Lessons Read, Lessons Written Part 2
I wanted to continue with my thoughts from last week on influential books, but this post is going to be about one book and its creator. Here on my desk, I have a novel staring at me. Literally. There exists a toothy and sinister grin on a face gazing at me with hunger. The book cover does this now just as it did in the nineties. The face belongs to a house. Not a haunted house. A haunting house. Clive Barker can be a lot to handle. If you’ve read him, you’re nodding your head. He sits on the gorier side of the horror genre, and as much as Stephen King gave us sewer clowns and rabid dogs to fear over, it is Barker who promised puzzle box damnation and torment eternal with a hell priest who adorns his face with nails. It was Barker's Pinhead (a name Baker didn't coin) who has lived on as a horror icon since the eighties along the likes of Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers. If King frightened us with the everyday, Barker made us afraid of our own imagination and by extension, his. Many authors lean into the influence of H.P. Lovecraft. Barker said “That’s cute. Hold my beer.” Even though his Weaveworld was an incredible modern fantasy that I simply couldn’t put down and his The Great and Secret Show stands as a milestone for epic storytelling, it is the grin on the cover of The Thief of Always I come back to when considering his most influential work. There is intent with the art, also created by Barker. Every bit of Thief is terrifying. And it reads like a children's book. Drilling down to the very essence of what it is, The Thief of Always is a dark fairy tale. It is very anti-Baker in the lack of gore and blood. Yet, it is Barker in every sense of the word. It messes with you. It consumes you. I frequently lend this book out and I recall one friend reading it in just a matter of hours. I gave it to him before classes started some random day back in high school. He had it in my hands before we were ready to head home. It had consumed him so. Fitting then that one part of what the book is about is the consumption of innocence. I first came across Thief at the new release table in the era before the massive book seller chain stores. I didn’t pick it up then but I thought about it long after. This was all well before I knew who Clive Barker was and what he wrote. The first Barker work I ever read was The Hellbound Heart (the story “Pinhead” originated from) and not long after that first read, I grabbed a paperback copy of Thief. I was enamored. Consumed. Now a Barker fan. So, when I discovered a hardcover copy with that grinning cover in a used book store, I had no reason not to buy it. Face your fear, right? If a book can compel you to read it, simply out of the fear of what it may contain (in a non political fervor kind of way) that is fairly frightening. I may be the only one who has these sorts of interactions with books but I'm going to write about them regardless. We discover that readership is unique. Embrace it.
Embrace the haunting house with a toothy grin. Technically, it is still influence.