Clive Barker: An Appreciation Of His Visionary Writing And Art

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“I have seen the future of horror…and it is named Clive Barker.”

So says Stephen King in a very famous quote that graced the cover of just about every Clive Barker book in the eighties and nineties.

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At that time, Barker was highly celebrated as one of the best horror novelists of his generation. Today, his voracious talents are less celebrated, but I think that says more about the society we live in than it does about Barker himself, for he continues to produce work that sets him apart from all the rest.

I stumbled across Clive Barker as a teenager, at a time when my appetite for horror and dark fantasy fiction was insatiable. I had already read authors like Stephen King, James Herbert, Ramsey Cambpell and a slew of others, but none of those authors could quite match the levels of darkness and imagination in Barker’s work. That’s not to denigrate the work of those other authors, far from it. It’s just that Barker’s writing was so unique, the worlds he created so dark and wondrous, that it set him apart from everyone else, at least to me.

Although, at the end of the day, Barker is still writing horror like everyone else. This fact would reduce his work to no more than pulp if he were a lesser writer. It’s Barker’s skill and talent that allows him to take often hackneyed subject matter and turn it all into something beautiful, and often poignant.

Clive Barker Books And Movies

When I read the Books of Blood, I couldn’t believe how good a writer Barker was. It felt like there was real power to his stories; the power to stir up in you things that no other writer could. He did, and still does, engage the imagination like no other writer I’ve read. The characters he creates are deep, and the worlds he creates around them are so uniquely imaginative that you can’t help but smile in wonder when you read about them.

The world of the Cenobites is an excellent example of this, or at least the most well known. Between the book, movies and comics, Barker unleashed a cast of characters upon the world like no others. The movie even spawned a soundtrack by the band Coil, although it was never used. Pinhead will always be one of the most unique and memorable characters ever created in the horror genre, which also gives me the perfect excuse to post a picture of the Titan of Hell himself…

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Similarly, in the awesome Cabal, Barker gave us Midian and another cast of superbly unique characters. It mystifies me why Nightbreed, the movie derived from Cabal, wasn’t as franchised as Hellraiser, for it is equally as good, if not better. Maybe one day…

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Another thing that sets Barker apart from just about all other horror writers is his skill at constructing sentences and weaving them together in ways that often take the breathe away they are so beautifully constructed. He possesses a vocabulary like no other writer I know, which allows him to paint in great detail the complex and deeply imaginative worlds that he conceives in his mind. It’s as if, when writing, he is following the philiosophy of one of the characters from his classic Weaveworld novel, which is:

That which is imagined, can never be lost.

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Here’s one example of his prose, from The Great and Secret Show:

The moon had risen behind him, the color of a shark’s underbelly. It lit the ruined walls, and the skin of his arms and hands, with its sickly light, making him long for a mirror in which to study his face. Surely he’d be able to see the bones beneath the meat; the skull gleaming the way his teeth gleamed when he smiled. After all, wasn’t that what a smile said? Hello, world, this is the way I’ll look when the wet parts are rotted.

That’s just one example. Almost every sentence Barker writes is as brilliant and well put together as that one. His books are simply a joy to read for the prose alone, which carries you along like a dream, making itself felt, but still doing its job of pulling you into the story.

Aside from writing poetic prose and telling amazing stories, Barker is also an expert at weaving in observations on the human condition, such as these:

Nothing else wounds so deeply and irreparably. Nothing else robs us of hope so much as being unloved by one we love

We’re too much ourselves. Afraid of letting go of what we are, in case we are nothing, and holding on so tight, we lose everything else.

It’s only when you’ve lost someone that you realize the nonsense of that phrase “It’s a small world”. It isn’t. It’s a vast, devouring world, especially if you’re alone.

And one of my favorites:

Darkness always had its part to play. Without it, how would we know when we walked in the light? It’s only when its ambitions become too grandiose that it must be opposed, disciplined, sometimes—if necessary—brought down for a time. Then it will rise again, as it must.

There are many other amazing authors out there, but none like Clive Barker. He is a singular talent and the Poe of his generation. For me, his writing will always be a source of inspiration, especially since he was writing urban fantasy before it was ever called that. His books, especially Weaveworld and The Great And Secret Show, influenced me a great deal as a writer. Those books are why I write urban fantasy today.

Clive Barker Art

Besides being an extremely talented writer, Cliver Barker is also an extermely talented and accomplished artist. Again, the first time I saw the covers he did for the Books of Blood, I was blown away by how awesomely unique and deliciously dark his artwork was. Even in his paintings, Barker still manages to stand out from the crowd.

But rather than drone on about his art, I thought it might be better if I just let it speak for itself, so here are some of my favorite examples of his, many of which are depictions of characters from his books.

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Anyway, that’s my appreciation of a writer and artist who has influenced me so much as a writer and sometimes artist myself. Creatively, I live by his words:

You just have to trust your own madness…

Are you a fan of Clive Barker? Let me know your favorite book of his in the comments below!

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