Today we welcome the elusive and mysterious Dr. Fantastique who runs the Steampunk Zine Dr. Fantastique’s Show of Wonders which features Steampunk stories, art and culture. Today he is accompanied by writer Matt Delman who is going to try to keep the Good Doctor on topic.
The Tale of the Show of Wonders
When first the darling Lolita Suzanne contacted us to write for her fine periodical of the aether, we were at a loss for the proper verbiage to communicate our delight. Then once the initial euphoria departed us, we were left with the insidious difficulty of determining what to compose for such auspicious an occasion.
What the good doctor means to say is that he couldn’t think of anything to talk about. It’s always a surprise to see him dumbstruck, so I suggested he talk about himself. In true Doctor Fantastique fashion, he immediately panned the idea.
We have informed Monsieur Delman on numerous occasions that we do not pontificate on the topic of ourself; not when so many other fine performers in the Show of Wonders have not had their opportunity in the spotlight.
And there you go being modest again. You’ve spent your life with the Show of Wonders to keep it running, and the performers and I appreciate everything you do. There’s absolutely no harm in talking about yourself once in awhile, especially considering how fascinating your life story is.
We do not appreciate this harassment, Monsieur. It has ever been our policy to not speak of our past, and we do not intend to countermand this under such pressure as yours.
Your name is spreading around the Internet, Doctor. Why not give the people a taste of the man behind the Show of Wonders. Your name’s on the marquee after all, so why not give the people what they want? Isn’t that what being in the traveling show is all about?
We do not reveal our secrets. This is a fact you have heard before.
Yes, I know. “A good showman never reveals his tricks.” Suzanne’s counting on us to make this interesting though, and what better story is there than your own?
Clearly you cannot be dissuaded from this course of action. If we must tell our story, then we will tell it the way we desire to.
That’s perfectly fine, Doctor.
We were born outside the City of New York in the summer months of 1827. We are not certain of the exact date; our mother died in labor and our father spent much of his time in the bottle during our first years of life. We ran away from home at age eight — or perhaps it was age nine or ten — we do not recall the precise time.
We came upon the traveling show of Professor Astounding outside Tarrytown some time later. We had lived on the road for nearly a year; stealing from coaches and campsites along the way for sustenance and clothing. By the time we discovered the traveling show, our original clothes had turned to rags and we swathed ourselves in accoutrements too big for our small body. Winter had come on with a frigid snap that year, and we spent much time huddled in caves and under tree branches for warmth.
Professor Astounding took us captive when one of the barkers caught us trying to steal bread from the kitchen wagon. We do not know what he saw in us, but rather than turn us into the authorities, the kindly old Professor took us in as a stableboy for the horses. We traveled with the Show of Wonders all around the Northeast in the intervening years. We cared for the horses, did errands for the Professor, and helped the performers wherever we could.
Professor Astounding discovered in us a facility for juggling one day when we were caring for the horses. We believe it was in our fifteenth year that we joined the Show of Wonders in a showman capacity. The kindly old Professor offered us a space in the juggling show, and we gladly accepted if it meant no longer caring for the horses. The jugglers accepted us as a son among their band, and showed us their secrets in how to throw the flaming torch so you never caught the burning end, how to juggle well with knives, and how to throw things at your partner quicker than the eye could see. We watched, and listened, and learned all that we could.
Until one day the lead juggler took ill, and Professor Astounding asked that we take his place on center stage. Nerves twisted our stomach tighter than any vise, but we took the stage in the jester’s garb with bells on our head and feet. We wowed the audience in Fishkill with our skill at blades and flames, and lead the show with what the Professor termed “vim and vigor.”
His pride in our performance made us joyful. We moved throughout the Show of Wonders from that day on, learning everything we could from all the performers. From the barkers we learned to be heard, from the acrobats we learned flexibility, and from the rest of the performers we learned about life and how to put on a fabulous show.
When did the Professor tell you his secret?
We are getting to that, monsieur. A spinner of tales such as yourself knows one does rush the climactic moment of one’s narrative.
True, but we’ve got a set amount of space here. And Professor Astounding’s secret is the really fascinating.
Since you are insistent on ruining the cadence of our prose, we shall move forward to the event you so wish to hear us relate. It was the summer of our thirtieth year, and we had camped near the Ohio River, when the good professor invited us into his tent one evening after a performance. He told us then that he was not a kindly man of eighty-seven as we had originally believed. Nay, he was much, much older than that. In point of fact, he had been born in the sixteenth century! We goggled at this news, as he continued to speak of working a traveling show with his mentor, the Wandering Magister.
Then, in the summer of his thirtieth year, the Magister brought Professor Astounding into his tent and informed him that it was time to enter the Professor into the Brotherhood of Wanderers — an ancient group that led traveling shows all over this world of ours. Part of the conditions for joining this fraternal organization was to accept a gift bestowed on the first Wanderer by the natural philosophers of Sumeria. This gift was one of a much-extended lifespan; the Magister was 600 years old when Professor Astounding met him.
As of the time of our meeting in the summer of 1857, Professor Astounding had already turned 400. Once he related this story to us, we watched him open an old steamer that he kept in his tent. From within, under a heap of old blankets, he withdrew a massive gearwork mechanism of copper and brass and steel. Professor Astounding flipped a switch on the rear of the device, and the gears began to spin. We stared as the gears revolved ever faster around the vertical and horizontal.
The mechanism exploded with a cacophony of light and sound. We dove in the seconds before a gear struck us in the face. When the light faded and our hearing returned, we looked up to the visage of our mentor. Professor Astounding sat on his folding chair serene as he ever was. He looked us over, and smiled wider than we had ever seen.
“Now you are a Wanderer,” he told us. “Now you are truly part of the Show of Wonders.” He placed the mechanism back in its trunk, and locked the machine away.
We took the name Doctor Fantastique after an intensive course of study we partook of in Paris. Professor Astounding would not allow us to use the appellation until we completed our studies at the University of the Fantastic. We were surprised that such an institution existed, but Professor Astounding insisted that was where all Wanderers received their monikers.
Professor Astounding retired the week we completed our matriculation. He gave us leadership over the Show of Wonders, and we have traveled the countryside with the Show for more than a century. The players in the Show of Wonders may change from year to year, but we are ever in mastery over it. We guard the mechanism ourselves now, waiting for the day when we may pass the secret on to the next member of the Brotherhood.
I met the good Doctor three years ago on Cape Ann in Northeastern Massachusetts. My car stopped on Route 128 South as I was driving home. I saw the lights, and thought maybe they’d have some jumper cables or something to help me get back home. Instead, I meant a man who called himself Doctor Fantastique and, upon hearing that I was a writer, decided to tell me a story. A very fascinating story, and one I thought made-up … until he showed me the mechanism.
I founded the magazine after much deliberation with Doctor Fantastique, who had shown a surprising love of science fiction. He wanted to see more pieces that dealt with the era of his birth, the Victorian Age, and so we agreed to start the website with the name of his traveling show attached to it. A bit of a cross-branding idea on my part. And that’s where we stand today.
Matthew Delman is the Editor/Founder of Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders, the Founder of Free the Princess, co-founder of The Secret Archives of the Alliterati, and an aficionado of Steampunk in all its forms. You can also find him on Twitter at @mattdelman, @docfantastique, and @FlyingPenPress (where he is the Marketing Director).