Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Lewis Barnavelt has gone off to Boy Scout camp for the summer, and his best friend Rose Rita Pottinger is left at home feeling resentful. She's also turning into a teenager, and dealing with enormously ambivalent feelings about growing up.

Her friend, the good witch Mrs. Zimmermann, offers to take Rose Rita with her on a trip to visit a farmhouse she inherited from an eccentric cousin, who claimed in a letter to have found a magic ring while digging in a nearby field. They drive up there, encounter an unfriendly neighbor with a grudge against Mrs. Z, and go to the house to find the ring stolen.

They continue on a long rambling holiday around Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but eerie happenings keep popping up, and at one point Mrs. Z becomes mysteriously ill. They head back to the house...and then Mrs. Z disappears, and Rose Rita must figure things out on her own.

THE LETTER, THE WITCH, AND THE RING (1976) is a bit different for Bellairs; this time he was seriously trying to explore Rose Rita's emotions and feelings about getting older. I'm not sure it always rings true, but it's good he was stretching himself.

The villain, Gert Biggers, is probably Bellairs' most sympathetic villain; she's someone who has led a hard life and wishes for a fresh start. Too bad she's consumed with bitterness and resentment, and a psycho to boot. There's some interesting background to Mrs. Zimmermann, and she also presents a good example of self-acceptance as she adjusts to life without her powers, which were lost in the last book.

There's some good atmosphere here, with the empty farmhouse and the storm-tossed fields, but sometimes the book drags a little with the descriptions of them driving around small-town Michigan. Rose Rita makes a new friend with local farmgirl Aggie Sipes, who's kind of interesting, but she never appears again.

In the "About the Author" bit at the end, it's claimed this is the final volume of the Barnavelt trilogy, but many years later the series was continued. More about that later....

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