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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Thief of Always

Reviewed: January 6, 2003
By: Clive Barker
Publisher: Harper Trophy
224 Pages, $5.99

There’s been so much fuss about Clive Barker’s recent excursion into children’s lit, an reportedly terrific book called Abarart, that many have forgotten it was not his first foray into this genre.

The Thief of Always is a clever little morality tale about the tragedy of wasted time, which begins with this marvellous paragraph:

“The great grey 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.” I read that and I was hooked.

We’ve all been there. Some of us have ventured Harvey’s solution and wished the time away. A few of us would, I hope, be smart enough to reject the sugar coated offer made by the goblin-like Rictus when he flew in through Harvey’s window that night.

Harvey hadn’t read Pinocchio (or even watched the Disney film) or he would have know that offers of life in places like Pleasure Island always have a catch to them. Rictus offers Holiday House, a place where every quarter of the day is a different season and every meal a seasonal holiday. A place where a 10 year old boy can always find fun, and gifts, and no responsibilities.

The catch? Well, too much of a good thing is TOO MUCH of a good thing after all, and those who have had too much tend to become pretty cold fish after awhile. Besides, the way the mysterious Mr. Hood manages this trick is to subtract from life all the boring moments you don’t want. Not that you age faster. At Holiday House you don’t age at all, even you do get stale in your soul, but the real world does.

When Harvey wakes up to the trick in the middle of the story and tries to escape he succeeds, only to find that his month long holiday has been 30 years. Then he and Wendell have to go back and find a way to reclaim their stolen years. It’s quite a battle.

This was fairly new territory for Barker in 1992 when it first appeared. He made his name with the six volume Books of Blood, moved on to a run of adult horror novels with pretty grim titles and story lines, and was also responsible for such movies as the Hellraiser trilogy, Candyman and Lord of Illusions. Some of these stories deal with the sort of redemption themes that are at the core of The Thief of Always, but readers and viewers had to wade through buckets of blood to get to them.

This book has been optioned for a movie adaptation about four times now, in every form from animation to computer generated film and live action. It seems to get hung up at the script level, though there’s a strong rumour that Nelvana actually completed a version that it refuses to release. The last information I can find on its progress comes from two years ago when it was with Disney, but the Harry Potter and Rings successes are bound to make someone take another look at it soon.

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