A few short years after The House with a Clock in its Walls (1973) was first released in the US, an Italian publishing house called Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli released La pendola magica: un giallo nella casa stregata dai maghi (c.1975). A scan of the cover reveals that Italians were treated to the same exterior artwork by Edward Gorey we Americans got to see, except it was cropped and everything appears to be yellow-green in color, replacing the rich violet that would have made Mrs. Zimmermann proud.
Late last month we happened across (the sure-fire way we find many of the strange things for this site) images by Alexander Daniloff promoting La figura nell'ombra - The Figure in the Shadows. Then earlier this month we had our first message from Happy Planet Books and a press release of sorts:
The publishing house Happyplanetbooks is about to distribute in the Italian bookstores, one of the most loved books of John Bellairs, American author [and] master [of] the gothic novel. The story, published in the United States in the seventies, follows The House with the Clock in the Walls.... La figura nell'ombra sees once again to the center of the story the young Lewis Barnavelt, protagonist of mysterious adventures bound to an ancient coin that, hung up to the neck of Lewis, seems to awaken evil presences. A story that enchants and kidnaps the reader thanks also to the presence of the splendid illustrations of Alexander Daniloff, Russian teacher of extraordinary talent and Italian d' adoption, that with dense his images of details does to revive on the card the magical atmospheres of the fantasy of John Bellairs. Happyplanetbooks is a young publishing house that proposes precious books, to love “for always.” [Translation]
So, yes, Lewis is back – and has been for a while, it seems, as the press release we received show House and Figure published in 2009. But better late than never, we suppose. The exterior of La casa con l'orologio nelle pareti (and from the website, we assume interior, too) is again Gorey – the cover still in that yellow-green color.
The exterior art of La figura nell'ombra features a rather intense interweaving of metallic whirls and loopy latticework that, when viewed in full, brings to mind the mysterious trunk of Grampa Barnavelt. Hanging above the title is the coin that throws the story into high-gear; on the reverse, a shadowy hand comes into view. Daniloff’s illustrations are, simply put, atmospherically eerie. It’s refreshing to see a contemporary take on the characters yet still evoking the beloved black-and-white illustrations of both Gorey and Figure’s American artist, Mercer Mayer.
We don’t know much about La lettera la strega e l'anello except the email we received indicates it’s the most current title – or will be, soon. Dhyan Sahido is credited as illustrator: a sinister golden mask, mouth gaping open, hovers over a purplish-tinted nightscape and the shadowy outline of a serpent. Not sure how these items fit into the story, though.
In their email, Happy Planet Books says they will be in touch regarding “other titles” – if this means more stories about Lewis Barnavelt are on the horizon then we can only give two enthusiastic thumbs up!