Thursday, April 8, 2010

Weaveworld by Clive Barker (1987): The Uses of Enchantment

Only his second novel, Weaveworld shows Clive Barker already stretching as a writer of visionary horror fiction. At an epic 700 pages, it is an ambitious, genre-straddling work, evoking William Blake, Lewis Carroll, Jorge Luis Borges, and other fantasists and magic realists rather than the outright horror of Books of Blood and his first novel The Damnation Game (1985). Later titles like The Great and Secret Show (1989) and Imajica (1991) would find Barker continuing in this particular blend of fantastical worlds filled with both guttural horror and transcendent beauty - as well as splendidly perverse eroticism.

True to its title, there is a world woven into a carpet, a carpet which comes into the hands of Cal Mooney, an ordinary young man whose life in Liverpool seems to drift aimlessly. Called the Fugue, this world is inhabited by a race of mythical people known as Seerkind who through history had been viciously hunted by man (Cuckoos to the Seerkind), but have spirited themselves into this carpet to escape persecution. The human guardian of the Weave has fallen ill while several evil forces, led by exiled Seerkind sorceress Immacolata, attempt to destroy it.

Every inch of the carpet was worked with motifs. Even the border brimmed with designs, each subtly different from its neighbor. The effect was not overbusy; every detail was clear to Cal's feasting eyes. In one place a dozen motifs congregated as if band together; in another, they stood apart like rival siblings. Some kept their station along the border, others spilled into the main field, as if eager to join the teeming throng there... its colors as various as a summer garden, into which a hundred subtle geometries had been cunningly woven, so that the eye could read each pattern as flower or theorem, order or turmoil, and find each choice echoed somewhere in the grand design.

Pocket Books Oct 1987

This first edition of the US paperback has some pretty ridiculous cover art. There are a couple recognizable characters but on the whole I prefer the UK edition at the top, which clearly, and cleverly, incorporates specific images, people, places, and events from the novel into a carpet-like design. More cover artwork from around the world can be found here.

Inside Pocket Books '87 edition - art by Jim Warren

Barker has always spoken of the "subversive" qualities of the imagination, of its ability to save us from banality and a stifling status quo, and that's precisely what happens to Mooney once he's swept up into adventure. Weaveworld may not be Barker's best work - in his introduction to the 2001 edition he writes he was "on occasion irritated that [the book] found such favor among readers when other stories seemed more worthy" - but I certainly have enjoyed reading it several times over the years. And as a prose stylist Barker is unmatched; it's simply a pleasure to read his writing in a way not usually common in the genre.

Ahead there were such sights unfolding: friends and places they'd feared gone forever coming to greet them, eager for shared rapture. There was time for all their miracles now. For ghosts and transformations; for passion and ambiguity; for noon-day visions and midnight glory...

There is more than a touch of sentimentality, but Weaveworld is a good recommendation for people who don't enjoy straight-up horror novels. "That which is imagined need never be lost," Barker writes, intimately understanding the value of imaginary fiction and storytelling. People are enchanted by the myths and fairy tales woven into our cultural subconscious over the ages, and the most useful of all are not those that allow us to escape our nature, but the ones that dare to confront it directly; Weaveworld is one of those indeed.

6 comments:

Rob said...

That's a great review of a great book! I re-read Weaveworld about once a year and it never disappoints. Have you checked out Coldheart Canyon?

Will Errickson said...

Thanks, Rob. My old copy of Weaveworld is marked up with red pen underling my favorite passages; I could have filled a blog post simply with them. I read Coldheart when it came out, or at least I tried to; honestly it is my least favorite of all his works. The old Hollywood storyline was cool, I seem to recall, but the modern-day stuff felt really off. Still, I love my UK hardback edition which has the eyes of Theda Bara overlooking the Hollywood Hills.

Amanda said...

Weaveworld and Imagica remain my favorite books from Barker. The imagery in those books and others like The Great and Secret Show and Everville gets glued in your head and I never tire of rereading them. He's another author I love to hear talking or find discussions from.

Will Errickson said...

I wholeheartedly agree, Amanda. Barker is simply a brilliant artist in so many fields, and so articulate about his visions and what he thinks horror as art should do. He has colored my perception of the genre in film and literature as virtually no other author, except maybe Lovecraft, has. I don't think even King has had more of an impact on me.

EcclecticLadyLand said...

I'm halfway through this book right now, where Hobart and his men catch Suzannah dozing in her car and inject her with something. I'm enjoying the hell outta this book.
I can't help but wonder what it would be like as a film, if the directors from 'Mirrormask' did it, complete with artwork from Clive Barker himself. When I watched that movie, I was repeatedly reminded of Clive Barker.

Samhain said...

Mirrormask was tres spectacular,I love Clive's books,re-read them frequently,The great and secret show is also excellent,Mr.B-Gone is striking as well.i look forward to the new Hellraiser comic series Clive has in the works.