Clive Barker Barker, Clive (Short Story Criticism) - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Clive Barker 1952-

English short story writer, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter.

As a short fiction writer, Barker is known primarily for the horror series Books of Blood, his six-volume set of short stories, published in 1984 and 1985. Barker's style is characterized by cinematic descriptions of blood and gore, as well as unabashedly graphic sexual imagery. His stories are applauded by critics as imaginative and unique. Barker has adapted several of his own short stories and novellas to the screen, in motion pictures he himself directed, including the films Hellraiser, Nightbreed, The Thief of Always, and Lord of Illusions. In addition, Barker has served as executive producer on numerous films, such as Candyman, Gods and Monsters, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.

Biographical Information

Barker was born in 1952 and grew up in Liverpool, where his mother was a schoolteacher and his father an industrial relations worker. As a young man, Barker graduated from the University of Liverpool and worked for several years in the local theater. In his twenties Barker moved to London, where he spent eight years living on welfare while writing and painting. Barker eventually began writing comedy and horror plays for theater companies. He also found work as an illustrator, later illustrating some of his own works of fiction. A turning point in Barker's life came in 1981, when he read Dark Forces, an anthology of horror fiction. Realizing that there was a need for a new kind of horror fiction, Barker quickly wrote what became the first three volumes of Clive Barker's Books of Blood. This, and volumes four through six of the Books of Blood were published in various editions throughout the mid- and late-1980s. Several of Barker's stories were adapted to film, but he was disappointed with the results. Seeking greater artistic control over future screen adaptations, Barker began directing his own films. His debut as a writer-director was Hellraiser, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart (1987). He also wrote and directed the film Nightbreed, based on his novella Cabal (1988). Barker won the 1985 World Fantasy Award for best anthology/collection from the World Fantasy Convention for the Books of Blood, as well as receiving the Bram Stoker award and two British Fantasy awards from the British Fantasy Society.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Barker is best known for Clive Barker's Books of Blood (generally referred to as the Books of Blood), his six-volume collection of short stories and novellas encompassing the overlapping genres of horror and fantasy fiction. Barker's major themes are in keeping with the traditions of the horror genre. Many of his stories feature monsters or apparitions. Accordingly, Barker creates fictional worlds in which the boundaries between life and death are often blurred. In a number of his stories, death is welcomed by the protagonist as a transformation into a higher state of being. Various forms of bodily transformation commonly occur in Barker's stories, including the transformation of a man's body into that of a woman, through a supernatural process. Doppelgängers (evil doubles or counterparts) are also a staple of his stories. Barker's fiction often expresses the sense that the world of humans is as dark, violent, and evil as the monsters and ghosts who terrorize his protagonists. Volume one of the Books of Blood (1984) includes the title story, “The Book of Blood,” in which ghosts wreak revenge against a man pretending to be a medium by torturing him and writing the stories of their lives and deaths into his flesh. These stories are their “Books of Blood,” written in the language of pain. The second volume of the Books of Blood (1984) includes “Jaqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament,” in which a woman attempting to commit suicide discovers that she has psychokinetic powers to alter the bodies of other people—such as transforming a man into a woman. “Hell's Event” takes place in a cave of ice deep beneath the streets of London which turns out to be a tunnel to the Ninth Circle of Hell. Volume three of the Books of Blood (1984) includes “Rawhead Rex,” a story about a baby-eating monster, which was adapted to the screen in a 1987 film of the same title. In “Human Remains,” an ancient statue becomes the doppelgänger of a young male prostitute. The fourth volume of the Books of Blood (1985) was published in the United States as The Inhuman Condition: Tales of Terror (1986). In the title story of this volume, a knotted-up piece of string is discovered to hold supernatural powers. In “The Body Politic,” a man's hands rebel against him, and the right hand tears the left hand off of his body in order to liberate it. The left hand then scurries off to start a revolution. Volume five of the Books of Blood (1985) was published in the United States as In the Flesh: Tales of Terror (1986). In “The Forbidden,” a young woman investigating urban graffiti learns of a supernatural creature, known as Candyman, who commits acts of brutal violence against the inhabitants of an impoverished neighborhood. In 1992 “The Forbidden” was adapted to the screen in the film Candyman. The sixth volume of Books of Blood (1985) was published in the United States as The Life of Death: Tales of Terror (1986) and includes the title story as well as “How Spoilers Breed,” “The Last Illusion,” “On Jerusalem Street,” and “Twilight at the Towers.” In “The Life of Death,” a woman finds her way into an ancient crypt hidden beneath a cathedral, where piles of human bodies, killed by an ancient plague, lie strewn about the floor. After contracting the plague from her contact with these corpses, the woman begins to see herself as an agent of death, spreading the ancient disease to hundreds of people in the modern world.

Critical Reception

Barker is widely considered the most outstanding author of horror fiction since Stephen King. Stephen King—known since the mid-1970s as the czar of horror—himself observed that, on first discovering Barker's fiction, he felt like Elvis Presley watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. King was thus among the first, and most vocal, to hail Barker 's work. Barker's fiction exploded onto the scene in 1984 with the publication of his three-volume collection of short stories, Clive Barker's Books of Blood. Critics and readers alike, most of whom had never heard of Barker, immediately hailed him as the creator of a new era in horror fiction. Barker is applauded for his originality, innovative style, and well-crafted stories. Critics generally describe the world of Barker's fiction as bleak, hopeless, and nihilistic, devoid of any redeeming qualities such as love, hope, or redemption. On the contrary, some critics find inklings of romanticism and optimism amidst the grotesqueries of Barker's moral landscape. Critics also often praise his strong dialogue and deft use of humor. Barker has been criticized for his weak characterization, populating his stories with protagonists who are neither fully drawn nor appealing to the reader. While critics differ as to whether or not Barker's stories are truly frightening, most agree that his highly visceral descriptions of violence can be “stomach-churning.” In recent years, feminist cultural critics have discussed Barker's depictions of women, examining his stories in the broader context of the horror genre in general, particularly in terms of representations of the gendered body.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume One 1984

Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Two 1984

Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Three 1984

Books of Blood, Volumes 1-3 (one-volume edition) 1985

Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Four 1985; also published as The Inhuman Condition: Tales of Terror, 1986

Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Five1985; also published as In the Flesh: Tales of Terror, 1986

Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Six1985; also published as The Life of Death: Tales of Terror, 1986

Books of Blood, Volumes 4-6 1986

Cabal 1988

The Hellbound Heart [originally published in Night Visions, 3, edited by George R. R. Martin, 1986] 1988

London, Volume One: Bloodline 1993

Saint Sinner 1993-1994

Clive Barker's A-Z of Horror [compiled by Stephen Jones] 1997

Clive Barker's Books of Blood [contains volumes 1-6] 2002

The Damnation Game (novel) 1985

Underworld (screenplay) 1985

Rawhead Rex [adapted from his short story of the same title] (screenplay) 1986

The Secret Life of Cartoons (drama) 1986

Hellraiser [adapted from his novella The Hellbound Heart] (screenplay) 1987

Weaveworld (novel) 1987

The Great and Secret Show: The First Book of the Art (novel) 1989

Clive Barker, Illustrator (artwork) 1990

Nightbreed [adapted from his novella Cabal] (screenplay) 1990

Imajica (novel) 1991

Illustrator II: The Art of Clive Barker (artwork) 1993

The Thief of Always: A Fable (novel) 1993

Everville: The Second Book of the Art (novel) 1994

Lord of Illusions [adapted from his short story “The Last Illusion”] (screenplay) 1995

Sacrament (novel) 1996

Galilee (novel) 1998

The Thief of Always [adapted from his novel of the same title] (screenplay) 1998

*Essential Clive Barker: Selected Fictions (excerpts of fictional works and author commentary) 1999

Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story (novel) 2001

*This collection contains excerpts from Barker's novels, plays, and screenplays, along with commentary by the author and a foreword by Armistead Maupin.

Michael Morrison (review date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Morrison, Michael. “Clive Barker: The Delights of Dread.” Fantasy Review 8, no. 2 (February 1985): 35-37.

[In the following review, Morrison explores thematic and stylistic aspects of the short stories in the first three Books of Blood.]

In 1984, Sphere Books unleashed upon the unsuspecting world Clive Barker's Books of Blood, three volumes of tales by a writer heretofore unknown in the genre. Although traditional in form and style, Barker's stories are original, disturbing, and as discomforting as anything in contemporary literature. This collection heralds the arrival of a major new talent in horror fiction.

Some of the stories in...

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Michael A. Morrison (review date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Morrison, Michael A. “Blood without End.” Fantasy Review 9, no. 6 (June 1985): 15.

[In the following review, Morrison provides a generally favorable assessment of Barker's first three Books of Blood.]

The publication of this massive collection of well-crafted, original, disturbing stories heralds the arrival of an important new voice in horror fiction. The reader new to Barker's fiction is struck immediately by the gleeful carnage, graphic violence, and explicit sex that abound in these tales: monsters devastate whole cities; demons caper through the night; the “violent dead” slaughter innocent and guilty alike, while the living maim, torture and kill...

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Chris Morgan (review date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Morgan, Chris. “Harrowing Horror.” Fantasy Review 8, no. 8 (August 1985): 16-17.

[In the following review of Books of Blood, Volumes 4–6, Morgan describes Barker as a highly talented yet inconsistent writer.]

Clive Barker is a young English writer who produces horror novelettes, generally supernatural, with contemporary settings and very graphic detail. Hardly a story passes without a maiming, a disembowelment or a gruesome death; the smells of blood and excrement frequently hang in the air. Sphere have seen fit to issue his work in trilogies of slim volumes, each containing four or five stories. (Volumes I, II and III [of Books of Blood]...

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Fleming Meeks (review date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Meeks, Fleming. Review of Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume One, by Clive Barker. Los Angeles Times Book Review (10 August 1986): 6.

[In the following review, Meeks asserts that the stories in the first Books of Blood are neither original nor frightening.]

At rush hour, it always seems like there's at least one person in every New York subway car reading a novel by Stephen King. And while a good scare may provide an effective release at the end of a long day, King on a crowded train at 8 a.m. adds new dimension to the concept of horror. But for all it's long-winded charm, King's oeuvre is exhaustible. (One person I know read seven of...

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Douglas E. Winter (review date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Winter, Douglas E. “Clive Barker: Britain's New Master of Horror.” Washington Post Book World (24 August 1986): 6.

[In the following review of the first three Books of Blood and The Inhuman Condition, Winter asserts that Barker is the most important horror fiction writer of the 1980s.]

During a 1983 visit with Britain's leading writer of horror fiction, Ramsey Campbell, I was presented with a mountainous manuscript of short stories by an unpublished Liverpool playright named Clive Barker. “You're about to read the most important new horror writer of this decade,” Campbell told me. After reading 50 of the thousand-plus pages, I was...

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Ken Tucker (review date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Tucker, Ken. Review of The Inhuman Condition, by Clive Barker. New York Times Book Review (21 September 1986): 26.

[In the following review, Tucker praises the stories in The Inhuman Condition, which he contends effectively “create an atmosphere of dread and foreboding.”]

Clive Barker is a young Englishman who writes short stories that regularly veer into the category of horror fiction. He avoids the breathless tone that makes most modern horror tales seem foolish, instead setting scenes in a measured voice with meticulous details that accumulate to create an atmosphere of dread and foreboding. This sets you up properly for the scary...

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Michael A. Morrison (review date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Morrison, Michael A. “Visions of the Joyous Apocalypse.” Fantasy Review 9, no. 9 (October 1986): 19.

[In the following review, Morrison asserts that the stories in The Inhuman Condition are adventurous but pale in comparison to the first Books of Blood trilogy.]

The Inhuman Condition is aptly named. These five “tales of terror” from the first volume of Barker's second Books of Blood trilogy, tell of humans transformed into something more than human. It is their obsessions—sexual, religious, or intellectual—that drive Barker's protagonists to transformation, fulfillment, and doom. Although some of the characters are...

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Don D'Ammassa (review date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: D'Ammassa, Don. Review of The Inhuman Condition, by Clive Barker. Science Fiction Chronicle 8, no. 3 (December 1986): 46.

[In the following review, D'Ammassa offers a brief description of some of the stories in The Inhuman Condition.]

This collection of five stories [The Inhuman Condition] was originally published in England as Books of Blood, Volume IV. The title story concerns a twist of knotted rope that releases demons into our world. “The Body Politic” is a satire, with human hands revolting against their condition of servitude. Ghosts return to a motel room in “Revelations” and the ultimate aphrodisiac turns a man into a...

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Don D'Ammassa (review date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: D'Ammassa, Don. Review of Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Two, by Clive Barker. Science Fiction Chronicle 8, no. 3 (December 1986): 50.

[In the following review, D'Ammassa maintains that the five stories included in the second volume of the Books of Blood are of uniformly high quality.]

Clive Barker has been widely touted as the British Stephen King, with some justification. This is the second volume of short fiction I've read [Books of Blood, Vol. II] by him, and it is certainly the highest quality original short story collection I've read in some time. The five stories are of uniformly high quality. My favorite is probably...

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Cosette Keis (review date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Keis, Cosette. Review of Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Three, by Clive Barker. Voice of Youth Advocates 9, no. 6 (February 1987): 282.

[In the following review of the third Books of Blood, Keis observes that Barker is an innovative writer in the horror genre, and that Barker's stories appeal to those who are prepared for the bloody details that characterize his fiction.]

Hailed as the hot “new” horror writer, Clive Barker has been going at it in England, where horror books are sometimes called “nasties.” A series of six books with Barker's long short stories are now being issued in quick order in the U.S. An innovative writer in...

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Elizabeth Gleick (review date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Gleick, Elizabeth. Review of In the Flesh, by Clive Barker. New York Times Book Review (15 February 1987): 20.

[In the following review, Gleick observes that the stories included in In the Flesh are ingenious and intelligent, and effectively play upon unconscious human terrors.]

Those staples of recent American horror tales are nowhere to be found in the four novellas here [in In the Flesh]; this prize-winning British author has no need for bloody limbs or disembodied heads, for ax murderers or nubile camp counselors. Instead, Clive Barker plays upon our unconscious terrors—a man transmutes into a woman after a strange sexual encounter,...

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Laurence Coven (review date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Coven, Laurence. Review of In the Flesh, by Clive Barker. Los Angeles Times Book Review (14 June 1987): 15.

[In the following review, Coven praises the stories of In the Flesh as grotesque, graphic, and disturbing.]

The four tales of horror in Clive Barker's In the Flesh are not made for fireside reading. These are disturbing tales that emerge from a profound sense of despair and desolation.

Barker is a young English author, and In the Flesh is the fifth of a six-volume English collection, the Books of Blood. Indeed, blood oozes, splatters, drips and gushes from these stories in great abundance. In the title...

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Don D'Ammassa (review date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: D'Ammassa, Don. Review of In the Flesh, by Clive Barker. Science Fiction Chronicle 8, no. 11 (August 1987): 52.

[In the following review, D'Ammassa asserts that the title story of In the Flesh is the best of those included in this volume.]

Clive Barker provides four more novelets of the supernatural in this latest collection. The title story [of In the Flesh] is easily the best, the tale of a young man who deliberately commits a crime in order to visit the prison grave of his grandfather, and who finds himself visiting a city of the dead. Nearly as good is “The Forbidden”. A young woman is doing some research in a poor community when...

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Science Fiction Chronicle (review date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Books of Blood, by Clive Barker. Science Fiction Chronicle 10, no. 113 (February 1989): 38.

[In the following review of the compilation The Books of Blood, the critic asserts that Barker is a major innovator in modern horror fiction.]

Sixteen of the 17 stories in this book [The Books of Blood] were originally published as the first 3 volumes in Barker's Books of Blood series. They are undeniably among the most powerful and impressive short stories published in the horror genre in recent years. Among the best are “Rawhead Rex”, recently made into a full length movie, but almost all of the others are of first class...

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Ken Anderson (review date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Anderson, Ken. Review of The Books of Blood, by Clive Barker. West Coast Review of Books, no. 5 (May 1989): 32.

[In the following review of The Books of Blood, Anderson observes that Barker's effective mingling of the realms of life and death in his short stories uplifts the horror genre.]

Just when you thought a horror story had to consist of a deranged psycho who slashes up teenagers for no apparent reason, along comes Clive Barker. This collection of short stories [The Books of Blood] proves many times over that there are plenty of new plots in the horror genre. Barker's imagination has produced a series of surreal, gruesome tales that...

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Craig William Burns (essay date 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Burns, Craig William. “It's That Time of the Month: Representations of the Goddess in the Work of Clive Barker.” Journal of Popular Culture 27, no. 3 (winter 1993): 35-40.

[In the following essay, Burns examines images of powerful females in Barker's short fiction, particularly the stories “Raw Head Rex” and “The Madonna.”]

Until recently, the Western world has lived under the grip of male domination. It is only within the last century that women have begun to speak out for themselves, to fight for more rights, more “equality,” through what has been labeled a “Woman's Movement.” It is interesting to note that there is, in human history, a...

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Gary Hoppenstand (essay date 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Hoppenstand, Gary. “Embracing Imagination: Uncollected Short Fiction and Final Comments.” In Clive Barker's Short Stories: Imagination and Metaphor in the Books of Blood and Other Works, pp. 171-209. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1994.

[In the following essay, Hoppenstand offers an overview of the major thematic concerns of Barker's short fiction.]


“Lost Souls” is the second Clive Barker short story to feature the occult private investigator Harry D'Amour. It was originally published in the magazine Time Out (issue number 800; December 19, 1985-January 1, 1986). Later, it was reprinted in...

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Linda Badley (essay date 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Badley, Linda. “Clive Barker Writing (from) the Body.” In Writing Horror and the Body: The Fiction of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Anne Rice, pp. 73-104. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

[In the following excerpt, Badley applies contemporary cultural theory, including feminist theory, to an analysis of representations of women in Barker's fiction.]

With Books of Blood, an obscure playwright and illustrator named Clive Barker launched the “post-King era of horror fiction,” as William Gibson has called it (“Introduction” xv). “You read him with book in one hand and an airsick bag in the other,” King joked in 1986, adding “That man...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Winter, Douglas E. Clive Barker: The Dark Fantastic. London: HarperCollins, 2001, 671 p.

Billed as “the authorized biography,” this comprehensive work includes bibliographic information.


Barbieri, Suzanne J. Clive Barker: Mythmaker for the Millenium. Stockport: British Fantasy Society, 1994, 62 p.

Explores Barker's use and creation of myth in his fiction, and discusses the history of English fantasy and horror fiction.

Jones, Stephen, ed. Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden. Lancaster, PA: Underwood-Miller, 1991, 465 p.


(The entire section is 197 words.)