The public library I visited as a child had a young adult book that scared me half to death. Here's what I remember:

  • The cover art was in the style of Edward Gorey (black and white line art)
  • The setting was Victorian or thereabouts (no electricity, motorcars either non-existant or unusual)
  • The protagonist was a child isolated from their immediate family: either an orphan, or visiting distant relatives for the summer, or something like that
  • There was a big, mostly abandoned building (a museum? a mansion with an abandoned wing?)
  • This building had an invisible monster - maybe the word "ghoul" was used - that would prey on anyone in the building at night
  • You would know if the ghoul was close because candle flames would turn blue
  • The child ends up needing to go to the building at night, carrying a candle, and the flame does indeed turn blue at one point

I think I tried to read this book on two different occasions and never managed to finish it. Besides overcoming some childhood trauma, I'm also interested in the "sword turns blue when Orcs are near" / "candle flame turns blue when the ghoul is near" trope.

This was a small public library in Canada in the late 1980s.

2 Answers 2


I'm certain its a John Bellairs novel, probably the Johnny Dixon series. Edward Gorey did a whole series of covers for them, but the books have been reprinted so the Gorey covers are hard to find. The biggest problem with this suggestion is that it's not Victorian (rather 1950's), but maybe that could be explained with a power outage or something?

I think, based on Google searches including the phrase "blue candle" that it might be The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt, but I can't be certain.

Note: Google images will turn up the Gorey covers along with the new ones if you search the title.

Further note: These books were absolutely terrifying.

  • Asker wants an answer, not a direction. It's helpful, to be sure, but as a comment to help the intrepid narrow it down.
    – Solemnity
    Mar 23, 2013 at 2:19
  • 1
    True, but whoever down voted was being unkind at best Mar 24, 2013 at 9:30

Adele C had it right. It's The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt by John Bellairs.

I was on the right track with most of my remembered clues, except for the Victorian setting. Johnny Dixon is a kid in the 1950s; his mother is dead, and his father is a pilot in the Korean War, so he lives with his grandparents. While at a Boy Scout camp he figures out that an old abandoned mansion is probably where the lost will of a deceased cereal magnate is hidden. There's a reward for the will, and his grandmother needs money for surgery, so he sneaks into the mansion. But the mansion is home to "The Guardian"... who will kill you and turn you into a desiccated corpse (hence "The Mummy" of the title) if it catches you. The Guardian isn't invisible, but it could "be anything": a chair, a wisp of smoke... you will only know if the Guardian is near if a candle flame turns blue.

It's available on Kindle; I tore through it last night. It was an interesting read; I could see exactly why it would have terrified the 10-year-old me. At the same time, I was disappointed (spoilers follow)...

by the resolution of the story. Johnny gets scared and disoriented in the mansion, lights a candle and It Burns Blue! (all good so far), runs around blindly, stumbles upon the hiding place of the will, gets hit on the head and wakes up in the hospital. The evil relative who was controlling the Guardian dies of a heart attack for no apparent reason. Johnny gets $10000 for finding the will and his dad comes home from the Korean War. Apart from one moment of sheer, unmitigated terror, the ending of the book doesn't have much to recommend it.

In my question, I mentioned being interested in the "evil -> blue" connection. The author calls it out as a Shakespeare reference; it's from Richard III.

There's a book from 1883 online here by T.F. Thiselton Dyer which explains:

According to a popular notion, the presence of unearthly beings was announced by an alteration in the tint of the lights which happened to be burning—a superstition alluded to in "Richard III." (v. 3), where the tyrant exclaims, as he awakens:—

"The lights burn blue—It is now dead midnight,
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh-
Methought the souls of all that I had murder’d,
Came to my tent."

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