Friday, January 1, 2021

Finding "The Two Magicians" after 50 Years

Several decades (or so) ago, in a country whose name matters and is already known, there was an author named John Bellairs, and very much the one you are thinking of. He wrote about two characters named Prospero and Roger Bacon:

Prospero lived in the South Kingdom and...stayed at home a great deal, and his trips to other places in the North and South were made on odd occasions and (sometimes) by still odder modes of travel. [...] Roger Bacon, who spent most of his time in England, was more familiar with the border country between the North and the South than Prospero was.

This story crammed with wizards was The Face in the Frost. In 1973, author Lin Carter wrote in his Imaginary Worlds: the Art of Fantasy of his three choices for the best fantasy novels to appear since The Lord of the Rings. His selections were The Last Unicorn (1968) by Peter S. Beagle, Red Moon and Black Mountain (1970) by Joy Chant, and The Face in the Frost (1969). Carter included the following passage about Bellairs following his analysis: fact, [Bellairs] has produced for my yet-unpublished anthology of juvenile fantasy, entitled Magic Kingdoms, a new short-story which tells how his diabolic duo [Prospero and Roger Bacon] first became friends.

Magic Kingdoms was never published and there the matter lay for many years. No longer. Author Donald A. Maxton alerted us to the twenty-page, typed manuscript of "The Two Magicians" (subtitled “How Prospero met Roger Bacon”) in the online catalogs of the Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library at Duke University. Duke received it as part of a gift from author/editor John Betancourt back in 2017-18. A brief cover letter from Bellairs is dated Nov. 6, 1971.

In the tale, Prospero arrives on a mysterious island to discover the more mysterious Godwin, one-time King of All the South. After a confrontation at the local inn, Prospero meets Bacon, and they venture onward together to find the king in a succession of hysterical fits.

"The Two Magicians" seems more a prequel to "The Dolphin Cross", the lost, incomplete sequel found and published in 2009. In both, there are talks of infighting at Roundcourt and an unrealized threat with ancient Romans undertones, pointing toward Bellairs on the verge of a deeper mythos running through the North and South Kingdom than was previously alluded to during Face.

And there you go. The fabled prequel to Face exists. Now someone needs to finally get it in print.

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