Clive Barker is one of the holy trinity of authors that influenced me the most in my formative years. (If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know that Stephen King is another. For the record, Tanith Lee is the third.) I read the Books of Blood, and thus “Rawhead Rex,” for the first time as a teen. I finally saw the film version just recently, which is as cheeseball-80s as you’d expect and pretty much misses the point of the story. But I digress. Yes, there are a lot of POV shifts (which would bother me if handled by a lesser writer), the characters aren’t as developed as they could be, and those who haven’t read a lot of Barker’s work may be put off by the level of violence and vulgarity. However, it’s always what’s beneath the surface of Barker’s work that truly endeared him to me.
Clive Barker, as an openly gay man, is certainly aware of our patriarchal and hetero-normative society’s impulse to debase anything perceived as “feminine.” One need only watch TV commercials to see how pervasive it has become–companies like GoDaddy sell their product by routinely objectifying and dehumanizing women; it is the only sort of ad campaign they have ever run. Others, like Dr. Pepper, express a blatant hostility, if not outright hatred, of femininity. What Barker understood so well when he wrote “Rawhead Rex” was that masculinity cannot exist without its counterpart, and neither can we exist without a restoration of the balance between masculine and feminine. The masculine principle cannot in itself create life; indeed, Barker highlights its tendency to conquer and destroy, in direct opposition to the feminine, which creates and nurtures.
Today, of the major world religions only Hinduism continues to acknowledges the sacred feminine, and our current society, in contrast to ancient humans, seems to have devolved from those peaceful times. One can certainly point a finger at the rise of Judeo-Christian religions as a culprit. Those same religions, which stripped the goddesses of their divinity and reduced them to mere vessels through which the (male) divine passed, and enforced strict gender roles that placed authoritarian male figures in the center of women’s lives, also frequently called away the youth of their societies to fight and die in countless wars. Rawhead Rex is much like the modern war machine that sends young men and women off to die in foreign lands; powerless to destroy the source of life (that is, women old enough to have periods and therefore procreate–he gladly eats female children), he devours its offspring instead, the most terrible atrocity he can commit against women. At least the beastly Rawhead can acknowledge, on some base level, women’s inherent creative principle, something the major religions–with an inexplicably male creator at their helm–refuse to do. In fear of what they can never possess, and therefore never understand, they attempt to influence legislation aimed at controlling the womb itself.
In the end it is the feminine that tames the out-of-control masculine impulse which Rawhead Rex represents. Weakened by his fear of women, he is vulnerable to attack by the villagers of Zeal, who overpower and kill him. I will make no claim that we need to destroy the masculine half of the binary entirely; rather, we need a return to understanding the importance of the feminist principle and how its absence has created a society obsessed with the most destructive aspects of human nature. Because Rawhead could not understand women, he feared them, and it is this fear that causes many men to repress anything that might be construed as “feminine,” which so often leads to the type of deleterious hyper-masculinization we see today.
All that from a story about a giant penis-man. Stories like “Rawhead Rex” get to the heart of what Gary Braunbeck talks about in To Each Their Darkness, the ability of horror to be a transformative genre. At first glance one my be tempted to write it off as just another silly monster story, but in peeling back the layers we get a glimpse of horror’s true potential. And on that note, I wish Clive well in his continued recovery and hope that he will be telling stories for many years to come.