Monday, July 24, 2006

John Bellairs, The Face in the Frost, 1969. The House with a Clock In Its Walls, 1973.

A space back, I read the Wikipedia entry on Bellairs. I have read the children’s books many, many times--they’re some of my favourite books for children, or rather, for me as a child (and, at that, as one who’s not entirely grown up)--but was astonished to come across a reference to The Face in the Frost, a book for adults that I’d not heard of.
Various folk on Wikipedia write:

Bellairs undertook The Face in the Frost while living in England and after reading J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings; in the upshot, it is not much like that book, save for the fact that it shares the idea of a wizard who is palpably human and not a literary stereotype. Bellairs said of his third book: "The Face in the Frost was an attempt to write in the Tolkien manner. I was much taken by The Lord of the Rings and wanted to do a modest work on those lines. In reading the latter book I was struck by the fact that Gandalf was not much of a person--just a good guy. So I gave Prospero, my wizard, most of my phobias and crotchets. It was simply meant as entertainment and any profundity will have to be read in.

I placed a hold on the book when I read of it in Wikipedia, and the hold died because the book could not be found. I had forgotten that I agreed to the idea of placing an ILO (interlibrary loan request) to get a copy of the book--it had been so long!--and was thrilled to find the book when I went into the Dundas branch to pick the ILO up.

I read it yesterday afternoon. It’s very obviously an adult’s book; the death, and the killing, are more gruesome than I’d let even a teenager near. It shows the odd fascinations of Bellairs’ mind: the description of the wizard Prospero’s house bares an eerie resemblance to the house at 100 High Street, as do many of the unusual contents (oh, to live in such a shifting and intriguing place, never less than bursting with new things rushing to the fore).

The plot is typical of Bellairs’ work. I find his endings seem to skip a step, just before the very end, and this one left out more than I would have liked. Prospero and Roger Bacon are fun, interesting characters. It’s a book well worth reading, if you like Bellairs, and if you can find it. One I’d like to own, I think, though I doubt I’ll find it.

The allusions were what struck me the most; he borrows imagery flagrantly, but basically cites his source. The story of the Witch of Endor is incredibly important, but while obvious in the imagery and references to the story, the story itself is woven deftly into the plot. I was thrilled to read this book.

I promptly read The House with a Clock In Its Walls, and was surprised by how adult it seemed. Some of the events of that book still freak me out! I remembered it as a pleasantly unnerving superstitious suspense novel, but it is a spooky, spooky book. It was neat to read it after the other, and get some sense of how it was adapted from an adult novel into a children’s book. I’m going to have to read some more of Bellairs yet because of the ILO showing up after having been forgotten; I think I’m going to quite enjoy that. And, after all, how can one dislike reading books illustrated by the delightfully creepy pen and ink drawings of Edward Gorey?