Characters

Most, if not all, of John Bellairs’ characters are based on either the author himself, family and friends, or people he encountered; for example:

  • Rose Rita is based on his cousin.
  • Mrs. Zimmermann is modeled on a Wisconsin poet/author who, yes, was enthralled with the color purple.
  • Professor Childermass and Uncle Jonathan, as elderly role models, are partially based on John’s maternal grandfather, John Monk, and with personalities of how John would have liked to be as an old man.
  • Father Baart, Jute Feasal, and Hammerhandle have real-life counterparts in Marshall.
  • Snodrog’s nitpicky tendencies are based on an academic friend, the late Harvard professor, Donald Wilcox.
  • John admitted to giving his wizard, Prospero, "most of my phobias and crotchets."

Most obvious is that the lives of Lewis, Anthony, and Johnny were modeled heavily on aspects of John's own memories and personality as a young boy.

"I had a compulsive need to fantasize," Bellairs said in a 1990 interview of his own childhood. "I was overweight and the other kids thought I was weird and I liked to read. I would walk back and forth between my home and Catholic school and have medieval fantasies featuring me as the hero. I was a little ashamed of it and wondered why I did it...[but]...I used to get my idea for stories while walking home from school."

Going further, John often remarked that the things that terrified him as a boy of ten still thrilled and chilled him as an adult.

"I have the imagination of a 10-year-old...someone asked Dr. Seuss that question and his answer was personal retardation, his imagination was stuck around age 7. Same with me: I pay taxes and have all the adult problems but my imagination is that of a 10-year-old."

Brad Strickland adds that readers "can trust a John Bellairs book to tell the truth about the way young folks feel, because he has a strong and vivid memory of how he felt as a young person."

And it was writing about young people for young people that John excelled, though many readers have often asked why Lewis (age 10), Anthony (14), and Johnny (12) never seem to age and how so many adventures seem to get crammed into an impossibly-small time period described only as the "mid-1950."

Strickland says this is because John, at the urging of his editors, agreed that "Johnny would never get any older than 'about thirteen' and the series would never leave the fifties...when we did follow-ups in the Lewis Barnavelt series, we transferred the principle to that as well," though he later admitted, "it’s something of a handicap." In a 1999 letter, Strickland does explain that there is ample precedent to this sort of "fantasy chronology" in the mystery field.

"The character Ellery Queen was 35 from 1929 to 1957, when he suddenly became 52 for a few books, and then he reverted to being 35 for the rest of the series. And in the 87th Precinct mystery series, the policemen age about one year for every decade, and yet the stores are always set in the present. Another odd example of the same kind is the chronology in the popular sea novels of Patrick O’Brian. 20 of them cover the period 1801-1815, and most of them are set between 1812 and 1815. O’Brien says he invented years: 1812a, 1812b, 1812c, and so on. Oddly, though his years stay the same – about five to seven books are impossibly jammed into 1812 – the characters age one year for every book."

While the characters may not age much (or, if at all, very slowly), there have been minor changes to their personalities that are for the better, says fan Alex DeLuca: "Lewis learns to play catch, Johnny learns knots, Rose Rita learns to ride a horse – changes inherent to growing, especially during the pubescent years, do occur. There are also moments of realization of self and of personal feelings too, such as Johnny knowing that he's growing up and Lewis realizing just how much Uncle Jonathan really loves him."

John doesn’t always seem careful with ages and progressive chronological storylines, though. The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (1978) introduces 13-year-old Anthony Monday but the text reveals no explicit date of the story. Readers are free to assume, based on a familiarity of Bellairs' other books, that this too is set in the early 1950s (that said, the story is equally plausible in the 1950s as in the 1970s when it was published); however, from casual mentions of dates of death and ages, one may place the book at “nearly” (but no later than) 1959 [Treasure; 39-40]. The next book in the series, The Dark Secret of Weatherend (1984), notes it’s now August 1954, Anthony is 14 years old, and Bellairs reintroduces Emerson Eells to readers by recalling the earlier “affair of the Winterborn treasure” [Dark; 75]. For all that’s worth, Anthony has reverted to age 13 by the affairs documented in The Mansion in the Mist (1992).

And what of their futures? John, and later, Brad, give only subtle hints are to how their creations lived out their lives:

Roger Bacon

Roger Bacon


Friar Roger Bacon is a conjuror, scholar and, to the wizard Prospero, an advisor and old friend.

 

Jonathan Barnavelt


Jonathan Van Olden Barnavelt is the owner of 100 High Street where he and his nephew, Lewis, live in New Zebedee, Michigan.

 

Lewis Barnavelt


Lewis Barnavelt is a timid, chubby boy who, after his parents die, is sent to live with his uncle, Jonathan, in New Zebedee, Michigan.

 

Brewster

Brewster


Although an ancient Egyptian statue of the god Horus, Professor Childermass dubs the talkative falcon Brewster because it reminds him of a brewery advertisement.

 

Sarah Channing

Sarah Channing


New to Duston Heights, Sarah Channing meets Johnny and Fergie and shares in some of their supernatural adventures.

 

Roderick Childermass

Roderick Childermass


Professor Roderick Random Childermass is the cantankerous but lovable neighbor of Johnny Dixon in Duston Heights, Massachusetts.

 

Sir Bertram Crabetree-Gore, Esq.

Sir Bertram Crabetree-Gore, Esq.


Sir Bertram Crabtree-Gore is a kindly old sorcerer who runs up against the logic trappings or the wizard Snodrog.

 

Johnny Dixon

Johnny Dixon


After his mother dies of cancer and his father enlists in the Korean War, Johnny Dixon moves to Duston Heights to live with his grandparents.

 

Myra Eells

Myra Eells


Myra Eells is the head librarian in Hoosac, Minnesota and is the best friend of young Anthony Monday.

 

Bertram

Bertram "Bertie" Goodring


Lewis meets Bertram Goodring at the Barnavelt Manor house in England, where he lives with his mother and Pelham Barnavelt.

 

David Keller


David Keller and his parents have moved to New Zebedee where he befriends Lewis and Rose Rita. His family moves into the empty and eerie Hawaii House.

 

Rose Rita Pottinger

Rose Rita Pottinger


Rose Rita Pottinger, a resident of New Zebedee, Michigan, is the best friend of Lewis Barnavelt.

 

The Shuffly

The Shuffly


The Shuffly - the hairy, shuffling one - looks like a walking haystack and though he may eat linen napkins, he has a heart of gold and likes...loves...to play.

 

Florence Zimmermann

Florence Zimmermann


Mrs. Florence Zimmermann is kindly witch who lives in New Zebedee, Michigan, next door to the Barnavelts - Uncle Jonathan and his young nephew, Lewis - and has an unfaltering passion for all things purple.