The Scarlet Gospels Review
Note: This review was written independently of any other, and indeed before I read any of the other Gingernuts Of Horror reviews. Any repetition is therefore coincidental and unintentional.
And so the path to The Scarlet Gospel ends with Clive Barkers newest tome: billed as the final story of Pinhead, and also starting fan favourite Harry D'Amour.
Where to start?
The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker
After years of anticipation, this month saw the release of Clive Barker’s long-overdue novel, The Scarlet Gospels, featuring two of his most illustrious characters. No, not Rawhead Rex and Candy Quackenbush – though that might have made for a much more entertaining read. This book sees the return of hard-drinking private investigator (you pictured Scott Bakula, didn’t you?) Harry D’Amour, and the Hell Priest (AKA Don’t Call Me Pinhead). So surely this is going to be a masterpiece of epic proportions, right? Right?
I suspect that whether you enjoy this book will really depend on whether you come at it with preconceived ideas or not.
If we forget about the author for a moment, this is a nice little horror book. The first third is certainly fantastic. The middle section is slightly badly paced. The ending is rather disappointing but overall you’ve come away from it feeling that it was a good read. There were some nice ideas, some brilliant imagery and some entertaining characters.
Now let’s consider this in the light of it being written by Clive Barker, author of “Books of Blood”, “The Hellbound Heart”, “Everville” and the Abarat series, to name just a few. In “The Scarlet Gospels” are two of his previous characters: Harry D’Amour and Pinhead. Let’s take them in that order.
“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States” (15).
Published in 1962, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique sought to expose the existential crises that forced millions of white, upper-middle class, American women to live in a haze of depression, disillusionment, and despair. As such, the bestselling book was both controversial and critically acclaimed. Its publication and popularity marked a significant turning point in American history, particularly sexual politics. Reactions to The Feminine Mystique fueled the Sexual Revolution of the late sixties and fomented the Women’s Movement throughout the seventies.
People don't like this book. Barker fans don't like this book. This is because it is not “Barker,” at least, not as the man's readership has come to expect. This has none of the weight or slow-building mythology of previous titles; none of the resonant metaphysics or deviant sexuality. This is an entirely different stripe of story; one that is written by a different man; one transformed by time and experience. That it is not what has gone before seems to be the principle criticism aimed at it; one that requires dissection to understand its illegitimacy:
WARNING: This series contains HUGE spoilers, and is designed as a discussion for people familiar with the source text. I do not wish to spoil your enjoyment of Everville, so please read it before reading this. Thanks.
So this is the final lead in story to The Scarlet Gospels – The Second Book Of The Art. Everville.
I guess I should start by saying I wasn't gripped by the opening at all. It may have been a symptom of reading the book back to back with The Great and Secret Show, but I was eager for more of Tesla, Grillo, and Harry D'Amour. Instead, I was given an almost 100 page re-run of the text-based adventure game The Oregon Trial, complete with famine and religious bullies.
Okay, that's not really fair. On its own merits, the story is fine – the characters are interesting, the situation perilous, and things develop pretty quickly – it's just not what I was hankering for. And of course once things start getting weird, they quickly get deliciously so. Barker has lost none of his talent for vivid imagery or dramatic violence, or indeed his flair for inventive naming, as Buddenbaum is introduced, sowing the seeds of the city of Everville in the minds of a young girl and her father. He's an intriguing proposition at first – clearly manipulative and with some supernatural knowledge and ability, but not as outright sinister as Kissoon was. An interesting point to note here is that in Clive Barker's work, people with hidden agendas are rarely if ever working with the best interests of others in mind.
Confession: I’ve always had a soft spot for Nightbreed. I responded to what it was trying to accomplish, to make monsters into sympathetic characters and humans the villains, rather than what it lacked. Even as a kid, I knew there was something fundamentally flawed about it, but I held firm to my love for Boone and the monsters of Midian, and—perhaps more so—to the coldblooded serial killer, Dr. Decker. I’d often found myself embarrassed as I defended the movie I knew it could have been, not the movie they’d given us.
Later interviews revealed Barker’s bickering with studio heads, who had liked Hellraiser (or at least the money it made them), but felt audiences wouldn’t “get” a movie with monsters as the heroes.
WARNING: This series contains HUGE spoilers, and is designed as a discussion for people familiar with the source text. I do not wish to spoil your enjoyment of The Great And Secret Show, so please read it before reading this. Thanks.
Well, were to start?
Actually, let's start at the start – turns out, I had read this one before. Or at least, most of it. The dead letter office in Omaha is surely one of Barker's great opening gambits, the man who works there one of Barker's classic characters – a man full of ambition turned bitter, with no sense of how to get from his lowly surroundings to the level he aspires to, and with the desperate feeling that the last of his youth is draining away. That time is running out.
And then the letters start to speak to him.
A non-superhero film jolt the world of comic books? Never....but it happened. In 1987, a mind blowing film called 'Hellraiser' was released and led to an explosive rebirth of horror comics. As a comic book fan since 1977, apart from ‘Batman’ and some really cheesy stuff that I used to save up for which always disappointed my deviant little mind, this was huge for me and was well worth the wait. A new level with gripping, wild storytelling and artwork of which the like had not been experienced in the genre thanks to Eclipse Books in 1989 and early 1990s.