“Wizard Festivals” proclaimed the letters across the back of the van. With a Bristol telephone number, it seemed to promise the local availability of some magical events. It conjured images of a Lord of the Rings sort of firework display, the sort provided by Gandalf at Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday party. Perhaps there would be smoke rings that were transformed into the shape of galleons flying through the sky, or dragons that would swoop low over the heads of those gathered. A wizard festival would offer the prospect of the unusual, the unexpected, the unforeseen; it would set the pulse racing, and the heart pounding and every memory of it would be imprinted upon the brain. A wizard festival would be, well, wizard.
Wizards were always welcome in younger days, they would appear in stories and, in the space of a few words, they would revive the fortunes of those cast down by their circumstances; restore hope to those who had lost it; and encourage those who had almost given up.
Wizards in general generally meant a wizard in particular, Merlin. Like a true wizard, Merlin was not confined to the pages of story books; no, Merlin was out and about and there were claims that people had met him. To someone who heard tales of Merlin, it was no surprise that the engine of the Spitfire aircraft was named after him. What else would a Rolls Royce engine that saved the country be called other than “Merlin”? By the 1960s, Merlin seemed to have gone into retirement, he certainly didn’t do pyrotechnics or pitched battles against the Dark Lord. To a young reader, it seemed always a disappointment that Merlin did not use his powers to bring ultimate victory to Arthur. It seemed sad that Arthur had died from his wounds and had been laid to rest on the Isle of Avalon. Yet there was no doubt that Arthur and the knights would, one day, ride forth again, and Merlin would be with them. Perhaps that had been the problem with wizards, though, perhaps they had spent so long fighting battles and engaging in cosmic struggles that their energy had been entirely spent, that they might not appear at a festival, even if they were personally invited.
A real, actual wizard, in a conical hat and flowing dark robes, would validate all those childhood imaginings. Sadly, there seems a dearth of wizards when one would like one.
The wizard festivals van offered no more than organ music, which might be very nice, but does not compare with a party attended by Gandalf.