Understanding Phil Absen
I realise that children who are bullied turn around and bully someone weaker, but Johnny was just downright mean to Phil - with no sign of real remorse. We all know that Johnny is not violent – at least not in action, as he did wish for physical injury on numerous occasions – but his reaction to Phil was just mean-spirited. Piled on to that, is Bellairs saying that this kid is retarded? I believe “wrong with his head” was how Bellairs put it [Curse; 91]. And then Gramma Dixon chimes in with the equally cruel “Catholic schools will take anybody these days.”
I don't think Bellairs handled the scene in a very good way. Either that or the scene carried a lot of unnecessary baggage with it. We can make conjectures about why this scene was particularly mean-spirited, but my personal opinion is that Bellairs dropped the ball here.
Writing-wise, there's something called resolution and character development. If it really was the ring influencing him, I think Bellairs should have done a better job of cluing us in to that, because Johnny just came off as out of character to me. Was the ring influencing Sister Electa and Gramma Dixon, too? Gramma Dixon especially had some not-too-understanding comments and Sister Electa seemed to disdain Phil for his handicap. So I don't know if the ring can really be blamed for all of it. There should have been some sort of resolution to redeem Johnny in the eyes of the reader. Some little tiny crumb of remorse would have gone light years.
I recognise artistic license but Bellairs is deliberately writing a book to be read and enjoyed by young people (as well as a few of nostalgic punters!). I think he should have been more responsible with his wording.
Do you agree with Brian’s thoughts, or do you sympathize with Johnny - whose mother had just died, had just moved out of state to a new town, and, now, had his prayer book stolen, it being a memento from his father before he departed for Korean War. Wouldn’t Johnny be somewhat forceful in getting the book back?