The House with a Clock in Its Walls: Lewis is an appealing hero

The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsLewis Barnavelt is a chubby middle schooler whose parents recently died in a car accident. He has just arrived in a new town at the house (mansion, actually) of an uncle he hardly knows. Uncle Jonathan is eccentric, as is his neighbor and best friend, Mrs. Zimmerman, a middle-aged widow who loves the color purple.

As Lewis begins to adjust to a new living situation, new school, and new neighborhood kids, he gradually becomes aware that there’s something weird about Uncle Jonathan and his house. It turns out that Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman aren’t just eccentric – they are magicians. Uncle Jonathan’s main skill is to create benign entertaining illusions. Mrs. Zimmerman might be more powerful, but it’s not yet clear what exactly these powers might be.

The mansion used to be inhabited by an evil magician. That guy’s now dead, but he left a clock ticking in the walls. When Lewis makes a big mistake while trying to impress a popular boy he wants to be friends with, it suddenly becomes imperative to stop that clock.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (1973) is a short, entertaining, and quite scary (but not too scary) middle grade mystery and horror story. Lewis is an appealing hero — he’s just an average kid who’s overweight, slightly clumsy, and not very sure of himself. He’s eager to make friends but his lack of athletic ability hampers his efforts. In this story, Lewis learns a lot about bravery, friendship, and honesty.

The ending of The House with a Clock in Its Walls was abrupt — the climax and denouement happen much too fast — but my teenage daughter and I enjoyed this story nonetheless. We listened to Recorded Books’ audio edition of The House with a Clock in Its Walls. It’s 4 ½ hours long and wonderfully performed by George Guidall.

In case you didn’t know, there’s also a movie edition of The House with a Clock in Its Walls. It was released in 2018 and stars Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, and Eli Roth. I haven’t seen it yet.

My daughter and I really like Lewis and look forward to sharing more of his adventures. Fortunately, there are 11 more LEWIS BARNAVELT stories! The next one is The Figure in the Shadows.

The LEWIS BARNAVELT series was started by John Bellairs and finished by Brad Strickland. Published in 1973. When Lewis Barnavelt, an orphan, comes to stay with his uncle Jonathan, he expects to meet an ordinary person. But he is wrong. Uncle Jonathan and his next-door neighbor, Mrs. Zimmermann, are both magicians! Lewis is thrilled. At first, watching magic is enough. Then Lewis experiments with magic himself and unknowingly resurrects the former owner of the house: a woman named Selenna Izard. It seems that Selenna and her husband built a timepiece into the walls—a clock that could obliterate humankind. And only the Barnavelts can stop it!

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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3 comments

  1. I saw the trailer for the movie. It’s a good choice for Halloween.

  2. I haven’t read the book, but I did watch the movie. I really enjoyed it, and now I’m curious about the series it’s based on. Great review!

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