This small classic of scary-whimsical fantasy is absolutely fantastic. Someone ought to reprint it for the small but extremely appreciative audience it would undoubtedly find, perhaps among fans of Susannah Clarke and Neil Gaiman.

It concerns two elderly, somewhat bumbling wizards who are best friends, Prospero (not that Prospero) and Roger Bacon (not exactly that Bacon either, though he does encounter a brazen head at one point.) Prospero is alone in his peculiar but cozy house, arguing with his cranky magic mirror, when disturbing things begin to happen: a cloak and a moth attack him, eerie feelings are felt, a face appears in the frost, and Roger barely makes it inside the door. The wizards set off to find out what’s going on.

As I began reading, I thought with some regret that had I first read the book when I was a child, I would have been terrified, but as an adult, it was only mildly creepy. I kept reading, pleased and amused but not especially scared, and next thing I knew it was late at night and was that a noise? Was that a faint tapping at the shuttered window? What possessed me to begin reading this book so late, anyway? Without any gore or overt violence, this book succeeded in scaring the living daylights out of me.

It’s also very funny. The anachronistic and playful tone was probably influenced by T. H. White’s Sword, though it’s not quite as erudite. I mentioned Clarke and Gaiman earlier, and suspect it might have influenced them; Bellairs may himself have been influenced by White and maybe Hope Mirrlees, not to mention The Hobbit. All the same, the book feels very much one of a kind. (I did read Bellairs’ other famous book, The House with a Clock in its Walls, and enjoyed it but didn’t think it was a masterpiece.)

The end is a bit pell-mell and deus ex machine (via, to my delight, the unexpected appearance of a helpful Jewish wizard) but the resolution, while leaving much unsaid, is nonetheless satisfying.

You can buy it used here: The Face in the Frost

ETA: Or much more reasonably here: http://loligo.dreamwidth.org/389267.html
This small classic of scary-whimsical fantasy is absolutely fantastic. Someone ought to reprint it for the small but extremely appreciative audience it would undoubtedly find, perhaps among fans of Susannah Clarke and Neil Gaiman.

It concerns two elderly, somewhat bumbling wizards who are best friends, Prospero (not that Prospero) and Roger Bacon (not exactly that Bacon either, though he does encounter a brazen head at one point.) Prospero is alone in his peculiar but cozy house, arguing with his cranky magic mirror, when disturbing things begin to happen: a cloak and a moth attack him, eerie feelings are felt, a face appears in the frost, and Roger barely makes it inside the door. The wizards set off to find out what’s going on.

As I began reading, I thought with some regret that had I first read the book when I was a child, I would have been terrified, but as an adult, it was only mildly creepy. I kept reading, pleased and amused but not especially scared, and next thing I knew it was late at night and was that a noise? Was that a faint tapping at the shuttered window? What possessed me to begin reading this book so late, anyway? Without any gore or overt violence, this book succeeded in scaring the living daylights out of me.

It’s also very funny. The anachronistic and playful tone was probably influenced by T. H. White’s Sword, though it’s not quite as erudite. I mentioned Clarke and Gaiman earlier, and suspect it might have influenced them; Bellairs may himself have been influenced by White and maybe Hope Mirrlees, not to mention The Hobbit. All the same, the book feels very much one of a kind. (I did read Bellairs’ other famous book, The House with a Clock in its Walls, and enjoyed it but didn’t think it was a masterpiece.)

The end is a bit pell-mell and deus ex machine (via, to my delight, the unexpected appearance of a helpful Jewish wizard) but the resolution, while leaving much unsaid, is nonetheless satisfying.

You can buy it used here: The Face in the Frost

ETA: Or much more reasonably here: http://loligo.dreamwidth.org/389267.html
.

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