Of all the editions of The House with a Clock in its Walls we’ve reviewed this year, this is the one version we can’t read. At all. We don’t speak or read French or German but we’re able to thumb through books in those languages and still get a feel for where we are story-wise. Not with this yellow-bound beauty from Artist House. We’re totally lost with a book printed in Japan. More so, in Japanese.
This is our first Japanese book and as such its construction is outside the norm for us. This hardcover edition was published by Artist House in 2001 and its dust-jacket is a delightful, sunny yellow. That image of Lewis and his uncle in front of 100 High Street, however, is located on what we’d think of as the reverse of the jacket.
The jacket features a few lines of characters. Across the top is “ルイスと魔法使い協会”, roughly translated as “Lewis and the Witch Association.” Apparently in Japan the books about Lewis Barnavelt and friends was promoted as being part of a series (similar to the French “Kévin et les magiciens” series). The name of the book is presented in large white characters, followed by author John Bellairs (ジョン・ベレアーズ) and translator (三辺律子) who we believe is someone named Sanbe Ritsuko. Across the bottom is the publisher Artist House (アーティストハウス).
On the reverse of this book, what we’d consider as the obverse, is more yellow. There’s a bar code and price, too. ¥1600. One other thing our edition has is some sort of promotional strip that wraps around the lower third of the book. It’s a beige-colored strip that probably promotes or compares this book to Harry Potter for all we know. We’ve uploaded the full wrap-around strip to the forum – have a look and feel free to translate for us. Apparently each book in the Witch Association series has a different strip. A true collector's piece, we're sure....
Under the dust-jacket though is a delightful green hard bound book; the front of the book has a unique circle and compass rose like design with Aladdin’s Lamp in its center – no doubt inspired by the playing cards of the Capernaum County Magician’s Society. Moreover we think it’s the logo of the "Lewis and the Witch Association” series as the lamp image appears next to aforementioned text on the title page.
Inside. Ah, yes, this is where it gets interesting. We learn that the Japanese translation rights were through some sort of collaboration with Baror International and Japan’s UNI Agency – two prominent literary agencies. (Side investigation: John gets a write-up in Baror's Spring 2012 Catalog for children and young adult books...it's short but has some Puffin paperback book cover images and Bellairsia gets a nod, too. Fab!)
An unsettling mausoleum in the center of a cemetery serves as the frontispiece illustration and, surprisingly, there are more images throughout the book though mostly reversed for chapter headings. Edward Gorey’s three spot pieces from the original Dial edition (the omega, the concentric circles, and the shadow of the clock key) appear to be reproduced in miniature where appropriate. All of the illustrations are fluid pen-and-ink drawings unlike Edward Gorey’s work. They sit in the lower half of the page and their existence seems to beg poets to create haiku about them.
opens wide it stomach
busy suitcase fills itself
for travels unknown
Or almost like that. Sorry.
The text itself is vertically and again we cannot decipher the characters. Indeed, the characters look impressive in their own way, but we don’t know what’s being said. Well, we do...we know the story...but – oh, you know what we’re talking about. On that note we’re not even sure how to translate the Fuse Box Dwarf into Japanese. (We wonder who’d make a better basement dweller anyway: the Dwarf or Totoro. Discuss.)
Artist House published the first eight books in the Lewis Barnavelt series in a span of just a few years, between 2001 and 2004. For us their uniform style and use of slick, eye-catching color evokes the Bantam paperback editions from the 1980s. We're told this artwork is by Hitsuji Kitasuna (北砂ヒツジ) and our own searches for more on this person have not yielded anything - maybe we'll know more in time.
It’s strange to consider that it’s only the foreign markets that have published nearly all the books in the Barnavelt series with cover art created by the same person. Publishing houses in Japan and Germany released eight titles of the eventual twelve with covers by the same person and France scored an additional two more for a total of ten.