I’m not sure that you could really call me a LARPer, although I have in my travels once worked for nine months at a place where I suppose you could say I got paid to LARP professionally. Either way, sometimes I like to pretend I invented the concept. (I seem to be using a lot of acronyms and semi-acronyms lately. LARP stands for Live Action Role-Play.) When I was very small, my grandmother gave our family some songbooks illustrated by Swedish children’s author and illustrator, Elsa Beskow. (She’s the one whose books made me realise I wanted to “write stories,” incidentally.) The songs were all in Swedish, but the illustrations were glorious and my grandmother told me what was happening in all the stories that the songs were about. Then, when she or my mother would play and sing them, I would prance around the living room or hide next to the piano or whatever the characters in the songs were doing (I even knew what was happening verse by verse), acting out the stories.
After a while I started to do this with any song at all, and sometimes with unsung stories when they were being read to me. The rest of the time I would pretend that I was some sort of animal character, the identity of whom I would announce at the beginning of my imaginary shape-shift, and then I would get very upset if my parents (or some other adult) addressed me by my real name. I used to think everybody did this (and I know some other children do, because TWCN used to do this exact same thing and I never even told her to), but as I grew up and interacted with more children I began to find that most other kids with whom I was surrounded found this kind of play a bit of a stretch.
As a teenager, I tried to write a (not very original) fantasy tale about a girl who has to save an entire country from an evil queen, but in the process becomes a slave to this queen for some time. On Saturdays when I had to vacuum my room and clean the bathroom, I would pretend I was that girl, and my mother was the evil queen (did I mention we didn’t used to get along when I was a teenager?), and when I was finished with my tasks I would go off wandering in the woods behind our house and pretend I was escaping. The plot never progressed very far, because the same thing happened every week.
It was at about this time that I learned about Dungeons and Dragons, and at first I think my parents thought this would be a fun game for me, but then some people in our conservative Christian circles started talking about how that stuff was demonic or satanic or something, and we just never really looked into it enough to be sure. I suspect my parents remained ambivalent, but as I was not only imaginative but also a very serious young person who saw things in a fairly black-and-white manner, I immediately viewed the entire enterprise with great suspicion and avoided that section of our local bookstore (where the game was featured for quite some time) as I avoided “the magazine aisle.” (I avoided that one because I was told that my dad and my brother should. I dunno. Given my propensity for donning other personas, maybe I thought I’d accidentally pretend to be a “wanton woman” if I got too close.)
After that I toned the whole pretending thing down, but when I was halfway through university, one of my friends who at the time insisted that everyone call him Corwin and who, when I first met him, was at that very moment crafting a chain mail shirt, started up an on-campus club called The Court of Logres. It might have been joinable by invitation only, and since Corwin had a very charismatic personality and all the young women he invited probably had something of a secret crush on him, the group got very large very fast. (It also closed down about a term later when Corwin got too busy with studies to attend its meetings and so no one else felt like going either.) That was when I found out about “real” LARPing and discovered that some people kind of do it all the time. I never did–I waited until the club had a scheduled event, like Bilbo Baggins’ birthday party, or this one time when we went to a professor’s home and built a bonfire in the backyard and cooked potatoes and turkey drumsticks in it. I made a Medieval Dress to wear to these occasions (before that it had been a blousy top–thank you 1990’s–and a long skirt) from a diagram and some cheap muslin Corwin sold me, and I dyed it myself, too, and embroidered some green and burgundy “braid” around the collar.
A lot of love and care went into this thing, which is probably why I still can’t bring myself to get rid of it. When the Youth Group went to an almost-local Renaissance Faire last weekend, I retrieved the dress from my parents’ house, even though all three of us were skeptical that it would still fit me. On account of its having been made by diagram instead of pattern, the thing hasn’t got zippers, and every time I wear it I think it’s going to be the last, because it gets more and more difficult to get off afterward. To my surprise and delight, however, I was able both to don and doff it once again, so it lives to see another day.
The weekend my Paul and I went to Maine, we took a very long, exhausting but exhilarating hike up a mountain along the Appalachian Trail. I don’t remember what made me think of it (although the disheveled thick long beards of every single serious male climber might have contributed to the idea–along with the reminder from experience that as a woman, there might be some advantages to hiking in a skirt), but at one point I said, “Someone should totally start a LARPing club that hikes the entire AT in character. Everybody could pretend they were in the Lord of the Rings, on a quest.” It might, I suppose, clear the Trail of people who are actually there for the Trail, and not for living out their pretend identities. On the other hand, it could also be fun. As long as there’s a Prancing Pony somewhere as a way-station.