Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs

cover of The Curse of the Blue Figurine
As you have probably noticed, I am on a John Bellairs readathon. After reading a few Lewis Barnavelts, I thought that I should make a switch. If you look back at some of my comments about Lewis, his wishy-washy, crybaby antics can get on my nerves. I hope that Lewis grows a pair and starts to stand up for himself a bit more. A good change seemed to be the Johnny Dixon mysteries, and the first in that series is The Curse of the Blue Figurine. As with Lewis, Johnny is sort of an orphan. I say sort of because Johnny's mom recently died from cancer, and his father has gone off to be a fighter pilot in the Korean War. As Bellairs comments at the beginning of the story, Johnny's dad could have had a compassionate release from the war, but he really wanted to fly a fighter jet. Well, that's just wonderful for him, but how about his poor son? So that part obviously rubbed me the wrong way.

Johnny goes off to live with his grandparents, and he unfortunately displays some of the characteristics of Lewis. He is new to the town and school (a Catholic school), and therefore, he has no friends. Johnny also becomes a target for the local bully, Eddie Tompke. Johnny does make friends with his grandparents friend and across the street neighbor, Professor Roderick Childermass. The professor is a learned man, and he befriends Johnny, playing chess with him and plying him with chocolate cake. The professor also tells the tale of Father Baart, local parson who supposedly was given a magic talisman in the late 1800s. Father Baart was rumored to have done some sort of magic to result in the deaths of two local villagers that he hated. Then Father Baart disappeared, never to be seen again. Every now and again, someone sees Father Baart's ghost, but there's no real clue as to what happened to Father Baart. One day, when Johnny was trying to avoid Eddie, he ran into the church attached to Johnny's school. While inside, Johnny explores the basement and finds a hollowed out book with a blue ushabti, an Egyptian statue included in the tombs of the wealthy. The ushabti would perform work for the deceased in the underworld. A note warning that the figure must not be removed from the church is also included. Johnny, of course, takes the book and the ushabti home, and that's when the adventure starts to begin. Johnny asks the professor if the ushabti is real, and if it might be magical. The professor sees that it is just an old souvenir from Cairo, Illinois. However, one evening while Johnny is hanging out in the church because he felt something pulling him there, Johnny meets Mr. Beard. Mr. Beard gives Johnny a ring to wear and tells Johnny to say a daily prayer over the ushabti. The next thing you know, Johnny is being controlled by the ring and scares off Eddie with a gust of strong wind. When Johnny finally realizes that Mr. Beard is really the evil Father Baart in disguise, and that Johnny's soul is at stake, Johnny feels helpless. The professor tries to help, but Johnny won't say anything until he is taken to a psychiatrist who uses Sodium Pentothal to get the truth from Johnny. There is a terrifying showdown between Johnny, the professor, and Father Baard, and I won't ruin the story by saying how that turns out.

Maybe because I so recently finished The Figure in the Shadows, I recognized all the similarities. Both Lewis and Johnny have problems with bullies. Both wind up wearing something (Lewis wears a necklace, and Johnny wear a ring) that negatively controls their behavior and that fights removal. Both of the evil characters are nebulous, hovering, dark forms. Even with all the similarities, I found myself liking Johnny. Also, the professor is a much more realistic and interesting character than Uncle Jonathan. The Figure in the Shadows came first in 1975, while The Curse of the Blue Figurine was published in 1983. The other books in the Johnny Dixon series sound fun, so I'll continue reading them.

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