“Rawhead Rex” was one of the standout stories in Barker’s Books of Blood series. This piece appeared in the third volume, right after “Son of Celluloid” – one of my favorites. Some have complained that it is sexist, but I don’t feel that way. To me there is a BIG difference between talking coarsely about the female body: “her belly swelling with children, tits like mountains, cunt a valley that began at her navel and gaped to the world,” and having a bunch of horrible things happen to female characters just because they are women (I’m looking at you, Breeding Ground) (405). So, yeah, Barker’s language and sensibilities are not for everyone, but his female characters are always people, and never singled out for special attention by the monsters simply because of their gender.
Rex is an ancient monster, buried under a huge rock in a field abandoned for generations by the town’s ancestors. It is the unlikely and unfortunate combination of evils – Rex on the one hand, and greed for wealth on the other that sets the stage for all the horrors to come. Thomas Garrow, the man who unearths Rex while trying to ready his fields for some kind of cash crop to “bolster his shaky finances,” stubbornly attacks Rex’s headstone despite several signs – tractor problems, a thunderstorm, a horrible smell of death — thrown in his path (365). Even though the universe, it seemed, threw everything it could think of to get Garrow to do one, simple thing – STOP – nothing mattered. Rex’s “birth” from the earth was inevitable, and like some horrible baby, he emerged. And then there was the usual blood and screaming that accompanies all births.
I love how Barker always has so much else going on in his stories besides the monster. In this one there is sex, violence, religion – both old and older, good and evil, faith and its lack, city versus country, the past versus the future, and probably a few more. As others have mentioned, he also took a lot of care with the names in this story –
- The town was named Zeal (so the inhabitants were, naturally, zealots)
- The old priest was named Coot (as in, ‘you old coot!’)
- The village pub, “The Tall Man,” was probably named for Rex who was very tall
- The priest’s traitorous assistant, Declan, was named ironically as the name means “man of prayer”, or “man of goodness”. Also, St. Declan’s Stone was supposed to be the site of miracles in Ireland.
- The hero, named Milton, who in the end defeats the devil, Rex
- Even a minor character like Gissing, the cop, who assures Milton that the police will catch their mysterious killer – “Like that” – is not really a name, but a Dutch word, meaning conjecture, guess, guesswork (381).
Barker’s monsters have always been true monsters in that they wade through humanity, plucking the sweetest plums – children – for their favorite treats. Which is, I suppose, how real monsters would act. So, although everyone is fair game in a Clive Barker story, the tastiest morsels are always the young ones. At least that’s what the people who eat veal and lamb say. Stephen King, on the other hand, rarely lets his monsters kill children, and when he does, it’s to show us how stupefyingly horrible the monster is.
It’s for this one reason alone that I’d like to believe all the monsters who are out there love Stephen King more than they love Clive Barker.
Barker, Clive. Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three. Vol. 3. New York: Penguin Group, 1998. Print.