Friday, February 13, 2015

My take on "Rawhead Rex" by Clive Barker

A moment’s preamble:  In June of 2014 I began graduate school at Seton Hill seeking an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. This term I’m enrolled in a course that focuses on MONSTERS, and as a part of that course I’ll blog on each book/story/movie covered.

I'll break each review down into 4 parts: Strength of Character, Genre potency, Poignancy of themes, and Entertainment Value. For each of these I will assign a letter grade. My reviews will contain **SPOILERS**

: “An ancient, malevolent monster, magically imprisoned underground, is accidentally awakened in the town of Zeal, Kent. Rawhead is a nine-foot humanoid with a huge, toothed head, and is extremely ferocious. Rawhead goes on a rampage, killing and eating people, including two children. He corrupts the local Verger, who surrenders to the violent, depraved impulses that Rawhead represents, and who helps the monster slay the Vicar, Coot.

Rawhead sets Zeal alight, and is eventually overcome by Ron, father of one of Rawhead's victims, who uses a talisman to stall the beast until he is overrun by a mob of enraged village folk. The talisman depicts a pregnant woman, Rawhead's antithesis and the only thing he fears.” (From wikipedia)

Strength of Character: B

This story was not character driven. The cast was large and varied, and many of them literally short-lived. Clive Barker used the space well, however, characterizing each person quickly and efficiently enough to make us care for them. He was able to achieve this in a few scenes with an intriguing use of multiple POVs. This “head-hopping” is generally frowned upon in writing workshops, but it was intriguing to see it used so well here. The creature, Rawhead’s own POV felt like it was stealing the focus from the humans, which contributed to the horror of his immense power. Rawhead was himself, intriguing, not just a mindless creature bent on destruction. We understood him in a way that sickened. He was so alien, so horrible, yet so unsettlingly familiar.

I found it impossible not to root for the main human characters, Coot and Ron, even though they were flawed and weak. Overall, I commend Clive Barker for his handling of the characters.

Genre Strength: A+

Is that you, Rawhead?
When I imagine reading a great horror story, I expect to have a similar experience to the one I had reading Rawhead Rex. It was reminiscent of an old folktale the likes of which you might see in a book like “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” but it was told in a raw, brutal, and yet beautiful way that a children’s book of horror cannot attain. This was a monster story for adults.

Rawhead Rex is a creature of pure malevolence, ancient hate, and animalistic hunger. He is an embodiment of death and carnage, thriving on the fear and misery of the humans he considered himself King over. This is highlighted by his Achilles’ heel being a talisman representation of womanhood and fertility, everything he is not.

The monster was original, genuinely horrific, and captivating. I was impressed with the way Clive Barker let the grotesque fill up his prose, so that you could never be away from it, even when you weren’t reading Rawhead’s POV.

Thematic Poignancy: A

Life vs. death. Fertility vs. impotence. The creation of life vs. the consumption of it. Innocence and corruption. Depravity vs. purity. Weakness faced with horrific strength.

These themes were ubiquitous, not just in the way Rawhead behaved, not just in his nature, but in the very DNA of Clive Barker’s prose. This is the first of his stories I’ve ever read, so I can’t speak to how the rest may be written, but the choices he made with his description bolstered his story to new heights.

Entertainment Value: A

This is my favorite piece we’ve read for my Monsters class. I’ve already covered the ways Barker won me over with his storytelling, but I should mention just how wonderfully surprising the story was. I particularly enjoyed his bait and switch technique where he made us believe Rawhead was going to take Ron’s daughter, just to have him snatch up his son.

Random Notes and Final Grade: A

*I admire the unflinching style Clive Barker writes with. He didn’t write this sort of story hoping not to offend anyone.

*This story is unapologetically repulsive, as if he was saying, “You want to read a story about a monster, huh? I’ll give you a story about a monster.”

*Rawhead pissed on that dude… I’m never going to forget that.


  1. I almost forgot about the scene with Ron's daughter. It's such a simple scene, but masterfully done. When she gets out of the car, there was no doubt in my mind that she was a goner. Then Barker flips it all around on us just when we manage to forget that the son's sitting all alone in the car. Thrilling, shocking, and heartbreaking.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this! I think Dread is in the Books of Blood we have for class, and it's one of my favorites, so I recommend it next if you want to read more of Barker. I think you make a good point here of the story being unapologetic. Even though this story wasn't my all-time favorite of his, Barker definitely delivered with his language and imagery. And he definitely is not one to make apologies!