Clive Barker’s “The Yattering and Jack,” from The Books of Blood–the tale of a man, a demon, and a turkey.
OK, it’s not really about the turkey. But that is one of the most memorable scenes in a story that is equal parts a horror parody and a comedy of manners. Jack’s wife has an affair, and his lack of emotion drives her to suicide. He finds himself afflicted by a demon and his daughters, witnessing the Christmas chaos for themselves, cannot understand his calm demeanor, nor can the demon whose job it is to break him. At times I was reminded of Restoration comedies I had read (and very much enjoyed) in undergrad. What does it take before that famous British stoicism begins to crack?
When Clive Barker burst onto the scene in the 80s, he rose to fame for a number of reasons, humor not generally being one of them. Barker pushed the boundaries of sex and violence in horror, and intertwined the two in new and disturbing ways. It’s what I love about him and what influenced me in my early days. He also wrote “The Yattering and Jack,” whose set-up certainly sounds like a horror story: Beelzebub, thanks to Jack’s family, has a claim on Jack’s soul. He sends a minor demon called the Yattering to torment Jack into insanity and thus take what is rightfully his. But even in Hell there are laws; should the Yattering ever leave the house or lay a hand on Jack, Beelzebub’s claim is forfeit, and the Yattering will become Jack’s slave. The Yattering takes great delight in inflicting all sorts of terrible things upon Jack, including the murder of his cat(s), yet Jack refuses to surrender his sanity.
It is not, we learn, because Jack has the stiffest upper lip of any Brit to ever live, but because he is fully aware of the Yattering’s existence and intent. By the time Christmas descends into a maelstrom of turkey attacks and spinning Christmas trees, the Yattering is so frustrated by Jack’s unflappability that it commits its greatest error, just as Jack knows it will. It not only follows Jack outside but touches him, and Jack’s soul will thus never be in Beelzebub’s possession. Neither, as it turns out, will Jack ever enter Heaven. Enslaving a demon is frowned upon. Go figure.
If there are still people out there who haven’t read Clive Barker’s earlier work because of his reputation (you’re missing out, but to each their own), at least give this one a shot. You’ll think twice about having turkey for Christmas dinner.