La Satira News Service
Henry Lancaster was used to being overlooked. That’s changed somewhat.
In the various medieval fairs and Renaissance festivals he attended, it was normal for his primarily educational exhibit on the art of making paper and printing to be overshadowed by the musical acts, jugglers, costume shops, jousting tournaments, and other events. Still, it was a living, allowing him to subsist on the novelty value of hand-made books and paper products.
Mr. Lancaster belonged to what was then the West Punxsutawney Medieval Arts and Crafts Guild, a group dedicated to preserving medieval technology and culture.
“There were always two sides to the Renaissance festivals,” Mr. Lancaster remembered. “They tended to be much more about the performance and fantasy elements than historicity or authenticity. After all, if we’d tried to do authenticity in terms of sanitation, the state health departments would have finished us off at once. But I’d like to think we managed to have some educational value.”
In the years since a freak interstellar electromagnetic pulse destroyed the world’s electronic systems and heralded the end of the Information Age, Mr. Lancaster’s group has taken on a surprising prominence.
Groups like the WPMACG turned out to be ideally suited for survival in the post-industrial world. Drawing on their practical knowledge of medieval industry, the group has managed to rebuild the foundation of a functioning society, complete with a basic level of commerce and government.
In the months after the disaster, the group found itself in contact with other groups trying to eke out a living, including farmers needing protection for their lands and cattle. Deals were made, a home-base was established, and a civilization was reborn.
“It’s not an easy life, but I think we’re doing quite well under the circumstances,” said the Edward York, the group’s leader, a former professor at the University of Punxsutawney College of Construction Science and Medieval History. While referred to as “The Duke,” the title is mainly honorary: the group tries not to be strictly hierarchical. “The question has not come up in practice yet, but we’re all agreed that primogeniture is not going to be the way we decide leadership disputes,” Mr. York said. “The point of this exercise is to rebuild civilization using medieval means, not to use the current emergency to reintroduce medieval life as an end in itself. We’re hoping to avoid the larger blunders of the period, so we have no interest in duplicating every particular.”
The West Punxsutawney group concentrates on three major objectives. The first objective, and the one that consumes most of the group’s efforts, is survival: gathering or raising sufficient food and raw materials, creating useful products, and defending the group’s territory and posessions. A second objective is the development of new–or renewed–technologies to make the first objective easier. The third objective is to preserve as much human knowledge as possible in written form.
In this context, Mr. Lancaster’s paper-making industry has a unique significance.
“What we are facing is an epistemological bottleneck,” Mr. Lancaster explained. “With electronic data now inaccessible, and most of the old books having been consumed for fuel in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the human mind is the chief repository of knowledge. Our goal is to record as much of that knowledge in written form before the present generations die out. That way it will be useful to future generations…or at least interesting to future archaeologists, if any.”
Another important industry turned out to be defense.
“It’s a dangerous world out there, and we do have to work to protect what we’ve built so far,” said Robert Fitzhugh, the group’s appointed dux bellorum. “We try to be open for those who are willing to help us rebuild–or to help rebuild elsewhere. We have somewhat less patience with the ‘survivalists’ who could be helping out but instead spend their time hiding in bunkers and plotting to capture what we’ve developed.”
Some advances have been made defensively. “Happily, we’re in an area with lots of rocks, so that’s advantageous in building defensive fixtures,” said Mr. Fitzhugh. “And two years back we were joined by some people who, before the catastrophe, had practice in the trebuchet-building contests. Of course now the problem is we keep running out of pumpkins.”
Still, the group has had its share of setbacks. “A significant portion of our group belonged to the costumes-and-chivalry branch of medieval studies,” said Edward York, the Duke. “Their concept of survival in a medieval world meant standing around in period costumes making risque remarks in mangled Shakespearean English. In our very first winter, we lost the so-called exotic dancers to hypothermia. The next spring a bunch of others set off on a quest, promising to be back by Pentecost. They didn’t say which Pentecost, though, and we haven’t heard from them since.”
“Actually, it’s something of a relief,” Mr. York added. “They were always bickering about which of them ought to be king or queen or duke of something or other, when what we really need isn’t kings or dukes but farmers, artisans, and men-at-arms.”
To contact the WPMACG, smoke-signal “***- – – ***” from the top of Mount Davis between sunrise and sunset any day Monday through Saturday.
Copyright anno Domini MMXIV