American author John Bellairs (1938–1991) is perhaps best known for his gothic mystery novels for young adults. Prior to his first YA novel, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Bellairs published three adult books of significant merit: St. Fidgeta and Other Parodies, The Pedant and the Shuffly, and The Face in the Frost. Of all of Bellairs's work, St. Fidgeta remains the only title currently out of print.
John Anthony Bellairs was born in Marshall, Michigan on 17 Jan. 1938. After earning degrees at Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, Bellairs taught English at various midwest and New England colleges for several years before turning full-time to writing in 1971. He maintained a lifelong interest in archaeology, architecture, "kitsch-y" antiques, bad poetry, traveling to England, history, and Latin. His favorite authors included Charles Dickens, Henry James, C. V. Wedgwood, and Garrett Mattingly, as well as M.R. James, from whose ghost stories he occasionally borrowed elements to work into his own fiction.
The Face in the Frost Bellairs undertook after reading J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings; in the upshot, it is not much like that book, save for the fact that it shares the idea of a wizard who is palpably human and not a literary stereotype. Bellairs said of his third book: "The Face in the Frost was an attempt to write in the Tolkien manner. I was much taken by The Lord of the Rings and wanted to do a modest work on those lines. In reading the latter book I was struck by the fact that Gandalf was not much of a person--just a good guy. So I gave Prospero, my wizard, most of my phobias and crotchets. It was simply meant as entertainment and any profundity will have to be read in."
The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Bellairs's next novel, was originally composed as a contemporary adult fantasy, but at the time there was little market for such a thing. The second publisher to which it was submitted suggested rewriting it as a young readers' book; Bellairs did so, and thus determined the future course of his career. While his following books were all good-to-excellent of kind, his earlier adult work suggests to many that--not for the first or the last time--the world was deprived by economic stringencies of some works of excellence.
Bellairs died in 1991 at his home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a victim of cardiovascular disease at the age of 53. At the time of his death he left behind two unfinished manuscripts and two one-page synopses for future adventures. Author Brad Strickland was commissioned by the estate of Bellairs to complete the two unfinished manuscripts and to write novels based on the two one-page outlines. These would become The Ghost in the Mirror, The Vengeance of the Witch-finder, The Drum, the Doll and the Zombie, and The Doom of the Haunted Opera, respectively. Since then, Strickland has gone on to write eight more novels based on the characters created by John Bellairs. In 1992, a historical marker was placed in front of the Cronin House in Bellairs's hometown of Marshall, Michigan, noting that the imposing Italianate mansion was the basis for his 1973 book. In 2000 Bellairs was inducted posthumously into the Haverhill Hall of Fame.
Edward Gorey provided covers and frontispieces for all but three of Bellairs's childrens' works, and he continued to provide them for the Strickland novels until his death in 2000. The novel The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge features the last published artwork of Edward Gorey before his death.
Below is a comprehensive list of the works of John Bellairs and those completed (+) and continued (*) by Brad Strickland:
St. Fidgeta and Other Parodies (1966)
The Pedant and the Shuffly (1968)
The Face in the Frost (1969)
The House With a Clock in its Walls (1973)
The Figure in the Shadows (1975)
The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring (1976)
The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (1978)
The Curse of the Blue Figurine (1983)
The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt (1983)
The Dark Secret of Weatherend (1984)
The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull (1984)
The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost (1985)
The Eyes of the Killer Robot (1986)
The Lamp From the Warlock's Tomb (1988)
The Trolley to Yesterday (1989)
The Chessmen of Doom (1989)
The Secret of the Underground Room (1990)
The Mansion in the Mist (1992)
The Ghost in the Mirror (1993)+
The Vengeance of the Witch-finder (1993)+
The Drum, the Doll, and the Zombie (1994)+
The Doom of the Haunted Opera (1995)+
The Hand of the Necromancer (1996)*
The Bell, the Book, and the Spellbinder (1997)*
The Specter From the Magician's Museum (1998)*
The Wrath of the Grinning Ghost (1999)*
The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge (2000)*
The Tower at the End of the World (August 2001)*
The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost (August 2003)*