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Is it penance? Cockiness? A final burst of youth? Whatever the reasons, in recent years, several middle-aging horror authors have written children's books (rarely marketed as such): Whitley Strieber's Wolf of Shadows (1985); Stephen King's The Eyes of the Dragon (1987); Dean Koontz's Oddkins (1988)--and now, from Barker, a ""fable"" about a wish-granting house that may be the weakest of the lot. Barker's adult novels (Imajica, 1991, etc.) deal with the play between our world and fabulous alternate realities. Here, too, the hero--ten-year-old Harvey Swick--encounters another world, by having his cry of boredom answered by a yellow-skinned man named Rictus who flies through Harvey's bedroom window and offers to take him to ""Holiday House."" The boy agrees and, led through a wall of fog, finds himself in a magical place where, during each 24 hours, all four seasons pass (hot, sunny afternoons; snowy winter nights, etc.) along with their holidays, including Christmas mornings that find Harvey's most cherished wishes answered beneath the tree. It's paradise, Harvey thinks at first, but soon wonders: Why is fellow-visitor Lulu so morose? What kind of fish are those, with eyes like ""prisoners,"" lurking in the pond out back? And where is Mr. Hood, the House's wish-granting owner? In time, Harvey senses evil at work and flees, only to find that, back home, his parents have aged a year for every day at the House. And so he returns to the House, to find and battle Mr. Hood and win back his stolen years.... The House is a splendid conceit, but Harvey (Barker's first child hero) is as real as a Norman Rockwell kid, and the studiously simple narration--leached of Barker's usual X-rated, riotous imagery--lacks spirit. If this were a limited edition, it'd be a minor collector's item; with a 100,000 first printing, it's a major miscalculation.

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1992
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: HarperCollins