The Scarlet Gospels, Clive Barker’s latest novel, was released yesterday, May 19th, 2015. The Scarlet Gospels seals Barker’s novel as the horror writer that defines our generation. Reading The Scarlet Gospels is akin to having your flesh sliced by the scalpel of a master surgeon (the scalpel or sharpened knife analogy is often used when writers describe Barker’s works, and it’s very apt) but instead of succumbing to the pain, the reader instead teeters over the brink of pleasure, and begs for more.
Horror is a genre that has historically not been kind to women that stray beyond societal gender roles. In Dracula, women that stray from gender norms get transformed into lascivious blood sucking monsters that tempt men into sin. Motherhood and birth consistently provide horror writers and directors with inspiration for new material. More often than not, women are the ones that are slain in horror films in increasingly violent ways.
Clive Barker does not subscribe to these stereotypes when he choses to write horror (one should note that Barker is not exclusively a horror writer). Arguably, Clive Barker incorporates feminism when writing some of his works. Rawhead Rex is about a male monster that fears the reproductive power of women, and gives credit to our Goddess worshipping pasts. Son of Celluloid has a female heroine, Birdie, that is atypical when compared to other horror stories. In lieu of being physically fit and conventionally attractive, Birdie is a heavyseat young woman that is not within the mainstream beauty ideal. Instead, Birdie is an “everywoman” who rises to the challenge of defeating a malevolent supernatural entity in her place of employment (a movie theatre).
Jacque, the main character of Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament (featured in Books of Blood, Volume Two) discovers that she has the ability to change the bodies of people around her by simply thinking of the changes. Jacque’s first victim is her misogynist therapist, whom she accidentally kills. Growing tired of his drivel, Jacque muses to herself how he can even think he understands her, as he is not a woman. Jacque then thinks, “Be a woman,” and the therapist meets a gruesome end. In The Hellbound Heart, it is Kirsty, the meek friend of Rory, (Kirsty also carries an unrequited love for him) that defeats the cenobites and the forces of hell. Notably, in the novel, the lead cenobite is not Pinhead, and identifies with the female gender. In Hellraiser, the film based on the novel, Kirsty is the niece of Frank (Frank being the catalyst of Pinhead’s arrival on earth) but it still is Kirsty that defeats the unholy demons. Kirsty famously slaps away her boyfriend’s hand away from Lermarchand’s puzzle box, and solves the Lament Configuration herself, sending the cenobites back to the hell from which they came. The Scarlet Gospels features two main female characters: the heavily tattooed Lana, and Norma, a blind, elderly woman of color.
Barker has consistently represented the LGBT* community in his works. Pie oh’pah, a character in Barker’s Imajica, has no gender. In Barker’s horror works, LGBT* characters are not maligned for their gender identity; they are simply people. The two main characters of In the Hills, the Cities are gay men. Another short story, Human Remains, features a gay male prostitue as the male character, with no judgement towards his profession or sexual preference. In The Scarlet Gospels, there are two gay characters, Caz and Dale, who make up a motley band of heroes who journey to hell on a rescue mission. The Scarlet Gospels also features a trans* woman, who is hated not because of her gender orientation, but for selling her soul to forces that are dedicated to evil and combating good. Representation matters, and Barker represents the LGBT* community not as an “other” in his works; instead, they are simply people, heroes or villians based on their actions, not on their sexuality.
The Scarlet Gospels proves that Barker has the ability to garner affinity towards characters that would otherwise be considered to be monstrous. Pinhead: Hell’s Priest, a character featured heavily in The Scarlet Gospels, is a megalomaniac focused on rebuilding hell, the only world he knows, in his own image, with the ultimate goal of bringing hell to earth. This should be no surprise, as Pinhead rebuilds the flesh of his followers, transforming them into his slaves. Pinhead is entirely self-serving, he seeks to obtain power solely for himself, and not to better the lives of those around him. Yet Barker transforms the enigmatic Pinhead into an endearing figure. When Pinhead turns to a legion of demons and delivers this soliloquy, the reader can imagine themselves following him out of hell:
“I am your King now. And as such, I command you to put your vendettas away, forget the past, and follow me out of this place to do better, more terrible work.”
Barker even breathes fresh life into a literary character that has constantly intrigued (wo)mankind: Lucifer, the lightbringer, the morning star. Many readers know the story of how Lucifer fell from heaven, and created hell, his own world to reign. Regardless of this fact, Barker makes the reader feel as if they are meeting Lucifer for the first time in The Scarlet Gospels. When Lucifer bellows:
“I was an angel once! And I had such wings! Oh, such Wings......But they are just a memory now...and I am left with a pain I cannot endure. Do you hear me? Do you hear me!”
Barker does what The Rolling Stones could not; he forces readers to feel sympathy for the devil.
Barker pushes the envelope of the horror genre. Barker’s readers consume litearture that provides the foundation for thousands of nightmares. Through his macabre works, Barker also represents women and LGBT* people as autonomous individuals. Women and LGBT* characters have more autonomy in Barker’s works than any other mainstream horror writer.
Barker always has such sights to show us. Here’s to hoping that Barker continues to share them.