“The Yattering and Jack,” by Clive Barker

yattering_and_jack_vol_1_1

This story is in the first Book of Blood, right after another one of my favorites, “The Midnight Meat Train.” I feel like its placement there was a nice choice – a little something to give readers a break after the traveling abattoir story.

The Yattering is a very “lesser demon” assigned the thankless job of “catching” the soul of one Jack J. Polo, originally promised to Hell by his Satan-worshipping mother. However, when his mother cheated Satan by dying in the arms of a priest, the contract between mother and Hell-spawn was cancelled. Unwilling to let bygones be bygones, Beelzebub sent his minion to collect anyway.

On the one hand, I always felt like Barker was having a little fun with this story. He created the terminally dull Jack Polo, and then had him play his role to the hilt, eventually driving the Yattering mad with frustration. (And anyone who’s ever dealt with the terminally dull can empathize with the Yattering’s misery.) It’s fun to cheer at the end when the Yattering screws itself and chases Jack out of the house and actually lays hands on him – effectively making its former victim now its master.

But then, when you look closer it’s not really that funny. While Polo played deaf, dumb and blind, the demon killed every animal brought into the house and drove Polo’s youngest daughter, Amanda, mad. The oldest daughter, Gina, survived, and actually figured out what was going on near the end. If Barker had given Polo just the one daughter, Gina, who joined in the fight at the end, I would have called it a happy ending. Yay, humanity wins again. However, the younger daughter’s madness is problematic, and not something I could just ignore.

You could argue that Polo, perhaps, had no choice but to let things play out the way they did. He might not have realized how horrifying the Yattering could be – especially to the average person with no particular knowledge of demons, unlike himself.

I personally never thought that Polo willfully sacrificed his daughter’s sanity just to save his own ass. Yes, it was important for him to win, but not just in an ego-centric way. He was fighting for his very soul, and he may have believed it was important for him to win in a much larger sense. It’s not outrageous to think that there might have been a sort of “granddaughter clause” in Mom’s original contract – you can have my soul, my son’s soul and his daughters’ souls – all for one low, low price.

In my fantasy continuation of the story, Polo keeps Amanda at home with him; taking care of her while – in between selling gherkins – he turns the Yattering into his own private butler, cook, guard dog, and nursemaid for Amanda. I can even see the Yattering gradually becoming visible, because he has fallen so low on the demon hierarchy — forced to wear unfashionable clothing to hide its hideous nakedness, even down to wearing an apron with happy lobsters crawling all over it. Amanda eventually grows used to the hapless demon, growing stronger in mind and spirit. She comes to pity its trapped existence, and even ends up feeling sorry for it. Maybe Amanda’s pity is the solvent that ends up destroying its ties with Hell and setting the Yattering free.

I don’t know if Clive Barker set out to make this a story of one demon’s possible redemption, but I’d like to think that there’s hope for everyone, and everything. Even a demon as hopeless as the Yattering.

 

7 thoughts on ““The Yattering and Jack,” by Clive Barker

  1. vanessaessler September 30, 2016 / 1:34 AM

    You bring up some great points. I hadn’t though much about the younger daughter, Amanda. You bring up that Jack did seem to kind of throw her under the bus to save his own skin (or soul rather). I didn’t read it as though she was permanently crazed though. Yes, people can develop psychological issues after a traumatic event, but it could also be likely that she had a temporary state of shock to deal with the events she witnessed. Jack could even command the Yattering to erase the memory of those events from her, thus fixing any issues she might have had on account of that. In my mind, she snapped out of it once Jack explained everything to her, but maybe I’m giving the human ability to rationalize too much credit. Overall, I do agree that this wasn’t a happy ending really.

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  2. lisettegallows September 30, 2016 / 9:11 PM

    It’s so much fun reading your responses. I loved “and anyone who’s ever dealt with the terminally dull can empathize with the Yattering’s misery”; I have friends… we won’t talk about them.

    I also loved how you saved the Yattering and Amanda (and in my opinion shipped them). I will point out, one other thing.

    Bastard drives his wife to commit suicide. His inability to let anything bother him led to him being emotionally unavailable and unsympathetic to her suffering, which led to her committing adultery, which led to her guilt, despair, and eventual suicide. And don’t tell me Jack J. Polo couldn’t have taken her aside outside the house and clued her in on his plan and what was happening.

    I’m Team Yattering, all the way. Jack’s a jerk.

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  3. Vince Rayburn October 2, 2016 / 10:22 PM

    Gwen, I really don’t think he knew how dangerous the demon would get when he brought his daughters home. I think he even says something to that effect in passing, about the time the turkey jumped out of the oven (horror’s fun, isn’t it?).

    I did cheer a little when the Yattering ran out the door to get him, but only because I’ve been in his situation, where you can’t actually do what you want to do and it’s frustrating as hell.

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  4. Chad pritt October 2, 2016 / 10:23 PM

    Gwen, I really don’t think he knew how dangerous the demon would get when he brought his daughters home. I think he even says something to that effect in passing, about the time the turkey jumped out of the oven (horror’s fun, isn’t it?).
    I did cheer a little when the Yattering ran out the door to get him, but only because I’ve been in his situation, where you can’t actually do what you want to do and it’s frustrating as hell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • grcope October 5, 2016 / 8:27 PM

      Yeah, Chad, I sympathized with the Yattering, too!

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  5. The Petulant Muse October 3, 2016 / 7:07 PM

    You forgot about Jack’s wife. I realize she cheated but like you said, he was terminally dull. She probably snapped like the Yattering. And in the end, all she wanted was for him to care, to show he gave a shit. But nope, sorry, got my own soul to think of. By the end, he knew what Amanda was going through, he saw it but he was too close to “beating” the Yattering to stop. He let his daughter go mad, he let pets die, one after another, buying them and bringing them home, knowing full well what was happening and what would likely happen to them. The humor helped me cope with Jack’s lackadaisical attitude but it certainly didn’t make me like him or feel for him. The Yattering lost it much as any of us would with this ass of a man. But it was hard to pity him with all his childish nonsense like the turkey (remember that old Kmart commercial for black Friday where the turkey jumps off the table and runs out–I couldn’t get that image out of my head).
    I don’t know. To me, Jack was a selfish prick and I sure hope he goes to hell for letting his life and loved ones go through Hell in order to avoid it himself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • grcope October 5, 2016 / 8:39 PM

      Yes, I agree — Jack was a TOTAL jerk. Honestly, I didn’t forget Jack’s wife, though, I just didn’t get that her cheating on, and then leaving him, had anything to do with the Yattering’s presence in the house. It wasn’t clear enough (to me, at least) that there was a connection, and so another “casualty” that could be attributed to Jack’s self-centered need to “Win” against the demon. (And no, I never blamed her for leaving him, either.)
      Yeah, I remember that stupid K-Mart commercial, and I noted the similarity of Barker’s turkey to that one. I thought both were comically disturbing.

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