Influences: Clive Barker’s Imajica

Carrying on from yesterday’s blog on the importance of the imagination and, as another in the series of essays discussing those books/films/ideas that have influenced me the most, I turn to perhaps THE biggest influence of all on me – Clive Barker. Or, to be more specific, his magnum opus, Imajica. I read this before reading his Weaveworld, which comes a close second in the list of Barker’s books that have made the most impact on me. If ever proof were needed that there are some authors who rise above the general morass of verbiage through the sheer breadth and range of a creativity so stellar that it’s a wonder to realise that it’s contained within the braincage of a human head, then Barker is the man.

Imajica consists of two books: volume one, Fifth Dimension, and volume two, The Reconciliation. Earth is one of five Dominions, which together form the Imajica. Earth, however, has been sundered from the other four, and the time is now at hand when it can be reunited with the others, an event which only happens once every two hundred years. Over the course of the tome we follow the stories of three characters: Gentle, more prosaically known as John Furie Zacharias, a master forger; Pie O’ Pah, an assassin who has crossed over from one of the other Dominions, and who not only deals out death but also love; and Judith Odell, a beautiful woman who finds herself the object of three men’s desire.

To quote the blurb: “United in a desperate search for a universal mystery, all three discover that the truth lies in a place as mysterious as the face of God and as secret as the human soul. Theydiscover the Imajica.

“Their quest will carry them on an epic journey through all five Dominions, from the barbaric, glittering city of Yzordderrex to the haunted peaks of the Jokalaylau mountains, from the hallowed walls of Patashoqua to the very border of the greatest mystery of all: the First Dominion, on the other side of which lies the Holy City of the Unbeheld, where either their highest hopes or deepest fears will be realized…”

I have to admit here that it’s been a fair while since I read the book (perhaps fifteen or more years), mostly because the copy I had has gone missing somewhere, probably after lending it to a friend and them failing to return it (so please forgive me if everything is a little hazy). This is quite a common occurence with this book apparently. I was talking to fellow Beyond Fiction reviewer and scribe Sharon Ring and she told me a similar story – in her case, several copies of the book have gone missing in this way. That fact isn’t any surprise, however. Barker’s writing and storytelling skills are absolutely superb, and the story continually draws you in as the wonders unfold – it’s no wonder don’t want to return it.

My first encounter with Barker was with his Books of Blood, his collection of short fiction, spread over six slim volumes. I’d been reading horror for a while before then, reading the likes of Richard Laymon, Graham Masterton (who I enjoyed tremendously, especially his superb Ritual) , Jay Anson (666, if I remember rightly) and other less memorable stuff. I bought the first of the Books of Blood purely on the recommendation of a review I’d read in some magazine. This must have been in the 80s sometime (which were a horror unto themselves…). I do remember being more into the splatter end of things at taht time, rather than the subtle psychological stuff.

And what a revelation those stories turned out to be. Incredibly literate, clever and unlike anything I had ever read hitherto. ‘The Yattering and Jack’, ‘Pig Blood Blues’ and ‘In the Hills, the Cities” were like being translated from a dirty, grimy, choking industrial wasteland to a fresh, alpine landscape. Very rarely have I found an author’s work so outstanding and so startlingly original that reading them was a quasi-religious experience. It was an agonising wait for the next revelation – it wasn’t often (and it still isn’t) that I was so enamoured of an artist’s work that I found it almost painful having to wait until ‘the next Barker’ came out.

I’ve read a lot of his subsequent output, but of all the books he’s written, Cabal (made into the film Nightbreed), The Hellbound Heart (the basis of the Hellraiser series of films), Weaveworld and Imajica that struck home the most. Out of all those, the latter two had the profoundest effect. Just the very idea of an entire world contained within the fibres of a carpet was enough to win me over. However, it was  the sheer scope of Imajica that opened my eyes to the idea that fantasy didn’t have to be about wizards and elves and all that. Instead, here was a world I was very familiar with, but somewhere along the line elements were introduced that skewed that familiarity and made even the most mundane appear magical. Some of the tropes of what have come to be seen as the definitions of fantasy are there, but somehow they’ve been made to look entirely possible, despite their fantastical nature.

Also, Barker’s writing affected me on an emotional level – when one of the characters in Imajica died I actually shed tears. That had never happened before (although it happens fairly frequently now, due to the stroke – my emotional lability goes up and down more often than a prostitute’s knickers). It also inspired me to start a novel, which only got as far as the prologue unfortunately. I gave it out to people to read and I only managed to confuse rather than dazzle them – so I pretty much left it at that (I have to say, though, that the idea itself is quite a nice one, and I am considering recycling it). Even though I abandoned any pretence of thinking I was a writer, it still brought to me a sense of wonder, a realisation that we don’t really know that much about the world around us, despite advances in science and knowledge. And that the art of good, nay brilliant, talesmithing was still alive. That in itself is a marvellous attribute of Barker’s storytelling.

Looking on the bookshelves next to me as I write this, I realise that I have bought a few of his books that I have never actually read (story of my life) – so, whatever else I do, I have set myself the project of reacquainting myself with those I have visited before and to explore the new vistas of those I’ve left neglected on the shelves for too long. I think that time is now long overdue.

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2 Responses to “Influences: Clive Barker’s Imajica

  1. Great piece on how Barker remade horror into his own image. I’ve read everything Barker has done and agree IMAJICA and WEAVEWORLD are at the top of his work. Later works like SACRAMENT and EVERVILLE are also terrific. Wasnt’ crazy about COLDHEART CANYON and haven’t read his young adult ABARAT series but Barker, along with Lovecraft and Ellison, has been a major influence on me. I have to resist endless pieces on him on my own blog!

  2. You should certainly read Abarat. It’s in the same realm of imagination as Imajica without the sex and over-the-top violence (it’s a general audience book after all!).

    Imajica is truly one of the best works of fiction I’ve ever read and certainly does not get the praise it so richly deserves.

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