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Literature / The Thief of Always

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The Thief of Always is a fable written by Clive Barker that may read like a children's book, but it's just as enjoyable for adults. It deals with temptation, growing up and mortality, and it has a few good helpings of horror, as expected of Clive Barker.

Ten-year-old Harvey Swick is unsatisfied with boring, day-to-day life; he is sick of dealing with school, homework, nagging parents... Until a shady figure named Rictus appears in his room and offers him a stay at the "Holiday House", a paradise where kids don't age or ever have work. There are four seasons a day, every night is Christmas, and the House grants any wish, all made possible by a man called Mr. Hood.

Harvey quickly befriends the incumbent residents of the house: two other kids named Wendell and Lulu, kindly caretaker Mrs. Griffin and her seemingly sentient cats, and two of Rictus's "siblings". However, some sinister hints are dropped, such as the collection of children's clothes in the attic, the forbidden lake behind the House, and mentions of a fourth member of Rictus's family called "Carna". Above all, who is Mr. Hood and where does he get his power from? Eventually, Harvey's curiosity and growing suspicions about the House lead him to discover some unpleasant truths...

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This work provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Due to Hood's magic, only children can find the house. When adults try, all attempts to find the House fail.
  • Bad Future: The first time Harvey escapes, it's revealed that a year passed for every day spent at Holiday House. Harvey disappeared for 30 years and returned to his parents as a 10-year-old boy.
  • The Barnum: Hood gains immortality by luring in gullible, greedy, lazy or just plain lonely children to the Holiday House and then taking their souls when they've spent enough time there.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The book's premise as Harvey wants to escape the responsibilities of growing up but finds getting all his wishes comes at a heavy price at Holiday House.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The House itself is listening to you.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The heroes escape Holiday House, but they have to go back to their separate time periods. When Harvey encounters Lulu again outside the House, she's already grown up and engaged.
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  • Body Horror: Lulu's gradual transformation into a fish.
  • Dark Is Evil: But it's hard to spot the darkness at first...
  • Did Not Get the Girl: At the end of the book all the children who were tapped at Holiday House return back to their own time periods. Lulu being older than Harvey is an old woman by the time Harvey is just the same age.
  • Disney Villain Death (doubles as Karmic Death): Hood is killed when he falls into the lake and is pulled into a swirling vortex, which agonisingly destroys him.
  • The Faceless: Mr. Hood does make a "body" for himself from the remains of Holiday House, but his true face is never seen.
  • Fantastic Fragility: To defeat the Big Bad, Harvey wishes up a real, live ark, then an impossible feast, then for every season at once, under the guise of a soon-to-be apprentice testing his master's power. This ends up destroying the House and draining the Big Bad's power.
  • Foreshadowing: Harvey's transformation into a vampire for Halloween
  • Giving Them the Strip: Henry is grabbed by the back of the jacket, so he slips out of his jacket to escape.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Played with. It's definitely a theme in the beginning of the novel.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: Only specific children can find their way to Holiday House or have to be lead there by one of his henchmen. When Harvey and his Dad try to go looking for it, they are unable to get there.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Wendell believes that Lulu qualifies for this trope, but once Harvey gets to know her she's quite nice. Unfortunately, there's a reason (see Body Horror) why she keeps to herself...
  • Not So Different: See Title Drop.
    • Strictly speaking, Hood is completely correct in this assessment; they've both stolen things that make a person what they are — things that should never be taken by anyone. Hood has stolen the souls of the children lured to his Holiday House, while Harvey has stolen the lives of Hood's illusory minions The difference comes in why they did it — Harvey did it to lure out Hood so he could defeat him and save the children trapped there, while Hood has merely done it to extend his warped existence and feed his unholy hunger. The difference between heroism and villainy sometimes isn't in what you do, but why you do it. Not the sort of thing you tend to see in a children's book.
  • Older Than They Look: The residents of the House have come from various different points in time. However for every one day at Holiday House, a whole year passed in the real world.
  • Pleasure Island: At the Holiday House there are four seasons a day, every night is Christmas, and the House grants any wish, all made possible by a man called Mr. Hood. Eventually though, Harvey's curiosity and growing suspicions about the House lead him to discover some unpleasant truths...
  • Right Behind Me: After Hood is seemingly defeated, Rictus reveals that he had secretly stolen some of Hood's power for himself. But then a hand reaches out of the ruins of the House and grabs him...
  • The Trickster: Rictus appears to be this at first, but later on it's shown that Harvey fits the heroic variation.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Played with. Marr has the ability to transform other people, she uses it to turn Harvey into a giant bat at his request. However...
  • Weak-Willed: Wendell isn't a very strong character in that when he and Harvey return to try and fight Mr. Hood, Wendall is easily brought back under the house's spell.

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