John Anthony Bellairs was born January 17, 1938 in the historic community of Marshall, Michigan, the first of three children born to Frank and Virginia Bellairs. Attending his elementary grades at St. Mary's Roman Catholic School, John joined the ranks of public schooling at Marshall High School in 1951, graduating four years later. In South Bend, Indiana, Bellairs's interest in English literature blossomed and soon the English major was a member of various literature clubs and, during his senior year, writing a series of humor articles for the student-produced weekly, the Scholastic.
Bellairs later made history when he and four other students appeared on the G.E. College Quiz Bowl program in March 1959, with Bellairs rattling off line after line of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales - in perfect Middle English. A Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Bellairs graduated Magna cum Laude and moved to Chicago whereupon he shortly earned a Masters in English from The University of Chicago.
In 1963 John began a career of teaching, first in Winona, Minnesota at the College of Saint Teresa as an instructor of English. By 1966 his first book, St. Fidgeta and Other Parodies, was released and he was teaching in Mount Carroll, Illinois as a member of the Humanities faculty at Shimer College. There for only one year, he moved overseas to live and write in Bristol, England for six months. He relocated to Massachusetts upon his return in 1968 with a second book, The Pedant and the Shuffly, soon released. He married Priscilla Braids on June 24 and began teaching English at Emmanuel College in Boston. A third book, The Face in the Frost, was published the following year.
After a two-year teaching post at Merrimack College in North Andover, Bellairs' years of writing and rewriting paid off in 1973 with his young-adult masterpiece, The House With a Clock in its Walls, a supernatural thriller staring the portly Lewis Barnavelt, Uncle Jonathan Barnavelt, and their neighbor Florence Zimmermann. Two sequels, The Figure in the Shadows and The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, quickly followed.
House, and a later book, The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, were adapted for television in the early 1980s. Over the course of that decade, Bellairs wrote nine books, many focusing on fan-favorite Johnny Dixon and Professor Roderick Childermass's exploits in geography akin to Bellairs' adoptive New England, including The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull and The Trolley to Yesterday. Another set of characters - Anthony Monday and Miss Myra Eells - also fought supernatural battles against wizards and warlocks in rural Minnesota, as seen in The Dark Secret of Weatherend and The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb. The books earned Bellairs a multitude of fans - some wrote to him to express their excitement and ask how he kept coming up with ideas, while others had the privledge to meet him face to face when he visited school libraries, universities, and other conferences to discuss his life as a "famous author."
After his death in 1991, author Brad Strickland completed four novels from preliminary drafts Bellairs had created, including The Ghost in the Mirror and The Doom of the Haunted Opera. Since 1996 Strickland has kept Bellairs's legacy alive, writing his own further adventures of Johnny Dixon and Lewis Barnavelt that include The Hand of the Necromancer; The Tower at the End of the World; and The House Where Nobody Lived.
John Bellairs was honored by his hometown in 1992 with a historical marker outside the famed residence that served as inspiration for The House with a Clock in its Walls, and later, in 2000, was inducted into the Haverhill, Massachusetts Hall of Fame.