Thursday, May 7, 2009

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Before I get started on this post, I wanted to be sure to mention that everyone should check out for all things John Bellairs. It is a great site with lots of information on this popular author and his writing.

Published in 1973 by The Dial Press, New York, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is the first book in the long running series started by John Bellairs. It is also the first author/illustrator collaboration between Edward Gorey and Mr. Bellairs. Bound in purple cloth, the hardback book has a graphic wrap-around dust jacket design in purple, grey, black and white. This book launches what will become a very popular series of ghost stories for children (and adults who have not gotten too old for fun ghost stories).

Set in 1948, The House with a Clock in Its Walls introduces us to 10 year old Lewis Barnavelt, his eccentric uncle Jonathon, and their equally unusual neighbor Florence Zimmerman. Recently orphaned, Lewis has been put in the care of his uncle, a man who lives in a large old house on the edge of New Zebedee, Michigan. An ominous ticking is heard inside the walls of the house, and even though Uncle Jonathon is a real, practicing wizard (and Mrs. Zimmerman is a witch), he is not the cause for the dark magic that begins to surround them all.

For this first collaboration, Mr. Gorey has illustrated the story in much the same style as a number of other projects he had worked on. The wrap-around design of the dust jacket has images from the story sprinkled across the front and back covers, and the book is fully illustrated throughout the text with wonderful full page drawings and spot illustrations. Mr. Gorey was not commissioned to do books 2, 3 and 4, but would return on book #5 with a new look/approach to the dust wrapper that would continue through the rest of the series.

At one time, Gotham Book Mart offered me the original pen and ink artwork for the dust wrapper design, but I did not purchase it. At the time, there were a number of original Gorey pieces available, and I felt that this piece was less desirable than some other artwork being offered. It sold before I could "get back to it". Unfortunately, none of the interior illustrations for this title were made available, and I do not know if they had been sold previously or if they are still in the Gorey estate archives.


Unknown said...

How would one even determine if they were for sale?

ampootozote said...

I am assuming you are asking how I knew there were multiple pieces of art for sale at the time. If you read my posting about collecting original art, you will see reference to working with dealers. Before the Internet, the only way to find the art was to connect with dealers and keep track of auction houses that specialized in original illustration art.

Gotham Book Mart was the primary source for all things Gorey. I called and talked to GBM at least four times a year to try and keep abreast of what was available. It also helped that I bought books and art regularly, so they knew what kinds of things I was looking for or would be interested in.

I also regularly chatted with other dealers who had things for sale. Even today with the Internet I feel it is important to keep my ties with dealers alive and personal. Most dealers enjoy helping to build a collection as much as the collectors do.

Anonymous said...

I read this as a lad, a great book, the character's stuck with me and peopled my dreams.

The illustrations were great, this is even before I formally discovered Gorey, though there was a copy of Amphigorey on my Father's bookshelf. That copy of Amphigorey was eventually loaned to an enthusiastic co-worker who neglected to return it, I want that book back Lydia, damn it!

ampootozote said...

Of course, there are now four Amphigorey anthologies available!

I have re-read the entire Bellairs series about three times now...I always want a gooey chocolate cake when I read them!

Meredith said...

The Bellairs books were what got me into Gorey .. and now, twenty-something years later, I still love both of them!