Thursday, February 6, 2014

What price wonderland?

The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive. Here he was, buried in the belly of that smothering month, wondering if he would ever find his way out through the cold coils that lay between here and Easter.

He didn't think much of his chances.

Oh, we've all been there, Harvey. In fact, we're there right now. But in Clive Barker's fantastic fable, The Thief of Always, ten-year-old Harvey Swick is offered an escape from the doldrums of winter when a strange little man named Rictus flies through Harvey's bedroom window and invites him to a place "where the days are always sunny and the nights are full of wonders."

Holiday House.

After being assured that he can stay for as long--or as little--as he likes, Harvey accepts the invitation and off he goes. Boy, is it beautiful there when he arrives, the cold, suffocating gray of February magically replaced by the sunny warmth of summer. And the house? It's like something out of a dream, full of wonders inside and out. After settling in and befriending fellow visitors Wendell and Lulu, Harvey learns why Holiday House bears its name: "each day is a cycle of seasons: morning offers the first day of spring, while afternoon is hot with summer, evening brings shadowed autumn, a full moon and Hallowe'en, while night is chilly winter, warmed by a Thanksgiving feast and the delights of Christmas."

Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Heck, this is a place any kid would love, but you know as well as I do that this sort of magic comes at a price--the most valuable possession a person has, in fact. Harvey learns this and aims to reclaim what was stolen from him and his friends--and visitors past, too--but the mysterious proprietor of Holiday House, Mr. Hood, has other plans for this clever boy.

I have loved The Thief of Always since the very first time I read it years ago, and it's a book that I return to often when I'm looking for an all-ages, well-written, whimsical sort of tale of dark wonder. A fairy tale, in other words. Some might be surprised that Clive Barker, one of the heavyweights of horror literature, wrote it, but he'd long wished to write just such a book not only to shake off the straitjacket of genre but to fulfill his mother's fondest wish that he compose a tale in the vein of those she once told him when he was a boy. So should you find yourself in the belly of that great gray beast known as February, bored out of your mind and looking for something to satisfy your inner ten-year-old (or any other ten-year-old driving you up a wall with cabin fever), give The Thief of Always a try.

And lock your windows.

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