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On Form and Function - By Greg Lammers
As the collective community of persons interested in Middle-Earth re-creation grows, the sheer amount of outside influences, naturally, is expanding as well. And rightly so! Everyone has their own opinion of what Tolkien envisioned, and will interpret even concrete references to materials or culture in their own unique way. This is, after all, part of what makes these pursuits fun.
As we introduce ourselves to more and more interested persons, a few key topics continue to lodge themselves in the forefront of my thoughts: Form and function.
It is often said that form follows function, but in our hobby, where capturing the essence of an unseen, â€œhistoricalâ€ culture is critical for a believable impression, Iâ€™m finding form often takes center-stage to functioning gear. The term â€œAestheticâ€ is widely used to reference umbrella genres, such as the â€œRanger Aestheticâ€ or the â€œHobbit Aestheticâ€. Function is, as we all know, a critical part of creating a believable, realistic, and legitimate impression. If it doesnâ€™t work, it isnâ€™t going to â€œworkâ€. But which should be the trump card? Which should be taking backseat to allow for the other? Can we strike a balance?
With form, and â€œThe Aestheticâ€, I see both sides. Following a predetermined â€œRanger Aestheticâ€ can help ensure that an impression is recognized for what it is meant to be. This is vital for a re-creationist who is in the public eye often, lest he or she be mistaken for a character entirely unrelated. Howeverâ€¦who and/or what chose the definition of â€œthe aestheticâ€ of any one culture? Who or what decided that a Ranger should wear tall leather boots, arrows on their back, a heavy cloak, a leather vest, and carry a bow, a sword, and a dagger? So often, this is exactly what â€œRanger Aestheticâ€ evokes. Is there anything wrong with it? Not necessarilyâ€¦but is anything sacrificed by following this â€œaestheticâ€? Does â€œaestheticâ€-based garb pigeonhole an impression too specifically to be considered Middle-Earth, or too generally to be considered one culture? We should really be sure that when we follow such a framework, that we are using Tolkien as a base first.
With function, I can approach both arguments as well. To make our gear function properly, it is commonplace to plan and assemble individual â€œkitsâ€ for each of a handful of functions that may serve to fulfill a task while out and about, such as sewing, cooking, hygiene, and various other specific functions. These various sets of gear tend to result in several to dozens of separate bags or pouches to contain them all, and setting up camp turns into organizing an apothecaryâ€™s worth of bags that serve a myriad of uses. To fulfill these various tasks for time in the wilds without oneâ€™s pack becoming too burdensome to carry, outfitting onesâ€™ self with tools that serve multiple purposes is common practice. Multi-purpose tools and equipment can be very usefulâ€¦but is this always the correct approach to take in attempting to reduce weight/bulk? Perhaps the issue is not the number of tools needed, but rather the number of needs one has in the wilderness. Instead of having a dozen pouches filled with â€œkitsâ€ for every conceivable encounterable condition, should we be striving to establish a more general-purpose approach to kit, allowing us to handle a wider variety of needs, without accumulating a gearset that must be catalogued to maintain organization? Should we be striving to perfect bushcraft skills that will be used with varying levels of frequency, or would it be better to come prepared with a task-specific piece of equipment to nix the need for the skill? Should a Ranger, for example, practice skills to survive with nothing, or should a Ranger practice the art of preparing so that, in a survival situation, one simply goes on living? Does this require more gear, or simply more planning?
There are many questions hereâ€¦a great deal have been left unanswered. This is not something that can be decided for anyone. However, I would caution against the term â€œAestheticâ€ on the very principle by which it exists: it is too general. Claiming that any one piece of gear fits into an â€œAestheticâ€, rather than a culture, even within the wide-ranging interpretations of J.R.R. Tolkienâ€™s writing, opens the door for outside influences far beyond the scope of Middle-Earth. In the same way, the word â€œkitâ€ can also be misconstrued to suggest that the only functional way to devise a gearset is to diversify with as many separate â€œkitsâ€ as one can assembleâ€¦as dangerous as suggesting that carrying a tool that only has one function is incorrect, or even unwise. Perhaps instead of juggling form and function, it would be wise of us to consider pursuing culture and need.
â€œWhat does my impression need for purposes of sleeping, eating, defense, and upkeep? How can I structure my kit (rather than â€œa kitâ€ or â€œseveral kitsâ€) to fulfill these needs in the context of my chosen culture? Can this be done in a way that all parts serve a critical need, and work together rather than independently? Or do separate â€œkitsâ€ suit my needs better? Is it possible, perhaps, to define my impression culturally in such a way as to evoke Middle-Earth as a reality, rather than fantasy? Is this necessary for my impression?
I pass the questions on to you to answer. Enjoy the journey!