Saturday, October 24, 2009

2009 Richard III Society Annual General Meeting

A Week ago Friday, Ed (my mate) and I flew to Las Vegas to attend the annual meeting of the Richard III Society, American Branch. Friday evening we registered and caught up with old friends and met new ones.

After a buffet breakfast Saturday, Kate Skegg presented her theory on what caused the English Sweating sickness. By her reckoning, it's a cyclical disease that's highly infectious, but not easily caught from person to person. Her research strongly points to Tularemia, an infectious disease carried by ticks, although there are other modalities that can spread the disease to humans.

Susan Higginbotham gave the next talk--one befitting the venue of this year's meeting--gambling! Dice were popular from ancient times, as was Backgammon, dating back to Mesopotamia. Even the 14th-century Luttrell Psalter has an illustration of two young people playing Backgammon in the garden. (If you're interested, you can see many images contained in the Luttrell Psalter, including this one, in Google images.) The modern deck of cards are derived from the Tarot deck and while many believe the Queen of Hearts may be that of Elizabeth of York and wife of Henry VII, the connection seems to be one of hindsight.

Following the buffet luncheon, Dr. Sharon Michalove gave the keynote speech on the reinvention of Richard III. Depending on which side of the fence you stand on, you may think of Richard as either a good king or evil as epitomized by William Shakespeare. Interestingly, as Dr. Michalove pointed out, not only has Richard been reinvented through the centuries since his defeat in 1485, but so have the the interpretations given to Shakespeares villain of the same name.

The banquet (buffet of course) followed the business meeting where many of us dressed up in our finest 15th-century style dress and we were treated to a play by Joyce Tumea, What Was That?: a modern medieval murder mystery.

As all things must, this came to an end after the Sunday breakfast, where I had the opportunity to participate in an author's panel with Susan Higginbotham, Maria Elena Torres, Sharon Michalove, and Joyce Tumea. This was my first experience participating in this sort of panel, and I found it a most enjoyable experience. I'm sure it helped that I was among friends.

Ed and I took advantage of a five hour break to drive out to Red Rock National Park, about 20 minute drive out of Las Vegas. I've taken many photos, but hopefully these two images will give you an idea of the magnitude of this park:

Red Rock a

Ed and I stayed on with about twenty other Ricardians to attend the Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur Hotel. We had a grand time watching the fabulous horsemanship, and acrobatic show while eating a roasted chicken with our fingers--knives and forks were not allowed to be consistent with medieval times, although I couldn't help smirking at the anachronistic home fried potatoes and steamed broccoli.

Here's a photo of a bit of Las Vegas at night:

Las Vegas at night

We left the next day to tour a few of the national parks and to see some of the southwest. More on this later.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Words and phrases--medieval to modern

I admit--I’m a word whore, from having about a dozen dictionaries (print), and about as many links to online dictionaries, etymologies, and phrases. In addition, I subscribe to “Word a Day” and “Phrase a Week”. Yet, armed with all these resources, I may still have some trouble finding the correct medieval term.

One challenge I had in writing This Time was to know which words Richard wouldn’t know or get an opposite meaning from when he awakens in the 21st- century. For example, early in the story, Richard observes what we would call a sympathetic reaction, but according to The Oxford Essential Dictionary of Word Histories, that word came into use in the mid 17th-century. So, instead of a single word, I ended up writing this paragraph:

“Katarina’s pupils grew large and her lips parted slightly. While Richard would not describe her expression as one of pity, the word that came to mind was in his Latin vocabulary-–misericors—caring heart.”

As it happens, I’m quite pleased with the end result because of the nuance it gave to the entire scene, but that cost me about a half day of research.

Despite my investment in those dictionaries and books on medieval words and phrases, the one thing that I found most frustrating was the medieval terms or phrases were listed alphabetically but there was no reverse lookup. For example, suppose I wanted to name a coned-shaped hat that fashionable women wore in the 15th-century. I would not have been able to find “hat” or “cone-shaped hat” but would need to have known that it was called a hennin.

The challenge for authors writing period pieces is even greater. For example, one can’t just say a horse, because like today, there were different types of horses, but the classifications have changed. The most expensive was the destrier, used mostly for the joust, and followed by the courser used for battle. A rouncey was the least expensive, often used as a pack animal, but also for riding.

My kudos go to those writers who successfully use the medieval terms so that they are meaningful to the modern reader without sounding pedantic.

Partial resource list:
--A Dictionary of Medieval Terms & Phrases. Christopher Coredon with Ann Williams. D. S. Brewer. Cambridge. 2004.
--NTC’s Dictionary of Changes in Meanings. Adrian Room. NTC Publishing Group. Lincolnwood, IL. 1996
--Medieval Wordbook. Madeleine Pelner Cosman. Checkmark Books. 2001.
--Ask Oxford (Word a Day)
--Horses in the Middle Ages (Wikipedia article)
--Phrase Finder (Phrase a Week)