John Bellairs (1938 – 1991) was an American fantasy author.
Much of his work comprises three series of Young Adult novels, beginning respectively with The House with a Clock in Its Walls, The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, and The Dark Secret of Weatherend. In particular, the Johnny Dixon series had at least dozen more legitimate plots that could have been expanded upon, most include the three members of the Professor's family who don't do anything to any of the story.
His standalone works include The Face in the Frost and the short comic fantasy The Pedant and the Shuffly.
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.
- Alliterative Name: Rose Rita, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle,
- 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.
- Bizarrchitecture: In The Tower At The End Of The World
- 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. Izzard 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 of the Wizard's Bridge" (written/finished by Brad Strickland with Bellairs' characters.) Tarby, an Izard (Once mentioned and the other in a plot-revelant situation), Doomsday clocks(or where the clock was), the Bridge.
- Cool Old Guy / Cool Old Lady: Bellairs LOVED this trope. Prospero and Roger Bacon in The Face in the Frost. Uncle Johnathan and Mrs. Zimmerman. Prof Childermass and Father Higgins. Miss Eells and her brother Emerson.
- 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 hard 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")
- 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 Izzard 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: Every main villain in Bellairs novel is one of these. Many them tend to also be undead and are plotting the The End of the World as We Know It.
- 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).
- The Fifties: When a lot of the books take place.
- 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 won't allow it because she hated Trolley To Yesterday!
- Ghostly Chill
- Grand Theft Me: Lewis and the ghost Of Eliphaz Moss in 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 seperate books, but is plot-relevant in TWO SEPERATE 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.)
- Haunted Technology: The titular clock
- Hermetic Magic: Gnostic magic is often featured, with direct references to the Keys of Solomon in The Letter, The Witch, and The Ring.
- Idiot Ball: Lewis can't seem to drop his.
- 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 Won't Stop Ticking: The 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...
- More Deadly Than the Male: Mrs. Zimmerman to Uncle Jonathan. Rose Rita to Lewis
- Never Mess with Granny: Mrs. Zimmerman
- 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 Izzard'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
- 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.
- Altum Videtur: the Latin used when the ghost first makes it known to Lewis that he is coming, "Venio", could just as easily be Moss being pretentious as well as ominous, since his Backstory makes it clear he thought a great deal of himself (hence his decision to make an amulet that would summon a servitor spirit). On the other hand, since Mrs. Zimmerman implies that evil warlocks such as Moss learned their magic from dark books that were opposed to the Bible (which in the Middle Ages, the time most of these warlocks and witches would have been learning spells, was written in Latin), he may have just been true to his magical education. Of course using Latin for only dark magic, since Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman don't use incantations like that, just brings the trope full circle.
- 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
- 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 manages to affect the plot of three books despite not being alive in any of them, on top of that his corpse was stolen in "The Bell, Book, and the Spellbinder" because the professor knew his way around the area the villain was in. He also bought a Macguffin just before "The Chessmen of Doom", that appears in "The Hand of the Necromancer", a book chronologically after his death.
- 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 Izzard'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 Izzard 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.
- 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 heavily 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 "Death" lasts for less than one book.
- Things That Go Bump in the Night
- Tomboy: Rose Rita
- Unholy Matrimony: Black-magic users Isaac and Selenna Izzard in The House With A Clock In Its Walls, although they're both already dead by the time the story actually starts.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann (The House with a Clock in Its Walls).
- Wizard Duel: Two involving Mrs. Zimmerman--one entirely off-screen against Selenna Izzard 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".