Thursday, May 27, 2021

A Bit About "Number 13"

If the room is a rockin’....

Allusions to the work of British author M. R. James (1862-1936) figure into many of the books written by John Bellairs and Brad Strickland.

"Number 13" is a short horror story included in James’s first collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904). In the story, a British historian named Anderson travels to Denmark for research and stays at a hotel. A blackboard in the hotel lists all the rooms, and Anderson sees there is no room 13 listed. He does, however, see a door with the number 13 on it next to his own room. Anderson later realizes that room number 13 only appears at night and vanishes in the daytime. And then there are strange noises behind the door, too.

Room 13 comes and goes as it pleases. Nothing in the Bellairs Corpus strikes me as appearing and disappearing with such regularity. There are not any rooms in Jonathan Barnavelt’s house resizing themselves under certain circumstance, for example. However, there have been a few things to mysteriously appear to characters as they go about solving their mysteries.

First is the mysterious lower crypt Professor Childermass and Fergie discovered on the Windrow estate. The two notice a sign and take a long spiral staircase leading into a large empty room with strange pillars. It’s no crypt: it’s a cave.
These pillars did not seem to be hand hewn; they were more like stalagmites in a cave, and they sparkled like snow. Fergie...saw that the pillars widened out at the top and merged with the ceiling, which was made of the same white, glittery stuff as the pillars.
Professor Childermass soon guesses the estate sits on top of a salt deposit. Yet, later, after the estate has fallen into the chasm, Childermass asks why no one bothered to investigate this so-called lower crypt-turned cave to prevent further damage. His friend and colleague, Dr. Charles Coote, explains:
I was looking through the foundation's guidebook the other day, and it doesn't say anything about any staircase to the caves. Don't you think it would have mentioned a weird unlikely detail like that? I would guess that the ghost of Zebulon Windrow put that doorway and those stairs there so you two could have a peek at those evil, haunted caves.
Also appearing somewhat mysteriously is Gnomon Island, an island somewhere near Porcupine Bay in the waters of Lake Superior. During the events of The Tower at the End of the World (2001), Lewis Barnavelt, his uncle Jonathan, Mrs. Zimmermann, and Rose Rita Pottinger and her grandfather, Albert Galway, cruise the waters looking for a place to picnic. On board the Sunfish, the group sees a shimmering, wavering curtain of air and suddenly come face to face with an island:
It was a domed islet, perhaps ten or twelve acres in area. To Lewis it appeared to be a hill that rose abruptly out of the water. Its fringes were heavily wooded with blue-green fir trees, but these stopped halfway up the hillside. The rounded summit looked grassy and smooth. Strangest of all, rising straight up from the shoulder of the hill was a stark black column. At first Lewis thought it was the trunk of a tall, dead tree. Then, as they drew closer, he realized it was a man-made structure of some sort. A dark tower, rising maybe a hundred feet into the air from its base.
The island doesn’t just appear and disappear at will, either. There is a spell of revealing required, and Mrs. Zimmermann surmises...:
“the concealing spell lifts when Ishmael Izard or his assistant has to go to or leave the island. After one of them passes through, the spell is unstable for a few minutes or a few hours. Those are the times when we could get onto Izard’s home territory.”
That's all I have.

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