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Book: The Lamp From The Warlock’s Tomb

January 27, 2008
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We went to the library yesterday and I couldn’t help myself — I had to get a couple of John Bellairs books. I haven’t read them since I was probably 12 or 13, maybe younger. The Alameda library has a pretty good collection of them – I may have to read them all.

Anyway, The Lamp From The Warlock’s Tomb is the first one I read (I got two). In typical young-adult writing style, there aren’t a lot of unnecessary details. Things start to happen pretty quickly. Creepy things. Miss Eells, an elderly woman, and Anthony Monday, a gawky teenager, acquire an old lamp. And soon after that, strange things start to happen. Spooky sounds. Ghosts with cobwebbed faces. Scrabbling unseen fingers at the door. And a dead janitor, white and papery, with cobwebs over his face.

I remember that there are a few different heroes in these books. Or duos, actually. My favorite was Johnny Dixon and Professor Childermass (I realize now why I made the Bellairs connection with Jonathan Strange — one of the characters in Strange was named Childermass). They are in the other book that I got, which I’ll read later today after I finish studying and such.

Anyway. After a chapter or two, the strangest feeling came over me. I was back in middle school, at my house, in my freezing cold room, reading this spooky book while the rain poured outside (perhaps the fact that it was raining last night helped). I could remember walking home from school, reading the book. Yes, actually walking home from school with the book open, reading. Such a nerd. I was able to feel a shred of that original glee I felt while reading something dark, gothic, genuinely scary. Oh yeah! This is why I love spooky books and movies and Halloween! And something kind of opposite of glee… that deep loneliness I had in middle school, which drove me to get a permanent library pass so I never had to go outside to recess, so I could sit and read in the library every day rather than face all those kids. Luckily I loved books, and was friends with the librarian. Books made middle school bearable.

And besides, who couldn’t love a book with a passage like this: “Anthony followed Miss Eells down a narrow back hall to a paneled door that stood slightly ajar. Peering in, Anthony saw a tiny room that held a rolltop desk littered with bills and other papers. A floor lamp stood nearby, and beyond it was a set of shelves built into the far wall: The shelves held broken mechanical antiques — cast-iron banks, clocks, and a couple of music boxes. Pulled up to the desk was a swivel chair, and in it sat something that made Anthony’s eyes open wide. At first he thought it was a white plaster statue, a statue dressed in Mrs. Grimshaw’s clothes and fitted with a wig that looked like Mrs. Grimshaw’s hair. The figure was hunched over the desk and it gripped a pen in its chalky fingers. As Anthony and Miss Eells watched in frozen horror, the strange shape turned and stared at them, and they saw that living human eyes burned in its head. The pale mouth opened, and then the figure dissolved. It fell to pieces before their eyes, and there was nothing left but a sagging empty dress and a whitish powder that ran out across the floor and then lay in a whispering, drifting heap at their feet.”

Delicious shivers, you know?

Anyway. As an adult, there were so many unanswered questions in this book. Was the old man really a warlock? Why was the tomb so mysteriously set up? What was the ghost? Why did it kill the janitor? Why was it haunting the lamp in the first place? But this is a short YA book, and things don’t always get answered as deeply as we’d like. I have read that Bellairs wrote a few adult novels as well, and I think I need to get my hands on them. I have a feeling that 2008 is going to be the year that I remembered how much I love, adore, need to read.

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