[PRELUDE] In a windswept, freezing, and remote corner of Europe, there once lived the most remarkable of sorcerers. A man who's imagination could burst into life in the form of strikingly beautiful apparitions. His name was Professor Julinius and although he travelled with a ramshackle circus of phoney psychics and profiteering frauds [THE CIRCUS OF ENCHANTMENT] he loved to restore the lost flickering gleam of wonderment into the circus-going children's distrusting eyes. [I BELIEVE IN FAIRY TALES] Even the most suspicious young minds were captivated by the fantastic illusions as the Professor conjured up images of whatever, or whoever, his audience described. [MEETING THE PROFESSOR] But his apparitions were the Professor's enchanted antidotes to a disenchanted world
The year is 1701. The place: Rhetkovia, an Eastern European state long at war with neighbouring Stauerland. Colonel Svanska, an indiscriminate warmonger of the Rhetkovian Army, ransacks a local village in search of children to bolster the front line's flagging numbers. [CRADLE SOLDIERS] Svanska find amusement in the Professor's revulsion to the conscripting, and mockingly re-christens him "Professor Utopia". Upon hearing of the Professor's gift for illusion, Svansk cannot resist further mockery and produces a portrait on tatty folded canvas, demanding that an apparition be summoned of the beautiful painted girl. She is the teenaged Corilsa, one of Svanska's household staff in Rhetkov, whom he plans to marry. When the professor refuses Svanska dismisses him as a fraud.
Niklas, the Professor's son, insists on joining the young recruits with the aim of engineering the escape of all the underage conscripts. Although receptive to the cause, the Professor is horrified by the risk and forbids such an attempt but Niklas will not be dissuaded and seizes this opportunity to step out his father's imposing shadow. The Professor regretfully succumbs to his son's determination, but only if their minds remain in perpetual contact, and from the moment Nikllas leaves for Stauerland an intense telepathy begins as he is constantly watched over, guided and shielded from danger. From his circus caravan, a laboratory of the supernatural, crammed with charts and extraordinary apparatus, the Professor sees the images in his mind of Niklas and his comrades marching towards the fires and explosions of the ever-nearing battlefield, [AURORA OF WAR] which soon surrounds them. During the first major attack [THE BATTLE OF BRADINSK] Niklas is in great danger, and although the Professor desperately tries to guide him to safety, amid the chaos, Niklas is shot.
Barley conscious and left for dead, Niklas is dumped with the other wounded [AM I ALIVE?] but a nurse, beautiful, mysterious and enchanting, dresses his wounds with great tenderness. [THE RECOVERY] As his health returns, his growing obsession for the nurse slowly changes to love. She does not speak but her silent affection for the boy is palpable, and their moments together are bound with wordless love. When Svanska catches a glimpse of the nurse he immediately recognises her as his fiancée, Corilsa and cannot believe his eyes when she vanishes into the ground, dematerialising as though she were an apparition. Staggered by what he has witnessed, Svanska remembers showing the painting of Corilsa to Niklas' father, the illusionist. And if the illusion of a girl can fool the eye, then who might be fooled by the illusion of a soldier, or a battalion, or an entire army? Intoxicated by the military possibilities, Svanska sets about tracking down the Professor, knowing that Niklas can lead the way.
Now completely returned to health, Niklas is unaware that the nurse, with whom he has fallen in love, does not exist. While searching for her he is swept along with the tide of desertion by his comrade soldiers [RISE UP AND CLAIM] but as he returns to Rhetkovia, Svanska follows him.
It is a relieved Professor who welcomes the return of his beloved son,
but Niklas can talk only with amorous passion of the nurse who saved his
life, and is more adult and susceptible to a woman's beauty than his father
ever knew. When the realisation hits Niklas that the nurse was merely
an instrument of his father's sorcery, however well-intentioned, he feels
overwhelmingly deceived and vows to leave the Professor's life forever.
But as Niklas exits, Svanska arrives to greet his newest and most fascinating
[THE MINISTRY OF WAR] In chains, the Professor has been escorted to the imposing Rhetkovian War Ministry by Svanska's continually down-trodden assistant officer, Captain Karlsson. Unintimidated by Svanska's blazing interrogation [THE CHOICE IS YOURS] the Professor instead forms a bond with the disenchanted Captain, who agrees to aid both an escape and a meeting with the young woman who inspired the apparition of the nurse
Corilsa is employed in the very building where the Professor is held prisoner, and, when they meet, she is at once frightened and suspicious [DO WHAT YOU WILL] but slowly begins to trust the reassuring eyes of this new friend, and, with Captain Karlsson's help, is persuaded to flee her lecherous master and escape with the Professor into the streets of Rhetkov. Svanka's fury at the escape is short-lived, for when news arrives that Niklas has been captured, he uses him as bait in a public execution, along with the other deserters, knowing that the Professor will re-emerge to rescue his son. Moments before Niklas is to be shot, the Professor indeed comes to his rescue From nowhere comes a great storm, enveloping the sky. Violent and tremendous [THE THUNDERBOLT] it throws the proceedings into chaos, and when the smoke of the lightning strike is cleared, Niklas and the Professor are gone. But what absorbs Svanska more is the absence of scorch and burn from the thunderbolt - could such a spectacle be another product of the Professor's sorcery?
While hungry search parties pursue them, the Professor gently introduces his son to the living, breathing young woman who inspired the apparition of the nurse. She is bemused that he seems to know her but she is very taken with this handsome young stranger, and seeks to comfort his war-damaged senses. Niklas, again confronted by the same beauty with which he fell in love, dares not touch nor even look a second time for fear she will vanish as before. [FOREVER] He is no longer the gauche, eager-to-please boy but instead an awakened, experienced young man, acutely aware of the transience of pleasure, and in need of Corilsa's sincere reassurance before his heart can unlock again.
The loathing of Svanska has become universal in the army's junior ranks, and it is while overhearing fanciful plots of the tyrant's brutal demise [A FATE FOR COLONEL SVANSKA] that Captain Karlsson swaps the Colonel's pistol for a sabotaged weapon, rigged to backfire on the user.
The inevitable final confrontation arrives when the Professor surrenders himself at the Ministry of War, but it is not, as Svanska believes, to cooperate. It is to kill. While distracting the Colonel with countless collaborative military possibilities [MY VOLZHAVA] the Professor grabs and aims Svanska's pistol. Abandoning his life-long pacifist convictions, it is the thought of the sacrificed innocent conscripts that propels the Professor to pull the trigger. But he was not the intended user of the sabotaged weapon, and it is he and not Svanska who collapses. The Colonel desperately tries to revive his ailing "passport to greatness" but the Professor is dying. In his final reflective moments, he imagines his Utopia: how different the world might be, were he permitted to change it. [A DIFFERENT WORLD]
Svanska's superiors have long been dubious of his fantastic stories of apparition's military use, and, with the Professor now dead Svanska has no proof. Appearing to be nothing more than a madman, he is dishonourably discharged from the army, and that single humiliation drives him to insanity.
For the grieving Niklas, Corilsa is a new beginning, and there is further
consolation as the words of his departed father still ring in his ears:
as guiding, as inspiring and as loving as they have always been.
© Jonathan Kaldor 2010