Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

‘The Hellbound Heart: Death of Ego, Birth of the Shadow’ by Suzanne J. Barbieri

 In this special article, Suzanne J. Barbieri analyses some of the themes and central myths of Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart.

The novella that spawned the film Hellraiser marries the themes of Pandora’s Box and Doctor Faustus. Frank Cotton is the ultimate egoist; a waster with an unquenchable hunger for sensation, he sees everything in terms of his own gratification. Frank is the Faustian central character who will go to any lengths for experience. Frank purchases Lemarchand’s configuration, a puzzlebox promised to conceal wonders; but a box represents a coffin, and therefore death, and Frank cannot be transformed without first experiencing the death of his old self.

Frank works at the box for hours. There seems to be no way into it, no hint on its smooth sides of a solution to the riddle. It is quite by accident that his fingers find the pressure points that disengage one section of the box from another and lead him into a world of sights, sensations and exquisite agony, presided over by the Cenobites. 

But every dream has its nightmare, and no one has a ruder awakening to this than Frank. When he summons the Cenobites with offerings of petals and doves’ heads, he is expecting them to come bearing gifts of perfumed women, hungry for him. Instead all he gets are the Cenobites themselves; corpse-cold, scarred and flagellant:
“A fitful phosphorescence came with them, like the glow of deep-sea fishes: blue, cold; charmless... he saw nothing of joy, or even humanity, in their maimed faces.”
And the pleasures they offer are of a wholly different kind to what Frank has been expecting.

Frank’s senses are heightened to such a degree that the slightest odour is sickening, every sight and sound a devastating revelation, and the reel of memories that unspool inside his head more than enough to render him helpless. And just as he thinks it is all over, the trip begins in earnest with the unveiling of the fourth Cenobite, a Kali-esque figure who:
“... sat on a pile of rotting human heads...their tongues – twenty or more – laid out in ranks on her oiled thighs... She stood up. The tongues fell to the floor, like a rain of slugs.
‘“Now we can begin,’ she said.”
Frank’s physical body is destroyed, but his spirit remains in the room until, awakened by the blood of his brother Rory, his Shadow (the dark, uncivilised side of a person) emerges, twisted and skinless. Frank has shed his skin, and with it his façade of humanity. He is now a dark primeval creature whose primary motivation is his own survival, and for this he must have blood. The sustenance he requires is brought to him by his brother’s wife, Julia. Driven by her obsessive desire for Frank, she lures men back to the house and murders them so that he may use their blood to grow himself a new skin.

Frank thinks he has outwitted the Cenobites, but he sold his soul in return for experience, and must keep his side of the bargain. Like Doctor Faustus, Frank has entered a Hell of his own making, and the Cenobites, once freed, can never be truly banished. The puzzlebox is only a rudimentary jail whose locks can be easily picked. The experiences offered by the puzzlebox Hell are of the Unconscious and Frank’s mistake is in trying to allow his Shadow self to exist in the physical world. He has been transformed so that he may experience the dark dream world, and there is no turning back. Finally when he is tricked, like Rumpelstiltskin, into saying his own name, the Cenobites home in on him and return to take him back to where he now belongs.

The Hellbound Heart represents the first stage of the individuation process. The old self dies, the outmoded ideals are shed, and the Shadow is dragged raw and kicking into the world of inner experience. That Frank’s Shadow is skinless illustrates the vulnerability of the untutored primal soul, and emphasises that the journey to completeness will be far from painless. Experience is the best teacher, and the first lesson is that there is no gain without sacrifice.


Copyright © Suzanne J. Barbieri - First published in Clive Barker, Mythmaker for the Millennium

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