TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

John Bellairs

John Bellairs

American author John Bellairs (January 17, 1938 in Marshall, Michigan–1991) is perhaps best known for his gothic mystery novels for young adults featuring Lewis Barnavelt, Anthony Monday and Johnny Dixon.

After earning degrees at University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, Bellairs taught English at various midwest and New England colleges for several years before turning full-time to writing in 1971. He maintained a lifelong interest in archaeology, architecture, "kitschy" antiques, bad poetry, traveling to England, history, and Latin. His favorite authors included Charles Dickens, Henry James, C. V. Wedgwood, and Garrett Mattingly, as well as M.R. James, from whose ghost stories he occasionally borrowed elements to work into his own fiction.

His first published work, St. Fidgeta and Other Parodies, was a collection of short stories satirizing the rites and rituals of Second Vatican Council era Catholicism (it remains out of print). The Pedant and the Shuffly was a short fable detailing the chaotic encounter of the two title characters (it was republished in paperback in 2001).

Bellairs undertook The Face in the Frost while living in England and after reading J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings; in the upshot, it is not much like that book, save for the fact that it shares the idea of a wizard who is palpably human and not a literary stereotype. Bellairs said of his third book: "The Face in the Frost was an attempt to write in the Tolkien manner. I was much taken by The Lord of the Rings and wanted to do a modest work on those lines. In reading the latter book I was struck by the fact that Gandalf was not much of a person--just a good guy. So I gave Prospero, my wizard, most of my phobias and crotchets. It was simply meant as entertainment and any profundity will have to be read in."

The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Bellairs's next novel, was originally composed as a contemporary adult fantasy, but at the time there was little market for such a thing. The second publisher to which it was submitted suggested rewriting it as a young readers' book; Bellairs did so, and thus determined the future course of his career. While his following books were all good-to-excellent of kind, his earlier adult work suggests to many that--not for the first or the last time--the world was deprived by economic stringencies of some works of excellence.

Two books, The House with a Clocks in its Walls and The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, were adapted for television in 1979 and 1980, respectively. A number of books have also been released around the world in such languages as German, French, Japanese and Polish, among others.

Bellairs died in 1991 at his home in Haverhill, Masschusetts a victim of cardiovascular disease at the age of 53. At the time of his death he left behind two unfinished manuscripts and two one-page synopses for future adventures. Author Brad Strickland was commissioned by the Bellairs estate to complete the two unfinished manuscripts and to write novels based on the two one-page outlines. These would become The Ghost in the Mirror, The Vengeance of the Witch-finder, The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie, and The Doom of the Haunted Opera, respectively. Starting in 1996 with The Hand of the Necromancer, Strickland began writing his stories based on the established characters. In 1992, an historical marker was placed in front of the Cronin House in Bellairs's hometown of Marshall noting that the imposing Italianate mansion was the basis for his 1973 book. In 2000, Bellairs was inducted posthumously into the Haverhill Hall of Fame.

Edward Gorey provided covers and frontispieces for all but three of Bellairs's children's works, and he continued to provide them for the Strickland novels until his death in 2000. The novel The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge features the last published artwork of Edward Gorey before his death. Since The Tower at the End of the World, illustrator S.D. Schindler has created the cover art for the books.

Brad Strickland announced in spring 2005 that, after contract negotiations with the Bellairs estate, new adventures are underway. The first of these new adventures will be "The House Where Nobody Lived" which is schedule for publication on October 5, 2006.