It was 1984 when a 10-year-old Eric Kripke — who would grow up to create such TV shows as Supernatural and Timeless — got his first introduction to the fantasy genre. His teacher at Whiteford Elementary School in Sylvania, Ohio, screened for the class Once Upon a Midnight Scary, a Vincent Price-hosted CBS special featuring 10-minute adaptations of spooky stories for kids — one of which was based on a book by John Bellairs called The House With a Clock in Its Walls.
Kripke, now 44, has since fulfilled a “lifelong dream” of writing the feature film adaptation of Bellairs’ book, which opens this weekend and is directed by Eli Roth. But the source material made such an impact on him as a kid that it also influenced his work on Supernatural.
It’s funny for Kripke to admit, considering that he remembers the initial television short, the one which led him to the book, being “so bad.” He tells EW, “It’s like they have one set. They keep walking in and out of the set. It’s just so bad.”
Kid Kripke was drawn to the young protagonist of The House With a Clock in Its Walls, a 10-year-old orphan named Lewis who goes to live with his uncle, only to discover that his estranged relative is a warlock. “I really saw the world through his eyes,” Kripke says, “and how wonderful it would be to experience this world of magic and danger, and to have your family to guide you through it.”
When it came time to create Supernatural, the CW drama about two adult brothers battling occult-ish things that go bump in the night, these concepts were still fresh on his mind. Kripke says he borrowed several specific details from Bellairs’ book, including how iron is used as a repellent for evil.
“It established rules that I carried with me into Supernatural,” he explains. “Rule 1: I didn’t realize it until years later, but it blew me away that every bit of folklore and every occult object that is mentioned in John Bellairs’ book is something that exists out there in the world, in legend somewhere. So when I sat down with my writers to make Supernatural when I was running it, I said every piece of lore has to really exist somewhere. The term that came up out of Supernatural was it all has to be ‘Google-worthy.’”
Then there was the tone. “Look, it’s a book for kids,” Kripke says, “but the tone of the book and the tone of Supernatural are very, very similar in that it’s a balance of genuine scares, genuine humor, and genuine heart.”
On a more general note, Kripke adds, Supernatural is, “in its core DNA, similar in that it’s about a family fighting evil and trying to balance that with their relationships. So I would say Clock didn’t inspire any specific storyline as much as it inspired the entire show.”
It was never Kripke’s intention to pull too many specifics from The House With a Clock in Its Walls for Supernatural anyway. There was still the matter of writing that hoped-for film adaptation, a mission that finally became a reality this year.
“There’s no bigger fan of this book than me, and I felt like I had to be the one to do it,” Kripke says.
As proof, he mentions a letter Bellairs wrote to him in response to fan mail — the only fan mail Kripke ever wrote to any kind of celebrity as a kid — which now sits in his office desk drawer in California.
“I just told him how much I loved The House With a Clock in Its Walls and all of his books, and then I told him the story of how I found it and now I’m reading all the books,” Kripke says of his letter. “That was about the context of it — just a 10-year-old boy’s letter. He wrote me back. It wasn’t anything big. It was very meaningful to me, but he wrote, like, ‘Dear Eric, I’m really glad you saw that special. It’s old, it came out in 1979. Thanks for reading. Best, John Bellairs.’ It was a nothing letter, but no one famous had ever written me anything in their lives. When you’re 10 and somebody that you think is famous took the time to write you a personal letter and sign it, that blew my mind.”