Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull by John Bellairs

cover of the Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull by John Bellairs
Onto the third Johnny Dixon mystery, The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull by John Bellairs. One of the things that I find interesting is that so far, none of the Johnny Dixon mysteries refer back to previous evil adventures that Johnny has had. It's amazing to me that the kid doesn't really seem to learn from his past errors of judgment. He just keeps on repeating the errors. In The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, Johnny and Professor Childermass go on a weekend trip to view the New Hampshire countryside. The professor's car breaks down, and he and Johnny stay in a nice inn. When the inn owner finds out the professor's name, he says that the inn has a haunted clock from the Childermass family. It seems the clock was stolen from the professor's family home, and it was left on the inn porch. The professor's dad made it in memory of his great-uncle who mysteriously died. The clock has a detailed reproduction of the room where the great-uncle died. The inn owner won't say how the clock is haunted,but Johnny discovers the secret when he wakes up in the middle of the night and is drawn to the clock. As Johnny opens the door to the room, it looks as if he is in the room, and he sees the great-uncle getting suffocated by a dark shape. When Johnny tries to leave the room, a small skull in the house rolls out, and Johnny picks it up. Of course as soon as he does it, he finds that he is under the skull's spell. He puts the skull in his pocket and takes it home, and the skull seems to be able to prevent Johnny from telling anyone what he saw in the room with the clock.

That's when things heat up at the professor's house. A mysterious Jack-O-Lantern appears in an upper window, and then the professor disappears. Johnny sees an image of the professor in a mirror asking for help, but of course, the image vanishes. Johnny tries to get his best pal, Fergie, to believe him, but Fergie wants proof, which Johnny can't provide. Johnny finds an unexpected ally in local priest, Father Higgins, who was also a great friend of the professor. Johnny spilled his guts to Father Higgins, except for the vision of the great-uncle's death and Johnny keeping the small skull. Father Higgins suggests a ritual request to Saint Anthony, saint of lost things, to find out where the professor is. Surprises of surprises, when three days after the ceremony, Father Higgins and Johnny receive an answer that sends them to an island in Maine. The interesting thing is that when Father Higgins checked on the clock, he found out that it was sold to someone on the island. Father Higgins travels to Maine with Johnny and Fergie to find and rescue the professor.

Even though Johnny doesn't seem to learn from past mistakes, I have to admit that I found The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull to be a very enjoyable and thrilling read. It has just enough spookiness to keep the reader on the edge of the seat. An interesting commentary on the time. The book is set in 1952. When Father Higgins goes to the Gramma and Granpa to ask if Johnny can go away with him for the weekend, they are agreeable and honored that the Father would take Johnny. Now in the light of all the Catholic priest abuse scandals, I don't think parents would be willing to allow a child to go away for the weekend with a priest.

Edward Gorey did the frontispiece for the book. It's a drawing of the Childermass clock. He seems to have had a good working relationship with Bellairs. I would have liked to have seen more illustrations throughout the book. Drawings of the skull and other eerie events would have added to the tension in my opinion. The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull is an good entry in the Johnny Dixon mysteries. What are you waiting for? Give one of them a try.

No comments:

Post a Comment