Books of Blood: Volumes 1-3

Clive Barker
Books of Blood: Volumes 1-3 Cover

Books of Blood: Volumes 1-3


When I was twelve years old, my favorite book was the Modern Library Edition Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, edited by Phyllis Wagner and continuously in print since 1944. Some of the stories dragged or did not seem all that scary, and I was aware that the language came from an earlier era, but I read the book cover to cover and re-read my favorites several times. A few years later I discovered the Dover reprints of classic ghost stories, volumes devoted among others to Oliver Onions, Sheridan Le Fanu, Algernon Blackwood, and the indisputable master of them all, M. R. James. As a result, I associated ghost and horror stories almost exclusively with the Victorian or Edwardian eras. When horror hit the big time on American bookstore shelves in the 1970's and 80's, it never crossed my mind to read Stephen King, Anne Rice, Peter Straub or any other of those authors whose paperbacks always seemed to have either hollow-eyed children, or broken dolls, or hollow-eyed children with a broken doll and a crow on their black covers. I felt certain I had already read the best the English language had to offer.

Clive Barker was on that list of authors who held no interest for me. Because I remain a fan of horror films, friends often recommended Barker to me, emphasizing how disgusting his stories were; what horrendous, gory things happened in them; and in what detail these things were described. I figured I could pass. And I had no intention of reading one of his 500 – 800 page novels.

Because of a recent decision to look into late 20th century and contemporary horror, Barker's name has come up again. Critics seem to agree that the publication of his Book of Blood in the mid 1980's was the real game changer in horror. The sex and gore were part of the equation, but more importantly Barker took the horror tale into new territory with a literary sensibility and technical facility that went beyond his flair for describing the removal of body parts or the tortures of the damned. And having now read The Books of Blood, I concur. The man can really write.

Many other acknowledged masters of contemporary horror still seem to strive for their effects when it gets down to the terror stuff.Or they just add more blood and painful deaths. Barker is a natural. Whether it's demons from the depths of hell manipulating a bicycle race through central London, or monsters parading across the deserts of the American Southwest, or old-fashioned ghosts haunting a theater in the north of England -- whatever narrative he creates, he has on hand an effortless flow of language to make the situation believable and entertaining. I found myself enjoying these stories as much as I did such classics as I did "The Monkey's Paw" or "Casting the Runes" when I first read them fifty years ago.