Saturday, May 16, 2009

John Bellairs

Many years ago (evidence suggests it was 1979 or so) there came the first time I bought books with my own money. Before then I had to beg Mom long and hard. But I had made $10 doing yard work, and I was ready to step out on my own booking adventures. There was no local bookstore, only the racks in the grocery store, drugstore, and convenience stores. I chose to go to Gibson's, our small local department store, and while Mom combed the clothes aisles I browsed the racks, looking for fantasy in the Tolkienian vein. With my bill and some loose change I was just able to buy three paperback books (wondrous times!), and I chose The Source of Magic by Piers Anthony (a dragon on the cover), The Illearth War by Stephen R. Donaldson (two cool wizardy guys on the front, and a comparison to JRRT), and The Face in the Frost, by John Bellairs (good things by Lin Carter and Ursula K. LeGuin quoted, and again a cool wizardy guy). Now thirty years later I have given up on Anthony after following the Xanth series for twenty or so sequels, wait patiently for Donaldson to grind out the ninth (and last) book of the Thomas Covenant series, and mourn that there is no more genuine Bellairs forthcoming, ever. Thirty years on I am grateful that my instinct and luck led me to buy that first Bellairs.

Strange luck and instinct led me to his other books, as well. I learned about his other books, St. Fidgeta and Other Parodies and The Pedant and the Shuffly, an kept an unhopeful but vigilant eye out for them. I found Fidgeta in a used bookstore near Southwest Texas State University; there was no reason to think it would be there, but I swear when I walked in I got the vibe that I might find it, and there it was in the bargain bin for $1. I found The Pedant and the Shuffly at the little half price bookstore that used to be here in Seguin; I'd been going there for years, but I suddenly got the urge to dig through the sloppy boxes of kid's books rather thoroughly, hoping to maybe find it, and lo and behold it was there. I got The House With A Clock In Its Walls at Yesterday's Warehouse, ordered the first two sequels at our college bookstore, and from then on kept up with Bellair's juveniles until he passed away in 1991.

Brad Strickland took up Bellairs' series then, finishing four books he had begun, and then continuing on with stories of his own, told with the Bellairs characters and in his style. I have kept up with the books, mostly because I am a sucker for sequels and an insufferable know-it-all who has to find out what happens next. Strickland's books are competent, but because he is walking in another man's shoes he cannot make them develop too differently or they don't seem to fit Bellair's style, while simply following the form too slavishly (as even a glance at the style of his titles suggests; see post below) begins to become tired re-hash. A natural growth seems impossible. That said, while I was researching for this post, I found that Strickland has a new book out, The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer, that I'm going to get as soon as I can.

But my research also revealed startling news. Years ago (not quite forty, in fact) Lin Carter revealed that John Bellairs was working on a prequel to The Face in the Frost, dealing with how the two main characters, Prospero and Roger Bacon, first met. It was never finished, however, and languished while Bellairs' kids' books took off. Now there is going to be a book called Magic Mirrors published, this very month, supposedly, that collects (on the occasion of it's 40th anniversary) The Face in the Frost, St. Fidgeta and Other Parodies (re-printed for the first time), The Pedant and the Shuffly, and the only surviving first third of The Dolphin Cross, the long lost prequel! Huzzah!

To find out more about Magic Mirrors (and, indeed, anything more about John Bellairs) go to .

1 comment:

Brer said...

I now know that The Dolphin Cross is not Carter's mentioned prequel story, but the unpublished segment (or 'figment' as Roger Bacon might say--heh heh)of a longer proposed sequel.