4-2 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/10.17742/IMAGE.mother.4-2.5 | Krist­jan­son PDF


This arti­cle con­sid­ers the rela­tion­ship between the text and accom­pa­ny­ing illus­tra­tions in Clive Barker’s children's nov­el The Thief of Always: A Fable. This tale of abduc­tion was pub­lished in the social back­ground of fear around the child preda­tor of the ear­ly 1990s and incor­po­rates ideas of mon­strous vil­lainy, loss of child­hood inno­cence, and insa­tiable desires.  As a fable, Thief is a cau­tion­ary tale that not only teach­es that child­hood years are pre­cious and are not to be wished away or squan­dered in idle leisure, but also of the dan­gers that some adults pose to chil­dren. Prob­lem­at­i­cal­ly, an hon­est and frank dis­cus­sion of adult sex­u­al desires toward chil­dren would despoil the very inno­cence that is try­ing to be pro­tect­ed; thus, a les­son such as this must be sub­li­mat­ed with­in the sto­ry. Yet, it is the illus­tra­tions, and more specif­i­cal­ly the way in which the illus­tra­tions cor­rob­o­rate and con­tra­dict the plot of this sto­ry that reveals an under­ly­ing ambiva­lence toward the fig­ure of the child and an echo­ing dual­i­ty present in both the child and the child preda­tor.

Cet arti­cle analyse le rap­port entre le texte et les illus­tra­tions dans le livre pour enfants de Clive Bark­er inti­t­ulé The Thief of Always: A Fable. Bark­er a écrit cette his­toire d’enlèvement dans le con­texte social de la peur du pré­da­teur d’enfants au début des années 90. Il y a mis en scène les idées d’un méchant mon­strueux, de la perte de l’innocence enfan­tine, et des désirs insa­tiables. En tant que fable, le livre est un con­te de mise en garde, qui non seule­ment enseigne que l’enfance est pré­cieuse, étant néces­saire pour chaque enfant qui ne doit pas la gaspiller paresseuse­ment, mais aus­si qu’il existe un dan­ger que cer­tains adultes peu­vent pos­er face aux enfants. Une réflex­ion sincère sur les désirs sex­uels adultes face aux enfants étant prob­lé­ma­tique parce qu’elle dépouille l’innocence qu’on cherche à pro­téger. Bark­er a donc dû sub­limer une telle leçon dans le réc­it. Ce sont alors les illus­tra­tions et leur rap­port au réc­it à la fois cor­rob­o­rant et con­trac­t­if qui révè­lent une ambiva­lence cachée du per­son­nage enfant, ain­si qu’une dual­ité présente dans les deux per­son­nages : l’enfant et le pré­da­teur d’enfants.

Gabrielle Krist­jan­son | Uni­ver­si­ty of Mel­bourne

Adult Fear and Control:
Ambivalence and Duality in Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always

This arti­cle under­takes an analy­sis of the rela­tion­ship between the text and illus­tra­tions in Clive Barker’s children’s nov­el The Thief of Always: A Fable. By con­sid­er­ing not only the plot and char­ac­ter­i­za­tion pre­sent­ed in Thief, but also the accom­pa­ny­ing illus­tra­tions, drawn by Bark­er him­self, an inter­est­ing dynam­ic is revealed. While illus­tra­tions are includ­ed in children’s lit­er­a­ture to enliv­en the work and increase its appeal for the young read­er, these addi­tions also serve to sup­ple­ment the text, intro­duc­ing and incor­po­rat­ing new infor­ma­tion into the work. When the author is also the illus­tra­tor, it would be expect­ed that the text and image would work in tan­dem toward a com­mon hermeneu­ti­cal out­come, yet when attempt­ing to con­vey a com­plex rela­tion with the poten­tial for dan­ger, ambi­gu­i­ty, and ambiva­lence, like that between the adult and child, con­flict­ing ideas can infil­trate a seem­ing­ly coop­er­a­tive process. The sig­nif­i­cance in the text-image rela­tion­ship at work in Barker’s Thief can be best sum­ma­rized by Joseph H. Schwar­cz, in his book The Ways of the Illus­tra­tor, who writes that “the pic­tures let us in on a secret” (17), and giv­en that most secrets are meant to be just that, Barker’s illus­tra­tions part­ner with as well as betray the writ­ten word in what hid­den secre­cies they expose.

Barker’s approach to children’s lit­er­a­ture reflects a mod­ern trend described by Emer O’Sullivan in her book Com­par­a­tive Children’s Lit­er­a­ture, which treats children’s lit­er­a­ture as lit­er­a­ture as opposed to mere didac­tic exer­cise. O’Sullivan clar­i­fies that “this new lit­er­ary children’s lit­er­a­ture is dis­tin­guished by inse­cu­ri­ty and ambiva­lence instead of cer­tain­ty, lin­ear rather than cir­cu­lar nar­ra­tives and diver­si­ty instead of sim­plic­i­ty” (28). With the inclu­sion of his own illus­tra­tions, Bark­er achieves a per­me­at­ing under-cur­rent with­in his lin­ear nar­ra­tive in which either tex­tu­al or visu­al forms are at times com­ple­men­tary, sup­ple­men­tal, or oppo­si­tion­al. As he admits, his images pre­cede his texts: “my image mak­ing and sto­ry mak­ing are asso­ci­at­ed […]. My sketch­es act as notes” (qtd. in Burke ii). Because Bark­er writes about his images, using them “as notes” as he says, his work can be cat­e­go­rized as ekphras­tic. Stephen Cheeke asserts that on its most basic lev­el, ekphra­sis con­sti­tutes “‘lit­er­ary’ prose descrip­tions of art­work” (4). The text and the images are inex­tri­ca­bly linked, each explain­ing and ref­er­enc­ing each oth­er and, in the process, ampli­fy­ing the “the gap between lan­guage and the visu­al image” (Cheeke 2). Writ­ing and illus­tra­tions cre­ate rep­re­sen­ta­tions; hence, it is not the image or the text itself that car­ries mean­ing but rather the sig­ni­fi­er to which the text, image, or their ekphras­tic “gap” points. Bark­er is both author and illus­tra­tor of Thief, a rare com­bi­na­tion in which mul­ti­ple threads of mean­ing become embed­ded in the lit­er­a­ture. When dis­cussing the com­pos­ite of text and image in lit­er­a­ture, Schwar­cz affirms that “the com­bi­na­tion of the two forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion into a com­mon fab­ric where they com­ple­ment each oth­er cre­ates con­di­tions of depen­dence and inter­de­pen­dence” (4). Barker’s illus­tra­tions are high­ly con­nect­ed with the nar­ra­tive, cre­at­ing what Schwar­cz calls a close “part­ner­ship with the writ­ten word,” one that is not nec­es­sar­i­ly com­ple­men­tary (11). Through their ekphras­tic rela­tion­ship, the text and the illus­tra­tions in Thief expose under­ly­ing issues of child­hood not explic­it­ly expressed in the text.

Thief is the sto­ry of ten-year-old Har­vey Swick who dreams of a life free from the tedi­um of child­hood. He wish­es to exchange his chores and school­work for the leisure and free­dom of adult life. Bark­er thrusts his child pro­tag­o­nist into a preda­to­ry realm that threat­ens both Harvey’s child­hood and life, leav­ing him thank­ful upon his escape for the re-estab­lish­ment of his child­hood and grate­ful for the time he has to grow up under the watch­ful eye of his lov­ing par­ents. Bark­er imparts this les­son via a child abduc­tion nar­ra­tive. Enticed by a smil­ing stranger, Har­vey leaves home to enter a fan­ta­sy world that promis­es end­less fun. The fan­ta­sy world is off-set from real­i­ty by a con­ceal­ing fog and can be imag­ined as an estate with a large house sur­round­ed by a field, a wood­ed area, and a pond. The fan­ta­sy world is orches­trat­ed by Barker’s vil­lain, Mr. Hood, who detains chil­dren with promis­es of abun­dance, indul­gence, and end­less leisure, but then uses them to main­tain his own immor­tal­i­ty. Appear­ing in two forms, first as the house itself and then later—after the house is destroyed—as a human­ized form of a man com­prised of debris from the ruined house, Hood is a ver­i­ta­ble mon­strous rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a child preda­tor. The fan­ta­sy realm, while it promis­es fun, mag­ic, and food, is essen­tial­ly a prison, and pre­dictably, Har­vey must defeat Hood to free him­self, as well as all the chil­dren that Hood has impris­oned with­in this fan­ta­sy realm over the years.

As a fable, Thief is a cau­tion­ary tale that not only teach­es that child­hood years are pre­cious and are not to be wished away or squan­dered in idle leisure, but also tells of the dan­gers that some exploita­tive or preda­to­ry adults may pose to chil­dren. This sec­ond les­son is far less explic­it than the first and like­ly only read­i­ly acces­si­ble to the adult read­er, yet it is one that dis­cours­es around child pro­tec­tion claim is nec­es­sary to be con­veyed to the child in order to reduce harm and pre­serve inno­cence.[1] Prob­lem­at­i­cal­ly, to par­tic­i­pate in an hon­est and frank dis­cus­sion of adult sex­u­al desires for chil­dren would despoil the very inno­cence that is try­ing to be pro­tect­ed; thus, a les­son such as this must be sub­li­mat­ed with­in the sto­ry. How­ev­er, as my analy­sis will reveal, it is not only this les­son that becomes embed­ded with­in the text-image rela­tion­ship, but also feel­ings of adult ambiva­lence and fear toward the child as a fig­ure, effec­tive­ly call­ing into ques­tion the very notion of child­hood inno­cence. By dis­sect­ing the cam­ou­flag­ing effects of mag­ic and mon­stros­i­ty, the anx­i­eties ingrained in some of Barker’s key illus­tra­tions are brought to the fore, reveal­ing their con­tained dual­i­ties and con­tra­dic­tions when con­sid­ered in tan­dem with the text.

Bark­er is best known for his work in adult hor­ror film and lit­er­a­ture. Begin­ning in 1984, Bark­er has pub­lished eleven adult hor­ror and fan­ta­sy nov­els[2] and four children’s nov­els, The Thief of Always (1992), and a recent five-book children’s series called Abarat (2002, 2004, 2011).[3] His lit­er­a­ture is plu­ral­is­tic, falling under mul­ti­ple genre and includes great diver­si­ty in char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, yet an over­all obses­sion for Bark­er could be described as the aes­thet­ic of the per­verse jux­ta­posed with rhetoric to pro­tect the inno­cent. Fur­ther, many of his nar­ra­tives focus on the excess of car­nal desire. Dis­sat­is­fied with mun­dane every­day life, his char­ac­ters fre­quent­ly trav­el to sec­ondary worlds in search of aug­men­ta­tion: unearth­ly plea­sures or mys­ti­cal pow­ers. With a taste for debauch­ery, Bark­er incor­po­rates vio­lence, hor­ror, and sex­u­al­i­ty in his lit­er­a­ture with his char­ac­ters some­times becom­ing phys­i­cal­ly mon­strous, arguably as pun­ish­ment for seek­ing and expe­ri­enc­ing the lim­its of cor­po­re­al excess.[4] Realms of the real and the imag­i­nary fre­quent­ly col­lide, con­front or inte­grate each oth­er and sur­viv­ing char­ac­ters emerge with enhanced self-aware­ness. Bark­er gen­er­al­ly imag­ines his lit­er­ary work as fan­ta­sy with an infu­sion of hor­ror, what he describes as a sanc­tu­ary for the read­er, a space to safe­ly indulge the dark­er sides of the imag­i­na­tion in the assur­ance that “the real world is always there to be gone back to” (qtd. in Burke 56-57). His children’s books are no dif­fer­ent.

Real Fears of the Child Predator

As with his adult nov­els, Bark­er uses the invul­ner­a­ble space of fan­ta­sy to explore real-world adult fears, as he describes rather car­niv­o­rous­ly, treat­ing “the real world [as] raw mate­r­i­al to be devoured and trans­formed with­in the bel­ly of my imag­i­na­tion” (qtd. in Burke 55). In Thief, this true-to-life adult fear is of child abduc­tion, yet while the text may cre­ate an explorato­ry haven, the real-life exis­tence of child preda­tors denies any such pro­tec­tive claims, inten­si­fy­ing these anx­i­eties with­in the text. As Paula Fass main­tains in Kid­napped, adult desires “to inflict pain on chil­dren, to get plea­sure from their bod­ies, or to exploit them mate­ri­al­ly are not a prod­uct of our imag­i­na­tions. Each sto­ry of a child lost to a preda­tor (how­ev­er that is defined) is a true hor­ror sto­ry” (262). Pub­lished in the ear­ly 1990s, Thief appears in the wake of some high­ly pub­li­cized and extreme­ly vicious cas­es of child abduc­tions, which caused wide­spread social anx­i­ety for child safe­ty.

His­to­ri­an Philip Jenk­ins describes the 1980s and 1990s as a cli­mate of fear where­in the con­cep­tion of the child preda­tor in the Amer­i­can pub­lic imag­i­na­tion changed into an abstract notion of a relent­less, sex­u­al force that endan­gered every child. This new­ly con­ceived notion of child preda­tors as “extreme­ly per­sis­tent in their deviant careers [… and] vir­tu­al­ly unstop­pable” cap­tured the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion and instilled an acute sense of fear for the safe­ty of chil­dren in pub­lic spaces that is present in this lit­er­ary nar­ra­tive (Jenk­ins 189). It is against this social back­drop of con­cern for the preser­va­tion and sanc­ti­ty of child­hood that Barker’s vil­lain can and should be read. Indeed, Mr. Hood abducts Har­vey via a sec­ondary agent named Ric­tus who entices Har­vey to accom­pa­ny him to Hood’s Hol­i­day House while Har­vey is on his morn­ing walk to school (Thief 7). How­ev­er, like the abstract­ed con­cep­tion of the preda­tor, Hood is ini­tial­ly pre­sent­ed not as a tan­gi­ble per­son but as the mag­ic of the realm itself, grant­i­ng all of the child’s wish­es with­out expect­ing any­thing in return. Yet, as the nar­ra­tive reveals, the Hol­i­day House is not a fan­tas­ti­cal anom­aly that exists of its own accord, but rather, a house run by a man who seduces, con­trols and con­fines chil­dren in order to feed on their life-force to extend his own life, much like a vam­pire. More explic­it­ly stat­ed, Hood deceives, kid­naps, holds cap­tive, and ulti­mate­ly con­sumes chil­dren. Metaphor­i­cal­ly and metonymi­cal­ly, Bark­er rep­re­sents Hood as a mon­ster in both text and image.

Mon­ster schol­ar Jerome Cohen explains in Mon­ster The­o­ry that fic­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions of mon­sters need “to be read against con­tem­po­rary social move­ments or a spe­cif­ic, deter­min­ing event” (5). He fur­ther describes the mon­ster as embody­ing “those sex­u­al prac­tices that must not be com­mit­ted, or that may be com­mit­ted only through the body of the mon­ster” (14). While Hood’s inter­est in the chil­dren is not explic­it­ly sex­u­al,[5] such desires can be read as impli­cat­ed by his preda­to­ry and con­sump­tive nature, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en the sim­i­lar­i­ties between his char­ac­ter and a noto­ri­ous child preda­tor of the time, West­ley Alan Dodd. Pub­lic opin­ion of Dodd was that he was essen­tial­ly a mon­ster: “the epit­o­me of the mer­ci­less and unapolo­getic preda­tor of small chil­dren. […] evil per­son­i­fied, the ulti­mate human preda­tor” (Jenk­ins 193). Hood may or may not have been based on Dodd, but Dodd’s per­va­sive pres­ence in the media, com­bined with sub­se­quent cov­er­age of child preda­tors in the years fol­low­ing pub­li­ca­tion of Thief, grounds Barker’s fan­ta­sy nar­ra­tive in real­i­ty. Such ground­ing instils a sense of imme­di­a­cy for the anx­i­eties raised by Bark­er in this text, echo­ing the social con­cerns of the time and per­me­at­ing the expe­ri­ences of par­ents who might be read­ing Thief to their chil­dren.[6] Of course, as Peter Hunt explains, in “children’s books, it is easy to read against the impli­ca­tions,” pro­vid­ing a qua­si-pro­tec­tive mech­a­nism for naive read­ers (4). This sin­is­ter nar­ra­tive is loose­ly dis­guised with­in the text, grant­i­ng read­er-denial if desired. How­ev­er, a close read­ing of the text, in con­junc­tion with an analy­sis of Barker’s accom­pa­ny­ing illus­tra­tions, makes it near impos­si­ble to ignore the preda­to­ry sub­text, com­pro­mis­ing the appro­pri­ate­ness of this text for a child read­er­ship.

There are a num­ber of sim­i­lar­i­ties between the media por­tray­al of Dodd and Barker’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Hood that empha­size the par­al­lel­ing that I spec­u­late is at play in Thief. Hood seeks chil­dren of igno­rance, ones who can read­i­ly be duped into enter­ing his realm and who will enjoy his seduc­tive offer­ings with­out ques­tion­ing them, rather than a spe­cif­ic gen­der.[7] Yet, Bark­er focus­es his nar­ra­tive around Har­vey and anoth­er boy that he befriends with­in the fan­ta­sy realm, Wen­dell. Like­wise, Dodd tar­get­ed both male and female chil­dren, but he is most infa­mous for the mur­der of three boys, aged four, ten, and eleven (Jenk­ins 193). Hood’s realm is con­cealed from view by a shroud of fog with the entrance only vis­i­ble to the chil­dren cho­sen to enter the realm. In this way, the mag­ic fog shields, keep­ing him invis­i­ble and “pro­tect­ing [Hood] from the laws of the real world. Safe behind the mists of his illu­sion” (Thief 130). Adults with­in the real­i­ty realm can­not see the house, and the chil­dren with­in the realm only see the house; they can­not see Mr. Hood. The mask of the House ampli­fies the vil­lainy of Hood; it is both his cam­ou­flage and his trans­gres­sion against chil­dren and adults alike. Sim­i­lar­ly Dodd, pri­or to his cap­ture, had encoun­tered and suc­cess­ful­ly deceived a num­ber of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the jus­tice and men­tal health com­mu­ni­ties, “most of whom failed to detect his lethal poten­tial” (Jenk­ins 193; empha­sis added). Between 1991 and 1993, as Jenk­ins recounts, “Dodd was at the height of his nation­al noto­ri­ety, […] boast­ing of the ruth­less qual­i­ty of his crimes and warn­ing that the jus­tice sys­tem could nev­er con­trol him should he be released” (193; empha­sis added). Not only was Dodd uncon­trol­lable by the jus­tice sys­tem, he was unde­tectable by adults in posi­tions of author­i­ty; capa­ble judi­cial and psy­chi­atric pro­fes­sion­als were unable to iden­ti­fy the dan­ger of this man. Dodd’s inten­tions to harm, it would seem, were veiled to offi­cials just as Hood’s realm and the actions there­in are con­cealed by the mag­i­cal fog bar­ri­er.

The Role of Magic in Deception and Denial

As if to pro­claim its auton­o­my, the text would have the implied read­er believe that the illus­tra­tions are mere sup­ple­men­ta­tion, fill­ing in what Bark­er claims to be an inevitable lin­guis­tic lacu­na. As if to demon­strate this defi­cien­cy in com­mu­ni­ca­tion reme­died by an illus­tra­tion, Bark­er presents a poignant scene which fol­lows Harvey’s escape from the fan­ta­sy realm where­in he attempts to explain his cap­ture to his par­ents. When inter­ro­gat­ed about his escape from Hood’s house, Har­vey fails to find the words to describe the house of his cap­tor to his par­ents, so he draws a pic­ture: “He did just that, and though he wasn’t much of an artist his hand seemed to remem­ber more than his brain had, because after a half hour he had drawn the House in con­sid­er­able detail. His father was pleased” (Thief 129). Harvey’s reliance on the draw­ing to say what he is unable to say can also be read as a meta­nar­ra­tive that implies the same for the illus­tra­tions that Bark­er includ­ed to accom­pa­ny his words in the nov­el. Acknowl­edg­ing his inabil­i­ty to ful­ly artic­u­late his nar­ra­tive through text alone, Bark­er relies on his illus­tra­tions to pro­vide addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion to his read­ers, infor­ma­tion of which he may not be ful­ly cog­nizant. Like Har­vey, who is able to remem­ber more through the act of draw­ing, Bark­er is able to con­vey more through his illus­tra­tions. Con­verse­ly, this reliance on illus­tra­tions also reveals a lin­ger­ing dis­trust in language’s abil­i­ty to describe trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ences.

Fig. 1 Harvey’s draw­ing of the Hol­i­day House (Thief 130).[8]

Through the neces­si­ty of Harvey’s draw­ing, the text “reflects on its own lit­er­ary nature,” con­clud­ing that the pres­ence of illus­tra­tions in children’s lit­er­a­ture accounts for the lin­guis­tic and expe­ri­en­tial defi­cien­cy in child­hood knowl­edge to cre­ate an unas­sum­ing image that pleas­es adult author­i­ty (O’Sullivan 28). How­ev­er, Harvey’s illus­tra­tion is far more sin­is­ter in sub­ject and gen­e­sis. The allu­sion to the sup­pres­sion of mem­o­ry that fol­lows an abu­sive and trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ence is evi­dent but is made more explic­it with Schwarcz’s the­o­ry of how illus­tra­tions reveal a hidden—or per­haps suppressed—secret. In that Bark­er is both author and illus­tra­tor, he is free to indulge either or both per­sonas,[9] allow­ing them to cor­rob­o­rate or delin­eate, even to the extent that “text and illus­tra­tion coun­ter­point each oth­er” (Schwar­cz 16-17). Like the extrap­o­lat­ed image of the House from Harvey’s sub­con­scious, Barker’s draw­ings reveal “a secret.” “The two media rein­force each other’s mes­sage” (Schwar­cz 94), yet the mes­sage they rein­force may not be appar­ent, a secret to both author and read­er, wait­ing to be revealed.

The inclu­sion of mag­ic in this nar­ra­tive cre­ates a will­ing­ness to dis­be­lieve and allows the text to por­tray itself as a fun sto­ry in which a young child defeats his cap­tors and in which the cap­tors’ moti­va­tions for the abduc­tion is the pur­suit of the fan­tas­ti­cal aspi­ra­tion of immor­tal­i­ty. The fan­tas­tic ele­ments, both tex­tu­al and visu­al, like the mag­ic with­in the tale, appease adult fears by con­ceal­ing the real­ness of the nar­ra­tive. Adult anx­i­eties and fears of abduc­tion can be momen­tar­i­ly for­got­ten just as eas­i­ly as one could dis­miss mag­ic. Just as the abduc­tion con­tent can be sup­pressed by the read­er, so too can the abduc­tion-like expe­ri­ence of read­ing. While most read­ers would not describe the immer­sive act of read­ing as being held cap­tive (although, many would like­ly describe a good book as cap­ti­vat­ing), Bark­er him­self has iden­ti­fied this anal­o­gous rela­tion. Reflect­ing upon Thief, Bark­er likens the inter­ac­tion between author and read­er to abduc­tion:

Writ­ing the sto­ries is a pow­er trip—and the trip is that you’re actu­al­ly pos­sess­ing peo­ple for a lit­tle bit. […] You’re actu­al­ly putting this page in front of them and say­ing, “Right, I’m going to get hold of you and not let go. And you don’t know me, but when you’re done, you’re going to know some very inti­mate part of me.” (clive​bark​er​.info n. pag.)

The mere cre­ation of a fan­ta­sy realm is indica­tive of forced abduc­tion for Bark­er. More­over, the addi­tion of mag­ic enhances the fan­tas­ti­cal nature of this nar­ra­tive, as well as impos­es a false sense of fic­tion­al­i­ty onto real sto­ries of abduc­tion por­trayed in the media, allow­ing adult fears of child abduc­tion or worse to be con­trolled and denied by the text. Such relief from real­i­ty has twofold con­se­quences. First is the cre­ation of space for parental denial of the real­i­ties of child abduc­tion via an increased dis­tinc­tion between the untouch­able child read­er and the child vic­tim in the media. The sec­ond is that space is cre­at­ed for the child read­er to equate abduc­tion with adven­ture, result­ing in poten­tial desire for such an adven­ture and the hero­ism promised at the end, or in an under­min­ing of the poten­tial dan­gers of the child preda­tor by fil­ter­ing the abduc­tion through a mag­i­cal encounter that takes place exclu­sive­ly in a fan­ta­sy realm.

The exis­tence of the fan­ta­sy realm, and every­thing with­in, is explained by mag­ic. In Thief, mag­ic is depict­ed at times as real or imag­i­nary, com­pli­cat­ing the dis­tinc­tion between real­i­ty and fan­ta­sy. Prob­lem­at­i­cal­ly, the nar­ra­tor repeat­ed­ly refers to the fan­ta­sy realm as “a place of illu­sions,” trick­ery, and mirage (Thief 59). How­ev­er, Har­vey faces dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences after escap­ing from the House, reveal­ing magic’s abil­i­ty to cre­ate true change and loss in the real world. After spend­ing a month in the fan­ta­sy realm, Har­vey and Wen­dell sus­pect that they are trapped and, togeth­er, escape through the fog bar­ri­er. While both re-enter real­i­ty still in child form, they find that 31 years have passed and that Hood has stolen their child­hood from them (Thief 117-19). Still a child, Har­vey returns home but has lost the oppor­tu­ni­ty to grow up with his par­ents and his com­mu­ni­ty (Thief 120). The dead­ly truth behind Hood’s illu­sions is first revealed to Har­vey when he cross­es the fog-thresh­old in his escape with Wen­dell, where he finds that his keep­sakes from the house turn to dust in his pock­et (Thief 117). Yet, while these phys­i­cal objects reveal them­selves as ephemer­al, the tem­po­ral dif­fer­ence between the inside and out­side of the fan­ta­sy realm, marked by the wall of fog, is affirmed rather than unmade as a real con­se­quence of Harvey’s time in the House. Here lies the dif­fi­cul­ty of this text. While the nar­ra­tor would have the implied read­er believe that all the effects of the House are illu­sions and tricks, the tem­po­ral dif­fer­ence is in fact very real.

Hav­ing learned the truth of Hood’s trick­ery while in the realm of real­i­ty and empow­ered by this new knowl­edge, Har­vey returns to the House. His new­ly-acquired defense against the mirages of the House is fore­ground­ed in an encounter between him and a tempt­ing slice of pie offered as a dis­trac­tion meant to lull him back into the rhythms of the house. How­ev­er, the false-image fails and Har­vey, armed with his new abil­i­ty to see truth, rec­og­nizes the façade as the pile of dust that is its true nature: “He looked back at the pie, and for a moment it seemed he glimpsed the truth of the thing: the gray dust and ash­es from which this illu­sion was made” (Thief 161).

Fig. 2 Jive hold­ing the illu­sion of pie (Thief 158).

In the illus­tra­tion, the pie remains in pie form, yet the skull-shaped steam sig­ni­fies that this pie is not food, and belief in this pie will bring only death. Harvey’s loss of inno­cence, acquired dur­ing his return to real­i­ty, removes his veil of naivety and allows him to see past the illu­sion to the death (the dust) that lingers beneath.[10] Har­vey is empow­ered by his loss of inno­cence, able to see more and to know more than oth­er chil­dren. From this exam­ple of the pie, it becomes clear that truth is embed­ded with­in the illus­tra­tions, a secret adult truth made avail­able to Har­vey by enter­ing his adult real­i­ty while still a child.

The nar­ra­tive is clear in its mes­sage: adult knowl­edge is the only weapon against the child preda­tor. This con­clu­sion is rather prob­lem­at­ic for a genre that assumes the igno­rance of the child. Accord­ing to children’s lit­er­a­ture schol­ar Per­ry Nodel­man, the imper­a­tive of this genre is to medi­ate, where­in “both children’s lit­er­a­ture and fan­ta­sy place the implied read­er in a posi­tion of inno­cence about the real­i­ty they describe” (Hid­den 201). With the child read­er con­fined to igno­rance and the child hero’s suc­cess con­tin­gent on the acqui­si­tion of knowl­edge that is dis­trib­uted by adulthood—for Har­vey, this knowl­edge is con­trolled by the adult author—not only is the child read­er stripped of any poten­cy, but he or she is also posi­tioned hier­ar­chi­cal­ly below the child char­ac­ter, who is sim­i­lar­ly sub­or­di­nate to the author. O’Sullivan asserts that children’s lit­er­a­ture is pred­i­cat­ed on an “unequal part­ner­ship” between author and child in terms of “their com­mand of lan­guage, their expe­ri­ence of the world, and their posi­tions in soci­ety,” with the scales of knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence tipped toward the author (14). When com­bined with the con­tention that “children’s lit­er­a­ture is lit­er­a­ture that leaves things out,” this hier­ar­chy implies the pres­ence of an inher­ent sub­text embed­ded with­in any children’s lit­er­a­ture text, one that the author (or anoth­er adult read­er) may fol­low but that the child may not (Nodel­man, Hid­den 198). This com­plex idea is ful­ly explored by Nodel­man, who con­cludes that “the texts rep­re­sent as much of the truth about the world as adults assume chil­dren are capa­ble of know­ing,” which is reduced to “the sim­plic­i­ties of a text in terms of the more com­plex knowl­edge that sus­tains it and makes it com­pre­hen­si­ble” to an adult read­er (Hid­den 199, 205). The para­dox­i­cal nature of Thief is thus exposed: as a pro­tec­tive fable, it is at once expect­ed to present real-world prob­lems and solu­tions for chil­dren and to shield the child read­er from the graph­ic and dis­turb­ing real­i­ties of the threat it attempts to warn against.

This ambi­gu­i­ty is fore­ground­ed in Thief in both its employ­ment of the dual real­ness and unre­al­ness of mag­ic, as well as its empha­sis on curios­i­ty. In the fan­ta­sy realm con­trolled by Hood through mag­ic (and Bark­er), Har­vey and Wen­dell dis­cuss the mys­ter­ies of the realm, begin­ning with the pond around the back of the house which they have dis­cov­ered is full of large, ugly fish. These fish are in fact the trans­formed bod­ies of Hood’s pre­vi­ous vic­tims, a fate that awaits Har­vey and Wen­dell if they stay at the Hol­i­day House too long:

Why would Mr. Hood have fish like that? I mean, every­thing else is so beau­ti­ful. The lawns, the House, the orchard …”
“Who cares?” said Wen­dell.
“I do,” said Har­vey. “I want to know every­thing there is to know about this place.”
“Why?”
“So I can tell my mom and dad about it when I get home.”
“Home?” said Wen­dell. “Who needs it? We’ve got every­thing we need here.”
“I’d still like to know how it all works.”
[…]
“Don’t be a dope, Har­vey. This is all real. It’s mag­ic, but it’s real.”
“You think so?” (Thief 43)

This scene serves mul­ti­ple pur­pos­es. Most obvi­ous­ly, it estab­lish­es the con­trast between Har­vey and Wen­dell. While each boy asks ques­tions, Wendell’s ques­tions are dis­mis­sive rather than inquis­i­tive, ques­tions that per­pet­u­ate igno­rance and rebuff truth as opposed to Harvey’s knowl­edge-seek­ing ques­tions that request under­stand­ing.

Fur­ther­more, this scene demon­strates the dis­place­ment of knowl­edge with mag­ic; when Wendell’s “who cares?” leaves Har­vey unsat­is­fied, “mag­ic” takes its place as the answer to “how it all works.” Mag­ic, a child’s answer for the unex­plained, sat­is­fies Wen­dell; it pro­vides “every­thing we need,” since his needs are child­like: child­hood knowl­edge and child­hood desires. Wen­dell is con­tent with attribut­ing the “real” to mag­ic, but Har­vey con­tin­ues to ques­tion right to the end of the dis­cus­sion, final­ly ask­ing “You think so?” With­in the fan­ta­sy realm, some­thing tan­ta­lizes the chil­dren and intrigues the read­er, prompt­ing this reflec­tive scene. The real­ness of mag­ic, and not the mon­ster behind it as Cohen would argue, elic­its the respons­es of curios­i­ty and desire (16-7). Of course, the ele­ment of trans­gres­sion under­scores the expe­ri­ence of Hood’s fan­ta­sy realm; every aspect of the fantasy—right down to the knowl­edge that it is a fantasy—initiates a cycle of desire and inqui­si­tion in the chil­dren. How­ev­er, by solic­it­ing ques­tions from both Har­vey and Wen­dell despite the lack of answers, mag­i­cal real­ness com­pli­cates Cohen’s mon­ster, adding intel­lec­tu­al intrigue to its appeal.

Doubling the (Child) Monster

The dou­bling effect of Barker’s illus­tra­tions begins to reveal itself in the dual expres­sion of life and death, food and dust. Yet, it is the depic­tions of Har­vey that are the most reveal­ing of the embed­ded ambiva­lences with­in this nar­ra­tive. Con­sid­er the first image of Har­vey, pre­sent­ed even before the title page for the book; it is one of clear divi­sion and dual­i­ty with­in the child:

Fig. 3 This image appears on the third page of the book, pri­or to any num­ber­ing.

Harvey’s face is the image of child­like inno­cence, appear­ing com­pla­cent, banal, and even melan­cholic; he sits in a pas­sive stance, hands calm­ly rest­ing in his lap while his head is devoured by a hideous mon­ster. Yet, Har­vey has also cho­sen to wear the cos­tume of the mon­ster and to adopt this fright­en­ing, mon­strous per­sona. He appears mon­strous, mag­ni­fied by the shad­ow he projects that looms larg­er than it should behind him and shows Harvey’s ears, which should not be affect­ed by the cos­tume, as point­ed like a creature’s. More­over, the shad­ow is both cast by Harvey—a pro­jec­tion of his body—yet it also looms over him in a threat­en­ing way. The mon­ster costume—or per­haps more appro­pri­ate­ly, the act of don­ning or embrac­ing monstrosity—is dan­ger­ous to Har­vey; it threat­ens and changes him; it con­flates him with the mon­ster. He is at once inno­cence and mon­stros­i­ty com­bined, need­ing adult pro­tec­tion but also vis­i­bly frightening—the monster’s eyes demand­ing or induc­ing fear. Schwarcz’s secret con­tained with­in the illus­tra­tions of the nar­ra­tive is this ambiva­lence: the dual con­cep­tion of the child (and child­hood) as both inno­cent and mon­strous.[11]

Bark­er revis­its this idea mid-way through the nar­ra­tive, when Har­vey is mag­i­cal­ly trans­formed into a vam­pire as a Hal­loween treat. Through the mag­ic of Hood’s Hol­i­day House, Har­vey is trans­formed into a vam­pire: he grows fangs, his ears extend into points, his arms become wings, and he acquires the taste for blood (Thief 78-85). He flies from the roof and swoops down to attack Wen­dell, remem­ber­ing his human­i­ty at the last minute and refus­ing to “Bite him. […] Drink a lit­tle of his [Wendell’s] blood” (Thief 86). Inter­est­ing­ly, in this rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the preda­tor turns child­hood against itself by fill­ing Har­vey with the desire to attack anoth­er child: Wen­dell. Barker’s illus­tra­tions of Har­vey as a vam­pire are dual illus­tra­tions that frame the chap­ter in which Har­vey is trans­formed:

Fig. 4 Ide­al­ized (Thief 72).

Fig. 5 Actu­al (Thief 82).

The images rep­re­sent an ide­al­ized and actu­al real­i­ty. In the ide­al­ized real­i­ty, Har­vey rel­ish­es in his meta­mor­pho­sis, untrou­bled by his enact­ment of a boy­hood dream come to life, while in the actu­al real­i­ty, Har­vey is a vic­tim of this dream, fear­ful of his abil­i­ty to harm and to instil fear in oth­ers. The dual­i­ty of the child as both mon­strous and innocent—a dev­il­ish vic­tim of an imag­ined child­hood ideal—is unveiled.

The ide­al­ized image of Har­vey as a vam­pire is coun­tered by the chap­ter title “What Do You Dream?” (Thief 73). The ques­tion appears to address Har­vey, yet it can also be read in two ways: first, to ques­tion the aspi­ra­tions of child­hood and sec­ond, to ques­tion how child­hood is con­ceived by adults. The illus­tra­tion thus serves to answer both ques­tions. The pres­ence of the adult imag­i­nary is aug­ment­ed by an ear­li­er con­ver­sa­tion between Wen­dell and Har­vey, where­in the adult voice of Mrs. Grif­fin, an old woman who lives at the Hol­i­day House and acts as care­tak­er to the chil­dren, affirms the nor­mal­cy of boy­hood mor­bid inter­ests: “‘You’re mon­sters,’ she replied with the hint of a smile. ‘That’s what you are. Mon­sters’” (Thief 48). This affir­ma­tion sug­gests that mon­stros­i­ty is the (fan­ta­sized) fun­da­men­tal nature of boy­hood. Harvey’s “dream” of being a mur­der­ous vam­pire is con­firmed as an adult con­cep­tion of the ide­al­ized child. The real­i­ty of this con­cep­tion is indi­cat­ed by the clos­ing image of Har­vey plum­met­ing to the ground with a dark shad­ow behind him, actu­al child­hood, in need of pro­tec­tion.

Like the pre-emp­tive illus­tra­tion of Harvey’s cos­tumed dual­i­ty, the shad­ow both results from and threat­ens the child, yet this dark shad­ow has its own legs and appears to be a shape inde­pen­dent of Har­vey, one that is out­side of his con­trol. This shad­owy fig­ure is either chas­ing or per­haps push­ing Har­vey to the ground, or it is sym­bol­ic of the true threat to his inno­cence: the bur­den of the ide­al­ized adult con­cep­tion of child­hood mon­stros­i­ty imposed upon him. The title next to this illus­tra­tion reads “Falling From Grace” (Thief 83), which evokes the fall­en angel who is expelled from heav­en­ly grace, indi­cat­ing a fail­ure to live up to some high­er (adult) expec­ta­tion of divine inno­cence. Through his embrace of the adult fan­ta­sy in the pre­vi­ous pic­ture, Har­vey becomes mon­strous and fear­ful in his embod­i­ment of the actu­al rather than the ide­al­ized results of this fan­ta­sy. How­ev­er, Har­vey is already con­ceived of as mon­strous pri­or to the com­mence­ment of the nar­ra­tive, indi­cat­ing adult ambiva­lence toward the con­cep­tion of child­hood that pred­i­cates and infil­trates Thief.

Barker’s illus­tra­tions, in con­junc­tion with his use of the mon­strous in both his vil­lains and his pro­tag­o­nist, cre­ate a com­plex but not sur­pris­ing dual­i­ty, con­tin­gent on the mod­ern con­struc­tion of child­hood. Nodel­man explains:

They [chil­dren] are nec­es­sar­i­ly dou­ble and divided—both that which they mim­ic, child­hood as envis­aged and imposed on them by adults, and that which under­lies and sur­vives and trans­gress­es that adult ver­sion of child­hood. The adult impulse […] requires that chil­dren be both con­trol­lable and uncon­trol­lable, both what adults want them to be and inca­pable of being what adults want them to be. […] The divid­ed child is the only pos­si­ble child con­struct­ed by children’s lit­er­a­ture. (Hid­den 187)

O’Sullivan con­cep­tu­al­izes children’s lit­er­a­ture as “a body of lit­er­a­ture into which the dom­i­nant social, cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al norms are inscribed” (13), while Nodel­man envi­sions it as “a means by which adults teach chil­dren how to be child­like” (Hid­den 203). The didac­tic imper­a­tive of Barker’s fable, while it may be well-intend­ed, is unavoid­ably con­fused, for­mu­lat­ing con­flat­ed and con­tra­dic­to­ry notions of “child­like­ness,” evi­dent in his visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Har­vey (Hid­den 191). Thief reflects and con­structs a con­flat­ed social and cul­tur­al con­cep­tion of child­hood.

Despite this ambiva­lence toward child­hood or per­haps because of it, adult fears of child abduc­tion under­score every aspect of this nar­ra­tive. Har­vey is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly vic­tim and sav­iour, bea­con of child­hood vibran­cy and bear­er of death, attack­ing the idea of immor­tal­i­ty in both adult­hood and child­hood.

Fig. 6 Har­vey as dual­i­ty, white and black, body and shad­ow, sav­iour and wit­ness of death (Thief 142).

Accord­ing to Mar­gari­da Mor­ga­do in “A Loss beyond Imag­in­ing: Child Dis­ap­pear­ance in Fic­tion,” works that engage in the dis­cours­es on child­hood, like Barker’s Thief, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly address “the absence and pres­ence of chil­dren: their absence in adult’s rec­ol­lec­tions [i.e., imag­i­na­tion] of child­hood and their pres­ence as real indi­vid­u­als who either dif­fer from or resem­ble adults” (245). In this state­ment, Mor­ga­do jux­ta­pos­es the imag­ined child and the real child with one con­cep­tu­al­ized and con­struct­ed by the adult, and the oth­er sep­a­rate and know­able to the adult only by com­par­i­son. She stress­es the adult’s ambiva­lence toward their con­cep­tions of child­hood, which results in a dual sta­tus of the child as either an ide­al or an actual—but in both cas­es, para­dox­i­cal­ly, an imag­ined fig­ure. She claims that “adults nur­ture child­hood as a dimen­sion of infi­nite and immutable time, an idea of inno­cence, and a locus of affec­tive invest­ment” (246; empha­sis added). Adults con­struct the child as immor­tal inno­cence, indis­putably igno­rant of both mor­tal­i­ty and sex­u­al­i­ty,[12] a fig­ure who acts as a recep­tor of adult affec­tion (accept­able in the form of pro­tec­tion and famil­ial love, unac­cept­able in the form of cap­tiv­i­ty and sex­u­al love).

It is this ide­al­ized mem­o­ry that adults bring as read­ers or authors to children’s lit­er­a­ture, and this desire that Bark­er expos­es as sin­is­ter by apply­ing the child­hood notions of immor­tal­i­ty and inno­cence (as a non-sex­u­al­ized yet insa­tiable adult) onto Hood, his adult vil­lain. Bark­er cre­ates sim­i­lar­i­ties between Har­vey and Hood and, by doing so in com­bi­na­tion with the dual­i­ty of Har­vey as mon­strous and inno­cent, he frees Har­vey from what Mor­ga­do refers to as the prison of “fic­tions of inno­cence” or what David Gurn­ham has dubbed the “dis­abling and dis­arm­ing dis­course of inno­cence” (246; 116). Once freed, Har­vey may be used “to artic­u­late [adult] fears and wish­es,” includ­ing the con­tra­dic­to­ry desire for and fear of immor­tal child­hood (Mor­ga­do 247). The ambiva­lence toward the nature of child­hood, this con­flict between what is desir­able in chil­dren and what is achiev­able in actu­al­i­ty, is of par­tic­u­lar rel­e­vance to the nar­ra­tive of child abduc­tion.

Adults are aware of the taboo sex­u­al desires of some adults toward chil­dren, yet divulging that knowl­edge, prop­a­gat­ing that adult-known fear, would result in a cor­rup­tion of the very inno­cence in need of pro­tec­tion. Child pro­tec­tion dis­cours­es con­tend that a rev­e­la­tion of the sex­u­al desir­abil­i­ty of the child would despoil the child by ini­ti­at­ing it into adult knowl­edge pre­ma­ture­ly, but such a rev­e­la­tion would equal­ly taint the adult since it is in the adult that this desire orig­i­nates. Thus, sto­ries such as Barker’s, which place the threat to child­hood out­side of the realm of famil­iar and real­is­tic adult­hood, pre­vents both the child and the adult from cor­rup­tion. Bron­wyn Davies clar­i­fies that “con­struct­ing the dan­ger as com­ing from the unknown Oth­er, the stranger, saves those who are clos­est to the chil­dren from think­ing about what dan­gers they them­selves, or their loves ones, might be expos­ing chil­dren to” (ix). Hence, the child is expect­ed to know with­out know­ing, expect­ed to be able to iden­ti­fy an unknow­able threat, because of the adult deci­sion to with­hold knowl­edge and per­pet­u­ate igno­rance, leav­ing the child to maneu­ver through a dan­ger­ous and unknow­able adult world in an ide­al­ized state of per­pet­u­al inno­cence.

Yet, this igno­rant, unsus­pect­ing child, in his trust­ing inno­cence and total depen­dence, is at his most vul­ner­a­ble. His sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty opens the door for what Mor­ga­do con­tends adults fear most: the mon­strous child. Accord­ing to Mor­ga­do, adults fear for chil­dren who, through a loss of inno­cence, will “re-emerg[e] as mon­sters or vic­tims of a ruth­less soci­ety,” reveal­ing the inabil­i­ty to con­trol “the inno­cent, pure, pas­sive, and depen­dent child” (251). Such fears spur the cre­ation of lit­er­ary works meant to edu­cate (but not too much) and pro­tect, pre­vent­ing this mon­strous trans­for­ma­tion. Bark­er, as has been shown, allows this nar­ra­tive to play through to the cau­tion­ary hind­sight at its end. Giv­en Harvey’s loss of inno­cence, Cohen would con­cede the nat­u­ral­ness of the mon­strous child in the pres­ence of the fic­tion­al mon­ster (Hood): “The mon­ster pre­vents mobil­i­ty (intel­lec­tu­al, geo­graph­i­cal, or sex­u­al), delim­it­ing the social spaces through which pri­vate bod­ies move. To step out­side this offi­cial geog­ra­phy is to risk attack by some mon­strous bor­der patrol or (worse) to become mon­strous one­self” (12). Ulti­mate­ly, Har­vey trans­gress­es these intel­lec­tu­al, geo­graph­i­cal, and sex­u­al bound­aries guard­ed by the mon­ster and gains the knowl­edge nec­es­sary to defeat the preda­tor via his encounter with real­i­ty.

Reading between the Sublimated Lines

Iron­i­cal­ly, mon­sters are fre­quent­ly employed to depict sit­u­a­tions that adults fear will cre­ate mon­strous chil­dren. Accord­ing to Nodel­man, “children’s lit­er­a­ture is fre­quent­ly about com­ing to terms with a world one does not under­stand” and cam­ou­flag­ing lessons on harm­ful adult inten­tions would serve to pre­pare with­out cor­rup­tion by main­tain­ing the “world one does not under­stand” through lit­er­ary metaphor, anal­o­gy or hid­den sub­text (“Gen­er­al­iza­tions” 178). To achieve this end, such texts “sub­li­mate or keep present but leave unsaid a vari­ety of forms of knowledge—sexual, cul­tur­al, historical—theoretically only avail­able to and only under­stand­able to adults” (Nodel­man, Hid­den 206). Sim­i­lar­ly, “mon­sters must be exam­ined with­in the intri­cate matrix of rela­tions (social, cul­tur­al, and lit­er­ary-his­tor­i­cal)” (Cohen 5). In read­ing Thief as a child abduc­tion nar­ra­tive, each of these forms of knowl­edge is sup­pressed: the “sex­u­al” impli­ca­tions of child abduc­tion, the “cul­tur­al” under­stand­ing of the threat of a child preda­tor and, the “his­tor­i­cal” pat­tern of passed abduc­tions and their con­se­quences. Hence, the knowl­edge of the world and its dan­gers remain silent, unknown, sub­li­mat­ed in order to pre­serve the inno­cence of the ide­al­ized child.

Dur­ing their escape, which is a direct result of Wendell’s con­fronta­tion with the (sex­u­al­ized) vam­pire-Har­vey, the boys are chased by Car­na, Hood’s winged beast, who cross­es the fog bound­ary in its blood-lust for the boys and then imme­di­ate­ly begins to dete­ri­o­rate. The par­al­lel to Harvey’s vam­pire meta­mor­pho­sis, in which he lets out a blood-cur­dling scream as he flies through the sky before swoop­ing down to trap Wen­dell and suck his blood, is illu­mi­nat­ing. Like Car­na, who begins to dete­ri­o­rate once beyond the fog bar­ri­er and out­side of the fan­ta­sy realm, Harvey’s vam­pir­ic qual­i­ties dis­si­pate when he refus­es to fol­low through with the fan­ta­sy of pen­e­trat­ing Wendell’s neck and draw­ing his blood (Thief 111, 87-8). Thus, it is the denial of fan­ta­sy that dis­solves the mon­ster.

Fig. 7 Car­na with mouth agape, ready to receive (Thief 108).

The destruc­tion of Car­na when it encoun­ters real­i­ty is sym­bol­ic of the bound­ary main­tained by its mon­stros­i­ty. Car­na, “the devour­er,” is appetite incar­nate, and its ema­ci­at­ed body reveals the insa­tia­bil­i­ty of this appetite as well as the insub­stan­tial­i­ty of its objects of desire (Thief 111). This idea is reflect­ed in Harvey’s rev­e­la­tion that the food that is meant to sus­tain him is in actu­al­i­ty mere­ly dust, as well as in the fish trans­for­ma­tion of the chil­dren who are meant to sus­tain Hood’s immor­tal life, leav­ing only an ugly fish when the child’s essence is spent.

Carna’s sig­nif­i­cance lies in its func­tion with­in the nar­ra­tive as rep­re­sen­ta­tive guard of the fan­ta­sy realm. Car­na is what Cohen calls the “mon­ster of pro­hi­bi­tion,” the mon­ster who patrols the bor­der cre­at­ed by mon­stros­i­ty, main­tain­ing the integri­ty of the bound­ary between nor­ma­tiv­i­ty and mon­stros­i­ty (13). Bod­i­ly appetites can, of course, con­cern food, of which there are copi­ous amounts with­in Hood’s realm, but it can also apply to more sen­su­al desires for plea­sure. Con­tra­dic­to­ri­ly, while Car­na lim­its, it also elic­its explo­ration and begs for under­stand­ing: “The mon­strous body is pure cul­ture. […] [T]he mon­ster exists only to be read: the mon­strum is ety­mo­log­i­cal­ly ‘that which reveals,’ ‘that which warns’” (Cohen 4). The mon­ster has a dual func­tion, warn­ing and also reveal­ing that which it warned against in the same token.

Revealed at the end of Thief, how­ev­er, Car­na is “kept alive not by any will of its own but because Hood demand­ed its ser­vice” (Thief 170). In that Car­na is Hood’s agent and dri­ven entire­ly by his will, in effect, Hood is the true mon­ster of pro­hi­bi­tion, who “exists to demar­cate the bonds that hold togeth­er that sys­tem of rela­tions we call cul­ture, to call hor­rid atten­tion to the bor­ders that cannot—must not—be crossed” (Cohen 13). Cohen explains fur­ther: “From its posi­tion at the lim­its of know­ing, the mon­ster stands as a warn­ing against explo­ration of its uncer­tain demesnes” (12). Car­na reveals and warns against taboo cor­po­re­al desires on behalf of Hood, desires either expe­ri­enced by chil­dren (the children’s desires—their wishes—granted by Hood) or tar­get­ed toward chil­dren (Hood’s desire for chil­dren). Of par­tic­u­lar rel­e­vance to this exten­sion is Nodelman’s com­ment that, giv­en its pow­er to con­struct notions of child­hood, at its core “children’s lit­er­a­ture may have the unac­knowl­edged pur­pose of teach­ing chil­dren not to reveal their sex­u­al­i­ty to adults” (Hid­den 201). For Har­vey, the bound­ary that Car­na demar­cates is dualistic—at once the hor­rid bor­der of adult sex­u­al desire for chil­dren as well as the uncer­tain demesnes of child­hood sex­u­al desire. The pres­ence of the mon­ster fore­grounds and for­bids these twofold desires.

Mag­ic obstructs this truth, mak­ing it unbe­liev­able, even with­in the nar­ra­tive. The predator’s hide-away is a mag­i­cal house hid­den behind a mys­tic shroud of fog, a wall whose “misty stones seemed to reach for him [Har­vey] in their turn, wrap­ping their soft, gray arms around his shoul­ders and ush­er­ing him through” (Thief 16). This roman­ti­cized, fan­tas­ti­cal image of a child being wel­comed into a mag­i­cal realm, when seen through the sus­pi­cious eyes of an adult gaze, is a threat­en­ing image of a child will­ing­ly accom­pa­ny­ing his abduc­tor to an unpleas­ant fate. The illus­tra­tion of Har­vey pass­ing through the wall serves this same pur­pose. No mon­strous arms reach to grab Har­vey and pull him through, but rather the fog dis­solves into a yield­ing wall of mist that eas­i­ly allows for Harvey’s pas­sage to the oth­er side where a field of flow­ers awaits.

Fig. 8 Har­vey trav­els through the wall of fog (Thief 10).

The path, in that it is a “Hid­den Way,” as indi­cat­ed by the chap­ter head­ing, is unique­ly reserved for chil­dren (Thief 11). This is the chap­ter in which the abduc­tion of Har­vey takes place, in which Har­vey will­ing­ly fol­lows his cap­tor to a stranger’s house, a promise-land, a “place where the days are always sun­ny […] and the nights are full of won­der” (Thief 8). The chap­ter opens with this image of the fog yield­ing to Har­vey and clos­es with a tran­si­tion­al illus­tra­tion of his wait­ing reward, a flow­er­ing mead­ow to con­trast the drea­ry Feb­ru­ary day he left behind (Thief 16-7).

Fig. 9 A field of flow­ers mate­ri­al­ized across the two final pages of the chap­ter (Thief 16-7).

The text that accom­pa­nies his cross­ing the bor­der between real­i­ty and fan­ta­sy points to the first of many sex­u­al sub­texts that charge Harvey’s vis­it to the Hol­i­day House with the threat­en­ing pres­ence of a child preda­tor. As Har­vey approach­es the fog, “with­in three steps of the wall a gust of balmy, flower-scent­ed wind slipped between the shim­mer­ing stones and kissed his cheek” (Thief 16; empha­sis added). The use of “slipped between,” most com­mon­ly fol­lowed by the sheets, ampli­fies the sex­u­al sug­ges­tion of Harvey’s kissed cheek, but this kiss is perceived—if it is acknowl­edged at all—as inno­cent because its source is mag­i­cal and the knowl­edge that sup­ports it is child­like. Because children’s lit­er­a­ture posi­tions the implied read­er in a state of child­like inno­cence, the sex­u­al sub­text of the wind’s kiss­es, made more dis­turb­ing in the knowl­edge that Hood con­trols every­thing in the fan­ta­sy realm, wind includ­ed, can eas­i­ly remain con­cealed with­in the text.

The Predator in Two Images

Hood strives for con­ceal­ment through­out the nar­ra­tive, using the mag­i­cal ele­ments of his lair—the house, the fog, the pond, and the wind—to dis­guise his true nature. Hood is illu­sive to the chil­dren, appear­ing once as a whis­pered voice car­ried by the breeze or a faint ques­tion from the shad­ows. Har­vey forces the encounter between him­self and Hood when he returns to defeat him and save the chil­dren con­fined as fish in the pond. Har­vey demands to meet Hood, at which point Ric­tus would have Har­vey (and the read­er) believe that “He is the house” (Thief 187). Yet, the illus­tra­tion and the text con­spire against the descrip­tion, depict­ing Hood not as the house but of the house, a voice that resounds with the house as its source and a voyeuris­tic eye that spans the attic ceil­ing.

Fig. 10 Hood as voyeur (Thief 166).

Despite active­ly seek­ing him out, Har­vey finds Hood only be acci­dent.

[…] he took lit­tle care where he walked. He stum­bled, fell, and end­ed up sprawled on the hard boards, star­ing up at the roof through a red haze of pain.

And there above him was Hood, in all his glo­ry.
His face was spread over the entire roof, his fea­tures hor­ri­bly dis­tort­ed. His eyes were dark pits gouged into the tim­ber; his nose was flared and flat­tened grotesque­ly, like the nose of an enor­mous bat; his mouth was a lip­less slit that was sure­ly ten feet wide, from which issued a voice that was like the creak­ing of doors and the howl­ing of chim­neys and the rat­tling of win­dows. (Thief 170-71)

The descrip­tion of Hood’s face—its dis­tort­ed for­ma­tion, grotesque and bat-like—is coun­tered by the illus­tra­tion, which reduces Hood to a sin­gle eye, as if his only crime against the chil­dren he cap­tures is as a voyeur. The illus­tra­tion of Hood por­trays his very dis­po­si­tion: a see­ing eye that hides from his object of focus, a cow­ard, cam­ou­flaged by the house, and then again by this reduc­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Yet, this eye, when con­sid­ered with the text, does more than see Har­vey. The sig­nif­i­cance in this encounter is that Har­vey sees the eye and not the oth­er way around. Har­vey uncov­ers the truth behind his abduc­tor, but only by plac­ing him­self in a most vul­ner­a­ble posi­tion: “sprawled on the hard boards” beneath Hood’s gaze (Thief 170). Hood’s rap­ing eye is vio­lat­ed by Har­vey, through his dis­cov­ery of it, just as it vio­lates Har­vey in this most sym­bol­ic posi­tion­ing.

Fur­ther­more, Barker’s depic­tion of the threat of a child preda­tor as a house rather than a man makes the threat inher­ent­ly fan­tas­tic, remov­ing its asso­ci­a­tion from nor­ma­tive soci­ety, while also prob­lem­at­i­cal­ly dis­tanc­ing it from society’s con­trol. Through his manip­u­la­tion of time Hood achieves immor­tal­i­ty (the unre­lent­ing and per­sis­tent preda­tor that adults fear), and through his use of mag­ic he con­ceals his acts, mak­ing him unde­tectable and thus unstop­pable. The home, and by exten­sion the par­ents, offers no pro­tec­tion for the child against the threat of abduc­tion. Harvey’s par­ents dis­miss going to the police for help as absurd because of the fan­tas­tic nature of the tale:

And what do we tell them?” his father said, rais­ing his voice.

That we think there’s a House out there that hides in a mist, and steals chil­dren with mag­ic? It’s ridicu­lous.” (Thief 130)

This dis­missal also affirms the fan­tasies of child­hood where­in chil­dren are able to pro­tect them­selves: in Thief, no adult can save the chil­dren; only Har­vey can redeem and reclaim the notion of child­hood to save not only him­self, but all the chil­dren. In the end, each child is restored to his or her orig­i­nal time peri­od. Child­hood is affirmed with­in the realm of real­i­ty, with Harvey’s par­ents uncon­vinced as to the cru­cial role he played in this adven­ture (Thief 227-28).

Yet, Bark­er com­pli­cates his nar­ra­tive by dou­bling Hood’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion with a sec­ond form. Like the con­tra­dic­to­ry rep­re­sen­ta­tion of mag­ic being both real and illu­sion, Hood is oppo­si­tion­al­ly rep­re­sent­ed as both an extreme­ly pow­er­ful vil­lain, able to con­trol and con­fine chil­dren with­out detec­tion or inter­ven­tion, and a frag­ile adult eas­i­ly destroyed by a child. After Har­vey suc­ceeds in destroy­ing the house, Hood returns, ris­ing from the rub­ble to take the form of a man.

Fig. 11 Hood as a man (Thief 206).

By indi­vid­u­al­iz­ing the preda­tor in the form of a sin­gle man, his threat to chil­dren becomes man­age­able. He becomes iden­ti­fi­able, trace­able, and sus­cep­ti­ble to the laws of soci­ety, all qual­i­ties that did not apply to him in house form. This trans­for­ma­tion con­firms his demise with­in the text: “In the high times of his evil, Hood had been the House. Now, it was the oth­er way around. The House, what was left of it, had become Mr. Hood” (Thief 204). The illus­tra­tions human­ize Hood, piec­ing togeth­er a man’s ten­u­ous face from the debris, yet the text denies this human iden­ti­ty and oblit­er­ates this last attempt to con­struct the preda­tor from the remains of his dis­guise. Har­vey tells Hood “You’re dirt and muck and bits and pieces […] You’re noth­ing!” (Thief 212). No longer hood­ed by the house, Hood is stripped of all pro­tec­tive con­ceal­ment. Near naked and vul­ner­a­ble, the child preda­tor is defeat­ed when Har­vey pulls the last remain­ing scrap of fab­ric off his body to reveal his emp­ty core (Thief 211). As Har­vey pro­claims, the preda­tor is noth­ing but an emp­ty con­struc­tion, an impo­tent noth­ing­ness, defeat­ed by a child.

Final Thoughts

Ulti­mate­ly, Har­vey is empow­ered by the acqui­si­tion of knowl­edge. He is able to defeat the child preda­tor because he under­stands the oper­a­tion of the House and the log­ic of the fan­ta­sy realm. By per­form­ing this knowl­edge by return­ing to the House to destroy Hood and release the cap­tive chil­dren, Har­vey van­quish­es mag­ic from the fan­ta­sy realm and dis­solves the realm into real­i­ty. While the nar­ra­tive places Har­vey as the hero of this tale, vic­tor over the impo­tent preda­tor, the illus­tra­tions reveal anoth­er inter­pre­ta­tion: the con­struct­ed notion of the child preda­tor ulti­mate­ly ter­mi­nates Hood. When Har­vey unmasks the empti­ness inside Hood, the text informs that “there was no heart at all. There was only a void—neither cold nor hot, liv­ing nor dead—made not of mys­tery but of noth­ing­ness. The illusionist’s illu­sion” (Thief 211). The illus­tra­tion, how­ev­er, in its attempt to give a human shape to this illu­sion, coun­ters this noth­ing­ness that the text pro­claims. Like the lin­guis­tic lacu­na reme­died by Harvey’s draw­ing, Barker’s illus­tra­tion of Hood indi­cates the empti­ness that lan­guage impos­es onto the child preda­tor. In the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion, the preda­tor is lit­tle more than dis­course: an impos­si­ble to con­trol force that “arose not from any tem­po­rary or reversible weak­ness of char­ac­ter but from a deep-root­ed sick­ness or moral taint” (Jenk­ins 189). Har­vey defeats Hood by expos­ing the void that replaces his heart, a sym­bol­ic ges­ture that could also be inter­pret­ed as an unveil­ing of the empti­ness that lies at the core of his con­struc­tion.

Yet, this final con­clu­sion unnerv­ing­ly leaves the preda­tor as an illu­sion him­self, call­ing into ques­tion the real­i­ty of his per­ceived threat. This doubt is rein­forced by the return to real­i­ty at the end, where­in all of Hood’s cap­tives have been returned to their respec­tive times and par­ents unharmed, effec­tive­ly eras­ing their parent’s expe­ri­ence of loss and negat­ing the act of abduc­tion save in the child’s mind. In this way, Barker’s text con­tin­ues to locate the abduc­tion in the realm of the imag­i­nary, the fan­tas­tic, seem­ing to deny the exis­tence of harm in mon­strous desires. This comes as no sur­prise, giv­en Barker’s oth­er depic­tions of mon­strous plu­ral­i­ty and plea­sure-seek­ing in his oth­er works. For Bark­er, our appetites, what­ev­er they may be, are noth­ing to fear because of their impo­tence in real­i­ty:

One of the extra­or­di­nary things about mon­sters is that they are over and over again our appetites car­i­ca­tured,” he says. “They’re our appetites—our sex­u­al appetites, our lit­er­al appetites: our desire to eat more, feel more, see more. […] They have all the phys­i­cal attrib­ut­es of things that want to have more sen­su­al expe­ri­ence than peo­ple with small eyes, small noses, small teeth, small ears, small dicks.” (qtd. in Burke 98)

To car­i­ca­ture, as Bark­er pro­motes, mon­strous desires is to ridicule through rep­re­sen­ta­tion ad extremum. While this idea might be appeal­ing in the­o­ry, such rep­re­sen­ta­tions in children’s text min­i­mize the real­i­ties of sex­u­al desires for chil­dren and the poten­tial for harm there­in. Like­wise, Barker’s com­ments are not lim­it­ed to the adult realm, and while he may claim that the mon­ster rep­re­sents our appetites, his use of Car­na to police the bound­aries of desire for­bids such appetites in chil­dren. Con­flicts and con­tra­dic­tions, as has been demon­strat­ed, con­t­a­m­i­nate Thief yet are fre­quent­ly revealed by the illus­tra­tions. Like Hood, it seems, the text hides its true nature.

All these con­tra­dic­tions emerge in this nar­ra­tive because the sto­ry that Bark­er attempts to tell in this children’s nov­el is not a children’s sto­ry. The crimes of the child preda­tor are, in all actu­al­i­ty, sto­ries that adults tell to each oth­er and to them­selves in the media and with­in com­mu­ni­ties. With­in this children’s sto­ry, Hood’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion con­jures argu­ments made by James Kin­caid and Gurn­ham that the child preda­tor is the cul­tur­al man­i­fes­ta­tion of greater social impuls­es to eroti­cize the child (94; 124). Fol­low­ing pub­lic dis­course, Thief presents a sto­ry in which the uncon­trol­lable and uniden­ti­fi­able preda­tor can be defeat­ed, per­pet­u­at­ing the idea that dan­gers for chil­dren are found out­side the famil­iar. How­ev­er, in that the preda­tor is rep­re­sent­ed as a house, one that replaces the child’s famil­ial home through his dis­place­ment into the fan­ta­sy realm, Bark­er moves this threat into the home. Per­haps there is anoth­er embed­ded mes­sage with­in this com­plex and lay­ered nar­ra­tive, one that I have not yet con­sid­ered: the poten­tial for harm is not lim­it­ed to the preda­tor. Cohen relates that, through the con­flict “between Mon­ster and Man, the dis­turb­ing sug­ges­tion aris­es that this inco­her­ent body, denat­u­ral­ized and always in per­il of dis­ag­gre­ga­tion, may well be our own” (9). This state­ment brings to mind the dual depic­tions of Hood as both mon­ster and man, but per­haps this is not where the ten­sion with­in this nar­ra­tive rests. With the estab­lish­ment that the child read­er can­not iden­ti­fy with the child hero in Thief because of his sub­or­di­nate posi­tion­ing and lack of adult knowl­edge, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion can only be pos­si­ble for the oth­er reader—the adult read­er. Ide­al­ly, the adult read­er would empathize with Harvey’s par­ents, touched by their loss of a child, yet Hood’s final expo­sure and raw vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty may evoke iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with a mon­ster hid­den with­in all of us, one that is feared and, thus, must be con­trolled.

Image Notes

All images are pub­li­cal­ly avail­able to view online in the Thief of Always gal­leries pro­vid­ed by Lost Souls at www​.clive​bark​er​.com/​h​t​m​l​/​v​i​s​i​o​n​s​/​g​a​l​l​e​r​y​/​i​n​d​e​x​.​htm.

Works Cited

Bark­er, Clive. “Clive Bark­er: Be Care­ful What You Wish for, It Just Might Come True….” The Offi­cial Clive Bark­er Web­site. n.d. n.p. Web. 5 Novem­ber 2011. n.pag. <www​.clive​bark​er​.info/​y​a​t​h​i​e​f​b​k​.​h​tml>.

---. The Thief of Always: A Fable. New York: Harper­Collins, 1992. Print.

Bond Stock­ton, Kathryn. The Queer Child, or Grow­ing Side­ways in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry. Durham: Duke UP, 2009. Print.

Burke, Fred. Clive Bark­er: Illus­tra­tor. Ed. Steve Niles. Forestville, CA: Eclipse, 1990. Print.

Cheeke, Stephen. Writ­ing for Art: The Aes­thet­ics of Ekphra­sis. Man­ches­ter; New York: Man­ches­ter UP, 2008. Print.

Cohen, Jef­frey Jerome, ed. Mon­ster The­o­ry: Read­ing Cul­ture. Min­neapo­lis; Lon­don: U of Min­neso­ta P, 1996. Print.

Dau­mann, Chris­t­ian. Won­der­lands in Flesh and Blood: Gen­der, the Body, Its Bound­aries and Their Trans­gres­sion in Clive Barker’s Ima­ji­ca. Munich: AVM, 2009. Print.

Davies, Browyn. “Fore­ward.” Robin­son, Inno­cence, ix-xii.

Dean, Tim. “The Erotics of Trans­gres­sion.” Gay and Les­bian Writ­ing. Ed. Hugh Stevens. Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge UP, 2011. Print.

Egoff, Sheila et al., eds. Only Con­nect: Read­ings on Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. 3rd ed. Toron­to; New York; Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.

Fass, Paula S. Kid­napped: Child Abduc­tion in Amer­i­ca. Cam­bridge, MA; Lon­don: Har­vard UP, 1999. Print.

Ger­rig, Richard J. Expe­ri­enc­ing Nar­ra­tive Worlds: On the Psy­cho­log­i­cal Activ­i­ties of Read­ing. New Haven; Lon­don: Yale UP, 1993. Print.

Gurn­ham, David. Mem­o­ry, Imag­i­na­tion, Jus­tice: Inter­sec­tions of Law and Lit­er­a­ture. Sur­rey, UK: Ash­gate, 2009. Print.

Hunt, Peter. “Defin­ing Children’s Lit­er­a­ture.” Egoff, et al., 2-17.

Jenk­ins, Philip. Moral Pan­ic: Chang­ing Con­cepts of the Child Moles­ter in Mod­ern Amer­i­ca. New Haven; Lon­don: Yale UP, 1998. Print.

Kin­caid, James R. Erot­ic Inno­cence: The Cul­ture of Child Molest­ing. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. Print.

Krist­jan­son, Gabrielle. “Preda­to­ry Realms: To Admire and Desire the Child in Por­tal Fan­ta­sy.” Mon­sters and the Mon­strous 3.1 (Sum­mer 2013): 53-64.

Mendle­sohn, Farah. Rhetorics of Fan­ta­sy. Mid­dle­town, CT: Wes­leyan UP, 2008. Print.

Mor­ga­do, Mar­gari­da. “A Loss beyond Imag­in­ing: Child Dis­ap­pear­ance in Fic­tion.” The Year­book of Eng­lish Stud­ies. 32 (2002): 244-59.

Nodel­man, Per­ry. The Hid­den Adult: Defin­ing Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Bal­ti­more: Johns Hop­kins UP, 2008. Print.

---. “Some Pre­sump­tu­ous Gen­er­al­iza­tions about Fan­ta­sy.” Egoff, et al., 175-78.

O’Sullivan, Emer. Com­par­a­tive Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Trans Anthea Bell. Abing­don, Oxford­shire; New York: Rout­ledge, 2005. Print.

Prout, Alan, ed. The Body, Child­hood and Soci­ety. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.

Robin­son, Ker­ry. Inno­cence, Knowl­edge and the Con­struc­tion of Child­hood: The Con­tra­dic­to­ry Nature of Sex­u­al­i­ty and Cen­sor­ship in Children’s Con­tem­po­rary Lives. Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2013. Print.

---. “In the Name of ‘Child­hood Inno­cence’: A Dis­cur­sive Explo­ration of the Moral Pan­ic Asso­ci­at­ed with Child­hood and Sex­u­al­i­ty.” Cul­tur­al Stud­ies Review 14.2 (Sep­tem­ber 2008): 113-29.

Schwar­cz, Joseph H. The Ways of the Illus­tra­tor: Visu­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Chica­go: Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, 1982. Print.

Win­ter, Dou­glas E. Clive Bark­er: The Dark Fan­tas­tic. New York: Harper­Collins, 2002. Print.

Endnotes

[1] See Robin­son, Ker­ry. Inno­cence, Knowl­edge and the Con­struc­tion of Child­hood: The Con­tra­dic­to­ry Nature of Sex­u­al­i­ty and Cen­sor­ship in Children’s Con­tem­po­rary Lives. Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2013; Robin­son, Ker­ry, “In the Name of ‘Child­hood Inno­cence’: A Dis­cur­sive Explo­ration of the Moral Pan­ic Asso­ci­at­ed with Child­hood and Sex­u­al­i­ty.” Cul­tur­al Stud­ies Review 14.2 (Sept, 2008): 113-29; Bond Stock­ton, Kathryn. The Queer Child, or Grow­ing Side­ways in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry. Durham: Duke UP, 2009; or Prout, Alan, ed. The Body, Child­hood and Soci­ety. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000, among oth­ers.

[2] The Damna­tion Game (hor­ror, 1985), The Hell­bound Heart (hor­ror, 1986), Weave­world (fan­ta­sy, 1987), Cabal (hor­ror, 1988), The Great and Secret Show (horror/fantasy, 1989), Ima­ji­ca (fan­ta­sy, 1991), Everville (fan­ta­sy, 1994), Sacra­ment (horror/fantasy 1996), Galilee (horror/romance 1998), Cold­heart Canyon: A Hol­ly­wood Ghost Sto­ry (horror/fantasy 2001), Mis­ter B. Gone (hor­ror, 2007).

[3] The fourth and fifth books in the series have yet to be pub­lished as of Sep­tem­ber, 2013.

[4] This inter­pre­ta­tion has been argued in Dau­mann, Chris­t­ian. Won­der­lands in Flesh and Blood: Gen­der, the Body, Its Bound­aries and Their Trans­gres­sion in Clive Barker’s Ima­ji­ca. Munich: AVM, 2009.

[5] Both Joseph Schwar­cz and Per­ry Nodel­man main­tain that children’s lit­er­a­ture always con­tains sub­li­mat­ed sex­u­al ref­er­ences. The same can be said for the por­tal quest fan­ta­sy, where­in the pas­sage through the por­tal is said to rep­re­sent a pas­sage into sex­u­al knowl­edge. See Mendle­sohn, Farah. Rhetorics of Fan­ta­sy. Mid­dle­town, CT: Wes­leyan UP, 2008; and Dean, Tim. “The Erotics of Trans­gres­sion.” Gay and Les­bian Writ­ing. Ed. Hugh Stevens. Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge UP, 2011.

[6] See Ger­rig, Richard J. Expe­ri­enc­ing Nar­ra­tive Worlds: On the Psy­cho­log­i­cal Activ­i­ties of Read­ing. New Haven; Lon­don: Yale UP, 1993 for more on the infor­ma­tion that read­ers bring to the text dur­ing the act of read­ing.

[7] See Krist­jan­son, Gabrielle. “Preda­to­ry Realms: To Admire and Desire the Child in Por­tal Fan­ta­sy.” Mon­sters and the Mon­strous 3.1 (Sum­mer, 2013): 53-64.

[8] All images are pub­li­cal­ly avail­able to view online. See Image Notes for infor­ma­tion.

[9] Accord­ing to Schwar­cz, in a text like Thief, “the illus­tra­tions are more than a dec­o­ra­tive item or a mere exten­sion of the text. The text, to be sure, dic­tates the frame­work, guides the illus­tra­tor and lim­its him to an extent, but the illus­tra­tor is quite free to inter­fere where and how he wish­es to do so.” (11). Bark­er is both author and illus­tra­tor, so he both lim­its and inter­feres.

[10] In Barker’s The Damna­tion Game (1985), dust or rather dirt and muck are also sig­ni­fiers of death and decay.

[11] See Kin­caid, James R. Erot­ic Inno­cence: The Cul­ture of Child Molest­ing. Durham: Duke UP, 1998.

[12] See Bond Stock­ton and Robin­son, Inno­cence.


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