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.
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.
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.