[Book Review] The House With a Clock in Its Walls (John Bellairs, 1973) ★★★★★

book cover The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs 197

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a wonderful scary magical book that is suitable for children and adults alike.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a supernatural magical book for children, but also very enjoyable for adults. It’s the first book in the series of Lewis Barnavelt and his magical adventures. The series consists of 12 novels, and although the first one is written in 1973 the story doesn’t feel outdated but is still a very scary and fun and exciting read. 

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After Lewis Barnavelt has become an orphan he’s on his way to live with uncle Jonathan at 100 High Street in New Zebedee. It’s a big house and he also meets the neighbor Mrs Florence Zimmerman who takes care of Jonathan. Lewis thinks they are both very strange and he is right. Because his uncle Jonathan proves to be a warlock and Mrs Zimmerman a witch. But there’s also something strange about the house. Five years ago an evil warlock named Isaac Izard lived there with his wife Selenna and they hid a magical clock inside the house. Jonathan and Florence are still looking for it but haven’t found it yet, although you can hear it tick. They want to find it because they don’t know what it is made for, but it must be something bad. When Lewis makes a new friend, Tarby he wants to impress him and does some magic, with severe consequences. 

Why you should read it

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a children’s book and children who love scary stories with magic in it will love it, but also adults will appreciate this wonderfully written story. It’s a story that can be actually quite scary and takes children seriously who want to be scared in their own safe environment. But the scary scenes are brightened up by some humorous witty writing and balances the scary things out with light fun. 

Uncle Jonathan and Mrs Zimmerman are the most delightful and playful adults without becoming childish and lame oblivious adults. The dynamics with each other and with Lewis are marvelous and deliver great fun and add to the adventure Lewis is dragged into. They make the dangers lighter and less dangerous and are always there to help Lewis and to keep him safe. Uncle Jonathan is a heavy man with a big beard and Mrs Zimmerman has the most wrinkly face Lewis has ever seen. But she has a Doctor Magicorum Artium which makes her an extraordinary capable witch. Much better than Uncle Jonathan, who only has a degree in Agriculture. 

The pace is fast and exciting and has a darker tone now and then to make it a real scary story. The magic is fantastic and will speak to the imagination. The storytelling is delightful and will reel you into this strange adventure full of mystery. 

It’s Lewis’ actions that make up the story that has an important theme that addresses friendship. It’s the first time that Lewis had an actual friend, but that shows and he doesn’t always know what friendship entails. People aren’t always what they seem to be or pretend they are, and not everybody is worthy of your particular friendship. It has to come from both ways. 

The story therefore is all about 10 year-old Lewis. He’s not much of a hero. He’s a bit too heavy, he cries quickly, but he’s also smart and brave, and he wants to impress his new friend Tarby who’s everything he’s not. And the secret of how to practice magic makes him a bit too confident, getting himself into more trouble than he can handle. The way the story is focused on Lewis and told is very aimed at children so that they can understand what’s happening while it still stays a creepy read. 

And there are some scary bits. Like them being chased by a mysterious car. Lewis sees his dead aunt in the middle of the night. There’s a scary cemetery at night. And they get attacked by an evil witch. Both the wonderful magical sides as the dark evil sides of magic are shown to Lewis and the readers. 

My favorite part

The way how Lewis’ character and actions are described is playful but also very significant for the story. He’s certainly not an ordinary character or a born hero, he’s different and maybe more relatable to children, because of the variety in character traits, that make him really come to life and make him a real boy, who could be you or someone you know. I also really loved the car chase. It’s such a well-written scene and very exciting and weird. 

A favorite quote

‘“Well, I had no sooner moved in here that I felt something was wrong. The house had a kind of listening stillness. And then I heard it.” “Heard what?” (…) “The clock,..”’


Rating: ★★★★★

Thrill factor: ★★★★☆

Scare factor: ★★★★☆

Originality factor: ★★★★★

Entertainment factor: ★★★★★


The House With a Clock in Its Walls is written by John Bellairs and first published by Puffin Books in 1973. It consists of 179 pages. 

book cover The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs 1973

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