The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, Johnny DIxon #3 by John Bellairs

Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, The - John Bellairs


Stranger Things Square: Bellairs' Johnny Dixon series was set in the 1950s, but this was published in 1984 and features two smart-alec kids teaming up with a priest to defeat evil.


The professor invites Johnny on a winter holiday to see the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but an accident on the icy roads strands them in a small town. Coincidentally the inn in that town has one of the professor's family heirlooms in a back storage room. Of course it does. The heirloom is a tall mantel clock with a dollhouse room built into the base. It depicts a room of the Childermass  estate, the study and a doll of the professor's great-uncle on the evening of his mysterious death. Of course it does.


Inside the diorama sits exquisite miniature human skull that Johnny is fascinated by and, for reasons, ends up in his pocket. Afterwards Johnny has a compulsion to tell no one about the skull and eventually carries it around with him (did he learn NOTHING from the blue figurine?) even after he has odd dreams and the professor himself disappears after Johnny sees a phantom jack-o-lantern in the professor's window.


'Sorcerer's Skull' is noteworthy in the Bellairs canon not just for Johnny's vacation with his elderly friend Roderick Childermass, but because he also goes on a "pleasure outing" with the parish priest, along with Fergie. This is considered a good cover, as the real reason they were off together was to battle supernatural forces, but that would have provoked suspicion.


It's a sad fact of today's world that parents would have every right to be suspicious of elderly gentlemen spiriting their children away on trips all the time. The fact that one is a priest...whoo boy....


Anyway, the nice thing about reading these Dixon mysteries more or less in order is that I can see how Bellairs did build in some initial skepticism on the part of the professor and the boys towards the supernatural. In a few books they'll be all "Welp, time to go back in time in the trolley buried in my basement" and no one will think twice. It's nice to know everyone in Duston Heights started off in the real world.


Overall this was not a strong addition to the series. Way too many coincidences going on here. I mean, couldn't the professor have just found the clock in the attic instead of in a stranger's house in a town he'd never been to? The clock had actually been stolen? I mean, evil tramp warlocks can curse people from beyond the grave, but let's be plausible about it.


Johnny Dixon


Next: 'The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost'


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