Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Doom of the Haunted Opera by John Bellairs

I remember John Bellairs from my childhood. I'm sure I've even tried to tell people about him since then. This was made more difficult by the fact that I just couldn't remember his name.

Yesterday on a trip to the library I stumbled across a couple of Bellairs' books while sniffing out recommendations for Bookworm Child. I would say that finding these books caused a wealth of memories to come flooding back, but that wouldn't be true. Instead, I only had the same memories I've held on to for the past few decades: first, that Uncle Jonathan caused a lunar eclipse by magic; second, that Lewis summoned Selenna Izard from the dead and was then terrorized by her thick glasses with their pesky glowing glare which obscured her eyes; and third, that at age 8 (just guessing at the age, by the way, because I can't remember how old I was), I finally decided I'd been so creeped out by Mr Bellairs' books that I needed to make and enforce a rule for myself. No more reading books by John Bellairs!

Well, I've finally broken that rule, and happily I have not suffered for it. I just finished reading The Doom of the Haunted Opera. Though there were some creepy passages (most notably when Lewis and Rose Rita were being chased by the stone cemetery statue which would only move when they weren't looking), I'm pretty sure the story is not going to induce nightmares. Though it is well-written, it is much more Goosebumps than Stephen King. It's a slightly more sinister (and American) Harry Potter with a smaller cast of characters who are, sadly, lacking a Hogwarts. I can't help but wonder if the not-too-creepy aspect has anything to do with the fact that this book wasn't written by Bellairs in its entirety? It says right on the cover that it was "completed by Brad Strickland." I'm sure Strickland tried to adhere as closely as possible to Bellairs' style and ideas, but I have no basis for comparison as to whether he succeeded.

The Haunted Opera story follows Lewis and his friend Rose Rita as they explore an old opera house in their hometown of New Zebedee, Michigan. The two discover the score for an opera hidden in an old piano, only to belatedly realize the music is actually an evil incantation that their town is making plans to perform, bringing on the opera's title: The Day of Doom. The overall effect of the story is 2% creepy and 98% spunky and adventuresome. It was a fun and fast read, and an enjoyable way to relive part of my younger days.

There are a few more memories that I've now managed to unearth: First, the characters' names I've mentioned (Jonathan, Lewis, Rose Rita, Mrs Izard--I never would have remembered their names if I hadn't read about them again). Second, the fact that Edward Gorey illustrated many of Bellairs' earlier editions. (I love Gorey's drawings. You should check them out . . . especially his alphabet.) And third, that I surely must have read Bellairs' The House with a Clock in Its Walls--not only because the title sounds familiar, but also because it contains the lunar eclipse and the raising of Old Mrs Izard.

I can't wait to hear what Bookworm Child thinks of Bellairs. It will be interesting to see whether she has to make and enforce a rule for herself . . .

More Gorey for you . . .
the book's back cover

No comments: