Lewis Barnavelt

Lewis Barnavelt is John Bellairs' first young protagonist, a timid, chubby boy whose actions and interests are akin to those of the author as a thirteen year-old growing up in Marshall. We are introduced to Lewis' strange but somewhat familiar world in The House with a Clock in its Walls and follow his encounters in The Figure in the Shadows.

Background

Lewis is the only son of Charles Barnavelt and his (unnamed) wife, both of whom died sometime in 1948 in an automobile accident in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After this traumatizing ordeal, Lewis is sent to live with Charlie's brother, Jonathan, in New Zebedee, Michigan.

Fitting In

Lewis is very much a loner in his new surroundings, usually content to stay at home and read or visit with his uncle or next-door neighbor Mrs. Zimmermann - or even take part in one of their poker games! He does get out of his new home, the three-story monolith at 100 High Street, enough to explore New Zebedee though his low self-esteem prevents him from maintaining friendships with those his own age.

Soon after his encounter with Selenna Izard, Lewis meets and is befriended by Rose Rita Pottinger.

Character

Even without a lot of detective work, John is obviously pulling some autobiographic elements from his past to create Lewis:

"I was overweight and the other kids thought I was weird and I liked to read. I would walk...between my home and Catholic school and have medieval fantasies featuring me as the hero."

"The heroes of my books are loners and outsiders because that's the way I felt when I was a kid: if you're fat, brainy, can't play sports, and are physically cowardly, you don't fit in."

"The common ordinary stuff - the bullies, the scaredy-cat kid Lewis, the grown-ups, the everyday incidents - all come from my own experience."

A lot of people have said they identify with Bellairs’ characters, either being alone a lot as a child or being a bookworm or not getting along with others their own age. It’s a bit early in the story to see Lewis’ shining moments, but how many people see this timid and insecure young man riding by himself in the back of a bus and know exactly what he is going through?

The book notes Lewis is only 10 and as it begins in 1948, that means his birth would have been around 1938 – much like Bellairs himself.

Naming

Seeing how House was originally a story focusing on an adult – i.e. Lewis’ uncle – we tend to believe (right or wrong) that the adult was named first and the child’s name came later. Knowing John had a penchant for using occasional names from his hometown, we turned our eyes to Marshall and, specifically, his high school yearbook. It’s pure coincidence at this point but we noticed there was a Lewis Shellenberger in his graduating class, and the name “Shellenberger” pops up later as one of the kids on the playground at Lewis’ school. Or maybe Lewis is a family name?

When the Barnavelt series was translated into French beginning in 2001 with La pendule d'Halloween, the publishers, Rocher, changed Lewis’s name to Kévin “to give the books a more American feel to French readers,” said French illustrator Lalex.

Adaptation

On television, actor Michael Brick portrayed Lewis in the 1979 program, Once Upon a Midnight Scary.