The Figure in the Shadows

The Figure in the Shadows - John Bellairs

There was something off about this one. 'The House With A Clock In Its Walls' had originally been written as a regular novel, and only later rewritten for the juvenile market. That might be the difference. Lewis has finally made a good friend in Rose Rita Pottinger, but has also become the target of a bully, Woody Mingo. That bully is the reason he begins to fixate so much on his great-grandfather's "lucky piece", a three-cent coin, even though Mrs. Zimmerman tells him its not magical.

Lewis' Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman are mostly fringe characters, too, who are present only to comment on Lewis' behavior, not to worry though, they are still present in all their 'Weird Beard' and 'Pruny Face' name-calling glory and they come into the business by the end.

Magic shouldn't be explained, that's the beauty of it, but as an adult I could have used more grounding in where the Figure in the Shadows was coming from before Mrs. Zimmerman explains the origins of the coin/amulet at the very end. It struck me as too convenient and coming as it did from nowhere defeated the purpose of this being any kind of mystery. On the other hand, being so unexplained for so long made the Figure that much more scary reading this as a kid.

Because 'The Figure in the Shadows' is so focused on the dynamics between Lewis and Rose-Rita and confrontations with the bully, Mercer Mayer is not the odd choice that he seems to be now. Mayer can't compare with Edward Gorey's atmospheric illustrations, and he wisely doesn't illustrate most of the "scarier" scenes, but his characters' expressiveness make up for that.

Lewis is such a shy, wimpy kid that I had to root for him. I recognized a bit of myself in him, and in Rose-Rita as well, with his bookish tendencies and daydreams. There was also a considerable amount of relief that there was nobody like Woody at my school. Bellairs was still getting the feel of writing for children after the seemingly accidental perfection of 'The House with a Clock in its Walls', but this is a solid sequel.


Lewis & Rose Rita


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