Kage Baker credited a good part of her inspiration and writing career to a lady named Phyllis Patterson.
Phyllis herself demurred, assuring Kage that all she, Phyllis, had done was create an opportunity for Kage to find out what was inside herself. For Phyllis Patterson, the ability to create that opportunity, that setting, that entire world that could nurture people like Kage and a thousand other creative minds, apparently seemed obvious. Simple. Easy.
It wasn’t. But Phyllis was a fountain, a bottomless spring of ideas that she poured out for the world like Magna Mater and the Ocean-Sea combined; she was the source of a flood of creative power that changed the structure of the world for thousands and thousands of people. She called herself, modestly, Chief Instigator – but what she was, at her best, was the voice of the Goddess of creation, alive and walking among Her sons and daughters.
Phyllis Patterson created the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.
Not just any Renaissance Faire – she created the first. The original. All the thousands of faires that have sprung up in its image over the last half-century rise directly from the minds of Phyllis Patterson and her late husband, Ron. And whoever you are – whether you go to the RenFaire for too much beer and exotically revealed tits, or are an intellectual who dismisses the rout and panoply with a sniff – I dare you to deny that the idea has NOT changed the artistic, cultural and historical face of America. And if you do deny it, you are flat-out a liar.
If you, Dear Readers, were ever a happy patron buying a ticket at a gate, you owe that happy afternoon of make-believe to Phyllis. And if you were ever a participant – anywhere, really, but most especially at her own Faires here in the dreamland of California – then you spent your time wading breast-high through the shining waves of her imagination.
Phyllis Patterson created the Faire, and the Faire re-energized the crafts movement in America. All those people who worked in ancient arts like glass-blowing, enamel, every variety of smithing, any hand-done works, ad infinitum … the Faire was where they first began to sell their exotic goods again. Leatherworkers, embroiderers, armourers, spinners and weavers and dyers and people who made risque codpieces and wooden toys and natural cosmetics: all of it. It came out of garages and crafts classes full of middle-aged ladies and struck a pose in the middle of the road, crying See me! And Phyllis gave it a place to be.
Historical re-creation owes a huge part of its existence to the Faire, and to the precepts of authenticity Phyllis encouraged. (Sometimes she regretted it, I think – some of us got pretty obsessive about it …) Without historical re-enactors, with all their psychotically correct gear and clothes, the History Channel at least would lose most of its extras for all those shows on everything from Roman soldiers to the American Civil War – and Phyllis’ mark is on that.
The extremely clever gentleman who runs the re-enactments for the Tower of London, the ever-exquisite Mark Wallis (Hello, Mark!) had his copious natural talents and inclinations honed and encouraged through his years-long association with the Renaissance Faire. Oh, how I remember him shining in the sun, the most resplendent Raleigh ever! I remember him and Kevin Brown (who was then splendidly Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester) conferring over Phyllis’s head in the shade of the oaks. Now Kevin and Phyllis are both gone on ahead, into the Uttermost West …
Kage and I joined this moveable feast and annual insane asylum when we were 19 and 20. We walked into Faerieland and never, ever came back again; nor wanted to. It was Goblin Market and we were home. The stories were already sizzling and capering in Kage’s head – but it was at Faire that they took shape and life.
She wrote behind stages, where she managed African dancers, and magicians, and the troupe of loonies who became The Reduced Shakespeare Company; under the oaks and bay trees and jewel-coloured burlap sunshades. By lantern light in inn yards. By flashlight on busses racing along I-5 in the dark, while a shaum player serenaded her with Beatles’ songs. When she was home, that home was decorated (and usually awash) in props and costumes from the Faire. And among the improbable, fantastic and frankly demented denizens of the place, Kage found her Operatives.
Shakespeare, of course, had something to say about that:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
It was our habitation; they were our names.
So, Phyllis, my very dear Lady, you were wrong. Just a little … Kage did indeed owe you thanks for the world you created and let the rest of us run wild in. So do I. So do the thousands and thousands of others, who came for a shining day or for the rest of their lives, and found their hearts under the oaks. You stand forever on a hay bale in the light sieved through a roof of bright-dyed burlap, arms spread wide and welcoming, bidding us all to come and make merry – merry, and love, and a richer, deeper life than was ever found anywhere outside one of Shakespeare’s plays.
It’s why Kage dedicated one of her novels to Phyllis –
This book is dedicated to Phyllis Patterson,
Instigator, with respect and affection;
And to the village she founded under the oak trees
And to its people. Et in Arcadio ego.
Et in Arcadio ego. Once I dwelt in Arcadia …