Clive Barker books reviewed


weaveworld1 660x1024 - Weaveworld (Book)

Written by Clive Barker

Published by Harper Collins

Nothing ever begins – or so begins the story of Weaveworld; written by Clive Barker in 1987, these words weren’t accidental; they were assembled with the precision of a literary genius. Astutely crafted to be the beginning of Barker’s first fantasy novel. I find it absorbing to think how much truth and irony hides behind these three disarming little words that marked (if not began) Barker’s own journey from the darkness of his earlier work to a much lighter form of fantasy for children. It’s a road that has led Barker to the production of three parts of a five-part series of inspirational children’s books set in the world of Abarat; his own Neverland.

Weaveworld appears at first to be a marked (and brave) departure from the horror genre he’d come to be associated with and even acclaimed for by such luminaries as Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell. Yet, the opening itself – “Nothing ever begins” – is like a glass of water thrown in our faces. While you challenge its merit at first, the truth overtakes denial, and you are left marveling at the simplicity of it all, as Barker continues:

There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any story springs. The threads can always be traced back to some earlier tale, and the tales that preceded that; though as the narrator’s voice recedes, the connections will seem to grow more tenuous, for each age will want the tale told as if it were of its own making.

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Weaveworld itself delivers to us a magical tale that evokes memories of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Neverending Story, or many other fantastical imaginings conjured up by Tolkien or CS Lewis. Unsurprisingly, given that one of the major subtexts of Weaveworld is about the fragility of memory.

Apart from beginning the story itself, the words hold such subliminal power and meaning that memories of previous tales come flooding back almost instantly upon their reading. Clive himself was inspired by many of these great children’s fantasies, and he pays homage to his childhood passions repeatedly. Nothing ever begins after all. At one level, we’re left agreeing that nothing ever begins; how could it? If time is infinite, then there was no beginning; the same with space and with the human condition; nothing is new, after all. At another level, these words clearly marked the beginning for me and many other Clive Barker fans. The start of a lifetime fascination with Clive Barker and his workings.

Besides being an inspired, intelligent and lyrical writer, Clive Barker has written and produced and directed his own plays and movies; he paints copiously; often they are the inspiration for his stories, and they vividly bring his Abarat book series to life. Reading Weaveworld is almost like a trip to a gallery of Bosch or Breughel’s work.

With those words, however, we are also tricked into believing that is how the story begins. But the story for us actually began when we first heard about Weaveworld; by word of mouth or the eye-catching cover art, through Clive Barker’s other workings or, I’d like to think for some people, this article. My journey into Clive Barker’s worlds began with an invitation from Harper Collins in the summer of 1987 to attend the launch of the book from this fantastic new writer. Oh, and would I care to interview the author for my fantasy and science fiction magazine, Adventurer? Over 25 years later, I can still recall that meeting vividly. More memories, more beginnings.

It seems astonishing to recall that Clive’s literary journey began, it is claimed (nothing ever does) with the notoriously visceral and shocking Books of BloodThe Damnation Game, and in big-screen movies like Hellraiser, with themes of gore revisited in Candyman and The Midnight Meat Train. This is a circuitous journey, for he still returns to those dark places at times (The Scarlet Gospels).

Notably, though, some of Clive’s earlier work was recently published for the first time, both in the written and the visual form. The imagery and the themes seem immediately familiar to us; they were seminal milestones in the development of one of the greatest literary and visual artists of our times. As though to complete the circle, it has been recently announced that Weaveworld will soon be transcending the printed page and is being re-imagined as a TV series. Another new beginning, opening up the fantasy for a whole new audience.

But then… Nothing ever begins Steve Dillon

Clive Barker’s The Midnight Meat Train: Special Definitive Edition

MMT 212x300 - Clive Barker's The Midnight Meat Train: Special Definitive Edition (Book)

Written by Clive Barker

Published by Dark Regions Press

“If you already have Books of Blood, you already have The Midnight Meat Train” – Wrong!

“If you’ve seen the movie, you don’t need this book” – Wrong!

True, almost a third of the book contains a reprint of the second story in the first of the Books of Blood, but this release of The Midnight Meat Train from Dark Regions Press is something new. I don’t just mean because it’s hardback, it feels good, and it smells new, although those things are true. The signed Limited Edition is better of course; it has glossy pages, the illustrations are in full colour and it has a dustjacket, which makes a difference when you’re reading a book. And it’s signed by Mr. Barker.

One criticism I have of the cheaper, unsigned edition aimed at the mass market is the cut of the meat, which has been too close to the bone. By that I mean the text on the back cover is too close to the edge, and the illustrations bleed past the edge, so some of it has been lost to the printer’s knife. In some cases, Clive’s signature has been decapitated. Having said that, this edition was significantly cheaper, and you would expect more from a signed Limited Edition copy at twice the price. And it’s still remarkable quality for the price.

Apart from the above, both editions have the same contents. I have to admit to feeling a little cheated by the lack of creativity or work that’s gone into this bag of assorted candies. Much of the words in the interviews, and many more besides, have already been spoken (and published) elsewhere.

Firstly, there is a 2014 introduction by Phil and Sarah Stokes, who are the experts on all things Clive Barker and have published pretty much anything and everything that has ever been said about Clive Barker and his workings. They know stuff that Clive himself doesn’t know. Their intro is brief and reveals nothing new, however.

Then, interspersed throughout are some Clive Barker illustrations; these are stories in themselves and look great in the LE colour pages. (Not so great in black and white, however). These have been published online and elsewhere, and in much greater quality.

Then comes the story itself, and this is much clearer and easier to read, at least compared to the Books of Blood editions I have. Nothing new here. I would have liked to see an accompanying narrative.

The foreword to the movie comes next, provided by Jeff Buhler, the writer of the screenplay. This was new to me.

The screenplay and some storyboards follow, and I have to confess I wish the type was a little easier to read, perhaps larger (showing my age maybe?). We really don’t need all that white space around the edges, nor a border around the storyboards, especially given my earlier criticism concerning the cut.

The cast and crew listing was a nice touch, but it is duplicated elsewhere. I found it a little hard on the eyes, and I’ll probably use the internet for this kind of reference material.

Finally comes the afterword from Barker himself, which makes for compelling reading if you haven’t heard his story about the inspiration for The Midnight Meat Train before. Unfortunately, it is mostly a repeat of information revealed in the introduction.

To summarise, this is approximately 110 pages of well-bound “stuff collected together.” It would have been improved by more storyboards and an analysis of the differences (The Grandfather scene?), some narrative, better production quality, fresh insights or interviews. Maybe some of Clive’s ideas for the trilogy, or more about the rejected scenes? I actually thought the Limited Edition might include the Blu-ray of the movie or an extras DVD.

If you are a completist and a collector of all things Clive Barker like me, grab a copy. The signed Limited Edition copies have all gone now (that’s why they were Limited Edition!). Otherwise? Go online for this information. I have ordered a copy of The Body Book from Dark Regions Press, which contains two stories at least, but if there are plans to release all 25 Books of Blood stories in this format, well, I will have to bail. – Steve Dillon

Hellraiser: The Toll by Mark Alan Miller

Ignoring the movies and the comics and graphic novel story arcs—which I believe Clive Barker prefers to keep separate to the story arc in the books—Hellraiser: The Toll picks up after the events of the original story The Hellbound Heart. It marginally precedes the events of The Scarlet Gospels, although there is a light overlap which I won’t reveal, but references are made to things that happened in the prologue to TSG. I did notice some inconsistencies, though, where references from the movie have superseded lines from the original text. Frank’s last words to Kirsty, for example, come from the movie, and the Hell-Priest (here referred to as The Cold Man) has adornments of nails rather than pins as they’re described in the novella, but I’m splitting hairs instead of skulls, so… 

The story is written by Clive’s friend and business colleague Mark Miller (Boom! Comics and Seraphim Inc.) and while the execution of the story is akin to The Scarlet Gospels, the voice is clearly Clive’s. And if, while reading it, you can imagine Clive’s husky American/ Liverpool voice reciting Hellraiser: The Toll at the fireside in his home while surrounded by cigar smoke, then I think you’ll agree it’s a great yarn which is told with an authoritative voice. A little shy of 17,000 words, I felt the story could have been longer, but at least it’s complete and internally consistent, although it does finish too soon and left me longing for more.

If, like me, you’ve been waiting years to find out what events took place in Kirsty’s world (remember she’s Cotton in the movies, but just plain old green-eyed Kirsty in The Hellbound Heart.) after those in Lodovico Street, then this tale tells one chain. Those with a yearning for more of the lore surrounding the boxes and their maker LeMerchand will likewise be happy.

However, don’t be too disappointed to find that Harry D’Amour is barely mentioned in Hellraiser: The Toll. I suspect Clive and Mark Miller are planning another novella to bridge the gap between The Toll and The Scarlet Gospels, but that’s only supposition on my part.

Steve Dillon

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

holmes - Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell (Book)

Written by Paul Kane

“The world’s greatest detective crashes into Clive Barker’s infamous realm of horror in the crossover event of 2016. And Solaris is going to hell in process…The world’s greatest detective crashes into Clive Barker’s infamous realm of horror in the crossover event of 2016. ” – From the Solaris website

A long awaited piece by Clive Barker expert (according to Clive Barker himself) Paul Kane, with an introduction from Barbie Wilde, who played the female Cenobite in Hellraiser 2.

The prologue takes us right into the thick of the box-opening action. We’re sitting in that circle, surrounded by filth, obsessing over the box and how it could be opened, when… ahhhh, but that would be a spoiler, wouldn’t it?

This 90,000-worder (approximately) opens with the words of Dr. Watson, who is chronicling (apparently for his own purposes) how he met Holmes and touching on some of their adventures together. This serves as a great reminder of how Holmes was always on the fringes of horror… the Hound of the Baskervilles being the most noteworthy in my mind. I’m not a Holmes expert, although I’ve read most of the stories and seen countless movies and TV adaptations, so I won’t comment on the canonical accuracy or otherwise of the references. Nor does that matter a great deal to me, although I suspect Paul Kane will have spent considerable time ensuring his references are as accurate as possible. As a Holmes fan himself, he is doubtless hoping to please the armchair sleuths who are likely to pick this up and accept it for what it is, a believable Sherlock Holmes tale.

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In Watson’s words, “Reality, fantasy. Truth, lies. The line between them is paper thin.” Watson claims that his notes are not intended for our eyes, and that he has made arrangements for them to be burned, which is a commonplace Lovecraftian ploy to get the reader to feel like we’ve chanced on some secret code that may unlock a puzzle… and, of course, it works.

A perfectly plausible storyline follows, as Watson goes on to discuss how, after his feigned death, Holmes went travelling, and how, since Moriarty’s demise, Holmes was lacking a challenge. It’s not a great leap of intuition to put the two things together and wonder how Holmes might have sought some excitement (and danger) to keep him away from his self-destructive habits of choice.

I really enjoyed the tie-ins to the Cotton family and the address on Lodovico street, which Hellraiser fans will recognise… While the first names of the major characters echo closely the characters in the Hellraiser movie, they are clearly some predecessors from a previous era, lending a kind of alternate universe feel to a fairly familiar tale. This is a skill that Kane has mastered through various retellings of faerie tales such as his treatment in modernising Red Riding Hood in “Red” and “Blood Red”. This is something picked up by Watson himself who declared that Juliet Cotton seemed “More like a wicked stepmother from some sort of hideous fairytale.” Reflecting the commonly held observation regarding Julia in Hellraiser.

The parallels with the established Hellraiser mythos continue, and of course are augmented by the addition of Holmes and familiar characters from other well-known sources… But I won’t spoil it here.

Suffice to say, whether you’re a fan of the first two movies, or Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart novella, or Paul Kane’s Hellbound Hearts collection of short stories, or the Sherlock Holmes adventures, you’re in for a treat and I doubt if any but the most die-hard purist fan will have any qualms over Kane’s treatment of these subjects that he knows and loves so well…

Steve Dillon, June 2016

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