Sunday, January 1, 2023

The House with a Clock in its Walls: 1973-2023

2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Dial publishing John Bellairs's The House with a Clock in its Walls, the first book in the long-running Lewis Barnavelt series and the first of several young adult novels.

Bellairs said that "out of boredom" during his time teaching at Emmanuel College, he began piecing together his next work. Originally "350 pages and the plot a real mess, I sent it around to three or four publishers until it landed with Dial Press. The editor there was herself a children's book writer, and she liked it but wanted it shorter. So I wrote a whole new book. Learning to write for children instead of grown-ups [is what took so long]. And it was something I wrote at night. But I realized it was what I wanted to do and what I was good at."

House was also Bellairs's first collaboration with illustrator Edward Gorey, whose black-and-white illustrations helped set the forbidding mood and are as memorable as the story itself. 

"The publication of House was hugely exciting for us in 1973,” Priscilla Bellairs told us in 2013.  “It represented John's definitive turn towards children's lit, and the end of the longest non-publishing period in his career after his first success. He loved Edward Gorey's work and was thrilled that he'd been commissioned (and willing) to illustrate the book. I'm very happy that it is still scaring and fascinating a third generation of new readers."

The story was abridged for television in 1979. A feature-length film was released in 2018 starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett.

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