The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs
Illustrated by Richard Egielski
Originally published 1976
Dell Yearling, 11th printing, 1977
Genre: gothic, horror, children’s
Synopsis & Review: To cheer up Rose Rita Pottinger when Lewis Barnavelt goes off to Boy Scout summer camp, Mrs Zimmerman takes her along on an errand to tidy up her recently deceased Cousin Olney’s estate. On his deathbed, Olney wrote Mrs Zimmerman of a magic ring he’d found, but when she and Rose Rita arrive at his house, it has been broken into, and a ring very obviously taken. They continue on their exploration of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but soon a resentful figure from Mrs Zimmerman’s past makes itself known. Shadows walk, death spells are cast, and Mrs Zimmerman disappears in the night, leaving Rose Rita to find her and the ring before it’s too late.
I was so enchanted by my re-read of THwaCiIW that I picked up the next book I had in the Lewis Barnavelt collection, which was the third (and final of the Bellairs books). It begins slowly, but it does get going, right around the discovery of the missing ring. I believe it suffers a bit from not being set in New Zebedee; there is less absurdity, and fewer of the little whimsical and morbidly humorous touches that iced the cake that was THwaCiIW. Rose Rita is fun, though, as Lewis’ hubristic polar opposite who worries about being too athletic and not girly enough–and how her and Lewis’ relationship will change as they grow older. Still deliciously spooky at times, and with a brisk pace that will keep a reader going to the denoument.
An entertaining and suspenseful read for any Bellairs fan, particularly any girls longing for a female protagonist. Though Richard Egielski’s little black dog is disturbing, his illustrations on the whole add significantly less to the atmosphere than did Gorey’s.
Rose Rita was not sure when, but after she had driven along the dark winding road for some time, she began to have the feeling that there was someone else int he car with them. Rose Rita didn’t know why she had this feeling, but it was there, and it was very persistent. She kept glancing up toward the rear-view mirror, but she never saw anything. After a while the feeling got to be so maddening that Rose Rita stopped the car. She put it in neutral, pulled on the emergency brake, and, as the car throbbed, she turned on the overhead light and glanced nervously into the back seat. It was empty. Rose Rita flipped off the light, put the car back in gear, and drove on. But the feeling kept coming back, and she found that it took a strong effort of the will to keep her eyes from wandering toward the rear-view mirror. The car was rounding a sharp curve when Rose Rita happened to glance up, and she saw, reflected in the mirror, the shadow of a head and two glittering eyes.
16 April 2009