The character Roger Bacon clearly is intended to be an analogue of the real Bacon, a Franciscan monk known for his contributions to science and as an alchemist and dabbler in magic. Like his model, Bacon is devoted to the truth, wherever it may lead, and he is also a man of honor and courage. Prospero is modeled after William Shakespeares fictional sorcerer in The Tempest (1611), who sets out to right the wrongs of his world and, in so doing, employs “this rough magic” one last time to bring about a proper balance of persons and events. Bellairs character also is concerned with balance and with setting his world right; a forgetful man, clearly no match for the brilliant and logical Melichus, he nevertheless sets forth with a desperate kind of courage. His very lack of pretension and refusal to fool himself by championing his own considerable abilities are major assets in this struggle to the death.
Walter Gorn Old said in The Kabala of Numbers: A Handbook of Interpretation by Sepharial (1911) that an event is merely a rearrangement of parts of people’s “sphere of reality.” This is an appropriate comment on Bellair’s book, both because the author mentions the Kabala as the solution to his characters dilemma and because he has rearranged historical facts in order to construct a fictionalized world of surpassing charm. Indeed, Bellair’s novel deals directly with the question of the nature of reality. When Prospero enters the world of the prism, he is suddenly endowed with the ability to see the world as it really is, like Zed in John Boormans film Zardoz (1974). Zeds crystal contained all of human knowledge; with the knowledge thus gained of himself, Zed was able to destroy the prism, thus freeing people from the bonds of self-imposed technological shackles.
What appears to be a lighthearted adventure involving two bumbling wizards on a quest actually is a tale of great moral courage, tragedy , and the ultimate doom of the world. Everything in the book is seen through the two-sided mirror, a glass that...
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