What do you get a medievalist for his (mumble)-second birthday?
A trip to the Middle Ages!
That’s right. My awesome wife—ahem, sorry, my lady—took me to Medieval Times, a dinner and entertainment show with “knights” and “swords” and … well, every noun in this article will probably need to be in quotation marks if I keep this up.
First off, I have to tell you that I had a blast.
I mean, part of that was because my wife is mega-amazing and totally out of my league—hell, I don’t think we play the same sport—but also—
Go Yellow Knight!
Okay, yeah, I know, it’s ridiculous. Medieval Times is incredibly non-historical, and the action is essentially fake knights doing WWE choreography of pulled punches and planned swings. Oops, I fell over! Oh, I fell over again!
Seriously, there was so much flopping I felt like I was watching a soccer match.
BUT, the fakery was still brilliant fun and impressive. Even the training of the horses was pretty amazing to see: as soon as someone
dramatically dismounted fell, their loyal steed was like “Screw this!” and headed backstage. It was awesome.
Anyway, let me walk you through the experience.
First, you’ll need to find parking. Be sure to take pics with the advertising outside, and try not to ruin everyone’s experience by pointing out all the inaccuracies in the picture behind you.
Next, you’ve got to gain entrance to the castle. You’ll need to cross the drawbridge to do so.
Or not. I mean, there’s no moat, so you could just walk around the “bridge” on the grass … but if you’re gonna go to Medieval Times I’m gonna suggest you go whole hog on the experience.
Or half chicken, since that’s what’s for dinner.
But that’s still to come. And so much awaits you first!
There’s gift shops! Booze! Fake thrones! Trumpets! A ground-level “dungeon” with post-medieval torture devices! Gonna need more booze! Pre-game crowd hyping with speaker enhancements! ::hic:: Sitcom canned laughter and oooohs and aaaahs.
Anyway, after a period of forced browsing, you’re eventually ushered into the arena and over to an assigned table. Your “table” is color-coded, m’lord, as are your hats, which lets you know which knight you’ll be rooting for.
In our case, GO YELLOW KNIGHT!
And here he comes at last! He was introduced as the hero of Navarre, a medieval kingdom in the Basque region of the Pyrenees between modern France and Spain.
It will not shock you to hear that his coat of arms was not Navarrese. (My wife says they should get kudos for at least knowing the name of a medieval kingdom.)
Anyway, not only was the hero of “Navarre” our assigned man, but my wife reports that he was a rather handsome devil.
Though, in the interest of transparency, this may have been after he tossed her two flowers.
I don’t want to give you a false impression, though: I assure you that the Yellow Knight was a Good Guy. (Pro-tip: If you’re ever unsure about such things, follow the musical cues. #Vadersonthatship)
What’s for dinner during this extravaganza? Check your napkin for the menu and follow along as your self-styled “serving wench” brings out the courses of (we were told) dragon’s blood, dragon scales, rotisserie dragon … and Pepsi, the drink of medieval kings…
…which is where I honestly cried foul. I can put up with a lot of historical inaccuracies in my quasi-medievalish dinner shows (like New World taters), but we all know real kings drink Coke. ;)
They make a big deal out of eating everything with your fingers and not using utensils, despite the fact that medieval folks didn’t do it this way (it’s a Hollywood myth). But it was still fun in its way.
There was some half-boiled humor in the early going that could only be vaguely heard over the loudspeakers, and the food that came was pretty meh—but no one there came to Medieval Times for the comedy or the grub.
No, we came for the pageantry and such. And despite the action itself being choreographed and historically hilarious, it was a hell of a lot of fun.
I’ve heard stunt action like this being described as a kind of dance, but I think it’s something quite beyond that. Sure, there’s a kind of script in the planned choreography, but there’s also the constant presence of chance. A foot can slip in the sand, a blade can turn in the grip, a hold can be lost from a steed. The men have to be focused and engaged, and even within the flak jackets they’re wearing, they can take some substantial blows—crashing to the ground, in particular.
Partway through the evening, screens were lowered to protect the audience from flying debris, and that’s when the fun really began.
Sorry about the lack of great resolution (the dark plus the intervening screens made it tough on even the new iPhone X’s camera), but hopefully you can see the lances splintering into bitty bits of wood. (Real lances don’t shatter like this, but it sure makes for a better show—and a better movie in the case of A Knight’s Tale, which I’ll review soon.)
Then, when they dismounted, the knights would fight “to the death” using a variety of “medieval” weapons: sword, mace, halberd, and flail. This choreography was pretty intense, and there was a fair bit of sparking blades on impact (the result of grooving titanium edges, I suspect).
Favorites were chosen quickly, as the knights went down one by one.
The crowd seriously ate all this up. A pre-teen kid beside us (not ours) LOST HIS SHIT rooting for the Yellow Knight. He was screaming in bloodthirst, I tell you, totally ready to Hulk out. He was so pumped I think he would have eviscerated a stuffed Blue Knight if you would’ve given it to him.
No worries, though, as the Yellow Knight took the dastardly fellow out:
The Yellow Knight was victorious (Huzzah!), but then (Alack!) a rival king entered the arena in a frightful display of treachery (Hisssss!).
Here we see our man going into combat with two swords to take on this foe. (Despite a penalty for dual-wielding, he still rolled 20s, because he’s a Good Guy.)
Action! Drama! The crowd goes wild as the Good Guy wins!
All in all, it was a great time. The crowd was really appreciative of the cast during the curtain call:
And yeah, it was probably extra awesome since our Yellow Knight carried the day … though I got to take home the girl, so I really won!
Mike’s Medieval Ratings
Authenticity: 2/10 Pepsi or Diet Pepsi
Just Plain Fun: 9/10 Medieval Rally Towels
PS: It might be because we’d just seen Thor: Ragnarok, but this show would’ve killed with an ’80s soundtrack. I’m thinking Yellow Knight slashing to Europe’s “Final Countdown.” Hell yeah!
Michael Livingston is a Professor of Medieval Culture at The Citadel who has written extensively both on medieval history and on modern medievalism. His historical fantasy trilogy set in Ancient Rome, The Shards of Heaven, The Gates of Hell, and the newly released The Realms of God, is available from Tor Books.