The Ghost in the Mirror: Gothic creepiness for all ages

children's fantasy book review John Bellairs The Ghost in the MirrorThe Ghost in the Mirror by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI may not be the best person to review John Bellairs’ The Ghost in the Mirror (1993), since it is clearly one book of many in a series, and I’ve only just arrived. When I picked up my copy from the library, I had no idea that it was part of a larger set, when in fact, Bellairs has written sixteen books that contain the characters found within this book.

I should say at this point that Bellairs’ passed away in 1991, leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts. Brad Strickland has completed many of his stories, including this one. But I certainly couldn’t see a drop in quality, or any obvious change in style. But then again, I’m a newcomer and this review can only judge the merits of this one particular book. It may therefore be inadequate in assessing its worth as part of a longer-running series, but maybe I can fairly review The Ghost in the Mirror without either the baggage or advantage of the other books.

Mrs Zimmermann is a witch who has lost her powers and is feeling a bit lonely since her good friends Jonathan and Lewis Barnavelt have gone to Europe. She has her young friend Rose Rita to keep her company, but Mrs Zimmermann is troubled by eerie shadows and visions that appear on her walls and ceilings every night.

But she believes that her old teacher Granny Wetherbee is trying to contact her, asking her for help. So she and Rose Rita are soon on a road-trip to Pennsylvania (where Granny Wetherbee used to live) in order to solve the mystery. The adventure really starts when the two of them drive through a tunnel…and arrive on the other side to find themselves in the middle of 1828’s freezing cold winter (as opposed to 1951’s warm and muggy summer).

Rose Rita is nervous, but Mrs Zimmermann is excited, as the two find themselves a part of a Pennsylvania Dutch family who are in serious trouble. The Wiess family are the victims of slander, with their Grandpa Dexel accused of hexing, and the two time-travelers know what tragic fate awaits the family should they not take action against the forces that oppose them.

Throw in some magic mirrors, sinister spells, buried treasure, and a spooky graveyard or two and you have a satisfying read, especially for young readers who enjoy getting spooked. There are a couple of clichés: Mrs Zimmermann gets temporary amnesia, and the main villain pauses in his evil plan to give a lengthy monologue about the whys and wherefores of his evil, but the pace is brisk, the characterization is solid, and the plot-points hang together nicely and are brought to their logical conclusion.

I enjoyed the friendship between the elderly Mrs Zimmerman and the young Rose Rita (how often do you find an old lady/young girl team-up in children’s literature?) and there is a critical eye fixed upon the damaging consequences of gossip and hearsay.

For a time-slip adventure, there is little in the way of exploring life as it was lived in a different time and place (though I did appreciate a detail that explained that Pennsylvania Dutch weren’t actually Dutch at all). There are other little tidbits of course, such as the food and transportation used in the 1800s, as well as plenty of arcane knowledge about the magical arts, but the past isn’t brought vividly to life (though I guess that such things aren’t really the point of these stories.)

I’m sure that getting the most enjoyment of these books relies on one’s foreknowledge of the other books in this series, where the characters appear as old friends rather than new acquaintances, and the problems that they face have context (such as how Mrs Zimmermann lost her powers, why Rose Rita cringes every time she thinks of her first dance, and what exactly Jonathan and Lewis got up to in Europe — though perhaps that last one’s in a later book).

So my advice to you is: start at the beginning with The House With a Clock In Its Walls. With an atmosphere that’s somewhat reminiscent of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, which in turn is based on the dreary stylings of Edgar Allan Poe, I’d recommend John Bellairs to young readers (or old) who enjoy a little Gothic creepiness mixed into their reading material.

~Rebecca Fisher (2010)


children's fantasy book review John Bellairs The Ghost in the Mirror Well, Rebecca wrote a terrific review of The Ghost in the Mirror despite not having read its predecessors.

The LEWIS BARNAVELT books stand alone well enough and, though it’s nice to have a little background about the characters, the authors (John Bellairs and Brad Strickland) do a fine job of catching up the reader quickly by sketching out the important points at the beginning of the story. I will agree with Rebecca on multiple points which I wrote in my notes as I read The Ghost in the Mirror with my daughter: I love the relationship between Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmerman, I enjoyed learning about the Pennsylvania Dutch, and I was annoyed at the evil villain for talking so much that he basically defeated himself. As Rebecca mentioned, the story is quite scary.

What Rebecca didn’t know, and what I found surprising, was that Rose Rita wanted to go on another trip with Mrs. Zimmerman after what happened the last time in The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring. If you’ve read that book, you will be wondering this too.

John Bellairs died two years before this book was published in 1993 (17 years since the previous book!). Brad Strickland has taken over the series and, surprisingly, I can detect no difference in style, tone, or content. This has been a seamless transition.

My daughter and I continue to listen to the audiobooks which we really love. This one is 4.25 hours long.

~Kat Hooper

The Ghost in the Mirror — (1972-1993) Ages 9-12. Publisher: It was a warm summer day in 1951 when Rose Pottinger and Mrs. Zimmermann entered the tunnel. When they had emerged, it was snowing…and the year was 1828. Mrs. Zimmermann had felt that the ghost of Granny Wetherbee, who had taught Mrs. Zimmermann witchery, was in trouble and needed help. So she and Rose Rita had traveled to Pennsylvania where Granny had lived. They never dreamed that they would also journey back to a time long ago where they would encounter a sorcerer more terrifying than either could have imagined.

John Bellairs Lewis Barnavelt review 1. The House with a Clock in Its Walls 2. The Figure in the Shadows 3. The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera John Bellairs Lewis Barnavelt review 1. The House with a Clock in Its Walls 2. The Figure in the Shadows 3. The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera John Bellairs Lewis Barnavelt review 1. The House with a Clock in Its Walls 2. The Figure in the Shadows 3. The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera John Bellairs Lewis Barnavelt review 1. The House with a Clock in Its Walls 2. The Figure in the Shadows 3. The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera John Bellairs Lewis Barnavelt review 1. The House with a Clock in Its Walls 2. The Figure in the Shadows 3. The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera John Bellairs Lewis Barnavelt review 1. The House with a Clock in Its Walls 2. The Figure in the Shadows 3. The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera Lewis Barnavelt John Bellairs Brad Strickland 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera 7. The Specter from the Magician's Museum 8. The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge 9. The Tower At the End of the World 10. The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost 12. The House Where Nobody LivedLewis Barnavelt John Bellairs Brad Strickland 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera 7. The Specter from the Magician's Museum 8. The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge 9. The Tower At the End of the World 10. The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost 12. The House Where Nobody LivedLewis Barnavelt John Bellairs Brad Strickland 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera 7. The Specter from the Magician's Museum 8. The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge 9. The Tower At the End of the World 10. The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost 12. The House Where Nobody LivedLewis Barnavelt John Bellairs Brad Strickland 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera 7. The Specter from the Magician's Museum 8. The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge 9. The Tower At the End of the World 10. The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost 12. The House Where Nobody LivedLewis Barnavelt John Bellairs Brad Strickland 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera 7. The Specter from the Magician's Museum 8. The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge 9. The Tower At the End of the World 10. The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost 12. The House Where Nobody Lived 13. The Sign of the Sinister SorcererLewis Barnavelt John Bellairs Brad Strickland 4. The Ghost in the Mirror 5. The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder 6. The Doom of the Haunted Opera 7. The Specter from the Magician's Museum 8. The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge 9. The Tower At the End of the World 10. The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost 12. The House Where Nobody Lived 13. The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer

This series was started by John Bellairs and finished by Brad Strickland.


SHARE:  Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwitterrsstumblr
If you plan to buy this book, you can support FanLit by clicking on the book cover above and buying it (and anything else) at Amazon. It costs you nothing extra, but Amazon pays us a small referral fee. Click any book cover or this link. We use this income to keep the site running. It pays for website hosting, postage for giveaways, and bookmarks and t-shirts. Thank you!

REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

View all posts by

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.

View all posts by

Review this book and/or Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *