Quote of the Moment

"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Friday, September 17, 2010

Primal Beast - "Rawhead Rex"

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read "Rawhead Rex" there are spoilers in this essay.

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"Rawhead Rex" by Clive Barker is the tale of a monster that is the epitome of an ancient, primal, and animalistic archetype. Since I prefer my monsters more human than animal, most of this story didn't appeal to me, but I can see where it would draw many horror readers in, especially those who enjoy monsters from long-forgotten times brought into modern day.

We are in Rawhead's mind for part of this story, and even though his thoughts seem more human than animal, he even admits to himself: "He'd never been a great thinker. Too much appetite: it overwhelmed his reason. He lived in the eternal present of his hunger and his strength, feeling only the crude territorial instinct that would sooner or later blossom into carnage" (372). This can be seen in his actions throughout the tale. His hunger drives him, snatching children to feed upon. The animal instinct in him is demonstrated through the defiling of a man's genitals and marking his territory, in this case a worshiper. Even at the end of the story, the animal in him is his downfall. He can only think of destruction, and using the gasoline he discovered burns so well, he sets the town ablaze, heedless of the damage it does to his own body.

Because Rawhead feels he owns the land that the humans now inhabit, he raises himself to the status of a god. "And when he was ready he'd throw those pretenders off his throne, he'd cremate them in their houses, he'd slaughter their children and wear their infants' bowels as necklaces. This place was his" (371). This god status doesn't just exist in his mind, though. Declan, the Verger for the local church, worships the beast as a god as well. "Had he known all along that if the beast were to come sniffing for him he'd kneel in front of it, call it Lord (before Christ, before Civilization, he'd said), let it discharge its bladder onto him, and smile? Yes. Oh yes" (385). Even Reverend Coot struggles against Rawhead's lure--it takes all of his focus to not kneel down and allow Rawhead to baptize him as he had Declan.

There is always of course the other side of the coin. Gods can be vicious, but are his acts more those of a demon? Ron Milton watches Rawhead kill his son, Ian. From that point on, he makes it his mission to destroy Rawhead. He's never been religious, but circumstances beyond his control make him rethink things, consult the near-dead Reverend for advice, and seek out the one thing in the Church that Rawhead may fear. To Milton, Rawhead is no god. "But he was prepared to be openminded, and now that he'd seen the opposition, or one of its troops, he was ready to reform his opinions. He'd believe anything, anything at all, if it gave him a weapon against the Devil" (399).

So yes, Rawhead is a monster from ancient times, long before Christianity was established, a horror that brings its wrath down on the town's ancestors. Who doesn't fear a loathsome creature from the dawn of time? It was a well-written story, but in the future, I hope to avoid monsters like Rawhead--child and baby eaters just aren't my cup of tea.

Works Cited

Barker, Clive. "Rawhead Rex." Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1998. 362-407.


  1. Lori, you hit on something here that I hadn't quite realized in my own musings. I think that, for me, part of the appeal of this story truly was the sense of the long-ago past coming to life. That pagan element gave the whole horrible thing a little bit of Stonehenge chic. I love small-village Brit stories of almost any kind, and the echoes of their mysterious, ancient past (so delightfully contrasting with their civilized, stiff-upper-lip modernity) really do add a lot to my enjoyment.

  2. I think the POV is an issue in this story. It switches too much. However, I did enjoy the monster's POV. I think Barker could have built much more empathy for Rawhead than he did, which would have made the story stronger.

    Craig G.

  3. Kathleen - In most cases I love stories that pull from ancient times as well. =)

    Craig - I agree, the POV jumps were a bit much for me too. I cringe every time I see head-hopping. There were some parts where the transition was smooth, but other areas pulled me out of the story.