Clive Barker’s short story “Rawhead Rex” was my definition of a story about wanton death. Nearly every character that is ever focused on in the story dies horribly at the hands of Rawhead. I honestly didn’t know who our protagonist was going to be, or even if there would be one, until closer to the end of the story. And that’s okay because it worked to show the sheer, unstoppable power that Rawhead wielded.
Unlike most stories, the first character we meet dies shortly thereafter. He isn’t our protagonist and that’s okay because he seemed like a bit of an ass to me. We meet Ron, who becomes our hero, early on but I read over him, thinking he was just an example of a city guy out in the village where he didn’t really belong. He pops up here and there, talking with more people who died. It introduced us to him before we actually needed to focus on him, which actually worked surprisingly.
Rawhead as a character was gruesome and disgusting. First off, he is a giant, standing like 9 feet tall. He is also described as having a mouth that opens like a cavern in which he eats men and children. Rawhead is a gruesome guy who I definitely wouldn’t want to run into in a back alley. But what was really great was how intriguing Rawhead was. We were able to get into his head and see how he thought. We saw how destructive he naturally was, how arrogant he was and how inferior he felt humans to be. It put a new spin on the monster that we haven’t actually seen yet. While we certainly don’t like Rawhead, he was definitely given more depth than other stereotypical monsters we have seen so far in the course. And I think it was easier to identify with certain characteristics Rawhead exhibited, like greed, anger, fear, and power.
Another great aspect of the story was the use of the feminine as Rawhead’s weak point. Early on, he won’t eat one of the women because she is on her period and it seems like that repulses him. But in fact, he can’t because it is what he fears. By the end, we see that it was the ancient fertility goddesses that were able to frighten Rawhead into submission so he could be buried in the earth. (Although he is killed at the end of this piece.) This is cool because we see Rawhead as an exhibit of the masculine. We see him urinating on a man at one point and masturbating in another. To be defeated by the feminine was very believable for me as this monster’s weakness.
Finally, I wanted to talk about beginnings and endings. First off, the opening line of this story was fantastic. “Of all the conquering armies that had tramped the streets of Zeal down the centuries, it was finally the mild tread of the Sunday tripper that brought the village to its knees.” This line was elegantly written and drew me in, making me want to read more to find out how this worked into the Rawhead Rex myth.
The ending of this was also done well. We don’t know what happens to Ron but, unlike “Breeding Ground”, here it is okay. We don’t need to know because we are a) not overly attached to Ron and b) used to death by this point. The last paragraph was also interesting, showing the union between Rawhead and the earth. In a way, he was returning to the earth where he was imprisoned. But also, in another way he was mating with the female. His penis ejecting fluid to enter into the womb of Mother Earth. Just an interesting connection that I may or may not be reading too much into.
Overall, I think this story worked well as a short story but definitely couldn’t be extended into a full length novel.
10 thoughts on “Clive Barker’s “Rawhead Rex””
I agree with you on the first line – Barker really does have a great skill for well-crafted individual sentences. The idea of Rawhead as the ‘masculine’ is interesting too – I read a few reviews where Barker criticized Rawhead’s appearance in the film version, allegedly calling it a “9 foot phallus with teeth”. It makes me wonder if the props and FX guys were playing that parallel up on purpose.
I figured they were. But the movie version definitely wasn’t what I imagined when I read Rawhead’s description. I saw pictures from the movie and thought more of a mutated gorilla.
This is the first story we’ve read this term where we actually get inside the mind of the monster, and that made him a LOT scarier than others. His twisted thought processes were the source of half the terror for me.
I loved the intro to the story. It set up the age of the town and provided an underlying thread for the entire story. I think Rawhead was there before any humans, and it was the invasion of humans that brought him down the first time, and a member of the new “army”–an incomer from the city–who brought him down for the final time. Not an obvious thread, but there, tying it all together.
I like your interpretation of the ending! It was such a specific image for Barker to leave with the reader that I kept wondering why he chose it. I read it as his last act–whether you’re a king like Rex was in his own mind or not, it’s simply something that can happen after death. I like the connection you made with your interpretation.
I really like Barker’s style of prose too, and agree that the beginning of this story really does draw you in. I also agree that the ending brought us back full circle with the mention of Rawhead’s urine seeping into a hole in the ground. I can accept your idea that this could be interpreted as an allusion to mating with the Earth, but since he’s taking his last piss, which most dying things do, I didn’t really see it as mating. Rawhead’s urine seems to have a different purpose, especially if we think about the golden shower he gave Decan. Decan sees it as a baptism, but in reality it’s a form of desecration. In my mind, I saw that scene as Rawhead’s final act of desecration. With his final breath, he still manages to piss on the Earth. One last middle finger to Mother Nature and her ability to create life.
Hmmm, your interpretation of the end makes me think about how he was put into the earth by the fertility goddess the first time. The earth is a female symbol, it is fertile, life springs from it, it is Mother Earth. In a way Rawhead was forced back into the womb that bore him, and once again with the urine. No matter how masculine or dominant he appears, he cannot escape the fact he too is a child of his creator, and will always be that child.
I wonder if you could argue that Rawhead really is the main character of the story. His POV is the only one that remains threaded through the whole thing. You can’t call him a protagonist or even an anti-hero, but you can definitely argue that he’s the main character.