There is a special kind of book I would like now to address before discussing my first entry in this week’s Halloween Reading series.
There are morals present in these books. There is tragedy. There is fear, yes, but it is the fear we confront as children when we switch rapidly from the warmth of innocence to the cold of nothing. The rug is drawn out from under one who never knew a rug was there, leaving them spinning momentarily in limbo before a precipitous fall into abyss, down down down and further down forever.
The plots are one part Twilight Zone, one part horror and one part just plain fantasy, the last usually not too dissimilar from that of Roald Dahl or the sometimes disturbing fables from whence all childrens literature sprung. Dahl realized that the world was a terrible place for which there was no reason to sugarcoat it for children any more than there was to sugarcoat it for adults. Like in fables, the wicked were punished and the just luckily escaped with their hides. Good was served, but only barely and not without suffering a great many knocks in the process.
Ray Bradbury masterfully touches on this in many of his short stories about youth. Around every corner or within every dark spot lies an unknown that is wholly evil and will stop at nothing to suck even the best of children down forever. Adults have some names to assign to these things – sociopaths, pedophiles and the like. However mostly what’s addressed is the simple fear of the unknown and of the endless spectre of inanimate things that can cause harm but whose interjection is a result of bad luck or cruel fate. In short, the things that always seem to happen where the road is darkest and help is furthest away.
These books are hard to describe but lie somewhere between Dahl’s child drowning in a lake of chocolate and Bradbury’s lurking horror in the ravine. Within this nexus lies one of my favorite books of all time: Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always.
I must start out by saying that this is, yes, a young adult book. An adult reading childrens’ novels doesn’t seem too rare nowindays, but Clive Barker is not known as a childrens’ author. You likely know him best for the stories The Hellbound Heart and The Forbidden, which were adapted into Hellraiser and Candyman respectively.
While the above are relatively easy to describe as Horror, Thief of Always is not as easy to pigeonhole beyond being directed at youth. At its base, it’s a hero’s tale featuring a boy protagonist, Harvey, that’s familiar to every child and indeed anyone who’s ever read a children’s book. It’s obvious Barker owes as much to the James Henry Trotters and the Charlie Buckets of the literary world as Rowling owes to the Pevensies.
However Charlie’s main nemesis was a crazy chocolatier or, prior to the events of his respective novel, malnutrition. He did not have to deal with a demon who preys on lost children with the promises of every earthly delight. Perhaps though I’ve now said too much. This book is a fantastic read for both young and old and I highly recommend you give the book a gander – you’ll be glad you did.
All images in this post copyright Clive Barker