Wednesday, October 5, 2011


The September NY Sci-Fi has a review by Darrell Schweitzer of a NESFA omnibus edition of John Bellairs' complete work for adults. I always take a peek at the NESFA Press table at conventions I attend, but though this book was published two years ago, I hadn't heard of it. I can't really justify buying it: I have all three of the published books it includes, and it wouldn't be worth purchasing just for the editorial material and the incomplete draft of an unfinished book. (This is not a hint to people who buy me presents, or if it is, it's not the hint you expect.) I really should get it from a library, but none around here have it.

Darrell's analysis of Bellairs' writing is typically acute and reminds me of my own close encounters with Bellairs and his books. First on the list is St. Figeta and Other Parodies, his Catholic humor book. Like Darrell, I used to make a habit of buying up copies, once easy to find cheap at book sales, and spreading them around, particularly after I gave one to a friend who knew Bellairs' other work but exclaimed that he'd never seen this one before.

Then there's The Pedant and the Shuffly, which was decidedly not easy to find in those days. I have a copy of the Mythopoeic Press's offset edition in softcover, which probably came into existence because of the occasion that put the book in Mythopoeic Society lore. When Bellairs was Guest of Honor at Mythcon in 1987, characters from Pedant were the ones that master costumers Ellie Farrell and Deb Jones decided to depict in the masquerade, with the help of a couple friends including Sherwood Smith. And since hardly anyone there knew the book, they decided to turn their presentation into a short skit outlining the plot, with the help of a narration which they asked me to read. It was a success, Bellairs was delighted, and it began a tradition of putting on a similar skit, usually inspired by the works of the Guest of Honor, at Mythcon every year, by a troupe which became known as the Not Ready for Mythcon Players. And I still read the narration ... every year. Though I sometimes wonder exactly what I am doing.

Finally, The Face in the Frost, his masterpiece. Darrell is correct that this obscurely-distributed book came to fantasy readers' attention when Lin Carter praised it in his fantasy survey Imaginary Worlds. But it too was hard to find. I first read it from the library. It became easier to find some years later when Ace published a paperback for which Ellen Kushner was responsible. I didn't buy that edition; I already had a hardback by then. But it's not clear from the review whether the account in the book's editorial matter includes what I understand was another key part of the story.

A year or two earlier, Tom Whitmore of The Other Change of Hobbit had stumbled on a stack of remaindered copies of the hardcover in some book wholesaler warehouse. Knowing of the novel's legendary reputation, he procured them all and they sold like hotcakes, one of them to me. They sold so well, in fact, that although no additional payments were due on the remaindered copies, he decided to offer the author a royalty. My small part in this was to track down the identity of Bellairs' agent, so that Tom had someone to give the money to. (In those pre-Web days, author contact information could be elusive.) My understanding is that the news of this conflagration of a sale of his apparently forgotten book convinced Bellairs' publishers that there was still a market for it, and at least contributed to the paperback sale, though I don't know anything more about the details than that.

This is far too personal and fragmentary a comment to be worth a letter to the magazine, so I put it in this personal and fragmentary forum instead.

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