When he lived in London an electrician came to fix an appliance. He noticed some Hellraiser merchandise and said: "Have you seen those films? They're sick. I mean, whoever makes these films must be a fucking nutter" (page 37) -- the kind of comment that surely appealed to Barker's sense of the absurd. It appeals to mine.
So, who is this Clive Barker? Well, he is a polymath, damn him: film maker, script writer, artist, illustrator, novelist, short story writer... I wouldn't be surprised if he's penned an operatic libretto, composed a symphony, played lead guitar with Bruce Springsteen, solved Fermat's Last Theorem.
This book confirms another arrow to his quiver: Clive Barker is an erudite commentator of fantasy. There are around a hundred essays here, mostly a few pages long, culled from Barker's introductions and articles that have appeared since he burst out of horror's abdomen in the early 1980s. You remember them, surely: The Books of Blood
. With these volumes Barker was designated the new voice of horror. With hindsight, we see that he was a lot more; he was not content to be hemmed in by those boundaries -- and in fact he admits that he is no longer the man who wrote "In the Hills, the Cities". He says that those early stories of damnation have mostly been replaced by stories of redemption.
I guess there is just so much Barker can say about Hellraiser or Nightbreed without repeating himself, and the several introductions to these films, and his books, confirm this. But when he is allowed to meander off to other areas in the field, to the events that surround the films and stories, to the people and events and places that affected him, and, especially, when he writes about himself, then you get a flavour of the real Barker. He comes across as a passionate man (for example, he comments acutely on taboo and censorship: "Two steps beyond the perimeters of Good Taste is where the best journeys begin") and with a touching humility about the things that made him the person he was, the man he became. I suggest that the reader takes his/her time and not read this book in sequence, or in one (long) sitting. Delve into it now and again, pick and choose. Savour it as one would a box of Thornton's chocolates.
At FantasyCon 2008 Clive Barker gave an off-the-cuff speech about the fantasy genre -- although he in fact condemned the use of "genre" -- saying that we (fantasy writers and readers) must think bigger than that. When reading these essays I can hear his conviction -- his passion. If you haven't had the opportunity to hear his words in person, this collection gives everyone the great opportunity to learn a little about Clive Barker, about what makes his blood flow, his lungs inflate, his brain fizz.