Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Just Read: Rawhead Rex by Clive Barker

Classification: Zombie Apocalypse (Kind of thing)

“Beneath the think crust of earth, Rawhead smelt the sky. It was pure ether to his dulled senses, making him sick with pleasure. Kingdoms for the taking, just a few inches away. After so many years, after the endless suffocation, there was light on his eyes again, and the taste of human terror on his tongue.” –Clive Barker

I will be the first to admit that when I started this piece, I wasn’t really thrilled. Normally, Barker’s work lures me in on the first page, but I didn’t have that experience with this one in particular. Even when they talked about removing the stone in the beginning, I really couldn’t find myself caring about what was underneath it, or what it was protecting from getting out. However, when I met Rawhead Rex after a few pages…. I realized that I had judged him too quickly, and then proceeded to morbidly fall in love with all nine feet of him.

When we first witness Rex, it is almost in a form of irony. We read about him killing Garrow in a way that represents the rawness of Rex’s overall being: “Blood ran down Garrow’s face from his scalp, and the sensation stirred him.” Once again, I have to applaud for Baker’s imagery/sensual appeal—I mean the man makes you feel like Rex is right behind you, breathing down your neck, and I don’t think that I have met one of his characters/monsters yet that I couldn’t completely visualize in my head. And while this will sound gross to anyone that is NOT a horror fan…the cannibalism scenes in here were AMAZING! The way Barker described the entrails falling out of the body, or how Rawhead lapped up the blood of the children….GROSS (in a sickly wonderful way)!

While I was reading, I couldn’t help but to think of the similarities between Rawhead Rex and Frankenstein’s monster (physically at least). They were both larger than any other creature/human, were disproportioned, and held a huge grudge against their creators thus resulting in the deaths of many others in forms of revenge. Maybe I’m reaching here, but when we meet Rex in the beginning with the thunderstorm going on in the background, I couldn’t help but to think of the scene in Frankenstein where the lightning flashes and the monster becomes the silhouette against the light.

I was a little confused about the whole Declan Ewan and Reverend Coot part of the story though. Declan just seemed like a crackpot to me; someone that wanted to believe in something so bad, that he would worship the first sign of a higher power that he saw…which happened to be Rex. Plus, it made me laugh that Barker through his infamous sexuality references towards the reverend, with his hard-on while he looked at Rex. Even still, I was a little confused about why Rex couldn’t go towards the alter. Maybe I’m looking into it to much and it’s because it’s a site of holiness and it is just that simple….but I wonder if it had something to do with the carving of his burial that was under the cloth? And the fact that Declan, a man of believing in the one, true God, was the one that touched it?

And now to mesh my two loves together: Horror and Art History. When I found of that the Venus of Willendorf was what ultimately defeated Rawhead Rex… I had to laugh, only because it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. But when you think about it, it does kind of make sense in the fact that the ancient statue represented fertility in the sights of attractive iconography. Barker writes, “To him the stone was the thing he feared most: the bleeding woman, her gaping hole eating seed and spitting children. It was life, that hole, that woman, it was endless fecundity. It terrified him.” – So was this what was etched into the altar? Directions on how to kill Rawhead, and where to find this talisman?

**I was a little confused about why Rawhead pissed himself in death….Can anyone explain that one to me? Did that represent his vulnerability or something? A trivial act to make him seem human?


  1. Extremely cool to know exactly what the object was, Stephanie! I, too, wondered about the exact nature of Declan's dysfunction...pathology? He did seem to fall at Rex's feet awfully hard and fast!

  2. I think you're spot on about the source of Declan's vulnerability, Stephanie. The lure of a flesh-and-blood god reminds me of a great paragraph in Jack London's White Fang:

    "To man has been given the grief, often, of seeing his gods overthrown and his altars crumbling; but to the wolf and the wild dog that have come in to crouch at man's feet, this grief has never come. Unlike man, whose gods are of the unseen and the overguessed, vapors and mists of fancy eluding the garmenture of reality, wandering wraiths of desired goodness and power, intangible outcroppings of self into the realm of spirit -- unlike man, the wolf and the wild dog that have come in to the fire find their gods in the living flesh, solid to the touch, occupying earth-space and requiring time for the accomplishment of their ends and their existence. No effort of faith is necessary to believe in such a god; no effort of will can possibly induce disbelief in such a god. There is no getting away from it. There it stands, on its two hind-legs, club in hand, immensely potential, passionate and wrathful and loving, god and mystery and power all wrapped up and around by flesh that bleeds when it is torn and that is good to eat like any flesh."

    I guess Declan is Rawhead's dog.

  3. I think the reason Rawhead couldn't approach the altar was simply because of the object inside of it. The mother goddess symbol is something from ancient religion, and like Christians revere the cross, Rawhead associated with that old religion because that was what was widespread when he first walked the Earth. I think of it like the vampires in I Am Legend - the fear of crosses only for the vampires that used to be Christians, fully psychological. Rawhead couldn't be brought down physically, so he was disabled psychologically.

    I do think you brought up a nice mirror though with the artifact being under the altar, just like Rawhead was under the stone slab at the beginning. I didn't consider that echo until you mentioned it.


  4. I think Rex pissed himself in death because it's a final humiliation on something that was once so feared that there was no thought of it being able to die. The townspeople buried back then because they couldn't conceive of something powerful enough to take Rex out.

  5. I find it hard to believe that a Venus statue was Rex' undoing. She's not even a pagan goddess. It made for good storytelling though. That was pretty weird too when he pissed himself to death. I'm sure it's symbolic of ____?