Barker: Love, Death,
& the Whole Damned Thing
Clive Barker was born in 1952 in Liverpool England. Nourished on comic books, fantasies, and dramas - most notably Peter Pan, which he later described as "the real start of everything," he went on to write himself. A Boy Scout troop performed his first play, with his mother as producer, when he was 11. At school he published Humphri, an alternative magazine. He attended the University of Liverpool but was more interested in theater and mime. After working in theater for several years, he moved to London where he "lived on the dole, "did illustrations for porno magazines, and wrote comedies and Grand Guignol. His play The History of the Devil had two successful seasons at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival Other Barker plays include A Clown's Sodom, The Magician, Paradise Street, Frankenstein in Love, Colossus, and The Secret Life of Cartoons.
Reading the Kirby McCauley anthology Dark Forces in 1981 introduced him to the range of the genre and inspired him to write horror stories in his spare time. Eighteen months later, he had produced the quarter of a million words that became Clive Barker's Books of Blood, sold to Sphere by his theatrical agent, and published as three paperbacks in 1984. Though the books attracted little public notice at first they gained the attention of big names in the genre. Stephen King resoundingly proclaimed, "I have seen the future of horror and its name is Clive Barker."
His first novel The Damnation Game, came out in 1985, along with three more volumes in the Books of Blood. Later novels include Weaveworld (1987), The Great and Secret Show (1989), and Everville (1994). Barker began as scriptwriter for low-budget projects Underworld, aka Transmutations, (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986), before going on to write and direct Hellraiser (1987), its sequel Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), and Nightbreed (1990). He also adapted his story "The Yattering and Jack" for Tales From the Darkside. Though he refused an offer to script Aliens III, he is still busy with film work, and now lives near Hollywood in the United States, involved in fiction, films, and painting.
"Movies are much more fascist than books. They tell you what to feel, when to feel it. Popular movies manipulate you. Music tells you when it's a sad part and when it's a happy part. You're obliged to watch them at the speed the filmmaker has created for you. That, I think, is one of the reasons why they're so popular - because you don't have to think very hard. The filmmaker has done all the thinking for you. Popular movies don't revel in ambiguity. Books are the ultimate interactive media.
"Something that always distresses me is when I go to a signing and somebody comes up and says, 'I loved Weaveworld' or 'I loved Imajica - when is it going to be a movie?' Like the life of the book is not complete until it's been set in some kind of celluloid stone, where the faces of actors have been put to the characters and the thing has been some- how fixed by a director, and the emotions manipulated by the com- poser and the editor and all the other people who have a place in shaping what appears on the screen. I find that distressing, particularly when a fan who's in love with a piece of work, hopefully because it's full of ambiguities, feels that somehow the life of the work is not complete until it's had all its ambiguities destroyed. In great books, what you bring to the experience will change upon. rereading, because you've changed. By and large, that's not true of movies. There are a few honorable exceptions, but that's never going to be true of Star Wars or E.T. or King Kong, or Bride of Frankenstein. Even great works of fantasy, movies that I love, after a while sort of begin to stale, just because you can't really find that much more in them. I'm talking about populist pictures now. Meet Me in ST. Louis is a great picture, and I've seen it 20 times, but it's always the same movie, and you can't really - bring a whole heap to it. It's there and it does what it does, but interactive? Nah.
"I know the Pequod will go down at the end of Moby Dick - that's probably my single favorite novel in English. I know what the process is going to be: Ahab's going to go with the whale, the Pequod's going to go down, and Ishmael's going to be in the water again. But in the 30 years since I first approached it, at the age of 12 or something, and it beat me, in the times I've gone back to that novel, it's given me new things because I've come to it with a different sense of what its mythology was trying to tell me, and what Melville was trying to create. It's a very layered experience. Good novels are layered and complex, and respond with their own nuances to your nuances. That again is, by and large, not the case with cinema. You have to use less of your brain to see a movie, even a great movie.
"Knowing that I can make movies liberates my novels to do all the things I can't do in movies. If I want to give somebody a cheap thrill, I can do that in a movie a lot more easily than I can on the page. The 'Boo!' effect, the gross-out-movies can do that. You can't world-build in movies. You can't create complex and layered mythologies. There were stories in The Books of Blood ten years ago which were mind-movies - movies I would have liked to have made, I guess, and I was making them the best way that I could, which was on the page. Now I can make movies, so if I have an idea which seems to lend itself the to that kind of medium, then hey, I'll make a movie of it. I would not now write a "Rawhead Rex" or "The Forbidden" - upon which Candyman is based. I would not now write "The Hellbound Heart" - I'd probably write the screenplay.
"That kind of carnival-barker (no pun intended!) part of my nature, the part that says 'Roll up, roll up! See the freaks in the tent!' has been liberated to just deal with the movies. The other part, which is growing in size in me, which is the part which wants to write fiction about who we are and why we are, and the 'god questions' if you will, the only ones worth writing about - love, death, and the whole damned thing - that part of me looks to written fiction now and says, 'That's the one true place that you can do this.' It's the one true place where you can create and create and create, and layer and layer and layer, and the subtlest nuance in the construction of a sentence, or the description of a character or a city or a landscape, can change completely the way the reader views that city, that landscape, that person. And it's all in my power to create.
"I think I write a fiction which is constantly trying to turn itself inside out: inside is constantly trying to become outside; outside is constantly trying to become inside. The interior psychic world of the characters is changing what is outside them, and what is outside them is invading and changing what's inside them. The 'New Physics.'
"Almost everything that seemed to be implied in the first Book of the Art, The Great and Secret Show, has been undone in Everville. Editors Jane Johnson and John Silbersack and I had a long conversation about middle books of trilogies, because so often they marked time. They were recapitulations of what had gone before, and they were preparations for what was going to wrap things up. I sat down and thought, 'What can I do to make sure this doesn't happen?' I decided the best thing to do is to begin the second book long before the first one begins. Predate the first book and, by so doing, essentially change the audience's perception of what the first book was, because you've laid in a bunch of information about the underpinnings of all this which must inevitably influence the reader's view of the first book. I think of The Great and Secret Show as being a warm-up act for Everville.
"Everville is much more confidently an American book. My view of life in the Simi Valley in the first book was that of a curious tourist. I'm much more in love with America than I was five years ago. I've come to value this country and many things in this country in a way that I never did before, partly because I've traveled a lot more I've made very dear friends here. There are many terrible things about America, but there are many terrible things about England too. I'm a passionate defender of America now. The complexity of American culture is one of the reasons I was happy to go back to the settlers, to that first journey across America. And the more I read about that, the more moving that became. What extraordinary journeys those were! The Oregon Trail, with death after death, children dying, disease, and just the rigors of that journey, and only at the other end just the vaguest hope that there might be something wonderful, but really no evidence, not through the 1830s and '40s anyway. They just hoped. And that's the first line of the novel - 'Hope undid them.'
"Everville is a book primarily about three women. It's about Maeve O'Connoll, who turns out to be the unsung founder of Everville, the bordello owner who founds the city and is then erased from its history. Reading about 19th-century America, I was fascinated to find there were so many rich madams, and they were so powerful, and the city fathers were so determined to see they would not find their way into the history books, even though they were every bit as important as founding fathers.
"Tesla Bombeck, who comes in from the first book, undergoes a massive change. She's the wild woman of West Hollywood in The Great and Secret Show, the failed scenarist who never got a movie made and has sort of given up on the whole business. She's the storyteller who turns out, at the end of this book, to enter the Story Tree, the place where perhaps all our stories interconnect. I always knew in the first book that her connective tissue would somehow be Story, because she was one who liked stories, even if they were lies. She just loved to gossip about people, but she also liked to write science fiction screenplays that didn't get made. So in the second book she's liberated from all that superficial stuff and into the mythological world of Story.
"And the third woman is Phoebe Cobb, who is perhaps the least promising of the characters, in the sense that she's a doctor's receptionist, her life's pretty much rotten, she's married to a bastard husband who has no love for her whatsoever. She falls in love with a black housepainter, and is transformed utterly by the realization that here is somebody she can love unconditionally and who will in turn love her unconditionally. Her search for him is perhaps the emotional thread of the book. Even though obviously the narrative goes off in lots of directions, finally I have to say if the story is about anything, then it's about Phoebe and Joe, and about where Joe goes in the Dream Sea and what Phoebe must do to follow him. I would hope the reader would say, 'I need to know whether Phoebe and Joe find each other.'
"I think of mythic patterns when I think of the narrative structure. The first book I ever did that was Weaveworld, in which my attempt was to see what would happen if you brought the Christian myth -which has become more and more important in my work as time's gone by - and the myth of Faerie, together. Can the Christian vision of an avenging angel, Uriel (the guardian of the Garden, the one who says humanity will not get back into Paradise) and Faerie (which is after all a kind of vision of Eden), can they coexist in the same book? So there were two mythic structures there for me. With Imajica, it's about a man who discovers he's the half-brother of Jesus Christ. There it was the Christ myth and what that means to me, and it means a lot to me.
"I'm a Blakean, and my passion for Blake led me to Christ - not, I suspect, in a way Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell would appreciate or understand, but nevertheless, the Christ figure is hugely important in my life. Christ the imagination, Christ the transformative power, Christ the divinity in everybody, not necessarily even male. Christ the thing which must die on a tree and must be resurrected, and Christ the thing which is divided between the divine and the mundane, between troubled humanity and some perceived and remote perfection. I find that idea very moving. Tesla meets Christ very briefly in Quiddity. He's there for a page, and she's not quite sure whether she saw him or not.
"Painting is increasingly important to me, because it's an escape valve. It also feeds the books, much more than the movies do. Painting and books go together in my head. Movies are in a different place. Painting and books have a lot in common. They're solitary occupations, they're subconscious flows of various kinds. In both cases, I have stories in my head. I always have stories when I'm painting. The stories may never appear on canvas in a form anybody can quite recognize - I certainly wouldn't burden the painting with the story, unless somebody asked me.
"The movies are a kind of hobby. I've really enjoyed the process of making movies, for a limited time. It's also important for me to work with other people. Maybe I'll make another half-dozen movies, as director, in my life. I don't have any grand ambition to have 50 movies to my name, like Alfred Hitchcock. But every now and then it's a palate-cleanser. And more people are ready to pick up the books because the movies exist. What isn't good is having the audience have a lower expectation of what you can produce and, as a consequence, reading lazily or coming to the books and expecting them lobe like the movies and then just being disappointed. I want to entertain people, obviously. That's part of my duty as a painter or as a writer or as a moviemaker. But I do want there to be resonances. It's much more difficult to do in movies.
"I'm much more interested in my readership than my viewership. I mean, I love it when somebody comes along and says 'Hellraiser's my favorite movie. I show it every Hallowe'en, and we all get together and eat popcorn and have a good time.' That's cool, but there isn't 1% of the emotional or intellectual information in Hellraiser that there is in Imajica. There's so much more of me in the book, so much more of who I am as a mind. I never think when I'm writing a book, 'Boy, I should make this simpler,' but the thing you're constantly thinking when you're making your movie is, 'How can I make this simpler?', because if you don't think it, your producers will think it for you. 'How do you want it?' 'Shorter and faster.' That's a consequence of spending other people's money. Even a modest movie like Lord of Illusions, I'm spending $11 million of somebody else's money.
"I am no longer entertained by the fact that I am the man who made Pinhead. I find it a pain in the butt. Bill Friedkin said, 'My greatest terror is that it will say on my grave, "This is the man who made The Exorcist".' The tool that I have, as I see it, to stop that happening is the pen. Hopefully, another 40 years of wielding it.
"Still, I know a plethora of science fiction movies that have images in them which have stayed in my system and will remain in my system for as long as I live. The dying moments of the Martians in George Pal's The War of the Worlds. Portions of Bladerunner, of 2001, Solaris... But movies decay much faster than books. They decay in the imagination, and they decay as entities, because they're trapped in time, sealed in amber from the moment they come out, because of hairstyles, acting styles, music styles, etc., and they become period pieces or interesting fossils very quickly, even great movies. However much Ted Turner may try and colorize them, they will never be what they were when they first came out. This is also true to some extent about books, but much less true. I don't think you need to know a whole heap about the social mores of England in the 19th century to find emotional power in Wuthering Heights.
"Of course, now people are writing sequels and prequels to classic novels. Not only is it crass and commercial and ridiculous, it's also a violation of an artist, to take characters that he or she created and say, You're dead now. I'm going to tell the other stories.' God almighty! There should be a law. For another author to have the presumption to say, 'I'm going to pickup the threads of this narrative and' -worst of all 'finish the story,' it's tantamount to 19th-century versions of Lear where Cordelia survived. If you're going to do Lear, do it Shakespeare's way or just don't do it! It's a vile procedure. Commerce interests us, as a culture. It interests us that Scarlet sold X number of copies and is on TV starring Y. We don't pay enough attention to the rights of writers.
"One of the things that worries me constantly about genetic writing, and generic painting as well, is how we refuse the word 'art.' We're embarrassed by the word 'art' because it brings with it certain responsibilities. We're uncomfortable with the notion of being called artists, because it feels as though we'd better defend ourselves. It's particularly true of genre filmmaking. John Carpenter once told me off very sharply on television for referring to myself as an artist. You don't have to be Tolstoy to call yourself an artist - you can be writing minor fiction. But I think writers should stand up and say it, particularly in the genres in which we are all engaged, because for too long we've been passive and allowed editors and publishers to take the art away and debase us, frankly, by never allowing the subtextural life of the work to mean anything, to sell the sizzle, the sex, the trivialities. Why shouldn't a fictional form that can deal with the problems of physical frailty, our aspirations of divinity, and the creation of worlds, the destruction of worlds, the place of the god-myth in our lives, that can deal unapologetically with the notion of evil and good, why shouldn't that be something where we proudly say, 'We're artists. We have an intense and wide-ranging vision'?
"It frustrates me because I don't see enough of our wonderful genre artists - novelists, painters -making connections with the greater artistic landscape. So I go to a fantasy art exhibition and say, 'Let's talk about Goya and Blake as well as about Michael Whelan and Giger, because we wouldn't be where we are without Blake and Bosch and a thousand other extraordinary visionaries.' I remember sitting with an impassioned Christian fantasy fan who said he regretted so much that there wasn't any Christian fantasy, and I said, 'Have you ever read William Blake?' He said, 'I don't know who William Blake is.' And this was a bright guy... Blake has a fantasy world, with its own self-consistent rules and its mythologies and its chronologies and hierarchies, and all the things we think are the conventional stuff of fantasy - even dragons. So often in the genre which we call Imaginative Fiction, we cut ourselves off from this great sea of fellow-creators, because they have been received into the mainstream.
"We don't think of Goya as being a fantasy painter, even though of course he was, because he's now a Spanish Master. The trouble is actually getting people to look at something. Once I put a book of Goya's Black Period paintings in front of somebody and heard them say, 'Well, they're very vague, aren't they?' I think the accusation was based upon the fact that most fantasy genre painting is painfully specific. Well, if you want specific, try Richard Dadd! Delacroix is pretty damned specific. You don't have to give yourself over to Spanish madness if you don't want to, but boy, it's a pretty extraordinary experience when you do! Their power, and their vision, is completely undiminished by time.
"I did a play about Goya called Colossus. I wanted to find a way to write a biographical play which wasn't 'Good Morning, Mr. Goya' - the nightmare biographical play. I pictured a moment with him painting one of his portraits for minor Spanish royalty and the house being blown apart by the French, and he is lost in the ruins - Goya's body is buried somewhere in the ruins. And as the day progresses, they pick over the pieces and they try to put their lives back together again. In the blood and the terror of the moment, Goya picks himself up and goes completely unrecognized through the entire play. So he's onstage through 2/3 of the play, and nobody knows who he is. It's a sort of anti-biographical biographical play. Eventually he has the terrible experience of his son and his wife appearing, and his son (who was by all reports, a selfish sonuvabitch) completely denying his father's value and saying, 'He was just a drunken old sot, anyway.
"I think we've got to connect what we do with what's gone before. That means the Bible, and Blake, and Goya.... It really does seem as though every year we're sort of obliged to reinvent ourselves. I loathe that. Even Eddison and Cabell are difficult to find these days. Peake is not in print, or Machen. That's scary. I'm also more passionate about the importance of this kind of fiction than I ever was. I have more ambition for it than I ever had before."
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