09 April 2011


Locus Focus: Take Forty-Eight!

New to Locus Focus?
Read this first!

So how has this week been for you all? (I'm not just asking that; I'd really like to know.) Most of what I've done over the last few days you'll probably end up reading about in future posts, anyway, so I won't dump it all on you here . . . But I thought I'd tell you about last night's successful culinary experiment. Having had no luck finding new recipes for what Filipinos call "cream dory" (which doesn't seem to be caught and eaten anywhere else on the planet), I decided to look up recipes for tilapia instead and just switch around the fish.

One can of diced tomatoes (undrained), half a can of mushrooms (undrained), half a jar of pimiento-stuffed olives (drained), one medium-sized yellow onion, more cloves of garlic than I'm going to admit to you, some salt and pepper, a bit of oregano, and a sprinkling of dried basil later . . . and my entire family was worshiping at my feet! (Thank you, Elise! You've never failed me yet!)

And speaking of worship--the real sort, not the figurative sort--today I have a setting that drags my "Places of Prayer" challenge into another week, at least where I am concerned. (It has nothing about food, though . . . =P)

St. Michael's Church
The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull
by John Bellairs

"Father?" [Johnny] said hesitantly. ". . . You mentioned a ritual of some kind . . ."

"Ah, yes!" said the priest . . . [studying] the bowl of his pipe as if there were dark secrets hidden there. ". . . I'm going to sound like a superstitious old Irishman, but I think I would leave a petition under the base of the statue of St. Anthony in our church. You know the statue I mean, don't you?"

Johnny nodded. He knew it well. It was a large painted plaster figure that stood on a pedestal in front of one of the pillars of St. Michael's church.

"Well, then," the priest went on in a conspiratorial tone, "how about if you and I meet in the church this coming Wednesday night, after the service? This was something that I was going to try myself, but I kept thinking that it was an idiotic notion . . ."

A secret ritual? In a Catholic church? On an ordinary Wednesday night in the suburbs? Well, this is an 80s Gothic novel written by a practicing papist. Bring on the rites, I say!

The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull happens to be one Mystery in which a magical/religious rite will work both for the characters and for the story. For Father Higgins and altar boy Johnny are right to suspect that their friend Professor Childermass was snatched away by supernatural forces--and that their response must be in kind.

When the priest meets Johnny in the sanctuary that appointed Wednesday evening, it's obvious that he's ready to give the ritual his all: he is wearing vestments, carrying some holy water, and mumbling prayers in Latin. As he and Johnny stand before the candle-lit statue of St. Anthony of Padua (whom a certain strain of Catholics pray to for assistance in finding lost objects . . . or people), he instructs the boy to write a petition to the saint on a piece of paper and to slide it under the statue.

Dear Saint Anthony:

Please help us to find Professor Childermass. Please hear us, and do not fail us. Amen.

Yours Truly,
Johnny Dixon

I find it amusing that John Bellairs makes Father Higgins play down this traditional devotion so emphatically. He makes sure that his trusting altar boy knows it is "superstitious," "hocus-pocus," "totally unreliable," "an idiotic notion," "razzmatazz," and "mummery and flummery"--and that he himself has never heard of a case in which it actually worked. The priest clearly believes it could work . . . but also understands that in this case it might not. And I totally get that. Heck, I leave notes under the statue of St. Joseph in my parish church all the time, but I've never recommended it to anyone bent on concrete, immediate results. (Besides, can't you just imagine an earnest reader of this novel--someone with a missing parent or sibling--attempting the same and being completely crushed when it fails???)

But for these two devotees, the little tradition pays off--and with maximum theatrics! Just moments after they complete the ritual, they hear a sound "like a pistol shot" as the back door of the church flies open, letting in a cold draft that puts all the candles out. And three days later, when they go back to check the statue again . . . they find something very close to a miracle! Ah, if only all my prayers were answered that way . . .

Now it's your turn!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D

This Week's Other Locus Focus:

J.R.R. Tolkien's Khazad-dum, Silvertine and Endless Stair @ Spike Is Best

Image Sources: a) The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull by John Bellairs, b) St. Anthony de Padua statue


Paul Stilwell said...

Nothing like those drafts blowing out all the candles!

"A secret ritual? In a Catholic church? On an ordinary Wednesday night in the suburbs? Well, this is an 80s Gothic novel written by a practicing papist."

That gets me all giddy. It reminds me of all that is best about boys adventures/mysteries. And the priest downplaying the ritual, yet being the one true guide in these matters - I like it. Now I'm wondering if he is a prominent "guide" figure in this book.

Enbrethiliel said...


You've described Father Higgins perfectly! Yes, he fills the role of grown-up guide in this boys' adventure. =)

It's usually Professor Childermass, however, with whom Johnny Dixon solves his mysteries. (I once read a review of The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull in which the reader wished that Johnny had more adventures with Father Higgins, as they shared an interesting dynamic which Johnny never had with the Professor . . . but as this remains the only Bellairs book I've ever read, I'll have to pass that on without comment!)

Now, I don't know whether it's because I'm a hapless target reader fly caught in an intricately sticky marketing web, but I'm more familiar with Mysteries written for girls than Mysteries written for boys. If I had to make a list of all the "Young Detectives" I knew, I'll be the girl characters would outnumber the boy characters. And that seems wrong. =S

Stilwell, can you recommend any good Mysteries for boys? Preferably those written by authors whose last names begin with letters other than A, B and C--but I'll take all recommendations! =)

Paul Stilwell said...

I was a big fan - and still am though I haven't read them for so long - of the Three Investigator series: http://www.thrillingdetective.com/3invest.html

Now they had different authors and some used pseudonyms, whose real names don't begin with A, B or C. Some authors real names don't begin with those either.

And of course, you would have to find copies of the books, which are hard to come by.

I can't speak for those written in the 90's on...

I'm trying to dredge my memory of books from elementary school...

Lesa said...

What a co-inky-dink! I just bought a bag of frozen tilapia to experiment on-- I always like it in restaurants so hope I can cook it-- your recipe sounds yum. I clicked through to the recipe site and the photo looked yum too.

But you used 'cream dory' fish, right? never heard of it but I want to try it.

Yeah, the Three Investigators series is good-- at least, the ones I read in the late 70s were good but they were written in the 60s/70s, I think.

Enbrethiliel said...


If you like the earthy tang that olives and capers can add to a dish, then you'll really like this one! =)

I'm not sure what cream dory's "international" name is. It seems that only Filipinos have heard of it, and I suspect the name was made up for our market. LOL!

I don't think I've come across any Three Investigators books in my life . . . but I'll keep my eyes peeled now!

Lesa said...

I do like olives and capers-- I used to make a sherry garlic shrimp with capers that was so good-- need to dig out that recipe.

the name 'cream dory' sounds tasty but do little kids ever resist eating it-- they might not want to eat Nemo's friend!

The ones I read were the earlier 'Alfred Hitchcock and' ones in which the boy were age 13-- The first one is The Secret of Terror Castle and it was good and creepy-- got me hooked on the series. I really liked the different personalities of the boys and the dynamics between them. Each one brings valuble assets to the trio.

I loved the idea of a secret hideout/office hidden underneath piles of junk in a junkyard-- and I loved the last chapter when they met with Hitchcock to explain how they solved the mystery.

Here is a url to wiki info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Investigators

Enbrethiliel said...


If you do dig it out, please share it with me! =) It already sounds great!

My carnivorous brothers don't at all mind eating Nemo's friends. =P I even tease them about it at the table and get them to laugh. I can't speak for other children, though.

(A friend e-mailed me to say that "cream dory" is a kind of catfish. So I suppose it will be easy to substitute basic catfish for the recipe--but easier, of course, to go with the tilapia in Elise's original recipe.)

Between you and Stiwell, I'm feeling sold on the Three Investigators. You must know the way to Miss Locus Focus's heart, to mention the secret office hidden under piles of junk in a junkyard. ;-)

Thanks also for the link!

Kate said...

Spreading the Bellairs love all over the blogosphere!!!!! Oh, I'm so excited that you've read this. If you can get your hands on it, go next straight to The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost, as these two are the only Bellairs that are worth reading both in order and back-to-back (most of the rest of them are non-chronological, to my knowledge.) Also, get a copy of The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt as soon as you can! Oh, I wish I had copies of all of these handy.

I grew up Catholic and was fascinated by the St Anthony ritual in this book, particularly since I was imagining my very practical priest trying this in my very plain, post-Vatican II-style church. I'm not particularly religious now (or then), but I loved all of the elements of religious mysticism wrapped up in plain ol' magic in the Johnny Dixon books.

Kate said...

Oh, and I wouldn't trade Father Higgins for Prof. Childermass for the *world.* I want to be Prof. Childermass when I grow up.

Lesa said...

Oh, if is is catfish-- I will have to use tilapia for recipe. Eating catfish any other way than fried with a crispy cornmeal coating is against the Southern Code of Ethics. ;o)

Enbrethiliel said...


Kate -- I'll definitely remember those titles! Bellairs is the sort of new-to-me author whose books I wish I had devoured as a child. I also want to try the Mysteries featuring other boy detectives.

By the way, you might like this older post, too: An Open Letter to John Bellairs

Lesa -- I have great respect for the Southern Code of Ethics and wish I could try catfish that way. Cornmeal is hard to find here (which is absurd, considering how much corn we grow locally--but also logical, given how we've traditionally eaten corn), but I do love fried catfish very much!

Michael said...

E if you can make Tilapia taste good then you definitely deserved to be worshipped. :P

The only time we are allowed fish during Lent is on the Annunciation, and I had salmon grilled on a wood plank, though my friends had fish and chips. Both were yummy.

Hey, for kicks and giggles you might want to check out the article I wrote about real food and Great Lent.

The Great Fast: Orthodoxy, Lent and Real Food

Have a blessed Holy Week.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Michael, but I can't get tilapia credit yet, since I adapted the recipe to dory. =P I'll be glad to try it with tilapia someday, though, because that's one fish I just don't eat in its usual fried/steamed/baked state. Perhaps cooked this way it will taste better.

Grilled salmon, aye? Mmmmm!

Thanks for the link. =) I'll check it out now.

Michael said...

Ah, okay. Misunderstood that point.

As for the link, lot of foodie/health stuff that might fly over your head but still hope you leave a comment. ;-)

I have a blogger friend who was just bemoaning the other day about some Filipinos who have come to the US and unwittingly given up their healthy food traditions by using American substitute (but supposedly healthy) ingredients. Sad.

Oh, and good luck with that tilapia :P