The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring
by John Bellairs
Illustrated by Richard Egielski
The Dial Press, 1976
This is the third book in the Lewis Barnavelt series, marking the end of the original trilogy. While these books can be read out of order, it is probably best to start with The House with a Clock in its Walls. As with the other books in this series, this is a fantasy/ghost story written for tweens/young adults.
Whle the first two books focus primarily on Lewis Barnavelt, for most of this book he is away at summer camp, leaving most of the adventuring to Rose Rita. She is somewhat bummed out at being abandoned by Lewis, so Mrs. Zimmermann offers to take her along on a trip upstate to sort out the affairs of her recently deceased cousin. This cousin was a bit weird, and his last letter to Mrs. Zimmermann mentioned a magic ring that he had found in a forest meadow. Mrs. Zimmermann is very doubtful of this claim, but Rose Rita is happy to have something magical to look forward to.
When they arrive at the deceased cousin's farm, they find that the house has been ransacked and the ring stolen. Mrs. Zimmermann is unimpressed, and after cleaning up a bit, they go off on a road trip to explore Northern Michigan. Before long, though, strange things start to happen -- strange figures in the dark, signs of black magic, and mysterious illnesses. As things escalate, Mrs. Zimmerman is put out of commission, and it is up to Rose Rita to figure out who is stalking them, and why, and how to stop them.
While this is a great spooky story and a good read for boys and girls alike, this is also a coming of age story for Rose Rita (although not exactly in a puberty sense). Throughout these books the stifling gender roles of the 1940s have been a reoccurring theme. Lewis is a bookworm, is not good at sports, and is generally perceived a bit of a wimp. Rose Rita is a tomboy, and is good at sports and fighting and the like. As they move into their teens, social pressure is building for Rose Rita to wear skirts and nylons and go to dances. She does some serious pondering on these matters, and has some serious conversations with Mrs. Zimmerman. These are generally positive conversations, and carry good messages that are still important today, even if the specific content is dated. However, none of this will prevent boys or fantasy aficionados from enjoying this book.
Overall, this is the best developed and best written of the Lewis Barnavelt series, being more accessible than The House, but longer and more filling than The Figure in the Shadows. The 1949 setting is interesting, the plot is involved but easy to follow, and the characters develop well without breaking from the past books. I highly recommend it, although as I mentioned, I do recommend reading the books in order.
The House with a Clock in its Walls -- The Figure in the Shadows -- The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring -- The Ghost in the Mirror
Accelerated reader level: 4.7