If you like to escape by jumping headfirst into a dark fantasy read, you’ll know that your trip to faraway lands is always too short. Far sooner than you’d like, you’re back to the prosaic reality of dishes in the sink, yardwork you’ve been postponing, and the knowledge that tomorrow will be exactly the same as today.
But what if there was a way to bring the fantastical into your everyday life?
What if, instead of dealing with dismal real-life problems, you could don a beard and some fur and battle monsters in the woods? Don some clamshells and a tail and learn how to be a real mermaid? Get sorted into a house and start learning divination, alchemy, and the dark arts?
Sadly, fantastically, amazingly—you can. And grown people do.
These institutions see no reason why we should keep the supernatural to the confines of fiction. If you would like to bring even more fantasy into your life, there are some very real and bizarre ways to do so.
If you’d love nothing more than to escape your morning commute to go monster hunting in the dark woods of Poland—now you can. The unofficial “Witcher School” takes place over 3-4 days in actual castles in lower Silesia, and thousands of LARPers show up to ditch their humdrum identities and role-play characters from Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels. Here, you can learn archery and fencing, flirt with Filippa Eilhart, or make a demonic pact or two…wherever the Witcher spirit takes you. Tickets include costumes and makeup, as well as photos to prove how far gone you are.
If you’ve always believed that elves and Hidden People really exist (as 54% of Icelanders apparently do), then Elf School in Reykjavik, Iceland may be more for you. Headmaster and Elfish lore expert Magnús Skarphéðinsson will reveal not only the history of the mythical beings but also how friendship between the elves and humans continues to this day. He will train you how to keep your eyes open for the Hidden People and can even take you to the main elf place in Reykjavik, so you can start an elf friendship of your very own. Lectures are delivered along with delicious pancakes and coffee, to fill both your heart and your stomach with warmth.
Inspired by the world of Harry Potter but very much filled with a real curriculum is the Grey School of Wizardry in Whitehall, NY. It was founded by
Dumbledore Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, a strange visionary who, long before Harry left his cupboard, was making his own unicorns out of goats and searching the seas for proof of mermaids. In 2004, he opened the Grey School and helped compile The Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard to guide its students to magical mastery. If you are admitted, you will be sorted into your house—Society of the Four Winds, Order of the Dancing Flames, Coterie of the Flowing Waters, or Circle of the Standing Stones—depending on your sun sign. (One can only imagine that students must introduce themselves by simply saying they belong to “fire” or “earth.”) Your course of study may include up to 450 classes in 16 different departments, including psychic arts, herbalism, mathemagicks, healing, beast mastery, and lore. Graduates are presented with certification as a Journeyman Witch or Wizard (though it should be noted that one can learn about magic without the ability to practice and earn a Muggle Magister certification instead.) No information is available on whether you will need to battle Voldemort as a final exam.
If you long to fight back against the injustices of the world and release your inner superhero, then the Draper University Hero Training program may be just what you’re looking for. Founder and “Riskmaster” Tim Draper runs a 5-week intensive for startup hopefuls in Silicon Valley, where you can learn how to push past the fears that stop most people and innovate real change. Participants learn vital entrepreneurial skills and get to jump-start their networking, while also being trained in the mindset of the Riskmaster himself. Each morning, participants must pledge a superhero oath to protect freedom at all costs, while also pursuing progress and change…and protecting their image…and making reparations…and having fun. (Be aware that there is a Superhero Clause as well: participants must accept a lifelong obligation to hone their Superhero powers and use them only for good.)
If you’ve ever wondered how to become a professional mermaid, wonder no longer. AquaMermaid is here to make your sparkly-tailed dreams a reality (note: underwater breathing not included). You can book mermaid parties, lessons, earn mermaid certification (you must recertify every four years), and work to become a mermaid ambassador, sharing the benefits of mermaiding with the world. If you’re truly more skilled under the sea than on land, coaches can even train you to compete in the North American Mermaid Championship. Which does apparently exist. The main location is in Montreal, Canada (though participating instructors can also be sent to the US as well).
Sword to Sword is located in Houston, TX but is exclusively dedicated to the practices of 14th-17th century European sword fighting. If you’ve every dreamed of parrying as lightning-fast as Inigo Montoya, this is the place that can get you there. While their specialty is the German Longsword and the Italian Rapier, you can also learn equestrian combat, the poleaxe, the military sabre, the dussak, the dagger, the quarterstaff and more. Level up your skills before your next LARP or Ren Faire and knock the stockings off your medieval buddies!
If dragging around a heavy longsword is really not your style, you may be more intrigued in the role of the lighthearted jester. Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp in Buffalo, MN offers a clowning intensive that features all the best of the clown arts, including makeup, costuming, performance skills, puppets, character development, and comedic instinct. Founder Priscilla Mooseburger is the resident expert, with a background with both the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and the intensive features staff performances throughout the week-long camp. At the end of the week, you’ll really get to put your skills to the test and perform in the world’s largest annual clown show! (How you translate these skills into your everyday life afterwards is entirely your problem.)
No School Required
If you’re thinking that mayhaps we’ve gone a little too far into the absurd, and you prefer to keep your fantastical getaway to your next dark fantasy read, then try my new release Raven Queen, Arise. It has all the high fantasy swords and sorcery of Michael Moorcock’s Elric Saga, all the magic and monsters of The Witcher Saga, and more necromancy, murder, and mayhem than all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books combined.