The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt – John Bellairs; Puffin, 1996
I re-read this novel this month. I had been looking for it (new and used) for a long time – I finally found it at Mr. K’s in Charleston, SC for $1.50. I really cannot emphasize what a difficult time it was locating this book. I think it was out of print for awhile? I am surprised they did not charge at least $3 for it. It was originally published in 1983, but the copy I read is the 1996 edition. I have a bit of a history with this book. I attempted to read it once when I was a small person. But I grew bored with it and did not get far into it. A year or so later, I picked it up again and found it gripping and intense and scary. I remembered it a few years ago and started hunting for it.
The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt is the second in the Johnny Dixon series of novels written by John Bellairs (1938 – 1991). I have never read the first, but it is quite famous. I own the next in the Johnny Dixon series and I have never read that one. I intend to do so once I make a bit more headway into my to-be-read-mountain.
Is this a “kid’s” novel? I suppose, technically, it is. It’s to be found in the kid’s section, the size and language are accessible to most kids, and the main character is a young boy. However, it is written in the Gothic-style that Bellairs is known for. Reading along, you do feel that Bellairs was influenced by Lovecraft. I find Lovecraftian influences everywhere, by the way.
This novel is a bit somber. The young main character is shy, anxious, and intense. He’s a good kid that plays chess, is in the Boy Scouts, and has no friends his own age. His best friend is a retired ex-military professor who lives in the house across the street from Johnny’s grandparents. Johnny lives with his grandparents because his mother passed away and his father is overseas in the Korean War. So, the novel, though published in the 1980s seems to be set in the 1950s.
The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt – John Bellairs; Bantam 1983
There are several elements that are great about this novel. The first is the Lovecraftian-horror-Gothic style. I love it. And nowadays children are not supposed to read such things. Their “literature” is sanitized and factory-produced. Bellairs’ novels have this macabre feeling to them that is just not “okay” with the yuppie-parenting of today. I don’t have any offspring, but if I did, I would definitely have this on their bookshelves. It is not grossly horrific. It is not filthy. It’s just creepy and Lovecraftian and excellent for rainy autumn nights.
The second element which I absolutely love (and which also makes the novel “unacceptable” for children) is the element of religion. Bellairs is a graduate of Notre Dame and University of Chicago. He was most likely Roman Catholic. And Johnny Dixon is too. And I absolutely approve of the way religion is written in this novel. This is not a novel about religion – and Bellairs does not make it into one. However, he does not write a sanitized “religion doesn’t exist in the world” novel, either. He doesn’t preach or turn the novel into some pseudo-morality tale soggy and dripping with Bible interpretations. Bellairs writes it all perfectly. Johnny is a Roman Catholic. Let’s not make that into a thing. It is what it is. There are Roman Catholics in the world and Johnny is one of them. Not really anything remarkable about this. And the novel does not make a big deal of it – but you know when Johnny is about to enter the Crypt that he’s making the Sign of the Cross.
The main character is so interesting and the reader loves empathizing with the kid. He’s an honest kid – neither impossibly awesome, nor pathetically lame. He’s real, which might be why he is so relate-able. Authors need to learn how to write like Bellairs – everything so smooth and yet, so meaningful. Macabre and not gross. Honest, but yet a good yarn. I hear this is not really Bellairs greatest work – I cannot wait to read more and really be wow-ed by J. Bellairs.