Sunday, April 06, 2008

Book: The Curse Of The Blue Figurine, by John Bellairs

(finally! The correct cover illustration!)

I couldn't take it any longer and had to have my Johnny Dixon fix. This is the first book in the Johnny Dixon character... and I think this was one of my favorites, way back when. Genuinely scary and spooky, this book is full of creeps and crawls and dark evil.

Johnny Dixon, living with his grandparents as his father flies fighter planes, is a good boy. Studious and clever, he's the sort of boy who does what he's told most of the time, but curious enough to occasionally do something he's not supposed to. Like steal a mysterious book from the library basement. A book that's been hollowed out to hold a scroll and a blue mummy figurine. A book that could have been put there by the ghost of evil Father Baart!

Like I said, this one is genuinely creepy. There is a very scary ghost, lots of yucky little spiders, another magic ring (there are a lot of magic rings in Bellairs books, I'm noticing), an adventure to the mountains, and of course, the cursed blue figurine. And, this book has Professor Childermass, one of my favorite characters ever.

Professor Childermass is a very smart, kind old man who has a rotten temper. It's so bad, in fact, he has made himself a 'fuss closet' in his house -- a padded closet where he can go and throw a complete tantrum. I love this. Who doesn't need a fuss closet sometimes? Professor Childermass also bakes amazing cakes, and I am fighting the urge to make something rich and gooey and chocolatey. Johnny and Professor Childermass play many games of chess by the fire late into the evenings, fortified by large hunks of gooey cakes. This sounds like the cosiest, best sort of evening ever, doesn't it?

Something else I love about these books is how it portrays kids' lives. Usually set in the 40s or early 50s, these kids walk home from school alone, get into fights in deserted parks (with bullies from school), linger in shop windows, go to the library, and stay up 'till 10 playing games of chess with their crotchety old neighbors. Do kids do any of these things anymore? I love the pace of life described. Come home from school, listen to a baseball game, do your homework, have dinner with your parents or grandparents, have an evening visitor who tells stories, have dessert, play a game, head to bed. It sounds so reassuring.

Unless, of course, you have an evil figurine hidden in your closet, directing you to do things like fight the bully and meet nasty scary ghosts in the park after dark, or ghosts who lead you up into the mountains with the intent of pushing you over the cliff to your doom. Then, not so reassuring.

Cleverly written, quirky and fun as ever, this is one of my favorite Bellairs' books. Now. Do I make a Sacher Torte or not?


cadiz12 said...

i remember reading all the John Bellairs books when i was a kid—it all started with The House with a Clock in its Walls. i remember desperately wishing my house had a cupola where i could hang out.

Kate said...

I reread this one right before I started my blog, and it's definitely one of the betters. (Mummy, Will and the Crypt is still by far my favorite.) But Prof. Childermass is just so fantastic, absolutely the sort of person I want to be when I grow up (my parents shudder with fear.) I love his fuss closet and the fact that he reenacts medieval naval battles in his bathtub. Oh, to be so crotchety and eccentric! (Make the cake...)

Tanner M. said...

Bellairs was a cornerstone of my childhood reading... just recently i found all my old books, my girlfriend and i have taken to reading a chapter outloud to each other before bed - she'd never read any of them before so i decided for some reason to start off with the blue figurine, so far neither of us are disappointed. I know my opinion is clouded with nostalgia, but my girlfriend agree with me, it's a clever, atmospheric, dark and charming.

like the reviewer said - he creates this world of familiar safety, the grandparents, the small town, the pace of life, the chess games and screen doors... then injects these classic (and truly heavy) gothic creepies.

People smoke, drink, and die in these stories - something that not all childrens writers have the courage to show these days.

Nice job Mr. Bellairs.