Old Favorites: The House with a Clock in Its Walls

It’s still October, so our Old Favorites this month are still scary books that will chill your bones and make you think twice about walking through a cemetery!

Originally published in 1973, I read The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs when I was in sixth grade.  (Not too long after it had come out.)  It had been extremely popular with my friends the year before, but I was too much of a chicken to pick it up!  What people were saying about it–a clock beating like a heart in the walls of a creepy house?  The ghost of an evil wizard haunting a person?  Spells involving a dead man’s hand?  Yikes! Not for me, I thought.

But my friends persisted, and finally I picked it up. It’s still one of the best–and creepiest–books I can remember reading!

* * *

Lewis Barnavelt has just lost his parents; he’s sent to live with his Uncle Jonathan, who he’s never met. Jonathan turns out to be big and friendly…until a clock tolls the hour, and he freezes in place, fear on his face. He recovers fairly quickly though, and brings Lewis to his new home–a dark and foreboding mansion high on a hill overlooking the town. Inside, Lewis meets Mrs. Zimmerman, who lives next door and cooks and cleans for Jonathan. Things seem to be pretty normal, Lewis thinks.

But appearances can be deceiving.

Lewis soon learns that his uncle is studying to be a wizard; that he inherited the house from a warlock, and that Mrs. Zimmerman is a witch. Both adults agree that Isaac Izard, who previously owned the house, was evil.  Some of his spells are still in play.  And somewhere in the walls of the house, Isaac Izard left an invisible clock, ticking down the minutes to…what? No one quite knows.

Lewis is fascinated with his new home, and decides to learn magic himself. To impress one of his new friends, he does something quite foolish–and brings the evil hidden in the house to a head. The invisible clock in the walls starts ticking faster, and Lewis must find it before it’s too late.


* * *

I have to admit, I could not stand hearing a clock tick at night after reading this book. My sister had a wind-up alarm clock, and I had to hide it under towels in the closet for a couple years afterward!

The  trilogy  that started with The House with a Clock in Its Walls continues with The Figure in the Shadows and concludes with The Letter, the Witch and the Ring. (so you know Lewis survives at least another two books!)  Each title is equally as creepy, but has a whole new situation that Lewis manages to get involved in.  Luckily, he is resourceful, even when threatened by a variety of supernatural creatures.  Several adventures were added later, both by Bellairs and by Todd Strickland, who took over the books when John Bellairs died.

John Bellairs was a local author who lived in Lincoln and wrote several series about kids who became wrapped up in spooky circumstances involving things like zombies, living statues and time-traveling trolley cars. I met him once; he was a very unusual man.  His books opened the world of reading to many kids who didn’t like to read, and I think we have his success to thank for series like Goosebumps, and authors like R. L. Stine.

Other series he wrote include the Johnny Dixon Mysteries and the Anthony Monday Mysteries (my favorite is The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, which also includes one of the best librarian characters in kids’ books!)

But remember–if you’re looking for a book that will leave you checking under your bed, hiding ticking clocks and locking your windows every night, try The House with a Clock in Its Walls.  It’s creepy, it’s funny, and you won’t be able to put it down. And after you read it, let me know what you think!



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