Medieval Reads to Fill 2020’s Ren Faire Hole
Are you craving a chomp of an oversized turkey leg or a spoonful of an overpriced bread bowl? Do you miss the smell of leather goods, the sound of fake but endearing British accents, or the crunch of gravel and the crinkle of straw underfoot?
This year has left a gaping Ren Faire hole in our hearts, and now that the season is coming to an end, it’ll be another year until we’re given the chance to cheer on complete strangers in knightly armor. That is, honestly, unacceptable. To hold you off until next fall and to temporarily patch up that hole in your soul, we’ve compiled a list of some medieval reads (some set in the Middle Ages, some not).
A Squire’s Tale (series) by Gerald Morris
Let’s start with some classic Arthurian legends! Gerald Morris’ A Squire’s Tale is a ten book middle grade series written in plain English and packed with humor, action, and countless familiar Arthurian tales. If you’ve never read Arthurian legends before, this is a good introduction to the vast characters who play a role in the iconic showdown between King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table vs. Arthur’s half sister Morgause and nephew Mordred. This series includes both classic and original characters, all of which are colorful in their ridiculousness, their heart, and their flaws. Though it’s geared towards middle schoolers, if your favorite part of the Ren Faire is happening across impromptu skits and interacting one-on-one with the actors, this series is the one for you.
Buy the first book:
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Here’s another Arthurian legends recommendation, good for Arthurian beginners and veterans alike, but this one is definitely more for adults. Although there’s humor, it’s more in the form of satire (often biting), and although there’s violence in A Squire’s Tale, White’s The Once and Future King can be more blunt with this and its presented themes. This epic (because it’s really four books published as one) tracks Arthur from childhood to death and focuses on harsh realities like balancing what’s good for a nation of people with what’s morally right as an individual. Like Morris’ series, you’ll get a good sense of the Middle Ages customs, such as hunting and hawking, courtship, and the chivalric code, and you’ll have an ensemble of memorable characters to guide you through it all. Grab this one if you need something with a mix of Ren Faire magic and medieval realism.
Buy the first book:
The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood by Tonke Dragt
Probably one of the most famous Dutch children’s writers, Tonke Dragt, is best known for The Letter for the King (for good reason as it sold over 1 million copies since its publication in 1962) and its less famous sequel The Secrets of the Wild Wood. Both books follow Tiuri, a young squire who’s sent by a dying knight on a quest to deliver a secret letter to a king in a neighboring land, and both books are packed with iconic quest and character archetypes found in chivalric tales. There’s anxious treks over chilly mountains, treacherous swims across rapid waters, dramatic escapes from enemy towers, and a surprisingly intense game of chess. Characters range from wise hermits and evil knights to ladies in towers and observant fools. The mix of action and light politics also make these a good read for those who invest in Ren Faire’s human chess boards.
Buy The Letter for the King:
Buy The Secrets of the Wild Wood:
Mouse Guard (series) by David Petersen
This one’s for those Redwall fans and for Ren Faire attendees who love the costumes and weaponry of the Middle Ages. Petersen’s Mouse Guard graphic novels throw you into a medieval world of, you guessed it, mouse guards who have a code of honor and job similar to that of chivalric knights. They’re dispatched to protect the people of their land and often end up fighting off predators alongside warring rodent species. Petersen’s stylistic animals and rich colors make for a unique read, but the detail he puts into the clothing, accessories, and scenes is perfect for those who miss walking through the merchant shops and browsing for their next find. Start with Fall 1152, move to Winter 1152, then jump to the prequel The Black Axe and The Legends of the Guard books that include shorter tales, told through a tavern setting.
Buy the first book:
Knights Club (series) by Shuky, Waltch, and Novy
Part of the larger Comic Quests series that reads like comics and plays like rpgs, the Knights Club graphic novels are distinct in their fantasy, medieval setting. In the first of now four books, you start out as a squire (your choice of an archer, fighter, or mage) and solve puzzles, battle enemies, collect items, and level up your character. Specific narratives differ depending on the choices you make, but the choice in the story is what really sets these comics apart from other medieval adventures (and you definitely don’t have to be a middle schooler to enjoy them). This is for those D&D players out there or those Ren Faire attendees who spend hours creating their own characters with fully designed costumes and fully developed personalities and motives.
Buy the latest book:
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
Now for some contemporary picks! Yes, this is another graphic novel, but haven’t you always wondered what it’s like for the people working the Renaissance Faire? Maybe you’re a Ren Faire employee, and you’re nostalgic for the times you used to work there or for this skipped year? Jamieson (author of another great middle grade graphic novel, Roller Girl) based this tale off of her brief but impactful experience volunteering at a Ren Faire shop in high school. Main character Impy has been working at her mother's Ren Faire shop her whole life, but once middle school hits, she not only takes on the job of her father’s squire but also transitions from homeschooling to public middle school. Beyond the vast characters (that do Ren Faire performers and merchants justice), there’s a solid narrative about adjusting to change and other larger issues like poverty and racism. Pick this one up if you want a behind-the-scenes look into the Ren Faire groupie lifestyle.
Buy the book:
The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton
Last but not least, Pacton’s The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly is a YA contemporary read that follows not a Ren Faire worker but Kit, a “wench” (waitress) at a medieval themed restaurant. Think of the restaurant similar to that of Medieval Times (but maybe not as grand). Like Impy, she wants more than the job assigned to her, but unlike Impy, it’s impossible for her to become a knight, let alone a squire. The corporate restaurant has archaic rules against women knights, and yes, there’s a side order of racism along with the sexism, but Kit and her friends (including a trans woman and nonbinary person) band together and spark some change with the power of determination, social media, and a bit of spite. If you enjoy the logistics of horse riding, sword fighting, and jousting or if you’re fascinated by the history of the Middle Ages, Kit and her friends train aplenty and Kit scatters some fun facts throughout her story about the culture of the time, including names of historical female knights.
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Gabrielle likes a lot of things and dislikes very little. Retired ice cream cake decorator, occasional farmhand, and reminiscing library worker, she spent her childhood dreaming of fighting fires and her college days writing about Bong Joon-ho before he was cool. Now, she preaches the importance of dental hygiene; chats up books, movies, and comics via the Quirk blog; and legally climbs silos. Whether the legality of the silo climbing makes her more or less interesting is up for debate. Email [email protected] if you want to review our titles or feature our authors.