December 2, 2023 | Rome, Italy


By |2021-01-11T13:35:41+01:00December 24th, 2020|Area 51|
Hieronymus Bosch's "The Magician," a replica of which hangs in the Musée Municipal in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. For now, the museum is closed on Fear's orders.

izzard, the lofty magician of my French fable book, cured lepers by means of magic dust and applause. He’d gathered the gnarled into an assembly, then let loose birds whose wings would spread the dust, then applaud them all as a gesture of respect and defiance against the malady. Mesmerized by such attention, they were immediately cured, their imperfections gone. Qizzard could make wales laugh and Greek gods trip over stones when in fact to do so was improbable if not impossible, since mighty was their pride. Qizzard could make oceans flow under deserts to travel from one end of the world to the other, sand and water mingling throughout this diligently arranged jouney. Qizzard, when bored, made magical physicians from mere men and sent them on intrepid journeys to the heart of Africa where they would teach the natives about the healing power of stars and the importance of the smile.

What Qizzard could not do was to make people less frightened about whatever it was they’d deemed as fearful, whether a roaring lion or a father’s shout or a chilly inner trembling that had not one cause.

I was as a child very much in love with Qizzard for all the wonders he could accomplish on a whim. You could not ask Qizzard for anything. He dwelled in his Carpathian hut and came out only when it suited him, perhaps to sit on his veranda with a cup of tea with his eloquent monkey named Froolard.

In the worst of my child times I’d turn to Qizzard before sleep and ask him for help in dealing with the unfriendly world. He at times, albeit rarely, made suggestions.

Yet Qizzard was cautious in making them. The one thing he could not do, he said, was to make people less frightened about whatever it was they’d deemed as fearful, whether a roaring lion or a father’s shout or a chilly inner trembling that had not one cause but many. Fear was not curable because — in league with its avid accomplices, Trepidation and Despair — it dwelled very staunchly atop its own noisy knoll, from which warnings emanated constantly, a knoll not even Qizzard could climb, let alone silence. So he did what he could to make all around him less afraid and more amused. By curing the lepers, he fostered hope. He was, he said, a fosterer.

Qizzard and Fear had once met in the lowlands, when Fear was busy seeking out new allies and populations to contaminate. “Why do this?” Qizzard asked Fear.

“Because I can, and it entertains me, and it is so easy to do,” Fear replied.

Fear told anecdotes about its work over centuries and millennia and whole cosmic forests in which it had all but frightened now long-gone species to death by spreading locusts or plagues or making the earth shake all the time.

“This is power,” Fear told Qizzard.

“Power to no good end,” replied Qizzard, but the magician and Fear could reach no agreement. Fear was too commanding and sure of itself. Qizzard retreated to his hut.

His only role, he then realized, was to travel the world making strange occurrences real so that people would be distracted from Fear and perhaps even at times learn to ignore it, to laugh at it, to pay more attention to the migration of oceans than the warnings Fear issued daily.

The stories of Qizzard’s exploits were widely followed after one Great War, and then another, because their magic provided a hopeful spark among those who believed they had been ruined.

Qizzard took a man dying of a pox and made him into a rabbit, which did not recognize the pox. The rabbit ran and chortled at fear. He made doomsayers stop their stories of the apocalypse and speak of banana trees instead.

When I nearly set fire to my house and my parents estranged me through silence, Qizzard put on a show in which statues came to life and danced, and I stopped my crying.

It has been decades since I last heard from Qizzard. Perhaps he retired or moved from his hut. Maybe at some point wales refused to laugh for him and he became discouraged.

Fear, however, has not moved from its castle and still issues orders all follow. I want so badly for Qizzard to return and resume his objection. I want so badly to watch as he makes mortals talk back to that which would seem to oppress them. I crave Qizzard’s wry smile and his resilience, nowhere around me to be found.

You are now in the adult world, Qizzard seems to tell me. You are now on your own, my friend. I was there when you were still young enough to listen to me, but you are no longer, as others are no longer. But do not let Fear impose itself. Remember my leper trick, and tell others about me, and put Fear back in its place. Do not capitulate to the temptation of its exaggerations and its invitation toward endless wariness.

And in Qizzard’s name I accept no such impositions. While others recede into a state of paralysis that Fear has  well-disguised as safety, I listen instead for the whale’s laugh, my face to the open air, come what may.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.