Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Bellairs, John

(1938-1991) US writer, mostly of YA books, but whose fantasy novels appeal to all ages. He began publishing work of interest with St Fidgeta and Other Parodies (coll 1966), which Parody fantasy devices in their mild spoofing of religion, but only established himself with The Face in the Frost (1969), a humorous fantasy. Two Magus characters – Roger Bacon (circa 1214-1292) and Prospero – have to discover who is behind a series of supernatural attacks and then defeat him. Since the solution requires an artifice from our own Reality (which is perceived as a fantasy world by Prospero and Bacon), the story is also a Gnostic Fantasy. The humour and characterization make this at times reminiscent of the work of Mervyn Peake, and there are also comparisons with Roger Corman's The Raven (1963), but JB never lets the slapstick get out of control, and on occasion the tale descends into moments of pure Horror. The novel remains a unique classic.

JB's earlier works only hinted at his talent, though his first novel, The Pedant and the Shuffly (1968) – about an evil magician thwarted by a kindly old man – bears similarities with The Face in the Frost. The Good and Evil motif returned in The House with a Clock in its Walls (1973), JB's first book for children and the first of the Chubby Lewis series, which is set in JB's own childhood period, the late 1940s. Young Lewis, recently orphaned, lives with his Uncle Jonathan, whose house is full of junk. In this first novel Lewis and Jonathan have to defeat the legacy of an evil Wizard who once lived in the house. In The Figure in the Shadows (1975) Lewis finds an Amulet that revives the shade of an old farmer who practised witchcraft before the Civil War. A third novel in this series, The Letter, the Witch and the Ring (1976), places more emphasis on Lewis's friends Rose Rita Pottinger and the Witch Mrs Zimmerman.

With The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (1978) JB turned to a new character, Anthony Monday, who was more contemporary than Lewis, though the adventures concerned similar discoveries of and the combating of ancient evil; further novels in this series were The Dark Secret of Weatherend (1984), The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb (1988) and The Mansion in the Mist (1992). JB produced an almost indistinguishable series featuring the adventures of Johnny Dixon and the Professor: The Curse of the Blue Figurine (1983), The Mummy, the Will and the Crypt (1983), The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull (1984), The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost (1985), The Eyes of the Killer Robot (1986), The Trolley to Yesterday (1989), The Chessmen of Doom (1989) and The Secret of the Underground Room (1990). Although these last two series, illustrated by Edward Gorey, are strong on atmosphere, the format became repetitive.

After JB's death Brad Strickland completed further JB manuscripts, including the Chubby Lewis books The Ghost in the Mirror (1993), The Vengeance of the Witchfinder (1993) and The Doom of the Haunted Opera (1995) and the Johnny Dixon books The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie (1994) and Johnny Dixon in the Hands of the Necromancer (1996). [MA]

John Bellairs

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.