Barker, Clive (1952—)

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Barker, Clive (1952—)

For much of the 1980s, it was impossible to pick up any of Clive Barker's books without encountering on the cover this blurb from fright-master Stephen King: "I have seen the future of the horror genre, and his name is Clive Barker." Barker's more recent work, however, does not usually feature the King quotation, and this fact seems to represent his publisher's recognition that Barker has moved beyond the horror genre to become one of the modern masters of fantasy.

Clive Barker grew up in Liverpool, England,—not far from Penny Lane, celebrated in song by his fellow Liverpudlians, the Beatles. He studied literature and philosophy at the University of Liverpool and moved to London after graduation. Barker's first literary efforts took the form of plays which he wrote, directed, and produced, all on the shoestring budget that he was able to scrounge up for the small theater company he had formed. Several of his plays, with titles like The History of the Devil and Frankenstein in Love, display the fascination with fantasy and the macabre that would become hallmarks of his prose fiction.

While writing plays for public consumption, Barker was also crafting short stories and novellas that he circulated only among his friends. By the 1980s, however, he had concluded that some of his prose efforts might be marketable. He soon found a publisher for what would become known as the Books of Blood —six volumes of stories that were published in the United Kingdom during 1984-1985 and in the United States the following year. The collections sold poorly at first but gradually attracted a cult following among those who enjoy horror writing that does not flinch from the most gruesome of details. Barker is no hack writer who depends on mere shock value to sell books; even his early work shows a talent for imagery, characterization, and story construction. But it must also be acknowledged that Barker's writing from this period contains graphic depictions of sex, violence, and cruelty that are intense even by the standards of modern horror fiction.

Barker's next work was a novel, The Damnation Game (1985), in which an ex-convict is hired as a bodyguard for a reclusive millionaire, only to learn that his employer is not in fear for his life, but his immortal soul—and with good reason. The book reached the New York Times Bestseller List in its first week of American publication.

Barker's subsequent novels also enjoyed strong sales in both Europe and the United States. His next book—Weaveworld (1987)—began Barker's transition from horror to fantasy, although some graphic scenes were still present in the story. It concerns a man who falls into a magic carpet, only to discover that it contains an entire secret world populated by people with magical powers that are both wondrous and frightening. This was followed in 1989 by The Great and Secret Show, which features an epic struggle to control the "Art," the greatest power in the Universe—the power of magic. Next was Imajica (1990), which reinterprets the Biblical story of creation in terms of a battle between four great powers for dominion over a fifth. Then came The Thief of Always (1992), a book for children about an enchanted house where a boy's every wish is granted, although the place turns out to be not quite as idyllic as it at first seemed.

Everville: The Second Book of the Art, which appeared in 1994, is a sequel to The Great and Secret Show. The book is essentially a quest story, with the action alternating between our world and a fantasy parallel universe. In Sacrament (1996), Barker's protagonist encounters a diabolical villain who can cause whole species to become extinct. The ideas of extinction, loss, and the inevitable passage of time combine like musical notes to form a melancholy chord that echoes throughout the book. The 1998 novel Galilee: A Romance represents Barker's greatest departure yet from the grand guignol style of his earlier work. The story involves a centuries-long feud between two formidable families, the Gearys and the Barbarossas. The advertised romance element is certainly present, although leavened by generous helpings of fantasy, conspiracy, and unconventional sexual escapades.

In addition to his work for the stage and the printed page, Barker has also manifested his abilities in other forms of media. He is a talented illustrator, heavily influenced by the work of the Spanish painter Goya. He has provided the cover art for several of his novels and has also published a book of his art entitled Clive Barker: Illustrator. In 1996, a collection of his paintings was the subject of a successful one-man exhibition at the Bess Culter Gallery in New York City. Barker has also written stories for several comic books, including the Marvel Comics series Razorline.

Barker's work is also well known to fans of horror movies. In the mid-1980s, he penned screenplays based on two of his stories, "Underworld" and "Rawhead Rex," both of which were made into low-budget films. Barker was so dissatisfied with the final products that he was determined to have creative control over the next film based on his work. That turned out to be Hellraiser, derived from Barker's novella The Hellbound Heart. Barker served as both writer and director for this production, and the 1987 film quickly gained a reputation for depictions of violence and torture as graphic and unsettling as anything that Barker portrayed in the Books of Blood. The film spawned three sequels, although Barker's role in each was increasingly limited. He also directed two other films based on his stories: Nightbreed (1990) and Lord of Illusions (1995). Another Barker story, "The Forbidden," was made into the 1992 film Candyman, directed by Bernard Ross, with Barker serving as Executive Producer. A sequel, Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh, was released in 1995, but Barker's involvement in the film was minimal.

Barker's company, Seraphim Productions, now coordinates all aspects of its founder's prodigious creative output—from novels to films, plays, CD-ROMs, comic books, and paintings. The term "Renaissance man" is much overused these days, but in Clive Barker's case it just might be an understatement.

—Justin Gustainis

Further Reading:

Badley, Linda. Writing Horror and the Body: The Fiction of Stephen King, Clive Barker and Ann Rice. Westport, Connecticut, Green-wood Press, 1996.

Barbieri, Suzanne J. Clive Barker: Mythmaker for the Millennium. Stockport, United Kingdom, British Fantasy Society, 1994.

Jones, Stephen, compiler. Clive Barker's A-Z of Horror. New York, HarperPrism, 1997.