“The Gates of Hell Are About To Open. Mind The Gap”: Review of The Samuel Johnson Stories Book One: "The Gates"

Hanna Lafferty ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer


By: John Connolly
Published: August 30, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Series: The Samuel Johnson Stories
Genre: (Young) Adult, Fiction

In The Gates, Samuel Johnson and his dachshund, Boswell, have stumbled upon a portal to Hell, just in time for Halloween. When Samuel’s neighbors, the Abernathy’s of 666 Crowley Road, practice a Satanic ritual in their basement, they accidentally unleash demonic forces due in part to the malfunctioning Large Haldron Collider. With the help of his friends, a pair of misfit scientists and Nurd, the Scourge of Five Deities, Samuel must repair the rift between Earth and Hell to keep the Great Malevolence from taking over the world and destroying humanity.

Book One of John Connolly’s young adult series, The Samuel Johnson Stories, was published by Atria Books in October 2009, and is a fantastical, sci-fi romp through the gates of Hell. The Gates is punctuated throughout by Connolly’s footnotes on the Big Bang, wormholes, the confusing ways of teenaged girls, and many other allusions to hell and the Devil in literature. Fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and Johnathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy will enjoy Connolly’s snarky, whimsical prose and the little quirks and great amount of feeling his characters possess as they try to save their world. The cast contains a bunch of eccentric scientists whose game of Battleship is interrupted by the oncoming apocalypse, two policemen that are having more excitement then they could have ever hoped for, and of course, the hero, Samuel Johnson.

The eleven-year-old Samuel is just odd enough, and sweet enough, to be wonderfully endearing in trying to protect his family and his dog from the onslaught of demonic forces. While Samuel must contend with his snippety teacher Mr. Humes and the various denizens of Hell, he also has to deal with his parents’ divorce and the loss he feels from his father’s absence. He is helped in his task by his intelligent and loyal (but very put upon) dog Boswell, his two best friends, the young genius Maria and athletic Tom (whose preferred weapon against Hell is a cricket bat), and the demon Nurd, the Scourge of Five Deities.
It is through Nurd that Connolly presents a first glimpse of his version of Hell, which is complete with a deserted wasteland that contains such terrifying creatures as Schwell, the Demon of Uncomfortable Shoes, Graham, the Demon of Stale Biscuits and Crackers, and of course, the Great Malevolence himself. After centuries of trying to open a large enough portal to send his army of Hell through, the Great Malevolence did not count on the tenacity of Samuel’s normally quiet town. While some of his subjects are stuck at the Fig and Parrot pub choking down Spiggit’s Old Peculiar, other demons are about terrifying the populace and causing general mayhem. It is through Samuel and his friends’ ingenuity, selflessness, and the mishandling of a vintage Aston Martin that they are able to save the town from annihilation.
Samuel Johnson and Boswell’s adventures continue in The Infernals.

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