Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker (Earthling Publications)

This is my first non-music related blog in a while, but in honor of Lemmy’s passing in December, and because Motörhead’s “Hellraiser” has been stuck in my head for the past few months, and because we all love that music video with Lemmy playing poker with Pinhead, here’s a blog about The Scarlet Gospels.

I received my copy in the mail a few days ago after having it shipped to Italy to be remarqued by Malleus (who provided the awesome cover art for this edition), and then to Britain to be remarqued by Les Edwards (who illustrated the text), and I must say, the book and the remarques are gorgeous.  I have provided photos below.  I only wish I could have Mr. Barker draw a sketch in it of his own!

Here's a sketch of the Malleus Rock Art Lab remarque: 

He was inspired by the scene where Lucifer pulls the nails out of Pinhead's skull. Lucifer can be seen playing with the remains of Pinhead's quilted scalp, spelling out "the end" (of poor pinhead).
Here is Malleus' actual remarque in the book.  I was thrilled when he decided to use colored ink on the black endpage for the drawing:   

And here is the remarque by Les Edwards (who also goes by Edward Miller), featuring a stunning illustration of Pinhead releasing the origami birds:

I will also say that Earthling Publications did a wonderful job with this edition.  I especially like the design of the limitation page, with the Lament Configuration dangling from the chain:

Now, about the book.

Publication details didn’t start to materialize for this book until the summer of 2013 as I remember, though Barker was writing it in 2005 and 2006, and maybe earlier.  Barker said in 2006 that he was trying to finish the “Scarlet Gospels journey” to free himself of it, because his heart really seemed to be in writing the next three Abarat books (the details of which have still yet to surface).  2013 was a happy year for me.  It was weak musically, but we finally learned that The Scarlet Gospels was officially on the way.  It took physical form last year, nearly thirty years after the The Hellbound Heart, and for the first time in that same amount of time, we have more stories about Pinhead!  And this time around he’s actually called Pinhead.

The narrative of this novel is a little more grandiose than that of The Hellbound Heart’s, as it really has three plot points, all of which are large in scope:

1) Clive Barker’s mythology of Hell
2) Pinhead’s scheme to conquer Hell
3) Harry D’Amour’s effort to thwart Pinhead’s conquering of Hell

A little different than The Hellbound Heart, which was a story carried by a few average individuals and some extra-dimensional beings, which took place almost entirely in an old house in a neighborhood somewhere.

So was The Scarlet Gospels worth the wait?  Yes and no.  I enjoyed it, for sure, but in all fairness it would have been really hard to make an unenjoyable book based on these characters, who are so damn interesting.  Pinhead might be the greatest character ever created in all of horror.  Harry D’Amour is Scott Bakula.  And Harry’s friends, Lana, Norma and Caz are even more interesting than Harry is.  So yes, I expected it to be good, and it is good, but it didn’t floor me like The Hellbound Heart did. 

The Hellbound Heart was to Hellraiser as The Scarlet Gospels is to Hellbound: Hellraiser II.  The reason The Hellbound Heart was such an unsettling, terrifying little novella is because it was so mysterious.  We didn’t know anything about the Cenobites.  They were alien, metaphysical beings, and because they were so unknown, and frankly, so difficult for us to wrap our heads around, they were terrifying.  As Pinhead famously responded when asked who he was: “An explorer... of the further regions of experience.  Angels to some, demons to others.”  And other than their physical descriptions, and the little bit about their desire to be appeased by their victims with jugs of urine, that’s about all the information we were given.   And we didn’t know anything about the Hell they came from except than it was a place where the unfortunate people who summoned these extradimensional beings were taken to suffer.  It was a small story with small scope, but the reader knew there was something fantastic going on behind the scenes that Barker intentionally kept from us.  He wanted our imaginations to do all the work.                  

In this book we have a literal translation of Hell, as Barker basically writes his mythology of it.  He lays it all out – its occupants, its landscape, Lucifer himself, Lucifer’s abode, Lucifer’s attempt to commit suicide, etc.  It’s very interesting because it expands the universe we knew nothing about, adding layers of depth to Pinhead’s life, but in doing so it sacrifices the element that made its predecessor scarier.  Hellbound: Hellraiser II essentially did the same thing.  We went from a house in a quiet neighborhood into Hell itself.  It’s for the same reason the second installment in the Hellraiser series was, though a horror movie I would still recommend to about anyone, inferior to the original.  

The mythology itself though, I must say, is very imaginative, believable (more so than most fantasy), captivating, and even consistent with some early church orthodoxy.  There’s a fabulous passage in the book where Lucifer, who is referred to throughout as “The Mourning Star,” expresses his anguish in the absence of his creator, and professes that this is why he's spent the last few thousand years trying to commit suicide.  Hell in Barker's mythology is a confined area that's completely absent the presence of God.  This adds a great layer of depth to Lucifer's character, that he regrets his ambition and is sentenced to spend eternity in misery for it. I actually found myself wishing he could make amends with God and leave Hell for Pinhead to rule, because Lucifer felt like he didn't belong there.

Another bit of genius on the part of Barker was to refer to the starring cast as 'the Harrowers', a name taken from the Harrowing of Christ, which was when Jesus descended into Hell after being crucified.  This is also early church orthodoxy.  The Harrowing was never once mentioned in the Bible I don't think, but is evidenced to be conviction in the early church by the language used in the Apostles' Creed: "[Jesus] descended into hell."  In 1 Peter 3:19, Peter references it though: “this Jesus, who by the same spirit by which he is raised from the dead goes and preaches to the lost spirits in prison.” That text has been used as the principal proof to say that Jesus, at some point after his death, generally believed to be between his death and his resurrection, descended into hell.  I was told by a Duke seminary school grad that it was believed that Jesus went into hell to experience the fullness of the magnitude of suffering - the full penalty for human sin - in order to be able to give complete atonement for sin through and following the resurrection.  Barker refers to Harry, Caz, Lana and Norma as 'the Harrowers' because they are the first since Jesus Christ to descend into Hell and then ascend.        

My greatest complaint about Barker’s mythology is the lack of cenobites other than Pinhead.  We aren’t introduced to a single cenobite.  I would have expected Pinhead to gather an army of cenobites in his quest to take over Hell, but we don’t even know if any cenobites other than Pinhead exist at this point.  He was always accompanied by his 'colleagues' when he appeared in The Hellbound Heart.  Instead we have other demons of lower orders, and Pinhead is sort of a god among lesser beings – the Hell Priest, Barker calls him – and it’s assumed he’s just under Lucifer on the pecking order.   

Anyway, it's a harrowing experience.  Recommended to anyone who wants another tale with a heavy dose of Pinhead.  The second and last.