REVIEW: The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

REVIEW: The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John BellairsThe House With a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt #1) by John Bellairs
Published: Puffin Books (1973), Paperback, 179pg
Source: Bought
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction

Lewis always dreamed of living in an old house full of secret passageways, hidden rooms, and big marble fireplaces. And suddenly, after the death of his parents, he finds himself in just such a mansion--his Uncle Jonathan's. When he discovers that his big friendly uncle is also a wizard, Lewis has a hard time keeping himself from jumping up and down in his seat. Unfortunately, what Lewis doesn't bank on is the fact that the previous owner of the mansion was also a wizard--but an evil one who has placed a tick-tocking clock somewhere in the bowels of the house, marking off the minutes until the end of the world. And when Lewis accidentally awakens the dead on Halloween night, the clock only ticks louder and faster. Doomsday draws near--unless Lewis can stop the clock. (from Goodreads)

Like Eva Ibbotson’s kids books, John Bellairs books harken back to a time when you could comfortably terrify kids and not get too worked up about it. In my review notes I said that JB is the “gothic Diana Wynne Jones,” and I stand by that. His books are atmospherically scary– maybe nothing PHYSICALLY scary happens, but they’re full of tension, gothic horror, and other fun stuff. (I think they’d make kick-ass movies, too!)

The Lewis Barnavelt series is my favorite of John Bellairs’ books, mostly because of the characters. Lewis, his uncle, and their friends are such kind people that they keep the book(s) from getting overly gloomy, which is great because I don’t like too much gloom in my gothic literature. JB can also pack a ton of character depth into a small amount of space– his sentences tend to be short and stark, too, but still very layered and interesting.

My favorite characters are Rose Rita (who doesn’t show up until the next book) and Mrs. Zimmerman, a witch who loves purple and is suitably sarcastic. She’s great! She reminds me a bit of Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series: very old and very smart, and she doesn’t take sass from anybody. (Mrs. Zimmerman is more overtly kinder, though.)

Read: March 13, 2013 (reread)

Do you like scary kids books? What’s your favorite children’s gothic horror novel?

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs”

  1. This is the only JB that I’ve read so far (and really, really liked) but you’ve made me want to start looking for more! Yep. I’m going to need to look for more Lewis Barnavelts.

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