Jonathan Van Olden Barnavelt

Jonathan Van Olden Barnavelt is the owner of 100 High Street where he and his nephew, Lewis, live in New Zebedee, Michigan. He is the brother of Lewis' deceased father, Charles, and the two meet for the first time when Lewis comes to live in New Zebedee:

There in the aisle stood a man with a bushy red beard that was streaked in several places in white. His Big Mac khaki trousers were bulged out in front by his pot belly, and he was wearing a gold-buttoned red vest over a blue work shirt. Lewis noticed that the vest had four pockets; there were pipe cleaners sticking out of the top two, and a chain of paper clips was strung between the lower pair. One end of the chain was hooked to the winding knob of a gold watch [The House with a Clock in its Walls; 5].

Even before Lewis meets this distant relative for the first time, he’s already picked up on some of his uncle’s vices and seems totally accepting of them:

...[he] had heard a few things about Uncle Jonathan, like that he smoked and drank and played poker. These were not such bad things in a Catholic family, but Lewis had two maiden aunts who were Baptists, and they had warned him about Jonathan [4].

Lewis soon learns a few things about his uncle. One, he has an A.B. degree from Michigan Agricultural College in Animal Husbandry. Secondly, and more importantly, Jonathan is a wizard, though not as powerful as their neighbor, Florence Zimmermann, who just happens to be a witch. Jonathan calls himself a "parlor magician," one who can conjure up grandiose illusions of historic battles and even eclipse the moon. Whatever his limitations, in House, he and Zimmermann must use all their abilities to stop the impending End of the World at the hand of the evil Izards. With help from Lewis, the trio finds a way to stop the ticking clock inside their house.

Jonathan continues his wizardly and fatherly role in The Figure in the Shadows, comforting Lewis about bullies and school. His next major role comes in 1993's The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder, when he and his nephew visit the Barnavelt ancestral home in England and awaken a curse on their family.

Throughout the Barnavelt series "Weird Beard" or "Brush Mush" (both typical, good-natured insults cast on Jonathan by Mrs. Zimmermann), is a voice of reason and good-humor who must take on a new role as parental figure in Lewis's life.


Originally Jonathan's role in the story was to be much larger, as early first draft focused mainly on the adult character; subsequent rewrites at the request of an editor changed the hero’s role to Lewis. As a result Jonathan became the first of Bellairs' older characters to befriend younger and timid protagonists, traits seen throughout all of Bellairs’ young adult fiction. This bond between the generations is modeled somewhat after aspects of Bellairs' relationship with his paternal grandfather, John Monk, who "was a model of kindness and friendship" [You Can Take the Boy out of Michigan, But..., 1987] and taught the young Bellairs to read. Likewise, some of Jonathan's traits and habits are easily modeled after aspects of Bellairs' own personality - or what he would have liked to become at an older age.