“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.
2 thoughts on ““Rawhead Rex,” by Clive Barker”
you saw more in this story than I did. I wish I had that knack to pick out those little details, but like Breeding Ground and other monster stories, I just enjoy the killing and drama and all the crumbling of structure/plot about to ensue.
The stuff you mentioned I never really thought about, but Zealot and Coot, as well as the other names, makes sense to me now and didn’t realize or think about the names before, I thought they were just there to be part of the buffet, but Rawhead seems to like his desert (the children) more so than the main course.
To me, I always pictured a creature just being instinct and eating what it could sink its jaws into, not biased against child, adult, human or animal as well, but Rawhead is interesting in that aspect where he’s aware and he knows what he wants, where he wants to go, who he wants to devour, and who he wants to urinate on. He is a monster that is always thinking and planning, and this gives him that added creepiness. And I never really thought about the King comparison before, but I think Rawhead out does Pennywise in the brutality department…though the ancient dimensional-traveling being taking the form of children’s fears is a little bit creepier. But even It kills adults as well. I think you mentioned that, but that to me seems more like a monster, in instinct form, rather than Rawhead’s calculated and focused tastes, more for satisfaction of primitive urges than to spread fear.
But still, both are great creatures.
I like how you looked deeper into the meaning of some of the characters. I’m curious as to what made you do that? Did a name or two tip you off? Or did you have some insight that he had done that? I never would have thought to do so. As for the story, I wasn’t a fan. Too much head-hopping, but even worse, when I killing is about to happen, if the damn thing can’t speak–just grunt–then I don’t want to know what happens from his POV. I would have much rather stay in the POV of his victim and feel their pain until there was no more. It’s like I told Chad, I feel like Clive just ruined a good climax.
Last, I’ll just comment on your “belly swelling with children, tits like mountains, cunt a valley that began at her navel and gaped to the world.” Wait, for the record, that was your quote, not mine 🙂 I chuckled when I read that because that comment came from a man and you were okay with it, but when I woman wrote something similar, you called it misogynistic. Isn’t that backwards? Just looking for clarification for when I describe a woman in my story. In all seriousness though, I truly am searching for that balance. Because I write thrillers that center around Serial Killers, dominance is their goal. I don’t want to come across wrong to my readers so I have been researching various scenes from other authors.