Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Childhood We Did Dote Upon

Brigid N. Burke blogs her memories of Bellairs's popularity in the 1970s and 1980s:

For whatever reason, I've had a hankering to re-read some of the early works of John Bellairs. John Bellairs did write novels and prose pieces for adults, but he was primarily known as a children's writer. Bellairs was recommended reading for us in the 4th and 5th grades. In the late Seventies and early Eighties, Bellairs was probably as popular of an author as Madeline L'Engle, Judy Blume, or C.S. Lewis (the Narnia series specifically). His most famous trilogy involved the Lewis Barnavelt character, beginning with [The] House With a Clock in its Walls. The stories take place in the late 1940s in New Zebedee, Michigan, and they do a great deal to evoke the time and the place. They are also probably the first example of the magical realism genre for me - Lewis's uncle and next-door neighbor are both practicing magicians, and yet are both very ordinary folk in all respects. Bellairs did have series involving other characters, but none of them equalled this first trilogy, in my opinion. After Bellairs's death, Brad Strickland tried to finish a number of Bellairs's unfinished works, all published as Bellairs/Strickland. As one might expect, these latter works all fall flat. I don't know of any author who has done well trying to write "in the style of" a particular author, except perhaps the Robert Bloch and August Dereleth stylings of H.P. Lovecraft.

...and how John's work was her introduction - as it has was for many - to illustrator Edward Gorey:
Gorey illustrated many children's books, particularly for Dial Press, but his own cartoon books were definitely not for children. About 12 years ago I did cataloging work for Baker and Taylor Books. One of the catalogers there told me about a children's book she encountered in the cataloging queue that absolutely horrified her. It was about a bunch of colorful bugs, all of whom are happy until a big black bug comes along. They all conspire to lead him to a cliff, then they push him off and drop a rock on him.

"Who would write such a horrible story for children?" she asked me.

"No one," I replied. "That's Edward Gorey's 'Bug Book'. And it's not for children."

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