There are a few key things that can instantly capture my attention in a story. When I read the first line of Clive Barker’s “The Yattering and Jack” and realized the Yattering was a demon sent out of Hell to torment someone, nothing short of an explosion1 could have torn me away from the page.
The first half of the story made it an instant favorite, possibly my favorite thing I’ve read so far for this course. The Yattering’s fury at Jack Polo for being such an oblivious, unimaginative person made me laugh out loud. It was a perfect setup for a (rather dark) comedy–a demon is sent to drive a man insane, but in the face of every situation, that man shrugs it off with his fatalistic worldview. The Yattering tries everything it can think of, but Jack does nothing more than mutter, “Che sera, sera,“2 a phrase he uses “with monotonous regularity” (Barker 44). The first half of the story goes through an account of how things normally go between the Yattering and Jack. The Yattering tries everything. It stops his key from opening the door to his house. It whispers obscene things to him in the shower. It explodes his cats. And through it all, Jack says, “Che sera, sera,” and continues on with his mundane life.
My excitement diminished as soon as the story went to Jack’s point of view. It occurs in the middle of a scene, and we are told that “Jack thought of the game he was playing, and quietly calculated the odds against him” (Barker 50). From there on, it was more of a human vs. the demon plot, and while that was still interesting, I liked the beginning better. I would have enjoyed the story more if we didn’t know for sure until the end that Jack was aware of the Yattering and deliberately fighting it. Not only would that have been a fun twist, but the humor was strongest when it seemed like Jack just didn’t get it. However, for what they were, Jack’s struggles to pretend he didn’t know the Yattering existed, while it did terrible things to him and his daughters, were quite well-written. I enjoyed that part of the story as well. And while I found the ending a little anticlimactic, it was clever and came full circle in an entertaining way.
Let’s discuss demons, starting with the Yattering. It is a fairly traditional demon in that it comes from Hell. It’s bound by specific rules–it cannot harm or touch Jack, and it isn’t allowed to leave the confines of the house. That’s the game Jack is playing with it–if he can drive it crazy enough, it will forget itself and break the rules. The Yattering shows poltergeist-like behavior in its attempts to get Jack’s attention, which even comes up at one point in the story. Of course, because of the rules that bind it, that makes a lot of sense. It can’t touch him, so it touches everything else in the house. At one point, the Yattering decides to beg its superiors to remove it from the situation, and calls upon Beelzebub. Beelzebub is a much higher-ranking demon, and is rather arrogant. He refuses to let the Yattering go, because Jack’s soul is to be theirs. One distinction between the two demons in that scene stood out to me:
The word that followed was anathema. The Lord of the Flies could barely bring himself to pronounce it.
“–Heaven,” said Beelzebub, with infinite loss in his voice.
“Heaven,” said the Yattering, not knowing quite what was meant by the word. (Barker 47)
I found that very interesting. Beelzebub’s sense of “infinite loss” solidifies him as the fallen angel one would expect him to be. The Yattering, however, does not know what Heaven is. It isn’t a fallen angel, it was never in Heaven, and it later uses the word just based on the meaning he gathered from Beelzebub’s use of it. The Yattering is a demon, but of a lesser and different sort. I would have liked to learn more about that.
All right, so remember when I said I found the story less interesting when we got Jack’s point of view? There are two reasons for that. The first is what I said–I thought he was funnier when we didn’t know the truth about him. The second reasons is just that I find demons fascinating, so I was much more interested in the Yattering than I was in Jack.
But, as the title would suggest, this story was about both the Yattering and Jack, and it was a great little piece of demon fiction. And if it wasn’t quite as fantastic as the first half led me to believe it would be, well… che sera, sera.
Barker, Clive. “The Yattering and Jack.” 1984. Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3. New York: Berkley, 1998. 43-64. Print.
1: Or food. Yes, I admit it. I tore myself away from the story for a snack.
2: “Whatever will be, will be.” I had trouble finding where this phrase actually comes from. One of the earliest, or at least most famous, uses seems to be in Doctor Faustus, which makes it even funnier in the context of this story. After all, Jack Polo “wasn’t a Faust: a pact-maker, a soul-seller” (Barker 43).
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