Vandriel: Creepy Cool

Caroline Vandriel’s monthly book review

A few weeks ago, while online, I happened upon a movie trailer for “The House with a Clock in its Walls”. While I was intrigued by the casting (Jack Black and Cate Blanchette), I was thrown by the visual styling of it. The music track, title lettering, and overall tone was reminiscent of the Harry Potter films, and I assumed it was a knock off, which irked me. Knock offs are rarely as good as their original counterparts, and, to my way of thinking, it’s cheating. I decided to check out the book it was based on, fully anticipating being bored and annoyed. I was wrong.

When I first looked up the John Bellairs book in the library catalogue, I discovered that it had originally been published in 1973, almost a quarter of a century prior to the first Harry Potter novel! Another delight to discover was the illustrations had been drawn by Edward Gorey. If you haven’t had the good fortune (or bad, depending on your perspective on things) of coming across anything by Edward Gorey, you’re in for a treat… sort of. His work, “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” is an alphabet book like no other and not intended for the faint of heart. The 26 letters each depict how a young person met an untimely end. Gorey has been called the Tim Burton of his time and his line drawings reflect that.

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is typical of a novel in the horror genre for younger readers. The hero, Lewis, has recently lost both his parents and is travelling by bus to meet his Uncle Jonathon, with whom he is going to live. Uncle Jonathon’s house is gothic, both in architecture and atmosphere, and Uncle Jonathon’s neighbour, Mrs. Zimmermann, is a witch. Literally. She is also good friends with Uncle Jonathon, who is a warlock. Lewis must learn witchcraft, combat bullies at school, and find the demon that he himself unearthed while trying to impress the most popular boy in school, Tarby, in the graveyard one night.

One of the themes throughout the book is secrets. Uncle Jonathon mysteriously wanders the house at night. Lewis is too terrified to confess to his uncle what he has done, making everything worse. Tarby keeps secret his absolute terror of the events that took place in the graveyard. It’s one of those situations where the reader is led to believe all sorts of problems could have been averted at the outset, if only everyone had come clean. But no. Lewis’s secret in particular is dragged on for an absurd amount of time, irritatingly so.

The tone of the book is dark, but with a flippancy regarding disaster like that found in Lemony Snicket’s “Series of Unfortunate Events”. Bellairs builds tension throughout the story, while maintaining levity that reassures all will be well in the end. The relationship between Uncle Jonathon and Mrs. Zimmermann is delightful: they are constantly insulting one another, while looking out for each other, like constantly bantering siblings.

Bellairs writes to a junior audience, very much like the style and tone of the early Harry Potter stories. Having now read two novels by Bellairs, I’m looking forward to seeing the film when it comes out in September. It should be creepy-cool.

Just Posted

Many gather to Chip in for Health Care with annual tournament

The annual golf tournamnet in Sylvan Lake was a fundraiser for the AACS

The Hlinka Cup exhibition game a great success for Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake held an exhibition game for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup on Aug. 4

Central Alberta Buccaneers come up short against Monarchs

Bucs’ lose star quarterback in heartbreaking affair

Ponoka man faces 95 theft-related charges

Police recover stolen license plates, mail, tools

Latest Lock it or Lose it campaigns give drivers poor scores

Red Deer RCMP flag visible garage door openers as a temptation to thieves

Pride in the Park takes over Bower Ponds

Central Alberta Pride week continues in Red Deer

Red Deer RCMP seek public assistance to locate Bruce Redhead

There is concern that he may have lost his way

Gun used in Fredericton killings is legal, man had licence

Police Chief Leanne Fitch said the long gun is commonly available for purchase, and is not a prohibited or restricted weapon

Ontario will sell pot online when legalization comes in the fall

There are further plans to have pot in private retail stores in early 2019

Will Idris Elba be the first black James Bond?

The British actor is fueling speculation on Twitter

Cooler weather helps crews fight Southern California wildfire

The Holy Fire has destroyed 16 structures in the Cleveland National Forest

One trillion litres of sewage leaked into lakes and rivers over last five years

Toronto, like the vast majority of Canadian cities, doesn’t monitor real-time data of sewage leaks into lakes, rivers or oceans.

Friendly tone belied desperate acts of Seattle plane thief

Investigators working to find out how an airline employee stole the plane Friday and crashed it after being chased by military jets.

Charlottesville anniversary: Peaceful protests, few arrests

The events held in both Charlottesville and Washington, largely peaceful though tense at times, were part of a day of speeches, vigils and marches marking one year.

Most Read