Reviews In The Machine : The House With A Clock In It’s Walls (1973)
Way back in the day, when I was starting to get legs as a reader, while I had yet to find my way into the universes of Stephen King, my early sensibilities towards horror were already beginning to manifest in my love for one book in particular.
The House With a Clock in its Walls.
I think I was drawn initially to the fact that the hero of the story was a child, of roughly my age. But more than that, this was a child who felt out of place, like me. Like Lewis, I often found it easier to retreat to the comfort of books than to expose myself to the stress of trying to make and hold on to friends. I had recently moved to a new town as well and much of my life at that point was spent feeling out of place. I knew all too well the drive and desire to want to impress people and to set myself apart from the pack.
I was immediately drawn to the characters of Uncle Jonathon and Mrs. Zimmerman. They were great but beyond that I was also still at a point in my life when I looked up to adults and again, because I generally didn’t feel like my peers ever accepted me, I felt much more comfortable around adults.
I also loved magic. And magic was something this story was steeped in. But not the magic of Tolkien or CS Lewis. I think this was the first time I considered the possibility of magic in the context of a contemporary setting. I had never entertained the notion that a wizard need not come cloaked in robes and a tall hat. And that witches didn’t need to be accompanied by a cat, a cauldron and crystal ball. In this story, the witches and warlocks were also just the neighbors that lived up the hill from you.
John Bellairs did a great job making his books exciting and spooky, but never so high on the scare scale that I couldn’t handle it. His books had ghosts, dark magic as well as apocalyptic leanings but it was still in a format ideally to be consumed by an emerging reader. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his books had been some of the earlier influences taken in by a young JK Rowling.
As an adult, I found that the books had slipped from my recollection. I couldn’t remember the titles or the name of the author. All I could really remember was something about a young character moving in with an uncle. And magic. For years, this book held an almost mythical status in my imagination. The notion of it would rise up into my mind but with no way of really satisfying the urge. It was finally thanks to the internet that I was finally able to put the pieces together as someone on Facebook was able to steer my in the right direction.
John Bellairs and this book in particular were a part of my life again.
And the book has again risen to the national consciousness with the recent film adaptation. And while I was definitely skeptical of the notion of it being another Jack Black vehicle, I ended up enjoying it, quite a bit. There were some departures for sure, but that should always be expected. There were aspects to the film I would have liked to have seen done differently but I definitely felt the spirit of the book. Even Jack Black proved to be great as the enigmatic Uncle Jonathan and of course, Cate Blanchett was spectacular as Mrs. Zimmerman.
In all, a highly entertaining book, one that I am glad was a part of my development as a writer. It may be a bit on the mild side, especially with the older readers but it’s still a fine example of fun and spooky entertainment.