Little is known of Prospero’s early years. He was a soldier in King Godwin’s army before he became a wizard (Dolphin, 204). Seeking a change, he was trained under the tutelage of noted magician, Michael Scott (Face, 36, 106). Before being initiated as wizards, Prospero and fellow student Melichus were forced to live together in the deserted mountains of the Northern Kingdom and use their combined powers to create and/or enchant an object (Face, 106). Following his sorcery apprenticeship with Scott, Prospero landed in the Southern Kingdom during that kingdom’s Seven Princes League, a long, bitter war that Prospero survived by hiding in caves or in the homes of strangers (Dolphin, 160). At some point, following the end of the war, Prospero settled in an area near the town of Brakspeare (in the Kingdom of Sack).
Through events unrecorded, Prospero eventually met and befriended the Franciscan monk Roger Bacon, who shares Prospero’s wizardly ways and sense of adventure.
His Southern Kingdom home near Brakspeare is a ridiculous-looking two-story house covered with doodads and stuffed with unlikely and anachronistic possessions, including a magic mirror that wallows in the junk of future centuries and allows for travels through time and space. Some of the things found within its walls are mysteries to Prospero - such as a locked cabinet near the staircase, for which Prospero owns no key.
Because of an encounter in his youth the wizard is afraid of ponies and cannot ride horses. On the flip side, however, he “know[s] seven different runic alphabets, can sing the whole Dies Irae all the way through, and (though [he] cannot eclipse the moon) can do some very striking effects with lightning. [He] can also make it look like it might rain, if you wait long enough" (Face; vii). As powerful as those abilities may be, he easily becomes worried or frightened when placed in strange or uncertain situations. As much of his power is concentrated through his staff, without it Prospero’s cache of spells is regulated to those he’s committed to memory or that can be found in books. At his best he was not the kind of magician that could pull off elaborate tricks and spells. He shunned power and the work that was necessary to obtain that power – but if something was fun to recite or did odd things, then he knew it (Dolphin; 171). He does know some people in his land don’t take too kindly to wizards and therefore must sometimes make journeys incognito - taking the name Bishop Lanfranc or Nicholas Archer (Face; 104) - or refraining from practicing parlor magic tricks.
Besides Bacon, Prospero is good friends with the American junk dealer, M. Millhorn, who visited Prospero’s time and place by way of magic mirrors (Face; 171; Dolphin; 180). Prospero has also used the mirror to visit other time and places, including a 19th Century hotel in London (Dolphin; 220).
The word prospero comes from the Latin prospeare, meaning to cause to succeed.
Easily the most famous character to carry the name Prospero is that of the exiled Duke of Milan, one of Shakespeare’s more enigmatic protagonists from "The Tempest" (1611). Prospero and his daughter Miranda are banished to an exotic Mediterranean island and, for twelve years, the wizard uses magic to control the spirits of their new home. When his brother Antonio, who overthrew Prospero, passes near the island on an ocean voyage, the wizard raises a tempest, wrecks their ship, and causes them to be washed ashore. By play’s end Prospero is reinstated as duke and gives up his magic.
Another Prospero familiar in literature is Prince Prospero of Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Masque of the Red Death" (1842), the story of an elaborate party locked away in a castle to avoid a plague that had long devastated the country.
As a wizard, Prospero is in good company with other magical entities such as King Arthur’s Merlin and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gandalf. Bellairs was much taken with The Lord of the Rings, noting in 1971 that Face “was an attempt to write in the Tolkien manner...and I wanted to do a modest work on those lines.” Struck by the fact that Gandalf was not much of a person but rather just a good guy, Bellairs continues, much of Prospero and his surroundings could be described as an alter ego of sorts of Bellairs himself, who “gave Prospero most of my phobias and crotchets.”
LegacyProspero made his debut in The Face in the Frost (which was originally titled after the character), and wasn't seen again until a cameo in Brad Strickland's 2003 Lewis Barnavelt adventure, The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost, that featured his card-throwing, bridge-breaking scene (Face, 117-9):
"Lewis Barnavelt glanced up at the magic window, a stained-glass oval that Uncle Jonathan kept enchanted so that it was always changing. Tonight it showed a tall wizard standing in front of a strange arched bridge, with stone sculptures like giant chess pieces at its corners. The magician was flinging a handful of playing cards through the air toward the bridge" (The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost, 83).Writing in 1973, author Lin Carter said that Bellairs had shared with him “sketchy maps of the South Kingdom and some unpublished scraps, notes, and outlines for...further adventures” and that Bellairs had also produced a prequel, "which tells how his diabolic duo first became friends." The prequel piece was to be included in Carter’s juvenile fantasy anthology Magic Kingdoms but neither Carter's anthology or Bellairs's short story were published.
A further adventure - albeit unfinished - of Prospero surfaced in 2009 in the form of a sequel written in the early 1980s. "The Dolphin Cross" was featured in a 2009 anthology of Bellairs's books from the 1960s entitled Magic Mirrors.