When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do on a summer day was to go with my mom to the New England Mobile Book Fair. The Book Fair was an amazing, enormous wholesaler Book warehouse in my town (Newton, MA), where you could look up books in an enormous database (or when I was really young, a HUGE book) that told you who the publisher was. The warehouse was set up by publisher, and all of the books cost less than the list price. It was a magical place.
I would go and spend hours in the kids sections, reading Judy Blume, and The Great Brain books, and just picking up random books that looked cool. One of those books was The House With A Clock In Its Walls. It was my first “scary” book. I read it over and over again.
I was reminded of it a few years ago when Joe Hill was talking about the books that influenced him as a writer. He mentioned this one and I looked everywhere for my old paperback copy, with the bent cover and the Edward Gorey illustrations. I made a mental note to find myself a new copy.
And then I hear that Jack Black and Cate Blanchett are starring in a movie version of this beloved story, and the trailer actually looked intriguing. So I found a new copy and read this old favorite again.
Lewis is an orphan, his parents were recently killed in a car accident. He is sent to live with his peculiar bachelor uncle Jonathan. Jonathan lives in a huge old mansion that used to belong to a mysterious couple, Isaac and Selenna Izard. Lewis and Jonathan spend a lot of time with their neighbor, the equally peculiar Mrs. Zimmerman, and Lewis notices that his new home and family aren’t quite what he expected.
It turns out that Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman are both powerful magicians. When Lewis is looking to make a new friend, he uses his uncles magic to impress this boy, but the plan backfired when the boy denies that magic is real. So Lewis raises the stakes, and attempts to raise someone from the dead in order to impress his friend.
And here’s where 9 year old me started to freak out.
As an adult, the book holds up pretty well. It has a lovely gothic feel to it, and is pretty intense for a kid’s book. Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman are still delightful characters to read on the page, and I look forward to seeing what Black and Blanchett (although in my mind, I picture a young Cloris Leachman) bring to the roles.
As a kid, I had no idea that there was an entire series of books about Lewis and his magical adventures. I’ll keep an eye out for the future entries in the series. It was a fun blast from the past.