Today marks the 25th anniversary of Knightmare: the show that brought me to life and nurtured me into the person that I became.
Those who know me well enough will know that Knightmare, the legendary children’s show, is never far from my thoughts. For better or worse, it is a permanent feature of my being.
Knightmare elegantly punctuated my primary years. It introduced me to fantasy; it encouraged me towards intellectual pursuit; and it proved to be a strong source of a fair majority of my strongest friends.
It gave me an interest that I’ve never lost, and that I’ve even pursued to professional ends. It provided great strength and comfort when I lived abroad, and it still accompanies me today on many a lonesome night.
It’s easy to look at the fanaticism of a children’s show with disdain. But the show has to be understood as, essentially, a moment’s monument. So much of the overall effect and influence of the show is determined by the age at which it is first experienced.
To a four-year-old encountering Knightmare for the first time, with no understanding of how the show works and with little cognition of how fantasy and reality are separated, the show was immediate, real, highly immersive, and completely terrifying.
And this was its true bravery. As I say in more detail here, it was designed to be controversial, graphic, fiendishly difficult, and frightening. The fortunate thing for me, encountering Knightmare at such a tender age, was that I developed apace with the show.
As the structure of the gameplay evolved and the challenges became more kinetic and dramatic, the fear-factor remained just as palpable. The tension of the Series 6 finale (1992) was too much for this eight-year-old to bear.
If Knightmare merits autobiographical psychoanalysis a quarter-century into the past, I would suggest that it contributed towards a tentativeness and introversion that have never shown signs of abating.
But for all my copious faults, I suspect this rendered me more willing and compatible to absorb some of the many humanist qualities that Knightmare advocated: the pursuit of knowledge; mental agility; improvisation; obedience; respect; and – owing to its difficulty – a gritty sense of achievement.
Destiny His Choice, said the good poet. I can only hope that I’ve made the most of what was held up to me.
And ‘The Greater Game’ lives on with surprising health 25 years later. Dormant, rather than extinct, we all prefer to believe. Tragically, Knightmare’s attempted resurrection in the 21st Century never came to fruition, and the candle that flickered long enough to prompt one last roll of the dice may well have burnt its last.
But fatalism is not without its own triumph. It was the absence of Knightmare coupled with its broad legacy that brought together dedicated fans for a series of commemorative side-projects. Aegis Quest is still very much alive, as is the Audio Series and the Dunshelm Players.
There’s a strong sense of frustration still that Knightmare remains such an untapped source of potential in this digital era. Certainly, from television re-runs, to DVD releases, to prospective new series, the afterlife of Knightmare has brought hope, a measure of success, and frequent disappointment.
Ultimately, though, the show presents a ‘cause’ that’s never gone away, and I think we all – in the vein of Knightmare itself – revel in the pursuit of our near-impossible goal.
Above all, it’s still an entertaining watch, 25 years on. It’s still relevant, still witty, still intense. As a close friend of mine summarised, in few yet striking words:
Kid-worthy, Naasty, Inspiring, Groundbreaking, Humorous, Treguard, Mesmerising, Adult-worthy, Rewarding, Essential.
Knightmare has played a considerable role in defining my life, and I treasure it immensely for the direction it has brought, the way it shaped my mind, the wonderful company it has sustained, and the rich sense of escapism and otherworldliness it has always offered.
Sometimes, it’s quite cool to fail. You come out able to see again on the other side.