The Letter, the Witch and the Ring

The Letter, the Witch and the Ring - John Bellairs

Rose Rita faces a summer alone after Lewis goes to Boy Scout camp. It gets worse when her mother suggests they have a "little talk" about boys and girls soon, and Rose Rita thinks about how she's 13 now and about to enter Junior High where there's even less room for a tomboy like her as well as dances and dating.

Thankfully Mrs. Zimmerman invites her along on a road trip to see the sights of Upper Michigan and take care of some inherited property. But there's something amiss. When they arrive a ring that may be magical has been stolen and it feels to Rose Rita that her and Mrs. Zimmerman aren't alone either in the new Plymouth Cranbrook on lonely backroads or in the bedrooms of the tourist homes they stop in at. Bellairs really creates a claustrophobic mood that's offset by Rose Rita's inner struggle about what the future will hold for her and Lewis' friendship.

What I really love, more and more, about Bellairs' books, particularly these early ones, is his grey shading of his characters and villains. The evil here isn't faceless. In Clocks Jonathan theorizes that Isaac and Selena Izzard weren't treated so well in the present world and so took drastic steps to begin a new one, the Figure in 'The Figure in the Shadows' came to be after he was burned alive in his house, but in 'The Letter' the villain is unnervingly sympathetic. Gert Bigger blames Mrs. Zimmerman for her eventual fate of being married to a wife-beater after Mrs. Zimmerman won away the affection of a boy in their youth. Lewis found acceptance in 'The House with a Clock in its Walls' and faced down his inner demons in 'The Figure in the Shadows' but we didn't know much about his best friend.

Rose Rita becomes a fully fleshed out character and her outsider status, as a tomboy and otherwise peculiar girl in 1950, is explored. This was the last Lewis/Rose Rita book completely written by Bellairs, he wrote two different similarly themed series after this, which disappoints me still, but I see why he left them behind, now. Bellairs had moved Rose Rita and Lewis forward to the point where, almost inevitably, their friendship would turn towards romance or break apart when all Rose Rita wants is for things to remain the same. That awareness of Rose Rita's about the changes approaching because of their ages and because of societal expectations dominates the book and elevates it above some of Bellairs' later output and all of Brad Strickland's completions and original "John Bellairs Mysteries".


Lewis & Rose Rita


Next: 'The Ghost in the Mirror'


Previous: 'The Figure in the Shadows'