Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost

In 1985, John Bellairs continued his series of ghost/mystery stories with The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost published by Dial Books for Young Readers. In this volume, Johnny Dixon spends much of the story lying in bed possessed by the demonic spirit of a deceased evil wizard, Warren Windrow. The ever cantankerous Professor Childermass and Johnny's best friend Fergie head out to the old Windrow estate in search of a way to free their friend.

Edward Gorey provided artwork for the full wrap around dust jacket, the hand lettered type for the cover and spine, a frontis drawing, and two interior spot illustrations. I have all of these pieces of art in my collection, and also have the water color sketch Mr. Gorey made for the dust wrapper design.

I own the art from this book because of the stained glass window illustrated on the back of the dust jacket. My partner and I own a stained glass studio (, so when this art was offered for sale, Andreas Brown of Gotham Book Mart thought I should be the person to acquire it! I do think that it would be fun to create an actual stained glass window based on this design some day.

Mr. Gorey often blocked out color paintings by making a loosely painted sketch before proceeding with the final illustration. I am not aware of any other preliminary art which exists from the Bellairs series. The preliminary art shows all the major elements in place for the dust jacket, although the evil floating face in front of Johnny on the cover is inexplicably smiling! This piece of art is a wonderful look into how Edward Gorey sketched out his paintings. Artists often create color renderings before attacking complicated paintings, and Mr. Gorey's sketches are always very loose. This piece has paint liberally splashed about!

The completed cover art is beautifully executed with lots of Mr. Gorey's trademark crosshatching over watercolor. It has been pointed out on (THE website for all things John Bellairs) that on the first edition hard cover edition of this book, the spelling on the stained glass window is incorrect - "ZABU". It is corrected on the paperback edition to "ZEBU". Looking closely at the original artwork, there is a practically invisible paste-up over the showing where Mr. Gorey corrected his mistake. This misspelling is even more unusual considering the word is spelled correctly on the sketch.

I am always a sucker for hand-lettered typeography (one of the reasons I like the look of Gorey books so much), so I was happy that the type for the cover of this book was not lost. This piece makes a lovely piece of original artwork on its own and free up the dust jacket painting so the viewer can focus on the image alone.

The frontis drawing is wonderfully detailed with the moody manor house engulfed by overgrown foliage, and key elements of the story presented for inspection in the foreground. I especially like the evil "familiar" standing in the gateway with its hooded cloak and slimy tentacle protruding from one sleeve. This character makes me think of the Dementors from the Harry Potter stories.

The two pieces of interior artwork complete the collection from this title. The smaller of the two could have easily been lost over the years, and the diagram drawn by "Professor Coote" at the end of the story is another example of the care Edward Gorey took for even simple illustrations.


Bloglion said...

This is a spectacular collection - and all from the same book! What a treat.

ampootozote said...

Yes, this grouping forms the centerpiece of my Gorey/Bellairs pieces.