Written in 1973, The House with a Clock in its Walls, received rave reviews from critics as having just the right amount of scary and suspense for a kids book. However, today’s kids may find it a tad slow. To find out how it translated for kids today, I read the book, and then made two of my children, ages 14 and 10, read the book before taking them to see the movie. If you want to know their reaction, check out our Facebook video, and my kid’s, my-mom-is-so-embarrassing, but she took me to the movies on a school night, so I’m doing this video, review.
The book follows the story of Lewis Barnavelt, who is sent to live with his eccentric Uncle Jonathan, after his parent’s death. He learns quickly that Uncle Jonathan isn’t just eccentric, but is actually a warlock, who then gives him some instruction on the fun he can have with magic. An awkward, and studious child, Lewis has trouble making friends, until the popular Tarby decides to spend time with him, since his arm is broken, and he can’t do sports like normal. However, once his arm is healed, he deserts Lewis for his more popular friends. To get his friend back, Lewis convinces Tarby he can do magic and can even raise the dead. When he does exactly that, he sets in motion a plan that can destroy the world.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls, is slow and suspenseful, building to an end, where Lewis finds the courage he needs to save the world, and learn how to make a real friend.
So why had it taken the world 45 years to make a movie out of a sweet but scary tale of magic and courage? Probably because Jack Black was made to play Uncle Jonathan, and the movie couldn’t be made until he was ready. He was the perfect combination of scary, eccentric and caring, as Uncle Jonathan was in the book. Nobody else could have played him.
The first half of the movie is quite similar to the book, with a few more clues in the beginning that the house is magical. While the timeline is shortened, the essence of the story and characters is displayed perfectly. It’s only when Lewis decides to raise the dead, the movie deviates dramatically from the book. The second half has less suspense, and more obvious scares. It also gives extensive back story to Uncle Jonathan, his friend and witch neighbor Florence Zimmerman, and the evil magicians, the Izards, who lived in the house before Uncle Jonathan. Those back stories create quite a different ending, which while fun, and scary, and even funny at times, lacked some of the innocence of the book.
Even with the dramatic changes, the central theme of finding your courage to do the right things, is prominent.
So which is better, the book or the movie?
14yo son says: The Movie
10yo daughter says: Both are a 7 out of 10
Mom says: Equally good. The book is a good read, and the movie was a fun adaptation.