Just seeing the title for the first time let me know I was in for something spectacular. Of course I’ve seen a couple of the Hellraiser movies, but the only other book by Barker I’ve read was The Damnation Game. Rex is not The Damnation Game or Hellraiser.
This is one of those stories I’m glad I hadn’t seen the movie on before reading. I don’t think any of the pictures I’ve seen of the movie monster have done the image Barker was able to draw inside my head with his words any justice at all. The thought of a “raw head” on any being was pretty explicit, sexually horrific even, if alluding to unsafe sex. The addition of “Rex” on the end added the idea of a vicious, bestial dog like creature. So we have a beast that has a raw head with the disposition of a vicious beast and lives indefinitely under the ground, bound by a symbol on a stone. Once the symbol is removed, Rawhead Rex is free again to wreak his special kind of havoc on the world. This is the point where the story stopped reading as “the usual” tale of this type and became something else.
I especially liked that the symbol that made Rawhead afraid was that of the fertile female. This ultimate portrait of femininity should have been frightening for him. Extra weight aside (come on, birthing the world’s population brings on lots of extra stuff), females incubate baby humans. The beings capable of defeating and enslaving him were borne of females and each one who could spawn more had the capability of birthing the ones that would mean his demise.
The biggest message from the story hit a little closer to home. When Thomas Garrow acknowledged, “[He] knew the moment well. The splitting earth…he knew if from some nightmare he’d heard at his father’s knee” (Barker, 367), the first thing I am reminded of is the fact that the memory was distant, from childhood. Likely something Thomas had not thought of in recent years, and surely not something he passed to his own children or nieces and nephews. The story had died, and yet the being in the story was still alive and the fear of him should have been, too. This seems a subtle lesson from Barker to remember to tell our stories and continue telling them throughout generations.
Barker indicates in his introduction to Books of Blood, “A short story is like a time capsule. It records—in a fashion that cannot be easily understood until some considerable time has passed—very specific details of how the author’s life was being lived when the words were set down” (Barker, xi). The story of Rawhead Rex should have been one that served as a time capsule in the town of Zeal; one that helped future readers/listeners understand why the story was important. If it had been kept alive, the bloodbath that followed Rex’s release might never have happened.
If the residents had had the story fresh in its memory, the stone would have had neon signs pointing to it, along with electrified barbed wire fence and twenty four hour flood lights marking the spot. As it stood, the story died out with the older generations, and was not revived or remembered in the restructured town of transient members.
Reflecting on Barker’s words also helps subdue the cringes I’m subjected to when reading some of my earlier stories. I, proudly, came of age during the New Jack era, when crack cocaine and the rampage of AIDS were two of the most terrifying things we could think of. Many of my stories reflect these fears. But they also serve as a moment in time when the terrorist attack on September 11 was unheard of and cloning and bioterrorism seemed to be in the distant future. I may no longer be the young woman who was horrified by what crack could do to our children, but the woman I am now was shaped by those horrors and developed the ability to deal with the new terrors that each day seems to bring.
I would like to think that our world won’t become another Zeal, destroyed by our penchant for forgetting stories. And I hope we storytellers won’t lend to the trend of forgetting by not telling our stories that need to be told.
Barker, Clive. “Rawhead Rex”. Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three. New York, NY:
The Berkley Publishing Group, 1998. 362-407. Print.