my favorite anachronisms

I’m thrilled when a work of historical fiction in any media gets it just right.  The “Wolf Hall”‘ miniseries’ period-correct under- and headwear, “The VVitch”‘s  word-for-word dialogue from seventeenth century primary sources, Sarah Waters’ carefully researched nineteenth century lesbian lives. My overkill bibliography and trip to Prague are my effort to do the same for the Dee/Kelley book. One of the main reasons I want to finish the second draft by June is so I can seek sixteenth century-savvy beta readers at this year’s HNS conference. I need someone to catch my mistakes!

Having said this, I first came to historical fiction disguised as something else and thus my influences were inherently non-factual. Not just books either-my earliest influences were visual rather than textual. So I kinda love anachronisms if they’re done consciously and well.

Take Adam Ant, my first exposure to historical fashion remixing and probable first crush (yes, I am old).  I saw his (excellent!) “Kings of the Wild Frontier” show back in January. Full of jangly spaghetti western guitars, whooping shouts and four-on-the-floor drums, the music is eclectic, but his aesthetic even more so. Take the video for “Dog Eat Dog”, a cross of New Romantic eyeliner, nineteenth century militaria, and Native American trappings:

The feathers and war paint have an uncomfortable whiff of cultural appropriation (never said my faves weren’t problematic). To his credit, when criticized by Native American leaders back in the day Adam invited them to his show and addressed their concerns, volunteering to axe his iconic look if they found anything offensive.

These days he’s ditched the white stripe in favor of a more eighteenth century “dandy highwayman” mix, including the swashbucklingest bicorn in rock.

Through Adam Ant fandom I discovered Vivienne Westwood, former punk turned fashion designer. Her 1981 Pirates collection is my favorite for obvious reasons, but I’m also tickled by her further variations on historic costume, like the mini crini and unisex corsetry. Here’s Westwood talking about her research process at the Wallace Collection:

Love it or hate it (and I’ve met folks of both stripes) “The Knight’s Tale” goes full on creative anachronism to portray medieval jousts as the Superbowls of their time. Contemporary music and tropes dance through the medieval(ish) background.  It’s hard to beat an opening scene where the tiltyard crowds stomp out “We Will Rock You”:

Finally, one I can participate in: renaissance faires. I go to my local faire at least once a year to dress up, drink beer, and listen to bagpipes. Though my garb tends towards accurate-ish, everyone from stitch-for-stitch reenactors through deliberately out-of-place Trekkies finds a home at the pub sing. I could get snarky but it’s more fun to take renn faire as it is: six weeks of Halloween for grown ups! Here’s a video of some of last year’s acts showing the spectrum of aesthetic and anachronism, including more “medieval” Queen:

Would I ever write historical fantasy? Maybe, though I suspect my rigid mind and love of research would drown out any fantastical elements. Still, I have medieval aliens and an graphic novel about an executioner in my plotbunny file, so we’ll see.

What are your favorite mashups?

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Allison Thurman

Allison Thurman has always made stuff: out of fabric, metal, beads, even exaggerated fencing moves. Of late she makes stories out of weird history, with fragments of pop culture, unsolved mysteries, and science fiction mixed in for texture. She lives in a galaxy far, far away (well, the DC metro area) with too many books and swords.

3 thoughts on “my favorite anachronisms”

  1. A fave that immediately comes to mind is the BBC Radio series “The Castle” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00g64vk). Rock music medievialized (the opening bars of April Wine’s “Smoke on the Water” as a chant is one of my faves); foul-mouthed innkeeper Gordon de Ramsey; a flatpack, assemble-it-yourself gallows; tweeting using parrots flying from castle to castle (along with a hacking scandal when the birds are diverted); a town crier whose news includes personal ads and who claims to do “a great page three”; politically correct job titles (https://jlsjlsjls.dreamwidth.org/957092.html); SatNav (also parrot-based); an inquiry into the legality of the Crusades (were there really dragons of mass destruction in the Holy Land?); a sparkly vampire passing through; male strippers who peel off suits of armour; and far far more than one could possibly list. Oh, and brilliant scripts/plots/performances of course.

    Elvenquest (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00w7kgn) also has a few anachronistic gems (or is it an anachronism if it’s a fantasy setting?): https://jlsjlsjls.dreamwidth.org/1130811.html. As do “Revolting People” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007v7v0) and “Bleak Expectations” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00cwgs6)

  2. I think you had me at “assemble-it-yourself gallows”! What would the Ikea name be, I wonder? Thanks for sharing these!

    1. The inventor of this (and various other devices) has an exceptional (non)talent for coming up with dull, awkward, overlong names for his creations rather than the obvious short’n’snappy ones. 😉

      “What do you call this lawn mowing device?”
      “The roller grass slasher collecting thingy.”

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