Book Review: Clive Barker’s Dark Worlds

  • Reviews

Sometimes sending a book out for review must be like dangling chum in shark-infested waters; you know the dead-eyed shoal of Bruce, Meg, et al will tear your work apart and probably try and take a chunk of your arm for good measure. Other times it’s like shooting a fish in a barrel.

Happily for Phil and Sarah Stokes, when it comes to Clive Barker, I am such a barrelled fish.

Front and back cover of Clive Barker's Dark Worlds

Clive Barker’s Dark Worlds is a book examining the work of Clive Barker—the British answer to Stephen King, the writer of extraordinary works of horror and fantasy such as Weaveworld, The Damnation Game…oh yes, he also gave us Pinhead. It is a book that ‘showcases a creative life’. 

Describing Clive Barker’s life as creative is sort of like saying the Cenobites understand pain. What makes Clive Barker so remarkable is that his creativity is served with extraordinary talents in numerous areas. Short stories, obviously; novels, naturally; films, goes without saying; art…at times, Clive Barker reminds me of that person everyone grew up knowing who was athletic, academic, artistic—the sort of person you either liked or pretended not to like because you were jealous.

Phil and Sarah Stokes, as friends and archivists of Clive Barker, have so much to draw from and even though this is a comprehensive tome that delves into all the dark corners of Clive Barker’s work, you still get the feeling that there’s some untapped well of creativity waiting within those dark corners.

It’s one of the aspects of Clive Barker that make him so fascinating, you never know what he’s going to produce next.

Pages inside Clive Barker's Dark Worlds

One of the delights of Dark Worlds is the multiple angles it gives you into the world of Clive Barker. You can see stories forming, first handwritten (possibly this says more about my inability to write cursively, but his handwriting looks great), then typed and annotated. The inclusion of the typed pages that have been annotated is particularly interesting because you can see decisions being made; drop this line, change this word, add in a word or sentence here. I think I could have happily read a book made up entirely of these pages.

I’m a big Clive Barker fan, but I found myself realising that I had almost forgotten elements of his career—not that books slipped my mind because they are bad, but due to the sheer expanse of the Clive Barker universe. As I read Dark Worlds, I kept finding myself running off to one bookcase and another to grab a novel that had just come up and hit me with that feeling of “I’ve not read that for years, it was brilliant”. I have a Clive Barker reading pile stacked up next to me as I type this…I’m not sure I’ll be reading anything other than Clive Barker for the rest of the year!

On a personal level, it was brilliant to see Nicholas Vince cropping up in the pages of Dark Worlds. When my first play at the London Horror Festival was produced in 2016, Nicholas was patron of the festival and took over the task of taking tickets from myself and the director. As well as being an absolute gent, Nicholas Vince played the Chattering Cenobite in Hellraiser and Hellbound as well as Kinski in Nightbreed.

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What I loved seeing, similarly with the handwritten extracts, in Dark Worlds were the little insights into Clive Barker’s work; the photograph of Nicholas Vince next to the nightmarish vision Clive Barker transformed this pose into on the front cover of Books of Blood Vol 6. You get this sense of someone with so much imagination and creative power that they can see the horror lurking behind the most pleasant and un-horrific images.

“I never drew from life. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to […] it was my mental world I was interested in; the things my inward turning eye could see.”

This, to me, is the brilliance of Dark Worlds; it gives a great overview of Clive Barker’s work and life, but it also gives you little peeks behind the curtain and the more you see, the more you realise that you are only getting half-glimpses into the mind and creativity of Clive Barker.

As Clive Barker says, in the afterword, while lots of the images contained in Dark Worlds are the standard fare of film posters and book covers, there is a plethora of photographs that capture moments of intimacy where subjects aren’t necessarily aware they’re being captured. Seeing Dog Company at work, a particular highlight for me as someone who has worked with and for theatre companies for the last decade.

Pages inside Clive Barker's Dark Worlds

Another aspect I find appealing in Dark Worlds is that while there is largely a sense of chronology, Phil and Sarah Stokes move backwards and forwards in time between creative works and biography. We start with the Clive Barker emergence in the 80s before dropping back to his childhood in the 1950s, for example. This could be a little jarring, but there’s something that feels very natural about this that it made me think of a really well sequenced album. Putting Hellraiser up for discussion straight away works brilliantly—it’s the cracking album opener and it’s the work that is probably most synonymous with Clive Barker, but there is so much more to his creative life than this (utterly brilliant) film.

As I said, at the beginning of this, I am very much the proverbial fish in a barrel for Phil and Sarah Stokes to shoot at. I make no apologies for having spent this entire article telling you how brilliant their book is. If you’re a fan of Clive Barker then I strongly urge you to buy this book, you won’t be disappointed—but I want to be clear that I don’t think the appeal of Dark Worlds stops there. I think if you have any level of interest in horror; on screen or on the page, or if you have interest in pretty much any art form, then there will be something in these pages to interest you—even if you, shudder the thought, are not a Clive Barker fan.

Do yourself a favour and read Clive Barker’s Dark Worlds, Phil and Sarah Stokes have such sights to show you.

By: Ed Hartland

Clive Barker’s Dark Worlds will be available for purchase from 22 October from Abrams & Chronicle Books.