Clive Barker’s latest fantasy epic, Imajica, steps away from the horror world where he made his reputation. Alan Morrison watches as the maestro conjures up a classic.
he plush surroundings of Edinburgh’s Sheraton Hotel are a strange setting for a conversation that ranges, in virtually the same breath, from alternative theology to the niceties of characterisation in the novels ofJane Austen. Stranger still is the fact that these topics have been brought up by Clive Barker. the man whom Stephen King. no less. called ‘the future ofhorror’. and the director of genre classic Hellraiser and the misunderstood Nightbreed. His latest novel. lmajica. is. however. far beyond the gory. sado-masochistic hell for which he is best known and represents the development of the 39-year-old writer from cultdom to the literary mainstream.
‘Depending on which day you catch me on,’ he says, his mid-Atlantic drawl the consequence of a recent move to the film capital of Los Angeles. ‘the creation ofthis monstrous Pinhead, this image which seems to have found its way into a lot ofpeople’s psyches. is either a blessing or a curse. Hellraiser was made in twelve weeks— it’s not a significant part of my output. lmajica was a sixteen—month book. a very internal process for seven days a week.’
In loose terms. lmajica slots into the ‘fantasy’ side of Barker's output. beside Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show rather than the ‘horror’ fiction of The Books of Blood and The Damnation Game. However, the constant overlapping in his work between the two genres renders categorisation invalid. Transformation has been a central theme in his writing, from basic shifts of reality in the short stories. through the mutation ofthe ﬂesh in his films and now culminating in the transcendence of the spirit in lmajica.
‘Magic is, for me. the transformative capacity.’ he says. ‘In the Walt Disney version. this means that you point at a teapot and it becomes a carriage. I mean it in terms oftransforming the psyche. in making our bland and mundane vision of the world into something wonderful and insightful. The magical process is. at least in part. a
re-sensitising ofthe adult. returning the adult to the condition of wonder ofthe child. who sees things fresh and clean and new. ‘lmajica is my Lord of the Rings. if you like. But whereas Tolkien and his followers turned to defunct mythologies as their source material, I wanted to do something which struck me as being intellectually more interesting, which was to reconfigure the mythology that underlies our culture — the mythology of Christianity. So instead of taking elves and gnomes as my source. I took the idea ofthe redeemer. the redeemer‘s mother and what the great
It this lorm oiliction is any use at all, it has to be able to address what’s happening in our culture.
father‘s purpose really is, and used them as the underpinning of a cosmology which I would invent.‘
The result is an 85(l-page epic in which layers of meaning accumulate to create a book that can be enjoyed on many levels, either as a fantasy adventure ofbreathtaking scope, as a literate challenge to traditionally held beliefsystems, or as a composite work that balances the timelessness ofthe genre and the topicality of millennianism.
As with much of Barker’s work, the reader has to accept that there are dimensions of existence other than the one in which we currently find ourselves. The narrative thrust oflmajica concerns an attempt to reconcile the Earth — the Fifth Dominion — with the four that lie beyond human perception — the lmajica. Our reluctant hero. John Furie Zacharias. known as Gentle. is the only person who can achieve this. but before he does. he must take a journey across the Dominions to learn the reason behind the last disasterous attempt for reconciliation in the 18th century and his own part in it. Here. Barker’s visual
to la nta sy.
Hellraiser: Actor Doug Bradley plays the Pinhead Cenobite, an icon olcontemporary horror. born trom a sado-masochislic nightmare world at pleasure and pain.
Nightbreed: Barker subverted the monster genre by making a movie where the mutants were intelligent heroes. Here. Doug Bradley's make-up iob shows the development at Barker's vision lrom ho. ror
imagination is at its most powerful, but among the vibrant descriptions of alien landscapes and races is an intellectually structured argument that goes beyond anything he has written to date.
‘I wanted to reconfigure Christ as a late 20th century man,’ he explains, ‘and rather than actually bring him back through history and do a time-travel job on him, I brought his half-brother into the picture, a man who we get to know and probably dislike — a womaniser, a cheat and a manipulator — but who will eventually be redeemed by his purpose and his acceptance of failure.’
Despite a premise that, in some fundamentalist circles. could be taken as blasphemous, it is unlikely that lmajica will become The Satanic Verses of fantasy fiction. It doesn’t discredit contemporary religion, but places it in a wider, mythical context. It also provides what is probably the closest yet to Barker’s own vision of the afterlife. The first line of Barker prose to appear in book form was the opening line of the first Book of Blood — ‘The dead have highways’ — and this is an idea he has developed at all stages of his career.
‘What happens in my fiction’ — his explanation attracts a few odd glances from neighbouring tables — ‘is that over and over again the “three score years and ten” are seen as a little place on a much larger road, and characters move off that place in all kinds of directions, into other conditions of imagination and the flesh. I don’t believe there are Cenobites waiting to put hooks in us and tear us apart; The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser were much more about how contemporary preoccupations with hedonism have bizarre consequences. I also don’t believe in the cities I’ve created in lmajica in any literal sense, but I do believe we have travelling to do.
‘If this form of fiction is any use at all, it has to be able to address what’s happening in our culture. Just as I argued that sexuality was an important part ofwhat had to be debated in horror fiction, fantasy fiction can be about the life we are living now.’
lmajica is published by HarperCo/lins, priced £15. 99. Photographs of Clive Barker were taken at the Edinburgh Dungeon, in Shandwick Place, Edinburgh.
The List 25 october — image. l99l 7