Rawhead Rex: An Answer to my Pagan Prayers

Rawhead Rex

 

Rawhead Rex is a short story from Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. It is the second story in volume three and it is killer. I LOVED this story. Perhaps it’s because “evil personified” is my kind of horror. I’m finding rather quickly that I am not a fan of monster horror. When monster stories straddle the line between sci-fi and horror, I’m not interested. I can’t buy into it. But supernatural demons, ancient entities, entropy —I’m a huge fan and I will eat it up without question.

I’ve read some reviews of Rawhead Rex, thought long and hard about the feminist theories, and while I see their point, that’s not how I interpreted it. Before I dive in to my erudite observations, let me say that Clive Barker is a writer who epitomizes many of the lessons I have learned in the first few months of my Masters program. He opens the story with the setting of Zeal and in his description, he makes Zeal a character in and of itself. We know it is an ancient city, having survived invasions, wars, and time. We know it is in Kent and has become a tourist destination. We are told that it is this recent change in the town’s dynamics that will be its downfall. Upon finishing the book, I noted that Barker also began and ended a story with a stone, thus bringing it full circle.

There was obviously a lot of thought behind names and word choices in Barker’s short story. Besides Zeal and its Zealots, you have “The Tall Man” (Rawhead Rex is a giant) pub, “The High Road” (a moral path), a Christian reverend named Coot (a nickname for a crazy person), and a hero named Milton (Paradise Lost). Adjective choices fit the mood and description is sprinkled like rain drops through a passage rather than dumped out all at once. This is an author to emulate.

Rawhead Rex is an ancient being, to me, he is the personification of evil/sin. He has been on Earth since before Christ. He devours children preferably but will take on anything except menstruating women. That is a taboo. Why? Because I think, paganism/ancient religions worshipped goddesses, Mother Earth, women. Women are the creators and it is at puberty they gain their power. Puberty in women is signified by menses. Rawhead had no problem devouring Amelia, a young girl. I think, like many religions, it was the symbolism he feared. Like a cross with the vampire. That is why he responded to the stone fetish the way he did. I didn’t see this story as anti-woman. I didn’t get too upset that in the end a man killed him instead of a woman. I saw the man as having avenged the death of his son.

I think there were a lot of themes in Rawhead Rex. Old religions vs Christianity, Male vs Female, small farm towns vs big city development. You can probably find enough evidence to support your theory no matter what side you want to argue. But for me, it was an effective monster tale, with an ancient entity. There’s no science trying to explain it away. It is just a monster terrorizing a town. It has blood and guts and sex and violence all wrapped up in a neat little short story. That’s all I’m asking for.

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5 thoughts on “Rawhead Rex: An Answer to my Pagan Prayers

  1. It’s interesting to note that the fetish, being a woman giving birth, is the symbol of endless fecundity. Thus, women are life in the “Prisca theologia” of the story, and so men are death.

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  2. vanessaessler says:

    I agree that the name choices really heightened the mood of the story. Part of what I enjoyed about this the most is the layers of little nuanced bits that could be interpreted many ways. I’ve also read a few reviews that labeled this story as anti-woman. I didn’t get that from the text at all, but I think Barker wrote it to get people to think. that is certainly something I aspire to do with my fiction as well.

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  3. I agree that this story is NOT anti-female. Barker goes to a great deal of effort to convey a cozy, but very old town — one where the “old ways” were still remembered, if sometimes obliquely. And I think you hit it on the head when you saw a connection to paganism (and even more ancient religions) in the piece. I was impressed, too, by all the layers and nuances in the story. And yes, the ancient, inexplicably evil/bad “monsters” are the best. Nice post, as usual.

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  4. lisettegallows says:

    I also didn’t find it anti female. There’s probably more Barker could have done to make it feminist by that’s not the story he was telling. This was about a life destroyer vs a life bringer and it worked really well for me. I got a little hung up on the obscenities in the story, but mostly because teens read my site and I figured I better pods off their parents by talking directly about dudes getting pissed on.

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  5. Wow, I didn’t read too much into the names in this story. I need to work on my critical reading skills. But I agree with you that this book wasn’t anti-female. Rawhead was anti-female, but the story was not. Some people have a harder time than others separating how a character feels from what the writer feels. That’s why some people think Stephen King is racist because he features a lot of racist characters and ideology in his works.

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