Thursday, January 31, 2008

Medieval Warm Period

I was looking at NOAA's page on the medieval warm period today, and it suddenly struck me that I can't think of any medievalists who are skeptics about the medieval warm period. NOAA's claims about this are a little odd, carefully parsing the language to say that "there was no multi-century periods [sic] when global or hemispheric temperatures were the same or warmer than in the 20th century." How do the last few decades of the 20th Century qualify as a multi-century period? Looking at the abstract of the article they cite as their source for medieval warm period skepticism, it would appear that the authors would suggest the data is insufficient to be conclusive -- which isn't exactly how NOAA presents it.

There have GOT to be medievalists who are medieval warm period skeptics ... can anyone point me to scholarly articles that support NOAA's claim? Or is the consensus so strong that NOAA is ignoring the evidence contradicting their model that there really aren't medieval warm period skeptics among medievalists?

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Apparently, today is Black Death Thursday.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Dream of the Rood vs. The Bible

In preparing my address on Warrior Christ imagery, I've decided to make "The Dream of the Rood" the centerpiece. As I've focused tightly on it, I've been surprised by how willing the Rood poet is to depart from the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion.

Some lines, of course, are a matter of interpretation. For example, when the poet writes, "Then saw I mankind's Lord come with great courage when he would mount on me," we can excuse it as a heroic rendering of the crucifixion -- after all, Jesus probably wasn't skipping along gleefully. Others, though, simply cannot be rectified with the Gospel accounts. Here are a few examples:
  • Strong fiends seized me there, worked me for spectacle; cursèd ones lifted me. On shoulders men bore me there, then fixed me on hill; fiends enough fastened me. According to the Biblical accounts, Jesus carried the Rood himself. When he grew too weak, Simon of Cyrene bore it.
  • The young hero stripped himself--he, God Almighty--strong and stout-minded. In the Gospel accounts, his clothes are removed and soldiers gamble for the garment.
  • Then they worked him an earth-house, men in the slayer's sight carved it from bright stone, set in it the Wielder of Victories. Then they sang him a sorrow-song, sad in the eventide, when they would go again with grief from that great Lord. That the poet refers to the disciples as "warriors" (hilde-rincas) so often doesn't really bother me, since that is clearly metaphorical language designed to depict Jesus as a temporal lord. They didn't "work him an earth-house," though -- they used Joseph of Arimathea's tomb.
Scribes who might be very careful in copying sacred texts apparently did not find their concern's matched by poets. I suspect if I examined other Anglo-Saxon poetic treatments of Biblical myths (such as Genesis and Crist), I'd find a similar ethic regarding poetic license. Our modern ethic (as I draw it from film) seems to be that you can fill in the blanks as you wish, but you have to be very careful about making changes. For the Rood poet, a poetic treatment seems to have permitted much more latitude in taking liberties.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Modern, schmodern! Here's some medieval for you!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In Which My 2nd Life Is as Annoying as my 1st

So, one of the things we're doing for my interdisciplinary class is meeting once in Second Life. Besides the hip, experimental nature of the whole thing, we actually have a reason: we're looking at how identities are constructed/mediated by technology. The 2nd Life meeting will follow watching eXistenZ and The Thirteenth Floor, as well as reading Jekyll & Hyde, "A Cyborg Manifesto," and any number of other minor texts. In other words, we're not just getting together to play Sims.

All this means that I've had to learn about 2nd Life -- and so far as I can tell, after several hours spent online, there are only two activities going on in 2nd Life: Virtual clubbing, and selling crap to other people for virtual clubbing.

I find this especially annoying because I had hoped to find medievalist activities going on. Now, supposedly there are medieval/fantasy-themed roleplaying groups, but they either have their events at such times that make me suspect they are based in Europe, or they aren't meeting at all. Last night, for example, I went to a "Renaissance" themed event, which turned out to be virtual clubbing by people dressed in Ren-style clothing. They were friendly, but not what I thought I was going to.

Has the medievalist community really not broken into 2nd Life, or am I just looking in the wrong places?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Review of Podcasts on Medieval Texts

Matthew Gabriele over at Modern Medieval has produced a set of podcasts on medieval texts available at iTunes. Each of the podcasts is short, mostly between 3-4 minutes long, and act as a brief introduction to the texts.

For the scholar who already knows a bit about these texts, they aren't much help. For example, there wasn't a single thing about Beowulf that I didn't know pretty much off the top of my head. On the other hand, what I knew about Baha ad'Din could have been printed in 76 point font on a postage stamp, so I found the podcast on Baha ad'Din's The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin to be lacking ... I found myself wanting much more.

Gabriele isn't aiming at guys like me, though -- these are aimed at students in his classes, and in that way, the podcasts are extremely useful. Students rarely read the introductory material in the books we assign, but I suspect listening to a 4-minute podcast with a few droll comments is the kind of assignment a student might just do.

Aside from the gee-whiz element and easy convenience that might just coax students to learn this introductory material before class, I suspect the podcasts have another important element that could encourage participation in class: The names of all these figures are pronounced. Very often, I think, students are intimidated to participate in class because of uncertainty about the way the names of the characters are pronounced. How do you say Sulpicius Severus? Eusebius? Sergius? Fulcher? Ibn al'Qalanisi? His podcast on Beowulf even has an anecdote about overhearing a conversation in which a man doesn't know how to pronounce Beowulf's name even after having seen the Zemeckis film the night before! I wonder if Prof. Gabriele is finding that his students are speaking with greater confidence about these texts; perhaps we'll get a full report at the end of the semester.

What about the non-scholar, non-student? For you, these podcasts might be ideal little nuggets. We're all busy people, and can't read everything. Just a few minutes listening to a podcast on a particular medieval text might be enough to tell you whether you want to read that text yourself, or whether you'd rather skip it. After all, as Chaucer reminds us, "The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne," so you've got to use your time in the best way; Gabriele's podcasts help you do just that.

So, in short, Gabriele's podcasts: Nothing new for scholars, essential introductions for students, and bite-sized tastes for the rest of us. On Tuesday in Brit Lit I, when we start on Beowulf, I plan to direct them to his Beowulf podcast.

In closing, let me also direct you to another of Chaucer's comments, that might just as well have been applied to Prof. Gabriele.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Hooray! I'm finally catching up with things! I should complete my White House Fellow application by the end of the day, and finally make some progress on some internal grant writing. Until then:
  • Jonathan Jarrett discusses unbelief vs. false beliefs in medieval and contemporary contexts.
  • Henchminion muses about possible connections between medieval lepers and zombies.
  • Heroic Dreams has a review of Medieval Seige Warfare -- which, believe it or not, is a book and not a computer strategy game. I've noticed trebuchets and catapults on the TV a lot lately; what's with all the sudden interest?
  • In the Middle has a post about the best-dressed medievalists. Ironically, when I arrived in class today without a bowtie, one of the students protested, and after a bit of discussion he decided that he couldn't learn as well without my tweed & bowtie combo.
  • Medieval Material Culture had a flurry of links over the last couple of days.
  • Highly Eccentric has declared Archbishop Wulfstan of York the person of the year. This is what I get for waiting so long to respond to my meme-tag; someone has stolen my guy! I suppose here's where I should come out of the closet: I actually have a World of Warcraft character named Wulfstan, who is loosely based off this historical person.
  • The Heroic Age directs us to the "Alfred the Great: Warfare, Wealth and Wisdom" exhibit to be held in Winchester 2 Feb - 27 April. Larry Swain also directs us to a 10-minute video of the opening of a Roman coffin, which I've embedded below. Just in case you're wondering, Indiana Jones does not swoop in with fedora and bullwhip to steal it at the end.
  • Back in the States, the Medieval Club of New York announces the presentation of a delicious-sounding paper February 15th: "The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby: Shaping the Image of St. Vincent Ferrer."
  • I normally don't print links sent to me by commercial enterprises, but International Listings has the Top 25 Most Beautiful Castles in the World. The only one I've ever visited is Casa Loma. Note that this is not a countdown list, but is divided by region instead.
Now for the promised unearthing of the roman grave. I hope that centuries from now, they unearth my grave -- and exclaim, "A tweed and bowtie combo! We had no idea they were so well-dressed!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Lots of tasty stuff here:
  • Got Medieval finds a new use of the word "medieval" in the global warming debate.
  • Heavenfield's Person of the Week is Aethelwald of Lindisfarne.
  • Per Omnia Saecula's Weird Medieval Tribe is the Hippopodes. Oh, Manolo, can't you help these poor people?
  • In the Middle has a post about controversy over repatriating the Lewis Chessmen. I suppose it's hard for us Americans to understand the importance of these kinds of issues to people who live in tiny countries like those in Europe.*
  • It's not really medieval, but New Kid on the Hallway has a post about why she teaches history, spinning off from a similar literary post from Dr. Crazy. I might just respond here if I find the time.
  • The Heroic Age has a nice set of links to news articles.
  • FYI, I've finally finished listening to all of Matthew Gabriele's podcasts, and I'll probably post a short review when I finish grading the big stack of papers that hits my desk in 40 minutes.

*The first time I went to Europe, I landed in Vilnius and had to be driven from the airport to Klaipeda, on the Baltic coast. Having an American sense of size, I assumed it would be a long drive, and that we might go late into the night. Imagine my surprise when I discovered you can drive across the breadth of the entire country in three hours.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Bargain at Any Price

My latest book, Global Perspectives on Medieval English Literature, Language, and Culture (co-edited with Dr. Noel Harold Kaylor) is now available at Medieval Institute Publications for the low, low price of $45. Please order one for your school, one for yourself, and one for each of your friends and family.

Makes a perfect Valentine's Day gift! Remember, ladies, if your man doesn't get you a copy of Global Perspectives, he's definitely a cad and is probably cheating on you.

Also, if you don't read my own contribution to the book, "Global Literature, Medieval Literature, and the Popal Vuh," you should be ashamed to show your face in decent company. In the old days, people like you were taken out behind the woodshed and beaten.

Please also note: Readings from Global Perspectives have been shown to cure the gout, cancer, ague, and assorted skin disorders in laboratory rats. Corpses buried with Global Perspectives do not show normal signs of corruption even after several years. None of these claims has been validated by the Food and Drug Administration because the scientists who were supposed to study them were too engrossed in reading the articles.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

A lot of people have done link round-ups over the last few days. It seems weird to be linking to other people linking to me linking ... it's an infinite regression of linkage! So, in order to prevent this from being entirely superfluous, I'll have a few non-medieval comments at the end.
And now, for my promised non-medieval anecdote: A friend who works with international students told me that they wanted to know where all the parties were this weekend. She was puzzled, and asked what parties they were talking about. They wanted to know where all the Martin Luther King, Jr. parties would be, and what exactly Americans did to celebrate that day.

Therefore, I propose the following MLK day traditions: Little boys all dress up like MLK (little girls like Rosa Parks) and go door-to-door. When people open the door, the children cry out, "I have a dream!" and the adults have to fill their bags with goodies. Then, that night, when all the kids are asleep, Rosa Parks will drive a bus full of gifts into the neighborhood, and MLK will slide down the chimney and leave gifts under the MLK Day shrubbery (purchased from Roger's Shrubbery on Highway 8). Instead of sending cards, we'll send each other letters postmarked from Birmingham jail.

Of course, there will also be local variations. For example, the Chicago River will be dyed rainbow colors, McDonalds will have seasonal shakes, and in New Orleans all the boys will dress up like Rosa Parks and all the girls like MLK.

So, now, if any foreigners ask you how we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, you'll have a ready answer. Perhaps when Labor Day rolls around I'll have some suggestions for that one too.

Friday, January 18, 2008

It's Friday!

It's Friday before a 3-day weekend. I'm exhausted from a difficult week on the outside, but on the inside I feel like this:

Morning Medieval Miscellany

For your pleasure:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Medieval Manuscript Videos

Even if you aren't that interested in medieval manuscripts and their production, these videos are very beautiful. The first, just over four minutes in length, is a series of images about the production of medieval manuscripts. The second, nearly eleven minutes in length, is a series of beautiful images. These include haunting music from Hildegard of Bingen, so even if you're too busy at work to watch 15 minutes of video, you can run them in the background for the music.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Lately, I've had a lot of link-tastic posts, and not as many original postings. For those of you who fear this might be part of a new format, fear not! I've been researching my memorandum to the President for my White House Fellow application, as well as preparing two keynote addresses for February.

That's not to say that all original posting will be on hold until then. One of the things I'm doing, for example, is listening to all of Matthew Gabriele's podcasts so I can report on them to you. I listen to them on my daily run, so I ought to finish them in the next day or two (unless the weather turns nasty).

Until there, here's your Morning Medieval Miscellany:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Couple of Zemeckis Beowulf Reviews

Among the offended gasps by Anglo-Saxonists about Sophia Gee's rather silly "Neowulf" article have come these links to Zemeckis Beowulf reviews I missed before: John Fleming and Richard North.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

A few things this morning:
  • JJ Cohen watched The Backyardigans: Tale of the Mighty Knights. I only saw about the first ten minutes before I had to leave for an appointment. I was a little surprised by the rock music, and asked my kids if that was the usual soundtrack for the Backyardigans. They looked at me with scorn and replied, "No, daddy. It's a baby show."
  • Per Omnia Saecula gives us the allocamelus, the animal that gets medieval on both your ass and your camel.
  • Sarah Winters will be speaking at Nipissing University on "From the White Witch to the Dark Mark: Evil in Children's Fantasy Since WWII."

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Scandal of the Moment

Anglo-Saxonists are up in arms about this essay in the New York Times, an essay that argues ... wait for it ... that the Beowulf poem was given the "kiss of life" by the Zemeckis adaptation. Sophie Gee also argues that Paradise Lost was similarly saved by Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy.

I couldn't agree more! Furthermore, I humbly submit to you other adaptations that have given the "kiss of life" to their dreary originals:

As you can plainly see, old stuff is boring. New stuff is always better. New stuff with special effects and big marketing campaigns are best.

*Oooof! Yes, I know, a very cheap shot ... I just couldn't help myself.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dictionary of Old English now online!

I didn't want this to get lost in the crush of my earlier miscellany:

The Dictionary of Old English project announces with joy the release of the first online version of DOE: A to G in December 2007. Highlights of the new publication include:the first release of the letter G, as well as revisions of the seven previously published letters; a more powerful search engine which enables Boolean searches on two or more fields of a DOE entry as well as Boolean searches within a single field; the hotlinking of Latin short titlesto their bibliographic references; and, most excitingly,the hotlinking to the OED (as long as your university has access to the online OED) for those Old English words which have a later history.

DOE: A to G online is distributed by site license both to institutions ($200 per year) and individuals ($75 per year).Further information is available at the DOE website:

h/t Heroic Age

You know, whenever I mention the DOE, I always feel like I should have Sesame Street-style sponsorship: "This posting has been brought to you by the numbers 5 and 7, and by the letter G."

Medieval Pet Names

JJ Cohen over at In the Middle has a post about medievalist pet names; i.e. modern pets with medieval names. This got me to thinking about actual medieval pet names -- I can't think of any off the top of my head, unless maybe Charlemagne's elephant, Abul-Abbas, counts.

Does anyone know of names of actual medieval pets?

Morning Medieval Miscellany

OK, I know it's not morning -- It's Sunday night, in fact. The problem is that I begin teaching so early this semester, I can't post in the mornings, but I figure most of you won't read this until Monday morning anyway.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Medieval Life Trilogy

A couple of months ago, someone posted this three-part series (which seems to be motivated by a desire to defend the Middle Ages) called "Medieval Life." Each of the videos is short; you can watch the entire thing in 11-12 minutes.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I'm not sure how these morning medieval miscellanies are going to work on my new schedule -- they may come later in the morning during the Spring semester. We'll just have to see how things shake out.
One more thing -- I've never liked labelings posts, but as the Wordhoard has grown, it has gotten harder to find old posts you are looking for. I'm going to try to start labeling posts for your convenience.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Medieval Material Culture Blog

Here's a newish blog on Medieval Material Culture, at which I learned, among other things, that Giovanni Boccaccio's house is now open to the public. Heck, I didn't even know it was still standing!

In a bit of a tangent, I was messing about in Second Life for my interdisciplinary class on constructing humanity and race, and discovered that one of the family names you can take for your avatar is "Boccaccio." I tried for "Beowulf Boccaccio," which was already taken, and settled on the less-metrically-pleasing "Chaucer Boccaccio."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Your medieval morning news:

Monday, January 07, 2008

HotforWords on "Medieval" and "Evil"

Uh, I wanted to say something witty about this, but irony fails me.

My Kenyan Wordhoard Remains Locked

As many of you know, my sister and her family are serving as missionaries in Kenya -- which has led to people asking me about the violence there, whether or not they are safe, what's the difference between the Kikuyu and the Luo, etc.

My apologies, folks, but I will not be discussing these issues publicly. Having lived abroad and been in precarious and life-threatening situations myself, I know how dangerous it can be for a foreigner to say anything about sensitive situations in his host country. Anything I say could be interpreted as having come from my family, which then in turn could offend one side or another. If you know me personally and want to talk about it in private, I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you have, but nothing public.

Of course, many of you may feel the need to do something, even if you aren't sure what exactly you can do. Prayer for the country is always a good thing. If you want to contribute something materially, you can learn more about the Brown Family Mission on their website, or you can contribute money to the Kenya mission through Christian Missionary Fellowship International. If you want even greater involvement, CMF has service opportunities among the Maasai and the Turkana.

The Modern-Day Christian Knight

One of the books I got for Christmas was Raising a Modern Day Knight: A Father's Role in Guiding his Son to Authentic Manhood* -- and a good choice, too, considering I have a son who really wants to grow up to be a Jedi (but I worry about his Sith tendancies).

What I found interesting about the book is that it uses knighthood as its central theme, but it's really more about raising a Christian boy who grows up to be a decent man. The evangelical Christian focus is no surprise, since the book is a "Focus on the Family" resource. Since I'm an evangelical Christian myself, both the medieval theme and Christian focus were welcome.

Evangelical Christians have a mixed relationship with medievalism. Though they sometimes borrow medievalist terms, for the most part the word "medieval" draws connotations of Catholicism that many evangelicals see as mostly a spectator religion.** While there are some groups like Campus Crusade for Christ, the word "crusade" there is used as the blandest of metaphors; it isn't like CCC is trying to drive the Muslims out of the Holy Land, or like they use a lot of medieval iconography.

The disconnect between the medieval and evangelical works both ways. I have found that medievalists tend to be the most Christian of scholars in English Departments. Even those who are non-Christian generally demonstrate a great degree of respect for Christian thought. The ethic seems to work like this: Scholars of the medieval have to gain familiarity with the important Christian thinkers of the Middle Ages, and so even when they disagree with them, they are familiar enough to respect them and see the notion of the "superstitious medieval church" as the kind of phrase uttered only by the ignorant. In other words, lack of respect for Christian thought is often thought of as a lack of scholarly acumen.

For that same reason, then, medievalists tend to view proper Christianity as more Catholic, especially in such areas as liturgy. Anglicans and Lutherans, by following similar forms to Catholics, are at least recognizable, but evangelical denominations tend to be ignored or considered "low Church" in both senses of the word "low."

So, why the use of the knight metaphor in this book? Author Robert Lewis's explanation could have been written in the introduction of almost any book of modern medievalism:
This medieval figure casts an impressive masculine shadow. Clothed in chain mail, brandishing a sword, and mounted on an invincible steed, the knight remains even today a symbol of virile manhood. Vestiges of knighthood still dot our cultural landscape, from our language to our ideals to our traditions [....] Even though historians would probably say the knight once popularized by literature was more an ideal than a reality, still he remains a powerful metaphor. In fact, I would be so bold as to argue that knighthood -- despite some of its shortcomings -- offers any dad a powerful outline for his son's successful journey to manhood. (11-12)

Lewis interprets the metaphorical outline of manhood in knighthood as boiling down to four principles:
  1. A Real Man Rejects Passivity (i.e., doesn't avoid social responsibility)
  2. A Real Man Accepts Responsibility He subdivides this into three categories: a will to obey, a work to do, and a woman to love. This strikes me as a good thumbnail sketch of knighthood in romances of troubadours.
  3. A Real Man Leads Courageously
  4. A Real Man Expects the Greater Reward He cautions that all of the above require duty and sacrifice, but that the knight can expect non-material rewards, such as an honorable name, respect of his community, etc.
Finally, Lewis divides a boy's childhood development into three stages: page, squire, and knight. In addition to offering advice on how to raise your son in each of these stages (such as teaching a particular code of conduct, etc), Lewis spends a great deal of time on the importance of ceremony to mark the movement of a boy from one stage to the next -- which for his own sons involved creating their own family coat of arms, which was then engraved on custom-made rings for the men.

In the end, the knighthood metaphor is of limited usefulness for describing the childrearing methods Lewis is proposing. At one point, he abandons it altogether for a volleyball metaphor (leaving me visualizing knights in plate armor on the beach spiking the ball). Perhaps the greatest usefulness of the knighthood metaphor isn't in its ability to describe raising boys, but rather in its ability to capture the imaginations of boys and inspire them to aspire to honorable manhood.

*I find all these slickly-marketed packages annoying. Stuff like that leads me to think that Rick Warren has, on balance, left a negative legacy for other evangelicals.
**Yes, I know that there are Catholic evangelical groups like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. I'm talking about stereotypes here, not necessarily the reality.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Morning ... er, EVENING Medieval Miscellany

I'm getting off to a late start on my Morning Medieval Miscellany. My son fell asleep in my office while reading the Spiderwick Chronicles this morning, so I used the quiet time to produce some writing that requires a good deal more concentration. A bit of the Miscellany is old, having built up when I was in my Chi-Rho-Mas* cyberwilderness.

*That's X-mas, with an inside joke for medievalists, who know that X-mas was not a proto-Festivus aggressive secularization of Christmas, but was instead a typical scribal abbreviation of "Christ" in manuscripts, with the Greek Chi-Rho (which I can't figure out how to reproduce in Blogger) truncated down to "X".

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Where My Imagination Lived, c. 1976

In an earlier post, Dr. Virago and I took a trip down Memory Lane, fondly recalling the old Fisher-Price Little People Castle from the 1970's. That castle is one of the earliest Christmas gifts I remember getting. Because we were a foster family for about 30 years, good, unbroken toys never got thrown away, and my old castle survives to this day! All the people, furniture, and animals have long since been lost/destroyed, but the castle itself stands firm.

For a look at a pristine castle with all the Little People, check out this image. The only difference seems to be that between the dragon and the coachman are a bunch of generic-looking people who I don't remember being part of that original set. Those of you too young to remember, take note -- all the people are little wooden pegs with plastic heads screwed on top. No doubt that's why dogs loved to chew on them (By the way, according to the website, someone bought that set for $128).

You can see the front of my own castle here:

As you can see, it isn't exactly in mint condition. The moat is particularly ragged looking (though you can still make out the alligator picture if you raise the drawbridge). The poor quality of the moat probably results from the time my brother and I thought it should have real water in it; though it held the water fine, the sticker picture of the moat started peeling. The drawbridge really went up and down, which was an important part of many adventures. Sometimes the hero would be chased by villains, and would have to get through before they could catch him, sometimes an evil villain would hole up in the castle and the heroes would have to sneak in through the dragon cave to save the day.
Also, that dungeon door opened, and up above was a trap door that the Little People could fall through ... the climax of many stories would be when the hero would be losing a swordfight, would leap backwards over the trap door, and the overconfident villain would step on the trap and find himself in the dungeon.
Take note of the pre-PC days ... there are crosses everywhere.

Here we can see the dragon's cave. There was a sliding door inside the castle leading to the cave. Note the bedding, as well as the iconography above -- apparently, in the happy, hippy 70's*, the dragon and the knight were friends. In our adventures, sometimes they were friends, and sometimes they were enemies. Note the vine climbing the castle wall; there's a very nice vine on the tallest tower, and more than once people scaled the sides.

And finally, the interior. The staircase swiveled out, revealing a secret hiding place big enough for a Little Person to hide in. There was a balcony (though we never did any Romeo and Juliet scenes). The owl is sitting on a sign pointing to the village -- years later, after we got other Little People sets, the village began to take shape, and included a farm and an airport.** The owl, black cat at the foot of the stairs, and the suit of armor behind the secret stair led to many adventures in a haunted castle.

One last thing to note: When flicked, the springy flag at the top of the tallest tower would give a satisfying twang. While that was not important for any of our stories, it didn't stop us from twanging it at every opportunity. More than once the princess would escape the castle by pulling down on the flag and then catapulting herself as far as the spring would fling the little peg princess. Apparently, in my imagination, princesses were hardy enough to survive a very great fall.***

*An era that gave us such travesties as disco, Jimmy Carter, and non-violent Tom & Jerry cartoons.
**Little-known fact: Most medieval manors had an airport.
***I'm not sure what that fractions book is doing in the background, since all the kids currently living at my parents' house are either too young or too old to be studying fractions. Maybe the king and queen were promoting an mathmatical education campaign among the peasants.