would, you see, be the only chance in a lifetime most of these simple peasants and townspeople would ever have of seeing their Queen (or indeed of seeing almost anyone of noble birth - in those days before rapid transportation and mass communication most people never journeyed more than a couple of miles beyond their home town, hence this once in a lifetime visit from the Queen was the equivalent of the first moon landing, Lindburgh's ticker tape parade in New York, and Woodstock all rolled into one!)

The sights that greeted this thoroughly modern far sighted Queen were something else again.

In 16th Century England the simple peasants still actively celebrated the thousand year old rites their pre-Christian ancestors had observed. Costumed mummers, followed by a horde of singing and dancing peasants, would don wondrous and horrible masks and reenact that oldest of folkloric rituals: the ageless drama of birth, death and rebirth. Jack of the Green would do battle with Grim Winter for the life of Flora, goddess of Spring, be slain even as he slayed Winter, and be awakened by the sweet breath of Spring.

Elsewhere the ancient Celtic habits of human sacrifice had given way to the symbolism of "Morris Dancing", which involved amazing interplay with scarves and swords and often culminated in a symbolic beheading.

In general the overall feeling would be one of genial chaos, with a newly freed class of peasants struggling to find their way in a modern world, a newly developed entity called the "middle class" searching for their niche, a thousand superstitions, both pious and pagan, running at collision speed toward the new "modernism" of the more enlightened nobles and merchants.

There's a place you can go, right now, to see all this. It's called the Renaissance Faire, it's going on right now through the first or second weekend of June, and it's a Must See. Forget about your Murder Mystery weekends, this is a lot cheaper and a lot more intricate.

The setting is that of a typical English village in the late 1500's, on that one day in a lifetime that Queen Elizabeth is coming to visit. It's held on the Old Paramount Ranch in Agoura where all the old Westerns were filmed, all the local papers have ads running, and it's rumored that this could be one of its last years.