Creator: John Bellairs

John Bellairs (1938 1991) was an American fantasy author. While his first writings were aimed at adults, he later turned to writing three gothic fantasy series aimed at younger readers.

Bellairs' first published works were three adult novels: the satirical short story collection St. Fidgeta and Other Parodies (1966), the comic fantasy The Pedant and the Shuffly (1968), and the fantasy novel The Face in the Frost; he began a sequel, The Dolphin Cross, but it was never finished. All three works, and Bellairs' notes on The Dolphin Cross, were collected in the 2009 omnibus Magic Mirrors.

Bellairs next began work on a contemporary adult fantasy, The House With a Clock in Its Walls. It was rejected by two publishers, the second of whom suggested he rewrite it as a young readers' book. Published in 1973, the work introduced the character of Lewis Barnevelt, his magician uncle Jonathan and their friends Florence Zimmerman and Rose Rita Pottinger, who lived in the town of New Zebedee, Michigan. It proved a large success, and Bellairs would publish two sequels in 1975 (The Figure in the Shadows) and 1976 (The Letter, the Witch and the Ring). After taking nearly fifteen years off to work on two other series, Bellairs had begun work on at least three additional sequels at the time of his death.

In 1978, Bellairs released The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, a non-supernatural mystery introducing the teenage Anthony Monday and his friend Mrs. Myra Eells, who lived in Hoosac, Minnesota, and her brother Emerson, a lawyer in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He wrote three more books about the characters, published in 1984, 1988 and (posthumously) in 1992. The Dark Secret of Weatherend, The Lamp From the Warlock's Tomb and The Mansion in the Mist gave Emerson Eells more involvement, and introduced supernatural elements into the series.

Bellairs' third major series for young readers began in 1983 with The Curse of the Blue Figurine and its direct sequel The Mummy, The Will and the Crypt, which introduced Johnny Dixon and his friends Professor Roderick Childermas and Byron Q. "Fergie" Ferguson, who lived in Duston Heights, Massachusetts. He would continue to write the series alongside the Anthony Monday books, publishing six additional sequels (The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost, The Eyes of the Killer Robot, The Trolley to Yesterday, The Chessmen of Doom and The Secret of the Underground Room) in his lifetime.

After Bellairs' death, Brad Strickland was hired by Bellairs' son to complete four of his father's unfinished manuscripts: the Lewis Barnevelt novels The Ghost in the Mirror and its sister novel The Vengeance of the Witchfinder (both published in 1993), their sequel The Doom of the Haunted Opera (1995), and the Johnny Dixon work The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie (1994). After this, Strickland began writing additional novels based on the characters, completing and releasing three Johnny Dixon novels (The Hand of the Necromancer, The Bell, the Book and the Spellbinder and The Wrath of the Grinning Ghost)and six Lewis Barnevelt novels (The Specter from the Magician's Museum, The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge, The Tower at the End of the World, The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost, The House Where Nobody Lived and The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer) as of 2008. He also submitted story ideas for at least two Anthony Monday novels, but they were never made into full books.

Works by John Bellairs provide examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Turned on its head. Much of the trouble in the Lewis Barnavelt books would have been easily dealt with early on, if only Lewis and/or Rose Rita had told them something was up.
    • Played straight in other cases. Rosie Rita's parents, Aggie's family in The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, the police whenever one of the useful adults disappears (as in The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost), doctors who insist demonic possession isn't what it looks like....
  • Alliterative Name: Rose Rita, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Issac Izard, Emerson Eells.
  • And I Must Scream: Selenna Izard seems to have been a case of this before she is summoned in The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
  • Another Dimension: The villains in The Mansion in the Mist live in a relatively small one, with just a meadow, a forest, a lake, a tower and a small outbuilding full of gardening supplies before they started meddling.
  • Avenging the Villain: In The Tower at the End of the World, Ishmael Izard is aware that Lewis called Ishmael's mother Selenna back from the dead, then banished her forever, and wants him to suffer for it.
  • Awesome McCoolname: During his years as a semi-professional baseball player, Johnny's grandfather used to be called "Cyclone Dixon".
  • Bizarrchitecture: In The Tower at the End of the World.
  • Baseball: A recurring element in Bellairs' works; the Lewis Barnevelt characters (who live in Michigan) are fans of the Detroit Tigers (though Florence Zimmerman, having once lived in Chicago, is also a fan of the Chicago White Sox), and Roderick Childermass is a devout fan of the Boston Red Sox. This reflects Bellairs' real life, as he himself was a huge baseball fan, following the Detroit Tigers in his youth and the Boston Red Sox after moving to New England.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The series in general does this, either with a book that the characters are reading, or books finished after Bellairs' from a previous minor aspect in another book, usually the The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Lewis, Mrs. Zimmermann, and Uncle Jonathan escape from Mrs. Izard by crossing a river because ''evil can't cross running water''. This comes up again in The Figure in the Shadows, when the purity of water is also what counters all curses, thus wiping Eliphaz Moss's ghost from the coin. The same bridge comes up in the book The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge (written/finished by Brad Strickland with Bellairs' characters.)
  • Clingy MacGuffin: The skull from The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull is one of these. Johnny suspects it's an evil talisman which has a negative effect on him, so he drops it into a lake. When he comes face to face with the Big Bad, he can sense the skull appear in his pants pocket, still cold and wet from its time at the bottom of the lake.
    • The Bell, the Book and the Spellbinder: Main antagonist Jarmyn Thanatos controls The Book of True Wishes, which he passes on to an unsuspecting victim, allowing him to steal their youth; Fergie tries to get rid of it by throwing it in a furnace, only for it to show up in his room, unharmed.
  • Continuity Nod: Brad Strickland is especially fond of these in the books he wrote with Bellairs' characters. The old New Zebedee Opera House and Elihu Clabbernong's old iron bridge, introduced in the first Lewis Barnevelt book, both get focus books from Strickland, and the Doomsday Clock is heavily referenced in The Tower at the End of the World. Lewis's original friend Tarby also cameos in a later book, but Lewis doesn't speak to him at the time. Similarly, Johnny Dixon's old enemy Eddie Tompke features heavily in The Hand of the Necromancer.
  • Cool Old Guy / Cool Old Lady: Bellairs LOVED this trope. Prospero and Roger Bacon in The Face in the Frost. Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman. Prof Childermass and Father Higgins. Miss Eells and her brother Emerson.
  • Cool Uncle: Jonathan Barnevelt is this for Lewis, once Lewis learns his uncle is a wizard who is firmly on the side of good, and eventually accepts that Jonathan isn't going to throw him out because of a mistake he's made (such as messing around with magic and nearly getting himself killed in the process).
  • Creepy Cemetery: Full of weeping angels.
  • Creepy Piano Music: Puts a spell on everyone but the protagonist children in The Doom of the Haunted Opera.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmerman get a book all to themselves. The Professor and Fergie get theirs in The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost. Father Higgins steps in in The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull with a full one coming in The Secret of the Underground Room. Averted with the Professor's Father (who gave all of his sons names from Tobias Smollett Novels), a near-illiterate sister, who has two illiterate children, and brother, F.C.F. Childermass, who is mentioned to be dead, and logically might have a couple of children.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Johnny's middle name, and the Professor's family, we find out a great deal about them, far more than the family of any other, however, with the exception of a semi-Ass Pull invoked in the final two Johnny Dixon books involving the Professor's brother Humphrey, who went from dead to faking his own death, none of them ever physically appear within the books themselves (unless you count Perry's ghost in The Chessmen of Doom and Johnny's vision in The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull).
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Less embarrassing and more annoying, but Professor Childermass hates being called "Rod" (short for "Roderick"), and Father Higgins hates being called "Higgy".
  • The End of the World as We Know It: In The Tower at the End of the World, natch. This is also what would happen if Selenna Izard succeeds in using the titular clock to bring about Doomsday.
  • Evil Brit: Edmund Stallybrass in The Chessmen of Doom, Dr. Rufus Masterman in The Secret of the Underground Room in the Johnny Dixon series, and Malachiah Prutt in The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder, Dr. Plimico and her Fake Brit husband, Evaristaus Sloane, in The Eyes of the Killer Robot Inverted with: Cousin Pelham, Bertie, and co.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Almost every main villain in a Bellairs novel is one of these. Many of them tend to also be undead and are plotting the The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Evil Uncle: Jedediah/Jebediah Clabbernong, who murdered his own nephew (and his nephew's wife) in a magic ritual to keep himself alive longer, and tried (unsuccessfully) to turn his grandnephew Elihu into his apprentice.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The titles of most of the books. The House with a Clock in Its Walls (guess what's in the walls of the house), The Curse of the Blue Figurine (there's a blue figurine, and it's cursed) and The Lamp From The Warlock's Tomb (go on, guess what that's about.) Others, while still simple titles, aren't quite as clear in their meaning and significance (The Dark Secret of Weatherend, The Figure in the Shadows). If the characters knew what their adventures were titled, the books would be reduced by at least half, and all of those lucky discoveries (for the plot advancement purposes) would disappear, and the books would probably be boring unless you're into the good guys figuring out preventive countermeasures instead of trying to discover what's going on.
  • Eye Scream: The title objects in The Eyes of the Killer Robot were cut from their original owner's head and underwent special treatment after his death, allowing them to animate a statue (or in this case, a baseball-throwing robot).
  • The Fifties: When most of the non-flashback scenes in books take place.
  • Genre Blind: Strange and eerie things seem to happen to Johnny Dixon, Fergie and the Professor on a yearly basis, at least, but every time new weird occurrences happen, Fergie laughs them off and Johnny and the Professor seem to behave as if they've never had any previous encounters with the supernatural.
  • Genre Shift: The Trolley To Yesterday is a time-travel story (and a steampunk one at that!). This has lead to something of a Broken Base, including a case where Brad Strickland wanted to write a sequel to it, but the editor wouldn't allow it because she hated that book. He wound up publishing one anyway, which would become the last Johnny Dixon book to date.
  • Ghostly Chill
  • Grand Theft Me: Lewis and the ghost of Eliphaz Moss in The Figure in the Shadows.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: Both applied and inverted, instead of there being a book, it is pretty much guaranteed that ONE of the characters has the critical information and will remember it. Johnny having read about the Isle of Lundy in The Secret of the Underground Room and REMEMBERING it for three years. The Funeral of King Charles I is mentioned not just in two separate books, but is plot-relevant in TWO SEPARATE SERIES that have no contact with each other. (Although, one of the books was just a detailed manuscript at the time of Bellairs' death; it was subsequently finished by Brad Strickland. Whether the King Charles I funeral was present in the original manuscript is an interesting question, most likely because it was important to the plot.)
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: A less extreme example in the perpetually cranky Professor Childermass. Many things can set him off; fortunately, he is able to restrict himself from physical violence against living beings. (Easily replaceable inanimate objects, such as the plates he buys at the ten-cent store, are less lucky.) He even has his own "fuss closet", with padded walls and flooring, where he goes to burn off his rage at things like not being able to open a jar of olives.
  • Haunted Technology: The clock.
  • Hermetic Magic: Gnostic magic is often featured, with direct references to the Keys of Solomon in The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A common element in the Strickland books (though Bellairs used it too), as most of the villains are dispatched by something they controlled. Examples include:
    • The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie: Mama Sinestra had revived a dead man as her slave; when her spell is broken, he returns to his grave, taking her with him. Her grandson then tries to summon the spirit of Baron Samedi, who promptly turns on him.
    • The Hand of the Necromancer: Mattheus Mergal, who is trying to recover the necromantic hand of Esdrias Blackleach, is dragged into the realm of the dead by said hand.
    • The Bell, the Book and the Spellbinder: Jarmyn Thanatos tries to drain the youth from unsuspecting victims so he can rejuvenate himself. His latest would-be victim, Fergie Ferguson, has friends who refuse to give up on him and wind up causing him to destroy Thanatos' enchanted book, and Thanatos with it.
    • The Wrath of the Grinning Ghost: Nyarlat-Hotep, like Jarmyn Thanatos before him, makes the mistake of targeting a person with friends and family who aren't willing to give up on him, and cause the villain's defeat.
    • The Letter, the Witch and the Ring: Gert Bigger wants to be young, beautiful and unchanging for a long, long time. She falls victim to a Literal Genie, who turns her into a tree.
    • The Vengeance of the Witch-finder: After hearing Lewis has his crown, the ghost of Malachiah Pruitt demands it be returned. Unfortunately, Lewis also attached the Amulet of Constantine to the crown, enabling Pruitt's defeat.
    • The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge: Mephistopheles Moote sets the return of Jedidiah Clabbernong in motion. He dies by getting in Clabbernong's way when the transformed sorcerer is intent on recovering the jewel containing his soul. Clabbernong's obsession with recovering it also leads to his own downfall; see Hurl It into the Sun.
    • The Tower at the End of the World: Ishmael Izard, intent on avenging his mother, passes a set of runes to Lewis that would lead to his death at the hands of a demon. When Lewis tricks him into taking them back, the demon destroys Ishmael instead.
    • The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer: Adolfus Schlectesherz murders his old teacher (enabling his spirit to appear to the Barnevelts and try to warn them), and later banishes Jonathan Barnavelt into the same realm where Dr. Marville's spirit ended up. The good doctor subsequently teaches Jonathan key abilities that lead to Schlectesherz's downfall.
  • Hurl It into the Sun: In a roundabout way in The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge: the heroes magically propel the title beast's Soul Jar and a rivet from said bridge (with Anti-Magic properties) into space, and the beast itself follows them, with all three coming down on the Red Star, knocking it off course and into the sun.
  • Idiot Ball: Lewis can't seem to drop his.
  • Insult of Endearment: Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman use these all the time. She calls him names like Fat Ears and Weird Beard, and he calls her names like Frizzy Wig and Hag Face.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Nearly every novel features a relationship like this. Usually it is between a smart preteen who doesn't fit in with his/her peers and an eccentric elderly person who treats the kid like an equal, and they face the supernatural menace of the week together. Later on in each series, the kid usually brings in one or two new friends his/her own age who also become fast friends with the old person. Lewis Barnavelt had his Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann, who he introduced to Rose Rita Pottinger. Johnny Dixon had Professor Roderick Childermass, who he introduced to Fergie. Anthony Monday became friends with the elderly Miss Ells and her brother Emerson.
  • Ironic Nursery Rhyme: Sung by the demonic spirit in The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt.
  • It Is Beyond Saving: Claimed in Izard's writings to be why he and his wife created the doomsday clock, though one gets the feeling this was only a flimsy I Did What I Had to Do justification to cover up For the Evulz.
  • It Won't Stop Ticking: The Doomsday Clock.
  • Jerk Jock: Tarby from The House with a Clock in Its Walls. He makes a cameo in The Tower at the End of the World.
  • Literal Genie: The demon Asmodai in The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring. The titular ring is a magic ring that grants wishes by allowing the wearer to invoke the demon. Upon finally getting possession of the ring, the villain wishes to be young and beautiful and to live for a thousand years then vanishes. The heroes later notice a young willow tree nearby...
  • Master of Illusion: Jonathan Barnevelt's specialty. Unlike most examples, he mainly uses them to entertain his friends and family.
  • More Deadly Than The Male: Mrs. Zimmermann to Uncle Jonathan (though he does occasionally show off some pretty strong magic). Rose Rita to Lewis (at least physically).
  • Never Mess with Granny: Mrs. Zimmermann.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Happens a lot, with a great deal of suspense ratcheted up from what isn't seen or isn't happening. As just a few examples among many: Lewis finding Izard's papers in the old piano, only to be "attacked" by moths; his search of the house across the street for Mrs. Izard; in the sequel, the dream of the titular figure walking along the old country road, and the figure itself always being In the Hood; Johnny Dixon fleeing the mummy through the secret passage from the mausoleum, then knowing it is coming for him in the darkness of Staunton Herald...
  • Ominous Fog + Fog of Doom: Cuts off New Zebedee from the rest of the world in The Doom of the Haunted Opera.
  • Ominous Piano: In The Doom of the Haunted Opera, no less!
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Leads to Lewis' possession in one case, but, another time, a stream of Latin saves the day.
  • On One Condition: In The Chessman of Doom, Professor Childermass will only inherit his late brother Perry's estate (and 10 million dollars) if he stays there for the summer (June 15 to Labor Day) and keeps the place in shape without any paid help. He winds up violating the terms of the will by going home early, stating that the money isn't worth the risk of sticking around and possibly getting killed by the Evil Wizard Edmund Stallybrass. He does get twenty thousand dollars as a consolation prize; The Hand of the Necromancer reveals that Perry also bequeathed him a collection of items once owned by the wizard Esdrias Blackleach, which come with their own set of dangers.
  • Public Domain Artifact: In the Johnny Dixon series of novels, the heroes' greatest weapon against the forces of darkness is a small cross, worn on a necklace by a priest, containing two splinters of the True Cross. Also, King Solomon's Ring from The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring.
  • Puff of Logic: In The Pedant and the Shuffly, the wicked magician Snodrog's favorite trick is persuading hapless passersby that, logically speaking, they don't exist, with this effect causing them to transform into stained handkerchiefs.
  • Real Dreams Are Weirder: Happens to most of the protagonist children at one time or another, but Lewis particularly has some very strange dreams. And some rather frightening ones.
  • Recurring Extra: Perry Childermass manages to be both this and an Unseen Character (the first time he's named, it's because the Professor has gotten a letter reporting his death; and his physical body never appears, as his corpse was stolen soon afterward). Despite this, he still manages to to affect the plot of three different books: The Chessmen of Doom, The Hand of the Necromancer and The Bell, the Book, and the Spellbinder.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Uncle Jonathan's raison d'etre, particularly when it comes to magic. Exhibit A: the strange and silly way he chases the reflection of the moon around the backyard before eclipsing it. Exhibit B: His time-travel magic that allows for a fake re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo, where you can pick a different side to win each time, watching the losing general die...and it's Played for Laughs. Exhibit C: His wild and Zany Scheme to find the clock by having Lewis create the weirdest set of instructions he can come up with—and it works. This last, at least, is explained by noting that Jonathan's magic works on chaos, the antithesis of Isaac and Selenna Izard's orderly magic.
  • Religion of Evil:
    Mrs. Zimmerman: Some of the them read the Bible, and some of them read ... other books.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: The undead Selenna Izard in The House with a Clock in Its Walls has exactly this sort of glasses, which even shine with ghostly radiance during a chase scene. After her destruction, all that is left of her is her skull and her glasses.
  • Sinister Minister: Father Remigius Baart, the antagonist of The Curse of the Blue Figurine.
  • Small Reference Pools: Inverted and taken Up to Eleven , there's the magic and salt Pillars, Roman Emperors besides Caesar, Nero, Caligula, and Claudius (taken from Small Reference Pools) with Hadrian, Otho, Vitellus, and Trajan, this same brother was a huge fan of General Nicholas Herkimer, Halley's Comet, Heraldry on Ancient Shields in France, Hamlet and that's just from a whopping TWO books in the Johnny Dixon series. The subtrope Britain Is Only London is averted even when important actions take place in Britain, London is mentioned only as the place where the characters travel through. Glastonbury — Yes, Bristol — Yes, Isle of Lundy —- Definitely. London is mentioned in the works with Bellairs' characters as much as several other places in England. And once it was two stations on London Underground. and yes it was important to the plot. Another time was in relation to Sherlock Holmes.
  • Status Quo Is God: Invoked only once with the return of Father Higgins at the end of The Secret of the Underground Room All other times not invoked, which includes Lewis and his belt buckle, the Windrows, Perry's body, heck, even Humphrey's supposed death lasts for less than one book.
  • Supernatural Is Purple: When a star shines through a certain piece of purple glass, it causes a chest to appear that can transport people to another dimension.
    • Purple is also the color of Florence Zimmerman's magic (overlapping with Purple Is Powerful).
  • Taken for Granite: In The Mansion in the Mist, this happens to some unnamed victims of the villains, and almost occurs to Emerson and Miss Eells.
  • Things That Go Bump in the Night
  • Tomboy: Rose Rita Pottinger; Sarah Channing in the later Johnny Dixon books.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot: Jonathan Barnevelt can cause a total lunar eclipse, albeit one that can only be seen from the area where he's casting it, and it requires the planets to be in a favorable conjunction.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Black-magic users Isaac and Selenna Izard in The House with a Clock in Its Walls, although they're both already dead by the time the story actually starts. Also, the villains of The Eyes of the Killer Robot.
  • Verbal Tic: Mattheus Mergal has a habit of saying "Hmm". This, along with a few other things, clues in Johnny that it's Mergal on the phone and not Professor Childermass, as he claims.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann (The House with a Clock in Its Walls).
  • When the Planets Align: A version of this appears in The House with a Clock in Its Walls, with Isaac Izard's end-of-the-world spell requiring the exactly right sort of sky/weather configuration to work.
  • Wizard Duel: Two involving Mrs. Zimmerman—one entirely off-screen against Selenna Izard which she won, one rather awesome one on-screen against Eliphaz Moss, which she lost. Lewis also attempted one against Selenna himself, which since he didn't know what he was doing fell rather flat and left Jonathan's cane "in a bit of a shock".
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Professor Childermass's father, Marcus, with Tobias Smollett novels - he named his sons Roderick Random, Humphrey Clinker, Peregrine Pickle and Ferdinand Count Fathom (who usually goes by F.C.F. Childermass); his daughter's name is never mentioned. Similarly with the Windrow Family and their intention to communicate that their family held the Urim and Thummim, but there are only so many names that start with U and T. (And there are no IIs shown in the list of Windrow's names.)
  • Why Did It Have To Be...
    • Rose Rita is terrified of tunnels and other closed-in spaces.
    • Anthony Monday develops a fear of dogs after one chases him in his first book, leading to his tripping over a wire and breaking his arm.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The amount of times that this could be used is astounding, though this is most evident in The Chessmen of Doom, it doesn't matter if the bad guy has the 800-year-old chess pieces, and everything else, the chessboard is left in the house, and is even discovered by the Professor! The fact that the Professor doesn't consider chopping the board to pieces until the end, or at least moving the board to someplace else that the bad guy DOESN'T know is the most disastrous example of the Idiot Ball ever, and it almost cost 99% of the Earth their lives! (In-Universe)
    • In-universe (in the Johnny Dixon novels), this is explained away by Professor Childermass stating that he won't do this because he doesn't like guns, and that he isn't a murderer. The two times he DOES plan on it (first in The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie when he brings a squirt gun loaded with salt water to get rid of a zombie, but Johnny beats him to it courtesy of a salty slushball; and again in The Hand of the Necromancer, when he's planning to sleep with his old hunting rifle at his side), the gun is never discharged.