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Literature / The Curse of the Blue Figurine
aka: The Eyes Of The Killer Robot

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John 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 Childermass and Byron Q. "Fergie" Ferguson, who lived in Duston Heights, Massachusetts. He published six additional sequels in his lifetime.

After Bellairs' death, Brad Strickland was hired by Bellairs' son to complete four of his father's unfinished manuscripts, of which one was a Johnny Dixon work. After this, Strickland wrote three additional novels based on the characters.

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The series' continuity includes:

  1. The Curse of the Blue Figurine (1983; set January-June 1951)
  2. The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt (1983; set September-November 1951)
  3. The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull (1984; set February-June 1952)
  4. The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost (1985; set September 1952-May 1953)
  5. The Eyes of the Killer Robot (1986; set "middle of summer"-October)
  6. The Trolley to Yesterday (1989; set March-May)
  7. The Chessmen of Doom (1989; set May-June the following year)
  8. The Secret of the Underground Room (1990; set May through September)
  9. The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie (1994; set September though New Year's Day)
  10. The Hand of the Necromancer (1996; set June-August)
  11. The Bell, the Book and the Spellbinder (1997; set March-June)
  12. The Wrath of the Grinning Ghost (1999; set June, ending June 30)

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The Johnny Dixon novels contain examples of:

  • Alliterative Name:
    • Roderick Random Childermass.
    • Peregrine Pickle Childermass.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: During his years as a semi-professional baseball player, Johnny's grandfather used to be called "Cyclone Dixon".
  • Badass Preacher: Father Higgins.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Wishes granted by Jarmyn Thanatos' "Book of True Wishes" tend to backfire on the wisher, as Fergie discovers - among other things, he wishes his mother didn't have to work so hard, so she falls and twists her ankle, meaning she'll have to stay off it and can't do much work until it heals.
  • Book Safe: A Roman Missal is used as one in The Curse of the Blue Figurine, housing a blue ushabti (the titular "blue figurine") and a scroll with a note from the late Father Remigius Baart.
  • 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.
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    • 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.
  • Comic-Book Time: While books 1-4 specifically cover January 1951 to May 1953 (with Johnny having turned thirteen by the start of book 4), time mostly holds still afterward, and Johnny is always described as being "about thirteen" in later books. Logically, at the start of book 9, it should be 1955 (with the last chapter taking place on New Year's Eve and ending as the year turns to 1956), but the only indication of the year is a mention that the Korean War had "recently ended"... which happened in July of 1953. By the end of the series, it should be summer of 1958 at the very least.
  • Continuity Nod: Brad Strickland is especially fond of these in the books he wrote with Bellairs' characters. Johnny Dixon's old enemy Eddie Tompke features heavily in The Hand of the Necromancer.
  • Convection Schmonvection: Averted in The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt. H. Bagwell Glomus hid his will inside a stone statue; when his mansion catches on fire and the statue falls into the basement (which is described as having become like a brick oven due to the fire), the statue survives the blaze, but the will itself is burnt to ashes by the heat.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • Prof Childermass.
    • Father Higgins.
  • Cunning Linguist: Professor Childermass often helps shed light on the current mystery with his extensive knowledge of languages, from French, Spanish and German to Latin and Greek. He prides his knowledge of languages extremely, and at the end of The Eyes of the Killer Robot, he is very put out by the fact that he did not recognize Arabic writing on a sword, thinking instead that it was only decorative engraving.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • The Professor and Fergie get theirs in The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost.
    • Father Higgins steps in after the Prof disappears in The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, with a full one coming in The Secret of the Underground Room.
  • Death by Origin Story: Johnny's mother dying of cancer is part of the reason he now lives in Massachusetts with his grandparents instead of Long Island, New York. (His father going to fight in Korea is the other.)
  • Demonic Possession: Johnny becomes possessed by the vengeful spirit of Warren Windrow in The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost, who influences his behavior for a time before finally rendering him comatose and giving him the same scars Warren's own body had when he died, and intends to kill him eventually. Luckily, Windrow is ultimately driven out by the Professor (with the aid of the Urim and the Thummim) and hasn't been seen since.
  • Draft Dodging: In The Bell, the Book and the Spellbinder, the book's antagonist Jarmyn Thanatos (then operating under the name Jarmyn Nemo) is noted to have paid a substitute to join the Union Army in his place in 1862.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Professor Childermass is noted as being a terror behind the wheel even when he isn't on an urgent rescue mission. Also, in The Chessmen of Doom, while Professor Childermass and the boys are on their way to Perry Childermass's estate, a random man in a pickup truck isn't paying attention to his driving and nearly runs them off the road, much to the professor's annoyance.
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost, The Secret of the Underground Room, The Hand of the Necromancer and The Bell, the Book and the Spellbinder, the former three all in response to remarks that Professor Childermass made.
  • Evil Brit:
    • Dr. Pimlico and her Fake Brit husband, Evaristaus Sloane, in The Eyes of the Killer Robot.
    • Edmund Stallybrass in The Chessmen of Doom.
    • Dr. Rufus Masterman in The Secret of the Underground Room.
  • Eye Remember: In The Eyes of the Killer Robot, an Evil Sorcerer discovered a way to build a Magitek robot powered by a human being's eyes. When he decided to put it into practice, he had a grisly idea: what if the last thing a person's eyes sees are himself/herself? He murdered a man and made sure the last thing the guy saw was his own reflection. When he implanted the victim's eyes into the robot, the robot somehow took on the appearance of the dead man.
  • 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).
  • Faking the Dead: In The Chessman of Doom, Professor Childermass states that all of his brothers (naming three) are dead now. In the following book, The Secret of the Underground Room, it turns out that one of them was still alive after all - Humphrey Clinker Childermass had decided the world had gotten to be too much for him, so he faked his own death and went into hiding. He reveals his true status in order to help the professor, Johnny and Fergie with rescuing Father Higgins and defeating Rufus Masterman and his fellow knights.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Played with - during The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie, Professor Childermass grabs up a cast-iron frying pan from Professor Coote's kitchen with the intention of using it against the intruder in the house, who's in the process of dragging Johnny away. When he gets outside, however, he finds a better weapon, and leaves the frying pan behind in favor of his tire iron.
  • Genre Blind: Strange and eerie things seem to happen to Johnny, 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!).
  • Ghostly Chill
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: The guards at the gates to Nyarlat-Hotep's palace stop the Professor, Johnny and Fergie and declare that "None shall pass!" However, in no small part due to their being blinded by having their eyes sewn shut, Professor Childermass is able to fool them into believing they'd really said "Nuns shall pass", and that he is a nun and thus allowed in, with Johnny and Fergie also introducing themselves as "Sister (name)". The last time the guards are heard from, one is remarking on how there's been a lot of nuns around lately and wondering if there's a convention going on.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: 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.
    • Father Higgins is also said to have a permanent case of bad nerves and a violent temper as a side-effect of serving on the Pacific front during World War II, being present for some of the bloodiest battles of the war, but he rarely displays his temper around Johnny, due to the younger boy being pretty mild-mannered and well-behaved.
  • Hand of Glory: The Hand of Glory is mentioned by Professor Childermass in The Hand of the Necromancer.
  • Hates Being Nicknamed: Both Professor Roderick Childermass and Father Thomas Higgins hate being referred to by specific nicknames.
    • The professor hates being called "Rod" (though it's specified in The Drum, The Doll and The Zombie that he doesn't mind friends of his own age using it), but actually asks Grampa Dixon to call him "Randy" (short for his middle name of "Random") on one occasion; however, this nickname is never brought up again.
    • Father Higgins hates being called "Higgy". However, he has no objection to "Tom".
  • 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 Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost: Warren Windrow's spirit is cast out once and for all by the Urim and the Thummim, two magical artifacts that his family owned.
    • The Secret of the Underground Room: The ghost of Rufus Masterman possesses Father Higgins in order to resurrect his fellow knights. Higgins fights back and destroys the necromantic glass needed for the spell, and later banishes his ghost back to the outer darkness with a sprayer of holy water when Masterman returns to try and kill Johnny. (Admittedly, it's Humphrey who makes sure Masterman can't return a second time.)
    • 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.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: While not seen, a heart attack is what kills Evaristus Sloane in The Eyes of the Killer Robot - his witnessing the defeat of the titular robot is the trigger, with his wife exclaiming afterward that "He's dead! His poor heart couldn't take it!". Foreshadowed early on when his wife tells him to "Remember what that doctor told you about your heart!"
  • I Have Many Names: The antagonist of The Bell, the Book, and the Spellbinder, according to Professor Childermass, "has more names than Heinz has pickles!". His birth name was Jarmyn Cudbright, his most often used alias was Jarmyn Thanatos (sometimes Dr. Thanatos), and he also used the names Jarmyn Nemo, Adam Nemo, Thomas Jannatry and Armyn J. Omen. Plus the appropriated name "Randolph Roberts" (taken from one of the boys he kidnapped and stole the youth of) and his sorcerous nom de plume of "the Spellbinder".
  • I Know Karate: Professor Childermass doesn't say it aloud, but in The Trolley to Yesterday, after his Knights of Columbus sword is broken against a man wielding a stout wooden spear, he decides to fall back on the tricks he's learned from a mail-order course in jujitsu. It actually works, letting him knock his enemy to the ground and snatch an object from the other man's belt.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Johnny Dixon, and later Fergie and Sarah, with Professor Roderick Childermass.
  • Ironic Nursery Rhyme: Sung by the demonic spirit in The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt.
  • It's for a Book: In The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, during Johnny's trip to Vinalhaven Island, Maine, he and his friends stop in the local library to do research, trying to find something that'll lead them to the answers they need so they can find and rescue Professor Childermass. Father Higgins' excuse to the librarian, when he asks her for pamphlets, guidebooks and pencil and paper to take notes with, is that he's writing a book on the Maine seacoast.
  • Kill It with Fire: Fergie tries to do it to Jarmyn Thanatos' "Book of True Wishes", but fails. Later on, Professor Childermass threatens Thanatos with burning down his tower to stop him if he has to, but Thanatos taunts him that fire is not the element that can harm him. Fortunately, Johnny figures out the way to stop Thanatos' book, and by extension Thanatos himself, just in time.
  • Kill It with Water: How to actually beat Thanatos and his "Book of True Wishes" - at Johnny's taunting, Fergie jumps into Lake Umbagog with the book in hand, and it melts away in an instant, taking Thanatos with it.
  • Lethal Chef: Downplayed example with Grampa Dixon. The one time his cooking is described, he's said to have overcooked hamburgers until they were charred, and the canned peas were just as bad. Then again, he was depressed over his wife being in the hospital with a brain tumor at the time.
  • Lost Will And Testament: The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt has cereal magnate Herbert Bagwell Glomus, whose will was hidden away before his suicide, and Johnny Dixon's desperate hunt for it (he wants the reward money to pay for a brain surgeon for his grandmother, whom he believes to be dying of a brain tumor). His efforts are opposed by Glomus's sister, who wants the will to stay hidden because she fears her brother hadn't left her anything (without a will, she at least got some of his money). Johnny ultimately figures out the will's hiding place; it's destroyed in a fire before it can be read, but his discovery means he still gets the reward money.
  • Missing Mom: Johnny's mother died of cancer before the series started.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The pillow creature in The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie is described as having "hundreds of needle-sharp teeth".
  • Neat Freak: Gramma Dixon is described in chapter 1 of The Curse of the Blue Figurine as "one of those fussy types who vacuum the house twice a day".
  • Not a Morning Person: Fergie, as Johnny notes in The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: 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.
  • Old Soldier: Professor Childermass, Father Higgins and Johnny's father are all war veterans.
    • The professor served in World War I as an intelligence officer (his codename was the Crab, which amuses Henry Dixon when he finds out), and mentions in The Eyes of the Killer Robot that he changed a tire on an army jeep while being shelled during the Battle of the Argonne Forest. This gets a call-back in The Chessmen of Doom, when he remembers single-handedly charging an enemy machine gun nest during the same battle.
    • Father Higgins was an army chaplain who served in the Pacific front during World War II, fighting in Guam and the Philippines, and the war is said to have left him with a permanent case of bad nerves and a violent temper.
    • Major Harrison Dixon was a World War II bomber pilot, who returned to action (this time in a jet) in the Korean War.
  • On One Condition: In The Chessmen 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 (though apparently hiring someone to fix the furnace doesn't count). 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. However, he does get twenty thousand dollars as a consolation prize. The Hand of the Necromancer adds that Perry also bequeathed him some magical items once owned by the wizard Esdrias Blackleach, with no conditions attached, though the items came with their own set of dangers.
  • Playground Song: The Boy Scouts on their way to Camp Chocorua in The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt sing "98 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" all the way through before the trip is out. Narration describes it afterward as "the song that is calculated to drive bus drivers out of their minds".
  • Police are Useless: More like "doctors are useless" in The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost, since none of them realize Johnny's being possessed by an evil spirit. Instead, they just diagnose him with an "unknown illness of the brain".
  • Posthumous Collaboration: The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie, written by Strickland based on Bellairs' notes.
  • Prefers Rocks to Pillows: In The Secret of the Underground Room, when offered a bed in an inn, Father Higgins declines, stating that "I slept on rocks and roots in the jungles during the Second World War, and that floor looks very inviting to me. Wake me about noon tomorrow, if you would be so kind." He promptly throws himself down on the rough boards and is asleep in seconds.
  • Public Domain Artifact: 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. Unfortunately, it's lost in The Secret of the Underground Room when Masterman breaks the chain that Johnny wears it on, and he realizes later that he'd forgotten to grab it from the floor and so left it in the underground room.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Johnny moves in with his father's parents when he's about eleven, due to his mother's death and his father going off to fight in the Korean War.
  • 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.
  • Sanity Slippage: A side effect of Jarmyn Thanatos's process of becoming younger. Every time he does it, he loses a bit of himself; by the time of The Bell, the Book and the Spellbinder, he has worn down to little more than his desire to live forever.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: Professor Childermass's father, Marcus, named his sons after characters in Tobias Smollett novels - Roderick Random, Humphrey Clinker, Peregrine Pickle and Ferdinand Count Fathom (who usually goes by F.C.F. Childermass). Possibly averted with his daughter, whose name is never mentioned.
  • Sinister Minister: Father Remigius Baart, the antagonist of The Curse of the Blue Figurine.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Downplayed example, but Professor Childermass has a strong dislike for (and can barely stand to be in the same room as) Dr. Carl Schermerhorn, the Dixon's family doctor, a fat, shambly man who uses bad grammar and tells lousy jokes. The professor tries to be polite to him, but generally regards him as a quack and, when Major Harrison Dixon falls gravely ill in The Wrath of the Grinning Ghost (his spirit has actually been stolen by an evil entity), the professor forbids him from being involved with the case. However, he has a good reason for all this: Schermerhorn once misdiagnosed the professor's cousin Bea, who was having severe headaches, with bad teeth. It turns out she had a brain tumor, which led to her death a few months later. Schermerhorn, for his part, doesn't seem to realize how the professor feels about him.
  • Supreme Chef: Professor Childermass, whose hobby is baking (his cakes are absolutely wonderful), and Gramma Dixon, who tends to make the same dishes all the time, but they're always delicious.
  • Survival Mantra: In The Curse Of The Blue Figurine, Professor Childermass is climbing a mountain on a stormy night, searching for Johnny Dixon, who has been abducted by a ghost. The professor is afraid of heights, so he repeatedly quotes the "Lay on, Macduff!" speech from Macbeth and recites a prayer to Saint Michael to keep himself from panicking and turning back.
  • Sword Cane: One is featured in The Eyes of the Killer Robot. It ends up in Professor Childermass's hands thanks to a ghost pointing Johnny to a pawn ticket in an old snuff box, and proves key to stopping the titular robot (though the Professor doesn't realize it's enchanted until after he uses it for its intended purpose). Oddly, it's never seen in the series after this, despite the Professor still having it at the end of the book.
  • Theme Initials: The Windrow Family, with their intention to communicate that their family held the Urim and Thummim. However, 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.)
  • There Is Only One Bed: More like "there are only two beds" and three people, late in The Secret of the Underground Room. Johnny offers Father Higgins his bed in the room of their inn after rescuing him, but Father Higgins declines. See Prefers Rocks to Pillows for his follow-up response.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night
  • Time-Travel Episode: The Trolley to Yesterday.
  • Tomboy: Sarah Channing in the later Johnny Dixon books.
  • Trash of the Titans: In a variant, it's only Professor Childermass's desk that's a disaster area, covered in papers and old composition books, which are literally overflowing onto the floor. The back room of his study is apparently in similar shape.
  • Unholy Matrimony: 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.
  • Veteran Instructor: Having served as a pilot in both World War II (in a bomber) and the Korean War (in a jet), Harrison Dixon becomes an instructor for other fighter pilots after the Korean War ends.
  • When the Planets Align: The planets have to be favorable for Edmund Stallybrass to perform the spell that would summon comets to wipe out humanity.
  • Wrecked Weapon: In both The Trolley to Yesterday and The Wrath of the Grinning Ghost, Professor Childermass breaks his Knights of Columbus sword while fighting someone. The second time, he even lampshades it:
    Professor Childermass: "Drat! That is the second one of these things I've broken!"
  • You Can't Miss It: Referenced in The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie when a very frustrated Professor Childermass has just gotten a set of directions from a gas station attendant and preempts the expected line with "Don't you dare tell me I can't miss it!".

Alternative Title(s): The Spell Of The Sorcerers Skull, The Mummy The Will And The Crypt, The Eyes Of The Killer Robot

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