June 1, 2017

UNDENIABLE:

AT A SWORD FIGHT WITH A MODERN-DAY SWASHBUCKLER (IN A HARLEM BASEMENT)  (Dwyer Murphy, 6/01/17, Lit Hub)

Lawrence Ellsworth's dueling days are mostly over. For one thing, his knees are a little balky. For another, his knuckles have begun to swell with arthritis. But he still carries himself with a certain confidence--savoir-faire, you could call it, or the amiable swagger of a man who is well acquainted with rapier and dagger, a man who has dedicated the better part of his life to the lore and lure of those weapons.  The hair helps, too. And the goatee. Ellsworth is now in his early sixties. His hair has gone white but he still enjoys the lustrous cascade of a buccaneer nearly half his age.

Professionally, Ellsworth defies easy description. He is an author and a dramaturge, a translator, an historian and the "Lead Loremaster" of a world known as Nirn, which includes the continent of Tamriel and also various slipstream dimensions.

The first time we met was in a subterranean lair--not quite a gymnasium, not quite a dungeon--in Central Harlem. That's where, on Friday evenings, the longsword enthusiasts of New York City meet to do battle. There were blades everywhere--mounted on the brick walls, resting on ledges, gripped by the hands of men and women ready to draw and engage. Ellsworth was there as the club's honored guest. Amidst the clanging steel and grunting parries, he seemed very much at ease.

"With fencing, so much of it is about deceit," he told me. "You want to get the other man into a routine, a way of thinking, then show him that he's wrong. There's a narrative arc." Nearby, a large man dressed in black went for a wicked blow to his opponent's midsection. Ellsworth watched the action thoughtfully. "With the longsword there's an added component--you're also trying hard not to get killed."

Swordplay is Ellsworth's genre of choice, his life's enduring passion. (Ellsworth is the name he's chosen for his literary career; his surname is Schick.) In 2014, he served as editor of The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, a centuries-spanning gallery of cutthroats and knights errant. Earlier this year, the publisher Pegasus released his translation of Alexandre Dumas's lost Musketeer novel, The Red Sphinx. There are now plans to refresh the entire series. To all his work, Ellsworth brings an evangelizing zeal. "Who wouldn't want to face deadly danger with confidence and élan?" he asks in the Big Book's introduction. "Who can deny the thrill of clashing blades, hairbreadth escapes, and daring rescues?"

Not I. Certainly not Ellsworth. Together we perched on a pair of hand-carved stools and watched as a young man with a samurai-style beard led the others through a series of sword-thrusting drills.

"The appeal of all this," Ellsworth said, taking in the room with a sigh. "It's eternal. The clothes change from one generation to another but not the impulse or the thrill."

Posted by at June 1, 2017 8:03 AM

  

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