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An Author Joins Us: Marianne Malone Talks About Stealing Magic

February 17, 2012

At Random House we loved Marianne Malone’s first novel The Sixty-Eight Rooms, an exciting fantasy about two friends who find magic and adventure in The Art Institute of Chicago’s Thorne Rooms, so much that we made it a rep pick the season it was released. You can probably imagine how thrilled we were to have another adventure for our heroes Ruthie and Jack in Stealing Magic. Today Marianne Malone joins us to give us an inside look at the Thorne Rooms and her wonderful stories.

Not long after my first book, The Sixty-Eight Rooms, was published, I received an email from a man named Toby Clark. He introduced himself as the grandson of Edwin Clark, the architect to Narcissa Thorne. Readers of my book know that she was the woman who created the magical sixty-eight miniature Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. She made them during the 1930s and they have been on display at the Art Institute since the mid-fifties.

Those who have seen The Thorne Rooms know that they are not simply dollhouse- like miniatures. They are, in fact, exquisite recreations of period rooms in 1/12 scale. In my story, two sixth graders, Ruthie and Jack, find a way to shrink and enter the Rooms, which become portals to the past. It all works because the illusion the Rooms create is so perfect, to the tiniest detail.


The Thorne Rooms are an amazing achievement, due in no small part to the input of Edwin Clark. He was a prominent Chicago architect who not only designed homes for Mrs. Thorne, but also important public buildings, notably Brookfield Zoo. His signature is on the architectural renderings and plans for many of the Thorne Rooms.  

Toby and I corresponded and he read in my author bio that I lived part time in Washington, DC and asked if I would sign a few books for him next time I was in the city.  When we met, he carried a large box filled with 24 books for his various grandchildren, grand nieces, and nephews. He was excited to introduce them to the work of their great-great grandfather, with my book as a starting point. 

Last summer, Toby decided to make a cross-country trek with his daughter, Beth, and three of his grandchildren, Robert, Madie, and Sequoia. He wondered if I wouldn’t be able to meet them in Chicago, and help introduce the Thorne Rooms to them. I called on Mican Morgan, the curator of the Rooms, aka “Mayor of Tiny Town”, to see if she could join us as well. 

This was such a wonderful event for me. I love watching people see the Rooms for the first time, because it is hard to imagine how incredible they are until you’ve actually stood in front of them. Eyes wide and mouths agape, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eavesdropped on conversations in the Gallery 11, as first timers find each perfect room more impressive then the last. And now, to witness the great-great grandchildren of the architect having this experience brought an extra thrill. 

Mican brought Edwin Clark’s personal architectural design book – now part of the Thorne Rooms archive – with her and together we listened as she explained Clark’s role in the project.  The children (as well as their mother and grandfather) saw his hand-written marks and notes in the book margins, making the history of their family come alive.

 I have received mail from all corners of the country (and even a few internationally, since the book has been translated into several languages), from kids telling me that not only do they want to take a trip to Chicago to see the Rooms where Ruthie and Jack had their big adventures, but the whole family wants to see them. And not everyone has to have the special connection that the Clark family has. It’s impossible to predict the life that a book will have, and what role the author may play in it after it is published. I fell in love with the Thorne Rooms as a little girl – they fueled my imagination and gave me many hours of escape. Somehow I feel like I’m repaying them by bringing new admirers to appreciate and enjoy their magic.

 Many thanks to Marianne Malone for joining us today for a truly magical look inside her stories and the Thorne Rooms.

Please share your thoughts in our comments section.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2012 8:39 am

    Such an interesting story, to see it wind its way from the past to today. I have seen several reviews of The Sixty-Eight Rooms, but didn’t know that the author grew up visiting them. It makes me want to see them myself even more. Thanks much for the interview!

  2. February 17, 2012 9:00 am

    What a wonderful story! I love the rapt look on the eyes of the girls in the photos!

  3. peter hayward permalink
    March 1, 2012 9:14 pm

    My sister just clued me on this.
    Toby is my 1st cousin (our mothers were sisters)

    I grew up in Chicago and often went to the Chicago Art Institute – my first visit was always to the Thorne rooms. In part I credit them for my passion for architecture, even though I never went into the field.

    Though now I live in Vermont whenever I am back in Chicago it is one of the places I visit. It was the first part of the museum I took my family to when we returned several years ago – when my son was only 6 – he loved it !! And these many years later is still one of his found memories along with his first Cubs game.
    Peter Hayward

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