Patrick O'Donnell is a storyteller. As a young editor, he worked as obituary writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where he chronicled the lives of everyday people, trying to reveal more of their stories than a simple name and date. As an editor for the Metro section of the paper, he now continues to tell stories. Four years ago, as Mael Patraic mac Domnaill, the storyteller, began another project: to chronicle the world of historic re-enactors involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism, their passions and their foibles.
The Knights Next Door follows the career of Middle Kingdom fighter Valharic (Tom Noble) from young "hot stick" Crown contender to Pennsic War battle commander, through modern world tragedies and fantasy world triumphs, in an effort to discover what drives SCA members to such heights of devotion to their hobby. For Valharic, it is a long road with many potholes. Along the way, O'Donnell, who refers to himself as "the traveler," takes many sidetrips, and it is in these that he truly begins to understand why, 40 years after its founding, the SCA still survives and thrives.
O'Donnell begins his journey as a "newbie," hanging out with the Cleveland contingent of the Roman household Darkyard, headed by Count (now Duke) Brannos. There he learns to construct and fight in armor, sew garb, and honor longstanding SCA traditions. More importantly, he makes friends and contacts on all levels of the Society. By attending Gulf War, Pennsic, and other large events, O'Donnell meets teachers, artisans, kings, and merchants, and then writes about them. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are those that tell the stories of members such as Duke Baldar, inventor of the Baldar Blunt, the skilled craftsmen of Bastermark, who freely shared their knowledge of dyeing and blacksmithing, the performing family members of Clan Tynker, and many, many others who invest time, substantial money, and love to recreate their version of "The Dream."
O'Donnell's journey ends when an auto accident curtails his active involvement in the SCA, but he remains friends with some members and still "plays" on occasion. Recently, at the Coronation of the Midrealm's new King and Queen, Alaric and Noelle, Mael Patraic mac Domnaill received an Award of Arms in gratitude for his honest depiction of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
The Knights Next Door does not pander to its subjects. It chronicles life in the SCA "warts and all," as one reviewer on Amazon.com comments, but it also captures some of the joy that the hobby brings to its members. For many, the SCA is more than a hobby — it's a way of life that affects everything they do. This book takes an affectionate look at their "Dream" and does not laugh.