The Damnation Game

by Clive Barker

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Social Concerns / Themes

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Although portions of this novel are set in a prison and one of the major characters is a Howard Hughes-type billionaire recluse who controls a far-flung economic empire, its focus is not upon larger social issues but rather, as is generally the case in Clive Barker's fiction, upon the struggles of individual people to achieve their own various forms of self-realization. Thus, the pattern of transformation through intense encounter with the horrific so prevalent in the Books of Blood (1984-1985) is also a central feature in this work's thematic framework, particularly insofar as it involves Marty and Carys, the characters who form, among other things, the love element in the novel. The other dominant thematic emphasis in the Books of Blood, that involving the symbiotic relationships between humanity as ordinarily defined and those who may be considered "others," is abundantly evident in The Damnation Game: indeed, it is the central struggle of wills between Mamoulian, the soul vampire, and Joseph Whitehead, his Faust like acolyte, which provides the nucleus about which all other elements in the novel orbit.

At the heart of The Damnation Game lies a fear which, in Barker's estimation, overrides all others in the human experience — the fear of nihility, of total, utter nothingness. It is the awful contemplation of such total nonexistence which brings him, in the course of the novel, to redefine damnation, and thereby Hell as well, as a state not of perpetual torment but of something far more horrible — the absence of all sensation, all cognition, all being. Thus, he provides as a frontispiece to the novel a quotation from W. B. Yeats' The Hour Glass: "Hell is the place of those who have denied;/They find there what they planted and what dug,/A Lake of Spaces, and a Wood of Nothing,/And wander there and drift, and never cease/Wailing for substance." Beside this fear, all the visible, graphic horrors which existence can provide — and the novel gives examples of these in abundant quantity — pale in comparison. "The worst monster in the world," Barker has commented, "is better than a blank space." Although the basic concepts of Hell and damnation are thus altered in The Damnation Game, the means by which one attains them remain, interestingly enough, the traditional ones emphasized in both theology and previous literary treatments. Joseph Whitehead assures his damnation through his own Promethean ambitions. Such arrogance, in fact, really needs no assistance in finding its way to its ultimate destination, for, as Mamoulian at one point reminds Whitehead: "Every man is his own Mephistopheles."

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