Thursday, May 30, 2013

Conflicting Elements Exposed in Curse

Not long ago we were going through the archives and found some of Brad Strickland’s notes on inconsistencies and other tidbits in The Doom of the Haunted Opera. Since then we’ve come across some of our internal notes we took on oddities in The Curse of the Blue Figurine (1983). The book turns 30 this year (this month, no less) and we thought we’d share some of our notes on some of the “screwy moments” we found.
  • Professor Childermass admits that he is named after a character created by British author Tobias Smollett [Curse; 125] and, later, in The Chessmen of Doom he rattles off the names of his brothers – all characters from Smollett’s novels [Chessmen; 6]. It’s only in the professor’s first meeting with Johnny Dixon that there’s any mention of a Childermass sister – and the professor, having recently visited them, isn’t too kind in their description: “She has two children about your age, but they couldn't read their way through a book of cigarette papers. Which is scarcely odd, because their parents don't read anything except the phone book and the directions on spaghetti boxes. [Curse; 15].” What's odd is the that the sister is never mentioned again in any novel.
  • The Dixon family – Johnny and his grandparents – live at 23 Fillmore Street [Curse; 53]. Apparently there was a typo in The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt (28 Fillmore Street [Mummy; 85]) that was rectified by The Spell of the Sorcerer’s Skull (23 Fillmore Street [Spell; 150]).
  • Professor Childermass smokes – he’s seldom seen without his Balkan Sobranie cigarettes – and he’s doing so in the Dixon house. Even though he “stubbed out his cigarette” [Curse; 44] and apparently does not light another before breaking into a long-winded explanation about the ancient Egyptians, he “paused and flicked ashes off his cigarette before continuing” [Curse; 47] with his story.
  • Lastly, early in the story Johnny is not too interested in the neighborhood gossip discussed at the dinner table and dreams about being an archeologist. He instead sees himself wandering the columned halls of some ancient temple and asks, “what would Professor John Wellesley Dixon, Pd.D. do?” It’s the only time the name "Wellesley" is ever used in the series and as such it’s confused some readers in the past. Was it an error on Bellairs’ part – especially since Professor Childermass regularly refers to his young friend as “John Michael Dixon” throughout the later books? Perhaps Bellairs hadn’t decided upon a proper middle name for his character. Another theory was that “Wellesley” was a possible Christening, or Baptism, name. Or it could be a name Johnny dreamt up for himself, echoing other well-known archaeologists or explorers such as John Wesley Gilbert or John Wesley Powell. Or Bellairs could have had this in mind, simply tweaking the spelling to mirror the name of nearby Wellesley, Massachusetts (founded 1881) or Wellesley College (chartered 1870), both named after the estate of local benefactor Horatio Hollis Hunnewell.

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