The Thief of Always Summary
The Thief of Always by Clive Barker is a 1992 novel about Harvey, a ten-year-old boy whose boredom propels him into an adventure marked by both magic and evil.
- On a dreary February day, Harvey is invited by Rictus to visit the magical Holiday House, run by the powerful, wish-granting Mr. Hood.
- Harvey comes to realize the evil, soul-stealing nature of the House and manages to escape along with Wendell, another boy trapped there.
- After realizing that thirty-one years have passed in real life since his departure, Harvey returns to the House to destroy Mr. Hood and save the other children.
Last Updated November 3, 2023.
It is February, and Harvey Swick, a ten-year-old boy, is bored. As he longingly stares out his rainy window, he is suddenly roused from his trance when it blows open and a short man in a suit appears. This man, whose name is Rictus, offers Harvey an adventure, but Harvey has to agree not to question anything. A week later, Rictus appears on Harvey’s walk to school and invites him to a place called Holiday House, which is owned by a Mr. Hood.
Harvey and Rictus travel across town to a wall at dead-end road. The wall in front of them begins to magically transform, opening the way to a beautiful, sunny expanse and a giant house. Inside the house, Harvey meets an old woman named Mrs. Griffin and a young girl named Lulu. Harvey explains he must get home to his parents, but Lulu says they know he is there. He calls his parents, who confirm her words, and decides to stay.
The next day, Harvey meets a boy named Wendell. They build a tree house together and plan to fish in the lake until they are stopped by Mrs. Griffin, who says the fish are “poisonous.” Harvey decides to visit the lake anyway but finds there is no sun, and the fish seem to be staring at him.
He returns to Wendell and notices the season has changed from summer to autumn. Wendell explains that all the seasons and major holidays occur every day and says that they need to return to the House now to prepare for Halloween.
That night, they see a shape fly through the sky, which distracts Harvey long enough to lose Wendell in the darkness. Harvey swears he hears someone tell him Wendell is in the tree house. Convinced Wendell is playing a prank, he runs towards it. As Harvey climbs the ladder, a body falls, tied to a noose. It scares Harvey until he realizes it is fake and sees Wendell is laughing. Harvey swears he will get revenge.
Back at the house, Harvey finds Lulu looking out the window at what is now a snowy night. She tells him to make a wish because it will soon be Christmas. Harvey wishes for a wooden ark, one that his father made him years before. To his surprise, he receives the ark, but he feels unsettled by it.
Time passes, and Harvey takes the ark to the lake to see if it will float, but he accidentally falls in. He feels like he is being pulled under and fights to get back to shore. He manages to save himself but not the ark. He doesn’t tell anyone what happened.
One night Jive, Rictus’s brother, comes to visit and tells Harvey he needs to scare Wendell. He brings Harvey to the roof and has his sister, Marr, change him into a terrifying vampire bat. Harvey flies off the roof, sending Wendell running for the House. Wendell begs for his life and tells the “creature” to eat a boy named Harvey instead. Harvey is hurt by this betrayal but decides he won’t tell Wendell it was him.
The next afternoon, Wendell tries to leave the property, but there is no way out. Harvey that realizes the mist at the entry to the property causes confusion, always seeming to direct them back toward the house. Harvey questions Mrs. Griffin, who eventually confesses that they are all trapped. She tells Harvey to try to enjoy what they have because time moves quicker than he realizes. Harvey pretends to take her advice but secretly writes out a plan...
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and gives it to Wendell, telling him to meet at the wall at midnight.
On his way to the wall that night, Harvey hears Lulu calling him. He discovers that something terrible has happened: Lulu dove into the lake to retrieve Harvey’s ark and has now turned into a fish-like monster. Harvey sees her transform in the moonlight.
Harvey meets Wendell, and they decide they will walk back-to-back through the mist, so they don’t lose sight of the house and get turned around. When Carna, a bird-like creature, swoops down from the roof to stop them, Mrs. Griffin sends one of her cats to help. The cat leads them back to the real world, but Carna follows. Since Carna’s body isn’t real, it starts to disintegrate when it reaches the real world. It drags itself back into the mist.
When Harvey arrives home, an old couple answers the door. Harvey is confused until he realizes that the old woman is his mother. She recognizes Harvey, but his father is not convinced. Harvey realizes that every day he spent at the Holiday House was a year in the real world. It has been thirty-one years since Harvey disappeared, and while his parents have aged, Harvey hasn’t. Harvey tells his story but forgets most of it. His father, impatient, tells Harvey he must show him the House.
The next day, they search for the House, but Harvey can’t find it. When his father goes to tell the police, Wendell appears on his street corner. The boys realize they must go back alone to confront Mr. Hood and restore their lives to normalcy. Harvey leaves a note for his parents, and the boys head for the wall.
Back on the property, Wendell immediately falls prey to the illusions of Holiday House and forgets about their mission, but a cat leads Harvey into the cellar, where he finds Mrs. Griffin trapped in a box. After he frees her, she explains she was the first child at Holiday House. Mr. Hood gave her everything she wanted, including immortality, but now she feels trapped, unable to die. Marr appears, but Harvey uses her wish-based magic against her: he grabs her hand and makes her think about her own dreams and wishes. Since Marr dreams of nothing, she disappears.
Upstairs, Jive offers Harvey food. Harvey refuses, which makes Jive think something is wrong with it. To prove otherwise, Jive takes a bite, but Harvey knows the food is just an illusion. The food turns to dust and so does Jive.
Harvey heads to the attic to find Mr. Hood, who projects himself as a large image across the roof. He tries to convince Harvey to stay and work with him, but when his manipulation doesn’t work, he orders Carna to kill Harvey. Harvey, understanding the illusions at work, shows Carna kindness, which causes her to retreat and die.
Harvey realizes that since magic created the House, magic might be able to destroy it as well. He decides to overwhelm Mr. Hood by demanding multiple wishes at once. Mr. Hood quickly catches onto his plan, however, and only allows him one final wish. Harvey wishes all four seasons to occur at once. His plan works: his request overwhelms Mr. Hood’s powers and causes the House to crumble. Harvey is thrilled. Mrs. Griffin begins to disappear as well, and Harvey says goodbye, knowing she will finally be at peace.
Lulu and Wendell find Harvey. They realize that all the kids who were trapped in the lake have been freed. The danger is not over, however, as Rictus appears with a glowing orb. He begins to rebuild Holiday House, but Mr. Hood’s spirit stops him, creating a makeshift body out of debris and ripping off Rictus’s shead.
The kids run towards the lake, which has become a swirling vortex of water. Mr. Hood gives Harvey one last chance to be his apprentice, but Harvey realizes that Mr. Hood is made of nothing. He rips the makeshift coat from Mr. Hood’s body, revealing a black void. As Harvey distracts him by throwing the coat into the vortex, Lulu hits Mr. Hood with a piece of debris. As Hood lunges for the coat, he falls in and vanishes.
The kids, finally free of the House, head to the wall, which is still covered in mist. On the other side, Harvey finds himself alone, which indicates that everyone has gained all the years of their lives back and successfully returned to their respective timelines.
Back home, Harvey tries to recount the story, but his account sounds outlandish. The following day, he brings his parents to the spot where the House once stood; however, all they find is a grassy hill with people enjoying the day. As Harvey tries to explain himself, a man walks over and calls Harvey a hero. The man is Lulu’s husband. Lulu, now an adult, is farther down the hill and doesn’t want to ruin Harvey’s perception of her as a child. The man corroborates Harvey’s story and leaves.
Harvey’s father still isn’t sure what happened but now believes that some portion of Harvey’s account did transpire. From that day forward, Harvey never complains and is able to truly enjoy the time he spends with his family.