The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring: Rose Rita in the spotlight

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring (1976) is the third novel in John BellairsLEWIS BARNAVELT series for kids. Each is a stand-alone horror mystery. It’s not necessary to read them in order but it’d be ideal, if you can, to start with the first book, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, because that’s the one in which we watch Lewis, recently orphaned, come to live in the house of his uncle, a jovial man who’s a bit of a magician. In the second book, The Figure in the Shadows, you’ll meet Rose Rita, a tomboy who’s Lewis’ best friend.

I was surprised to discover that The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring has Rose Rita in the spotlight. We hardly see Lewis at all in this volume. Rose Rita is upset because Lewis is going to Boy Scout camp for the summer and she, without her best friend around, expects to be terribly bored.

Mrs. Zimmerman, the friendly widowed witch who lives next door to Lewis’ house, invites Rose Rita to join her on a trip to visit a farm in northern Michigan that she recently inherited from a deceased cousin. Before he died, the cousin sent her a key and mentioned that there was a magic ring in a desk drawer in the house. Mrs. Z thinks this is unlikely but, when they arrive at the house, they discover that the desk has been busted into and the ring has been stolen.

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAs Mrs. Z and Rose Rita travel around northern Michigan, several portentous events occur, and it becomes increasingly clear that someone is trying to kill Mrs. Zimmerman. Rose Rita will have to be smart, courageous, and lucky if she’s going to solve the mystery and save her friend. It seems that this summer will not be boring for Rose Rita after all!

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring is a sweet and terrifying children’s supernatural mystery. My daughter and I listened to Recorded Books’ version narrated by George Guidall. (It’s 3.75 hours long.) We were truly afraid for Rose Rita and expect her to suffer PTSD after this ordeal. Yikes!

As much as we like (and missed) Lewis, we appreciated Bellairs’ decision to feature Rose Rita and Mrs. Z in this installment. Rose Rita spends a lot of time thinking about how she hates being a girl and wishing she had been born a boy. She thinks of herself as abnormal because she isn’t interested in “girl” things like dresses, dances, and make up. She likes to watch and play baseball, and she beats up bullies. These thoughts are threatening to her and, growing up in the early 1950s, she doesn’t know how to think or talk about these feelings. I was surprised that Bellairs chose, in 1976, to focus on the topic of gender dysphoria. It will be interesting to see where he goes with it.

Published in 1976. A rich, magical gothic mystery from the legendary John Bellairs Rose Rita wishes she could go to camp like her best friend, Lewis. She’s sure that boys get to have all the fun.-until Mrs. Zimmermann offers her an adventure of her own. Mrs. Zimmermann’s cousin Oley has left her his farm, as well as a ring that he thinks is magic. But when the two arrive at the deserted farm, the ring has mysteriously vanished. What power does it have? And will the person who took it use the ring to do evil?

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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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