Roderick Childermass

From our introduction to the professor in The Curse of the Blue Figurine, Childermass is almost frightening, what with his legendary temper, here involving snow and cars and other moments of life. It's no wonder we learn he has a Fuss Closet where he blows off steam by punching padded walls and was nicknamed The Crab in WWI. However, as irritable as he comes across, Childermass also has a compassionate side just as noteworthy and if he likes you, as he does with Johnny, he can become a great friend indeed. Plus the man really likes creating various chocolate-themed deserts. How bad a fella can this guy really be?

Johnny and Professor Childermass continues Bellairs' trend of having an older character befriend a younger one (like Uncle Jonathan and Lewis and Miss Eells and Anthony). Though Johnny lives with his paternal grandparents, it is the professor who seems like the grandfatherly figure in the young boy's life. Their friendship plays a prominent role through the course of the series as Johnny and his elderly neighbor are introduced to the weird wonders of the world and put their lives on the line to help the other.

In both Curse and its follow-up, The Mummy, the Will and the Crypt, Johnny stumbles upon strange objects and locations that eventually overcome him and each time it's the unquestionable loyalty of Professor Childermass who comes to his rescue, going to any length across New England to find his friend and destroy the malevolent forces at work.

In The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, it's the professor who is in danger, having succumbed to an unknown family curse. Johnny bravely enlists the help of Father Thomas Higgins and Fergie to travel across New England to try and save their friend. But finding and rescuing Childermass comes with a price and the evil Windrow spirit that enslaved Childermass has turned his attention to Johnny, the one responsible for interrupting the Childermass curse. As a result, The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost is on Johnny as Childermass and Fergie team up to find a pair of legendary relics to try and save their friend's life.

Character

Inventing a fictional character to express both real and exaggerated traits was probably a great source of pleasure to Bellairs, seeing how Childermass could easily have been the author at later stage in life. Both shared a preferred brand of tobacco, a deep appreciation and love of history and an eventual dislike of teaching.

Bellairs kept Childermass true to his established (and arguably predictable) habits and behaviors for the remainder of the books that he authored. Brad Strickland, who completed one book, The Drum, the Doll, and the Zombie (1994), and created three others of his own in this series, said of his first, The Hand of the Necromancer, that he didn't feel he got the character quite right.

"It's the one I'm least satisfied with...too tentative and somehow less Dixon-like than the others. I guess it was that John had no part in it, so it was a scary solo flight. The rhythm of the book feels off to me, and I don't think I did quite as good a job with the Professor Childermass as in Drum, which I confess a strong fondness for because after a lot of effort, I thought I finally got his personality right."