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Literature / The House With a Clock in Its Walls

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The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a Gothic horror novel for younger readers by John Bellairs, with illustrations by Edward Gorey. Published in 1973, the work introduced the character of Lewis Barnevelt, his magician uncle Jonathan, and their friends Florence Zimmermann and (mentioned only) Rose Rita Pottinger, who live in the town of New Zebedee, Michigan; Jonathan owns the eponymous House, which was previously the property of a married couple of evil magicians with some very nasty secrets. It proved a large success, and Bellairs published 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. Brad Strickland was hired by Bellairs' son to complete the unfinished manuscripts, with the results published from 1993 as The Ghost in the Mirror, The Vengeance of the Witchfinder, and The Doom of the Haunted Opera. After this, Strickland began writing additional novels based on the characters.

The first book in the series was adapted as one of the stories in the 1979 Vincent Price television anthology Once Upon a Midnight Scary. A feature film adaptation was released in 2018, directed by Eli Roth and starring Jack Black, Cate Blanchett and Kyle Maclachlan.

The series' continuity includes:

  1. The House with a Clock in its Walls (1973; set August 1948-April 1949)
  2. The Figure in the Shadows (1975; set September-December 1949)
  3. The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring (1976; set June 1950)
  4. The Ghost in the Mirror (1993; set June-August 1951)
  5. The Vengeance of the Witch-finder (1993; set June-December 1951)
  6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera (1995; set March 1952)
  7. The Specter from the Magician's Museum (1998; set September-early November)
  8. The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge (2000; set February-September)
  9. The Tower at the End of the World (2001; set June-August)
  10. The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost (2003)
  11. The House Where Nobody Lived (2006)
  12. The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer (2008; set June-July)

This series contains examples of:

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    General or recurring tropes 
  • Adults Are Useless: Usually, it's subverted — much of the trouble could have been easily dealt with early on, if only Lewis had confessed something was up. The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring plays it fairly straight with Aggie's family, although they do eventually get the police involved.
  • Alliterative Name:
    • Isaac Izard, owner of the house at 100 High Street before he died and Jonathan bought it.
    • Lewis's friend Rose Rita.
    • Ishmael Izard, son of Isaac and main antagonist of The Tower at the End of the World.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Selenna Izard seems to have been a case of this before she is let out of her tomb.
    • The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring ends with the villain's plan Gone Horribly Right, as Asmodai "monkey paws" her wish to be "young, beautiful and alive for a thousand years" by transforming her into a willow tree. Mrs. Zimmermann notes that the branches appear to be quivering, even though there's no wind.
  • Back from the Dead: Attempted by more than one villain.
    • Fully activating the Doomsday Clock would have resulted in Isaac's resurrection, along with the end of the world. Fortunately, it's destroyed before he comes back.
    • The Vengeance of the Witch-finder had Malachia Pruitt's ghost attempt to return to full life via torturing his enemies to death; the more pain and suffering they felt, the more solid he became.
    • The Specter from the Magician's Museum has Belle Frisson attempt to steal Rose Rita's lifeforce in order to restore herself to life.
  • Big Fancy House:
    • The house at 100 High Street, where Jonathan and Lewis live, is a three-story manor of sorts.
    • Much of the action in The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder takes place at Barnavelt Manor in Sussex, England, a three-story, two-winged manor that dates back to at least the 1600s. However, due to money issues, only the bottom two stories of one wing are occupied; the rest is closed off.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Mrs. Zimmermann lost a lot of her power following the destruction of her staff of The Figure in the Shadows, and she remains this way until the climax of The Ghost in the Mirror.
  • The Bully: Lewis keeps running into these, such as his Jerkass tormentor Woody Mingo in The Figure in the Shadows and the duo of Stan and Billy in The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost.
  • Call-Back: Brad Strickland is especially fond of these, mainly calling back to details from The House With a Clock in Its Walls, but sometimes to other works.
    • The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder mentions the Charles Atlas Bodybuilder booklet that Lewis sent off for in The Figure in the Shadows, adding that Lewis had only kept at the exercises for a few days because they were boring.
    • The old New Zebedee Opera House features in The Doom of the Haunted Opera.
    • Elihu Clabbernong's old iron bridge features in The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge.
    • The Doomsday Clock is heavily referenced in The Tower at the End of the World.
    • Lewis's original (not much of a) friend Tarby also cameos in The Tower at the End of the World, but Lewis doesn't speak to him at the time, mentally noting that Tarby is pretending he doesn't exist, as usual.
  • Confirmed Bachelor: Jonathan Barnavelt. In The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder, he explains this, self-identifying as "an old bachelor" who never married after a girl he was in love with jilted him and broke his heart thirty years before.
  • Cool Old Guy: Uncle Jonathan, who's friendly to most everyone and practices magic, usually illusions meant to entertain people.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Zimmermann, a kindly witch who acts against dark magic wherever it appears and is also a spectacular cook.
  • 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).
  • A Day in the Limelight: Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmermann get two books all to themselves — The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, and The Ghost in the Mirror. Rose Rita is also the focus of The Specter From the Magician's Mansion.
  • Death by Origin Story: Lewis goes to live with Jonathan after his parents die in a car accident, later elaborated upon in The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer as another driver having fallen asleep at the wheel and crossed into the opposite lane, where they collided with the Barnevelts' car head-on, killing both Mr. and Mrs. Barnavelt and the other driver.
  • The End of the World as We Know It:
    • This is what would happen if Selenna Izard succeeded in using the titular clock to bring about Doomsday.
    • Ishmael Izard tried it with his own spell in The Tower at the End of the World, consuming all but his followers in fire and remaking what was left in his image.
  • Everytown, America: New Zebedee, Michigan, is a quaint little American town which also happens to be home to a magical mansion owned by a wizard.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Many of the villains. From Isaac and Selenna Izard to Adolfus Schlectesherz, nearly every book features one.
  • Fainting: Occurs more than once over the course of the series.
    • Rose Rita does this when unexpectedly encountering Gert while sneaking around in the latter's home in The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring.
    • Lewis faints when confronted by Immanual Vanderhelm as he's trying to leave his house to see Rose Rita in The Doom of the Haunted Opera.
  • Faint in Shock: In The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer, Lewis's babysitter Gloria faints when she hears that his parents have died.
  • Game Face: Mrs. Zimmermann tends to transform her umbrella into a more traditional sorceress' staff and her clothes into wizardly robes sparkling with magical fire near the end of each book, usually for a final battle with whatever lead villain they're dealing with. She also uses it to bluff Rose Rita in book 3, sans the staff, and mentions afterward that while she's lost most of her power, she can still make herself "look pretty darn intimidating".
  • 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:
    • The Figure in the Shadows: Eliphaz Moss's ghost tries to lure Lewis into the same well where he himself drowned. He's banished when the amulet that summoned him is dropped into that well, wiping out the enchantment.
    • The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring: Gert Bigger wishes to be young, beautiful and unchanging for a long, long time. She falls victim to a Literal Genie, who (probably) turns her into a tree.
    • The Ghost in the Mirror: Adolphus Stoltzfuss performs a spell to summon the demon Aziel, who can reveal the location of the treasure Stoltzfuss is searching for. While he learns what he wants, Aziel winds up devouring Stoltzfuss before he can put the information to use.
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • Idiot Ball: Lewis can't seem to drop his, since every time magic comes up, he just won't ask for help with it until it's almost too late.
  • Idle Rich: Jonathan, who lives off an inheritance (and, per later books, the income he gets from having invested most of it in stocks and bonds) and spends most of his time just hanging around the house when he's not out running errands, doing work for the Capharnaum County Magician's Society or taking Lewis places.
  • Insult of Endearment: Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann 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: Lewis Barnavelt with Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann; Rose Rita with Mrs. Zimmermann. It's said in one book that they're practically sisters.
  • The Klutz: Lewis is pretty awkward physically.
  • Magic Staff:
    • Jonathan Barnavelt has a long black cane with a snow globe on it that serves as his wand. He's never had to use it as a physical weapon though.
    • Florence Zimmerman's umbrella transforms into a tall staff with a globe on one end with a magenta star inside. Like Jonathan, she's never had to use it as a physical weapon.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Rose Rita the tomboy to the sensitive Lewis.
  • 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 is a much more skilled magical practitioner than Uncle Jonathan (though he does occasionally show off some pretty strong magic). Isaac's notes also say that Selenna is/was more powerful than him.
    • Rose Rita is more physically skilled than Lewis.
  • The Mourning After: Florence Zimmermann outlived her husband Honus, whose exact cause of death has never been given. Rather than just remarry, she chose to work and make a good living for herself as a schoolteacher, and now lives a comfortable retirement.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Mrs. Zimmermann, who's by far the more powerful sorcerer than Jonathan and defeats most of the villains in the books written after Bellairs died (and even before that, she played key roles in stopping the earlier ones).
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lewis unwittingly releases a few of the villains from their can.
    • In The House With a Clock In Its Walls, Lewis unintentionally lets Selenna Izard out of her tomb in his attempt to preserve his friendship with Tarby.
    • In The Figure in the Shadows, Lewis insists on performing a test to find out if his great-grandfather's coin is really magical, and awakens Eliphaz Moss's spirit from his slumber as a result.
  • 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:
    • In The House With a Clock In Its Walls, Lewis finding Izard's papers in the old organ, only to be "attacked" by a moth; his search of the house across the street for Mrs. Izard...
    • In The Figure in the Shadows, the dream of the titular figure walking along the old country road, and the figure itself always being In the Hood.
    • Used twice in The Ghost in the Mirror: when Rose Rita finds the cursed book, and during the final showdown using the mirrors. In both cases, the narration creates a sense of something very bad lurking just out of sight, and waiting until the conditions are right to strike... but we never get a look at it.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: Subverted, there's one in the House, but it's not especially evil, and Lewis discovers Izard's notes hidden inside it.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: The House With a Clock In Its Walls established that Jonathan inherited his money from his grandfather, with the implications that his own father and siblings were this trope; two of Strickland's books go into more depth on it:
    • The Whistle, The Grave and The Ghost reveals that Lewis's father Charles was a hard-working man who made a good living by himself (and thus didn't need the money), while Charles and Jonathan's sisters Helen and Mattie lost out because they were bossy, nosy and had married outside their religion (the rest of the family was Catholic, but they married Baptists). Jonathan, on the other hand, inherited because he was like his grandfather: "fat, lazy and too easygoing to worry about making money". (Also, he'd gone to agricultural college with the intention of becoming a farmer; Great-Grandpa Barnavelt approved of this since he'd started out as a farmer and homesteader himself before joining the army during the American Civil War and later building up a fortune in the railroad and livestock industries.)
    • The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer reveals that Jonathan's father was also passed over because he and Great-Grandpa Barnavelt had had some kind of falling-out at one point.
  • Posthumous Collaboration: The Ghost in the Mirror, The Vengeance of the Witch-finder and The Doom of the Haunted Opera were all written by Strickland based on Bellairs' notes for the sequels he'd intended to write.
  • Public Domain Artifact:
    • The Letter, The Witch, and the Ring: King Solomon's Ring, assuming that's what it really was.
    • The Vengeance of the Witch-finder sees Lewis discover the Amulet of Constantine, a glass tube on a chain which contains one of the Nails of the True Cross. After Lewis's uncle Jonathan uses it once to banish an evil spirit, he gladly entrusts it to his neighbor Mrs. Zimmermann, who specializes in such talismans and is more skilled with magic than him.
  • Purple Is Powerful: Florence Zimmermann is known to be a particularly powerful witch (when she has her umbrella wand with her, at least), whose magic is purple.
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Rose Rita hates her uniform skirt, and changes out of it as soon as she can every day.
  • 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.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: More than a few of the villains.
    • Possibly Selenna Izzard in the first novel; it's never made entirely clear what her status was before Lewis unwittingly cast a summoning spell.
    • The Figure in the Shadows: Eliphaz Moss in the amulet he was making.
    • Witch-finder Pruitt's invisible servant in The Vengeance of the Witch-finder, sealed in a spot on the grounds of Barnavelt Manor and later doubly sealed with a tomb of brick above it, and the Amulet of Constantine inside the lid. When a hole in the tomb opened, it released the invisible servant and brought Malachiah Pruitt's spirit back to the manor.
    • The simulacrum of Immanual Vanderhelm in The Doom of the Haunted Opera, which was made up of sheet music and was hidden away in a piano in the old opera house. An extra spell kept it from coming to life, but that spell expired when the man who cast it died, allowing the music to be brought out of the opera house and come to life.
    • The ghost of Belle Frisson, trapped in her own tomb until she can lure a victim in to give her the life-energy she needs to return to life in The Specter from the Magician's Museum.
    • The titular creature of The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge, trapped by the magical metal used in the construction of the bridge.
    • The lamia in The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost, sealed under a large stone in the woods outside of New Zebedee.
  • Secret-Keeper: Bertram "Bertie" Goodring learns of Jonathan's magic in The Vengeance of the Witch-finder. David Keller learns about Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann's magic in The House Where Nobody Lived.
  • Self-Deprecation: Throughout the series, Jonathan describes himself as being just a "parlor magician", specializing in illusions meant to entertain. However, he's able to pull off some major moments of awesome, banishing the spirit of Malachiah Pruitt back to the grave with the aid of the Amulet of Constantine and disposing of the evil spirit called by Ishmael Izard in The Tower At the End of the World. He also takes part in the spell that destroys Henry Vanderhelm, and delivers quite a blow to the lamia that stalls it long enough for Mrs. Zimmermann to destroy its link to this world.
  • Tomboy: Rose Rita Pottinger.
  • 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.
    • In The Tower At The End of The World, Ishmael Izard's spell to end the world would have apparently involved an eclipse of the sun.
  • Unholy Matrimony: A couple of the villains were married.
    • Isaac and Selenna Izard in The House With a Clock In Its Walls, although they're both dead(ish) at the start of the story.
    • Mephistopheles and Ermine Moote, the villains of The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge.
  • Unwillingly Girly Tomboy: Rose Rita's preferred outfit is jeans and sweatshirts, but she's forced to wear skirts and blouses to school, which she absolutely hates.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann, who are best friends but always squabble good-naturedly.
  • What Could Have Been: In-universe example — according to Strickland's books (and brought up in at least two of them), during the time period when Michigan was going through the process of becoming a state (1835-1837), New Zebedee was one of the cities being considered for the state capital. It ultimately lost out to Lansing, but did become the county seat of Capharnaum County. This is actually inspired by a real-life event: Marshall, Michigan (where Bellairs grew up, and which served as the basis for the fictional New Zebedee) was a front-runner for becoming the state's capital in 1847, but lost to Lansing; like its fictional counterpart, it became a county seat instead.
  • When the Planets Align:
    • Isaac Izard's end-of-the-world spell requires the exactly right sort of sky/weather configuration to work; he spent years obsessively studying cloud patterns from the cupola of the House.
    • The planets have to be favorable for Jonathan Barnevelt to perform his "eclipse the moon" spell.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Rose Rita is terrified of tunnels and other closed-in spaces, something that gets a Call-Back in later books.
  • Wizard Duel:
    • Lewis attempts one against Selenna Izard, which since he doesn't know what he is doing falls rather flat and leaves Jonathan's cane "in a bit of a shock".
    • Mrs. Zimmermann has a much more effective one entirely off-screen against Selenna.
    • In The Figure in the Shadows, Mrs. Zimmermann squares off against Eliphaz Moss, but is defeated, leading to the destruction of her staff.

    The House With a Clock in Its Walls 

  • Bad Boss: It's very likely that Selenna murdered her human minion Hammerhandle to create her Hand of Glory. Poor fella.
  • Cannot Cross Running Water: Lewis, Mrs. Zimmermann, and Uncle Jonathan escape from Mrs. Izard by crossing a river because evil can't cross running water.
  • Chase Scene: As noted directly above, Selenna chases the heroes in an ominous shadowy car whose headlights mimic her glasses.
  • The Darkness Gazes Back: When Lewis and Tarby accidentally release Selenna Izard from her tomb, "two small spots of freezing gray light" can be seen peering out of the darkness at them. The editions of the book with Edward Gorey's illustrations milk this scene for all it's worth.
  • Doomsday Device: The Clock of the title, which is attempting to drag time back into the proper configuration and bring on Doomsday.
  • For Science!: The heroes never do establish exactly what provoked the Izards' experiments, but it's speculated it was along these lines, if not straight up For the Evulz.
    Jonathan: Isaac and Selenna Izard didn't enjoy this world very much. Why shouldn't they try for the next one?
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Isaac Izard, who's been dead for five years by the time the story starts, yet set the Doomsday Clock ticking until someone else could fully activate it.
  • Hand of Glory: Mrs. Izard uses a Hand of Glory to paralyze Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann when they and Lewis finally find the hidden Doomsday Clock.
  • Haunted Technology: The clock.
  • It Won't Turn Off: The Clock's ticking inside the walls of the house strengthens and fades, but never entirely stops.
  • Jerk Jock: Tarby, although he manages a couple Pet the Dog moments with Lewis.
  • Magic 8-Ball: The protagonists use a Magic 8-Ball to find the Clock. Wizard Jonathan and witch Mrs. Zimmermann both try to use the 8-Ball without success. Eventually, Jonathan's nephew Lewis is able to get the 8-Ball to display the message "COAL BIN". (Like any magical object, the 8-Ball only works for its owner.)
  • Odd Friendship: Lewis and Tarby in book 1. At the end of the book, Lewis admits it was probably doomed from the start, but he's found Rose Rita, who proves to be a much better match.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: The undead Selenna Izard has exactly this sort of glasses, which as noted even shine with ghostly radiance during a chase scene. After her destruction, all that is left of her is her skull and her glasses.

    The Figure in the Shadows 

    The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring 

  • Artifact of Doom: The eponymous ring of The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, at least if you use it to summon Asmodai. King Solomon was evidently able to use it for decades without ill effects.
  • Brandishment Bluff: Essentially what Mrs. Zimmermann does with Rose Rita to get her to hand over the ring late in The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring — she's lost most of her power, but she can still make herself "look pretty darn intimidating", as she did in the first two books when she still had her umbrella and challenged the lead villain.
  • Domestic Abuse: Gert Bigger admits that the man she eventually married used to beat her.
  • Evil Laugh: Instead of the booming laugh you might expect, Gert has a unsettling titter.
  • Forced Transformation: Gert Bigger turns Mrs. Zimmermann into a chicken.
  • Freudian Excuse: Gert at least tries to claim this when monologuing to Rose Rita, stating that her life would have been better if she'd married Mordecai Hunks instead of her actual eventual husband, who used to beat her.
  • Gaslighting: Gert uses the ring to harass Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmermann throughout the story.
  • Genius Bruiser: Gert Bigger is a powerful intimidating woman and entirely self-taught in magic.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Gert Bigger has carried a lifelong grudge against Mrs. Zimmermann after they fought over the same boy; Florence won the fight (even if she and Mordecai Hunks broke up later), earning Gert's wrath.
  • Just Between You and Me: Gert goes on an extended version of this to the paralyzed Rose Rita.
  • Literal Genie: The demon Asmodai, probably. The titular ring is a magic artifact that grants wishes, by allowing the wearer to invoke the demon. Upon finally achieving full mastery of the ring, Gert wishes to be young and beautiful and to live for a thousand years — then vanishes. The heroes later notice a young willow tree nearby...
  • Near-Villain Victory: Gert Bigger has changed Mrs. Zimmermann into a chicken, has Rose Rita locked in a death spell, and mastered the ring's power. But then she (very likely) falls victim to a Literal Genie.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Gert summoning Asmodai in Rose Rita's presence ends up disrupting the paralysis/death spell that Rose Rita is locked in.
  • No Ontological Inertia: As explained in The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, if a witch dies (or loses her powers via being forcibly changed into something like a tree), all her spells are broken.
  • Old Maid: Discussed by Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmermann, as Rose Rita wonders what people would think of her if she never married. Mrs. Zimmermann points out that she's technically been one since her husband died, but she was happy as a wife and she's happy as a widow, so being considered an old maid doesn't bother her. Regardless, Rose Rita won't know for sure if she wants to stay unmarried until the time comes.
  • Revenge: Gert Bigger's ultimate goal. She intends to become young and beautiful, then assume a new life and spend it getting even with everyone she thinks ever wronged her, starting with Mrs. Zimmermann. It doesn't work out, because she gets turned into a tree instead of simply regaining her youth like she intended.
  • Ruptured Appendix: While Mrs. Zimmerman and Rose Rita are driving home, Mrs. Zimmerman is overcome with a crippling pain in her stomach. She believes it's her appendix, which leads to Rose Rita remembering how a classmate of hers died after mistaking appendicitis for a bad stomachache and didn't seek treatment until it was too late. When Mrs. Zimmerman gets to the hospital, it's revealed that the pain was too high to have been her appendix. Mrs. Zimmerman later tells Rose Rita that it was actually the effects of a dark magic curse someone used on her, having discovered the small charm responsible pinned to the inside of her dress.
  • Sadly Mythcharacterized: The ritual Gert Bigger plans to use to summon Asmodai involves praying in an underground room with an altar and statues dedicated to Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of war and love, with the implication given that she is a deity of evil and darkness. It's not at all clear why she was selected since, other than being a Femme Fatale and the fact anyone who slept with her would die, she was usually portrayed positively in the myths—if any from this pantheon would be more expected it would be Ereshkigal since she at least ruled the underworld. Or there's Hecate from the Greek pantheon who has a history of Demonization already. Perhaps Ishtar was chosen because of the presence of King Solomon's Ring in the narrative, since he'd most likely consider a Babylonian goddess as a demon before a Greek one.
  • Summoning Ritual: As noted, one must be performed to bring forth Asmodai.
  • Transflormation: After summoning Asmodai and asking to be young and beautiful for a thousand years, Gert Bigger is turned into a willow tree by the demon. At least, that's what Mrs. Zimmermann thinks, and she's pretty sure she's right.

    The Ghost in the Mirror 

  • Re-Power: Florence Zimmermann recovers her powers, stronger than before, as a result of their time travel adventure (in no small part due to Rose Rita's desire to help her do so) in The Ghost in the Mirror.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: In The Ghost in the Mirror, Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmermann travel back in time to 1828 in order to right "the great wrong" in the life of Mrs. Zimmermann's first magic teacher, Hilda Weiss "Granny" Wetherbee.
  • The Slow Path: A variant in The Ghost in the Mirror — Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmermann get back to their own time easily, but discover that Rose Rita had left an object behind in 1828, which has taken the slow path to their era. It's the crystal that will grant Florence back her full powers, which needed to be buried in the earth for seven years minimum before being given to her and ended up waiting a total of a hundred and twenty-three.
  • Time Travel Episode: The Ghost in the Mirror, which sees Florence Zimmermann and Rose Rita going from 1951 to 1828 and back.

    The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 

  • Bedsheet Ladder: In The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder, Lewis uses one to successfully escape his room at Barnavelt Manor, tying the blanket and two sheets together (with the blanket end tied to the bedpost).
  • Cut Phone Lines: In The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder, Lewis tries to call the police from Barnavelt Manor, but soon realizes the phone has gone dead and isn't sure how much of his message got through (enough, as it turns out). He later discovers the line has been cut, and the culprit had removed about six inches of the wire to make sure it couldn't be easily reconnected.
  • Disability Immunity: The villain in The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder must look into people's eyes to take control of them. Bertie Goodring, being nearly blind, is unaffected.
  • Evil Brit: Malachiah Pruitt, the cruel sorcerer and Puritan witch-finder who took over Barnavelt Manor during the English Civil War in The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder.
  • Extremely Dusty Home: Or part of it, at least. Most of Barnavelt Manor has been closed off since its owner can't afford to run the entire place, and at least one of the closed-off rooms is noted to be at least an inch deep in dust.
  • The First Cut Is the Deepest: In The Vengeance of the Witch-finder, Jonathan admits to Lewis that thirty years ago, a girl he was in love with jilted him and broke his heart, so he never married.
  • Hedge Maze: In The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder, Barnavelt Manor in Sussex, England has one of these; it was originally made with the intention of having the guests go in from the road side and find their way through to the side closest to the manor's front door, though Arthur Pelham "Pelly" Barnavelt hasn't kept it up in years, thinking it's silly to have your guests get lost this way. There's also a trick to it, as if you keep one hand on the hedges to the right, you'll always find your way out. There's also a stone bench in the center, marking a square hedge with a stone tomb inside holding a malevolent spirit familiar answering to a 17th-century ghost. Lewis accidentally releases said familiar, causing a great deal of trouble before he and Jonathan can banish it back to the other side.
  • Homeschooled Kids: In The Vengeance of the Witch-finder, the nearly blind Bertie Goodring is homeschooled by his mother, a former governess, due to his special needs. As Bertie proves, Mrs. Goodring is a very good teacher. It's never said if he's still homeschooled after the operation that restored his sight at the end of the book.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In The Vengeance of the Witch-finder, this is essentially Jonathan's reaction when he hears Lewis's concerns and blames himself for not being better at talking to kids and listening to him more, which would have averted a lot of the trouble they get into.
  • Recognizable by Sound: Bertie, the little blind boy in The Vengeance of the Witch-finder, has learned to compensate for his blindness by his other senses improving, and is able to identify Lewis by the sound of his footstep. Later, one of the signs that Barnavelt Manor's guest Matthew Prester (actually the ghost of Malachiah Pruitt) isn't normal is that he has no footstep, which unnerves Bertie considerably.

    The Doom of the Haunted Opera 

  • Creepy Cemetery: Full of weeping angels in The Doom of the Haunted Opera.
  • Fog of Doom: Cuts off New Zebedee from the rest of the world in The Doom of the Haunted Opera.
  • Second Love: Albert Galway, Rose Rita's maternal grandfather, is revealed in The Doom of the Haunted Opera to have been married at least twice — he took his first wife, Coral, to the opening performance of the New Zebedee Opera House in 1902, and when mentioning it, specifies that she was "My first wife" and "not your grandmother, Rose Rita".

    The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge 

  • Amoral Attorney: Played with — Mephistopheles P. Moote is unquestionably evil, wanting to bring the Great Old Ones back to rule Earth (and to become one of them while he's at it), but there's no direct evidence that he ever acted this way when actually practicing law (having retired by the time of The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge).
  • Evil Uncle: From The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge, Jedediah 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.
  • Hurl It into the Sun: In a roundabout way in The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge: the heroes magically propel the beast's Soul Jar and a rivet from the 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.
  • Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: In The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge, Lewis overhears Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann talking about how they'd "better watch you-know-who, as well. I haven't trusted those two since this whole bridge business began. If anybody is going to get involved in some kind of diabolical mischief around here, it will be that pair, you mark my words." Lewis is crushed and thinks Jonathan means he and Rose Rita; in the final chapter, he finds out Jonathan had really meant Mephistopheles and Ermine Moote, the villains of the story.
  • Silly Will: Mild version — while the bequests in Elihu Clabbernong's will weren't unusual (he was the last of his family and so left everything to various charities), he did include an odd passage in his will that seemingly had nothing to do with anything else. It turns out to be a clue that lets the heroes find the Soul Jar for his great-uncle Jebediah Clabbernong, which Elihu had hidden away until the time period when it could be destroyed.
  • Soul Jar: The trope is discussed in The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge, and one appears as well. It's a ruby in the shape of a human heart, holds the soul of the warlock Jebediah Clabbernong, and can only be destroyed when the Red Star is in the sky.

    The Tower at the End of the World 

  • 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.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Gnomon Island has some pretty odd architectural features in The Tower at the End of the World. Mrs. Zimmermann also considers the mansion on Ivarhaven Island to be this, commenting that "I like a house to look like a house, not a jumble of rectangles and squares."
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: Subverted in The Tower at the End of the World; it's revealed that an evil wizard like Isaac Izard has no fear of the IRS, and successfully avoided paying property taxes on his home for years (apparently he figured he'd end the world and not have to worry about it). Once he was dead though, and with no known heirs (his wife was dead and their son was overseas but believed dead as an infant), the house (with all its contents included) was auctioned off to settle the tax bill.
  • Meaningful Name: Gnomon Island in The Tower at the End of the World. Ishmael turned the top of the island into a gigantic sundial to use in his spell to end and recreate the world, and "Gnomon" is the name for the projecting piece at the center of a sundial, which shows the time by the position of its shadow.
  • Shout-Out: The Tower at the End of the World features a shadowy, yellow-eyed monster based on the demon from "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book."
    • The fluttering scrap of paper from the same book may be a Shout Out to "Casting the Runes," also by James (but perhaps better known as Night of the Demon).
  • Spring Cleaning Fever: This book sees Jonathan and co. going through his house and giving it a massive cleaning, disposing of old rugs, furniture and other things that are worn out (they don't pitch everything though, since Jonathan's a packrat and keeps the interesting stuff, along with any furniture that looks more like an antique). In this case, it's justified — they're trying to find any signs of evil magic still lurking around, and clearing out the junk is a side benefit.

    The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost 

  • Dead Person Impersonation: In The Whistle, The Grave and The Ghost, Mrs. Zimmermann gets a book listed as being written by Father Augustus St. Francis Kemp, regarding his master Father Pierre Michel d'Anjou, and how d'Anjou had commanded a lamia for a time until it proved too dangerous and he had to seal it away, supposedly dying afterward. Not long after, the local Catholic priest, Father Foley, reveals that he is d'Anjou, who wanted nothing more to do with his old life and his magical experiments and so had taken Kemp's name after the younger man died. He felt it would do no harm since the real Kemp had no family and because he expected he would die soon anyway, unaware that his life was tied to the lamia's and that he would continue to exist until it was destroyed.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: According to The Whistle, The Grave and The Ghost, Jonathan's sisters Helen and Mattie, who were bossy, nosy, and had married outside their religion (the rest of the family was Catholic, but they married Baptists) were this to their grandfather, and so got nothing. Subverted with Charles Barnevelt, who also didn't get anything, but was passed over because he didn't need the money due to being a hard-working man who made a good living by himself.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Leads to Lewis' possession in one case, but in The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost, a stream of Latin saves the day.
  • Snake People: The lamia, a blood-drinking magical spirit that serves as the villain of The Whistle, The Grave and The Ghost.

    The House Where Nobody Lived 

  • The Bad Guy Wins: In the end, Pele gets exactly what she wants — her two sacred relics (a pearl and a war club) are returned to her, and Princess Makalani's spirit returns to Hawaii with her husband. Once this happens, Pele willingly releases her hold on David and his family, and frees the souls of Captain Chadwick's servants, previously captured by the Night Marchers.
  • Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: The story of Pele is explained by Rose-Rita's Grandpa Galway, and how she once tormented a man who gave her a ride because he was trying to buy Hawaiian items and re-sell them cheaply on the mainland.
  • Mama Bear: Pele will stop at nothing to get back what she believes to be her children. Even the spirit of a Hawaiian princess who willingly left the island to be with the man she loved, and any other items he took with him.
  • New Transfer Student: David Keller moves to town with his family in this book, shortly before the start of the new school year.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: The Hawaii House is haunted because Princess Makalani married a sailor from the mainland, against the wishes of her family, who later petitioned Pele to take her back from her husband. Their souls aren't even allowed to be in the same place, until Lewis and his friends intervene and break the bonds keeping them apart.
  • Riddle Me This: Pele and Mrs. Zimmermann get into a contest of riddles, a stalling tactic on the latter's part while Lewis works in the house to figure out how to stop Pele for good.
  • Speech Impediment: David Keller has a severe stutter when he's introduced, which is one of the reasons he's targeted by bullies. His parents eventually manage to get him help from a speech therapist; by the time of the next book, a year later, his stutter is completely gone.
  • Together in Death: Princess Makalani and her husband Captain Abediah Chadwick are finally reunited thanks to Lewis's efforts, and their spirits sail off to Hawaii to be together forever.
  • The Wild Hunt: It's discovered that the Hawaii House is haunted by an army of Night Marchers, Hawaiian warrior ghosts that seek to reclaim what was taken from Pele.

    The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer 

  • Big "NO!": As recounted in The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer, Lewis' babysitter Gloria let out one and fainted when she learned Lewis' parents had been killed in a car accident.
  • Rule of Three: Plays a key role in The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer. First, witches and wizards often work and learn in groups of three, due to it being a balanced number — both Jonathan Barnavelt and Mrs. Zimmermann were part of a trio when they were learning. Second is the Curse Of Three, the rule that "bad things come in threes". The curse affects both Lewis and an old sea captain he read about, and nearly affects Jonathan, but the third bad event is prevented from being carried out.
  • Significant Anagram: A clue to the villain in The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer. Said villain, Adolphus Schlectesherz, has a surname that translates as "evil heart". He anagrams that phrase into the name of his "puppet", Hal Everit.

Alternative Title(s): The Figure In The Shadows, The Letter The Witch And The Ring, The Beast Under The Wizards Bridge