This is not a commentary.
This is me planting my standard in the ground and declaring war.
Come at me, motherfuckers.
Recently I got into a conversation with someone else in my program about why people deride genre fiction over literary fiction. I usually hate this conversation. My MFA program is geared toward writing popular fiction and I hear people bitching about literary fiction, claiming literary fiction is just as formulaic as genre fiction, and proudly claiming that they never read anything that crosses the gaze of the elitist literati that snub their noses at our lovingly crafted tales of wizards and robots and vampires and little old ladies snooping around the hedgerows. These sorts of sentiments reek of insecurity but recently I've been asking myself about those lines and how I'm going to define those terms for myself.
Part of me feels that the terms are ultimately meaningless. Good writing is good writing. Good writing is about ideas. It challenges the mind, it has something interesting to say and an engaging way of saying it. It challenges the heart. The lyricism of the words move the spirit and affect the emotions deeply. Good writing changes the perception of the reader. I've been deeply affected by stories of families in small towns and in stories of people fighting off zombies.
I will say that most genre fiction tends to aim low. I will say that most genre fiction tends to be unambitious in conception and execution. Sometimes that's fine. The general stereotype of genre fiction is that it's more focused on plot than on psychological depth. Sometimes I like that. I can bitch about the construction of the Drizzt books 'till the cows come home, but there's a reason my Skyrim character is a two sword-wielding drow ranger.
In short, I think people read their genre fiction to get their guilty pleasure kicks, then they read their Jonathan Safran Foers and Dave Eggers for their high minded stuff.
But there are some writers who work within genre conventions and create works of deep emotional resonance, whose writing leaves me staring out into space. It's a real pleasure to discover their work.
Long and the short, I love Clive Barker. He's my hero, he's the reason I do what I do, and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. Plain and simple.
There is nothing original about Rawhead Rex but, as any good comedian will tell you, it's not about the joke but how you deliver it.
I can't help but notice that a lot of the books assigned to the monsters in literature class deal with monsters as a thinly disguised gender metaphor. The widows of Breeding Ground were....I guess....supposed to be the wrath of women, the werewolves of The Wolfman are a couple of Oedipal figures fighting to see who gets to fuck the pretty girl. The symbols aren't directly addressed, but they're there. Barker states it up front: Rawhead Rex is a symbol of destructive masculine energy. He wrecks shit, degrades his acolytes through peeing on them, feels surges of sexual energy, masturbates on things, and generally acts unbound. He mocks the virgin shepherd because the fear of sexuality inherit in all Christianity lacks the vigor to defeat him but he's subdued and beaten by the symbol of femininity, which negates his virility and allows him to be smashed by the townsfolk.
He's also not an idiot. Most of the monsters are pure id. They wreck shit and get angry but they aren't much more than wild animals with a couple of superpowers and a scary mask. Rawhead wrecked shit too, but he acted like he was entitled to it. He's an old thing, bound by old rules and governed by primal symbolism but he's a king. It's a refreshingly new angle to see an ancient evil and it works astonishingly well.
I'm betting the two things that freaked people out in the story was all the descriptions of male erections and the child eating stuff.
Barker is aware and actively engaged in the symbolism behind his monster. As Rawhead smashes through a farmhouse in pursuit of a mother, Barker calls it exactly what it is: thinly disguised rape scenes. Most horror violence is deeply sexual, but most horror writers, frankly, suck at writing sexuality. Ask 'em to write a bloody murder and they're fine, but when they do a sex scene their stuff falls in a spectrum between scared little boy and mean-spirited little boy. Personally, I blame our religiously repressed, messed-up culture that gives violent movies and 'R' rating but if Michael Fassbender shows his penis the movie gets an 'NC-17.'
The horror in this story has teeth. It has sexuality. It's not coy about the human body and it doesn't treat it as something divorces from our sense of fear. As for the eaten kids, is there anything more terrifying to an adult?
Rawhead Rex is a great story.
I like the artistry and the nuances behind it. Clive Barker does this stuff correctly.
Now I'm gonna troll my fellow student's pages and pick fights.
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