Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Sep 302013

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.

Works Cited

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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Sep 232013

Let’s take a look at the graphic novel 30 Days of Night, written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith. By now you’ve probably come to expect my insanity, so I’ll get it out of the way early. Instead of attempting a Moarte imitation and filling this review with maniacal laughter, I’ll just tell you that I first heard of 30 Days of Night last October, when it appeared on Longbox of the Damned. It’s been almost a year since then, so all I remembered was the general premise of vampires attacking an Alaskan town during polar night and that an important vampire guy showed up to tell the others what idiots they were. I’m glad I didn’t remember more, because I re-watched the review just a moment ago, and it covers the entire plot. But I knew Moarte/Linkara/Lewis Lovhaug liked the comic, so I had high hopes. And anyone who knows how much time I’ve spent trying to figure out how sun-fearing vampires would fare in space shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the story’s premise grabbed my attention right away. Vampires and polar night? All right!

Once again, there will be spoilers in this post.

I’m not a big reader of graphic novels. 30 Days of Night is only the fourth graphic novel to find a place on my bookshelf. Therefore, my inexperience could be to blame here, but the art style made it kind of hard for me to follow this one. There were entire panels that forced me to use context clues from the dialogue and surrounding panels to figure out just what had happened. (For example, the ending. I read it four or five times before I realized that there was a scene break between the pages. Until then, it seemed to me like the sun rose two minutes after they said it would rise in a couple of days.)

Taxxon from Animorphs

Animorphs was my childhood

I will praise the art for the teeth. It did a good job with teeth. They did a better job of communicating the danger of the vampires for me than the stylized sprays of blood did. But still, there were several times when the vampires’ teeth and crazy tongues (what was up with that?) reminded me of Taxxons instead of vampires. That was pretty weird, but all right. I’m not overly picky about vampires. This graphic novel’s super-strong, nearly-indestructible, deadly, evil variant was fine, although they left me with some confusion. They were a step up from the zombie-like vampires of I Am Legend, with individual personalities and the ability to plan and reason. Marlow’s plan is well thought out, even if he didn’t consider the long-term consequences. Vicente, who is aware of the consequences, comes up with a new plan to fix things. So they’re pretty smart and could possibly pass as humans, although I assume their unique font means their voices are strange. But for all that, they seem pretty one-dimensional. They’re vampires, humans are food, done. We don’t get much insight into them beyond that. I was fine with that, especially when one of the survivors turns into a vampire from a scratch (these vampires need to take care to make sure they don’t turn their victims, because this sort of vampirism spreads very easily) and immediately goes into attack mode. As soon as he becomes a vampire, he’s an enemy. That explained a lot to me–even if the vampires could think and had personalities, the people they once were ceased to exist the moment they turned. Then Eben launched his final plan to stop the vampires, and my theory died.

Eben uses vampire blood to infect himself, in the hopes that it will make him strong enough to drive the vampires away. He gets the crazy vampire font for his dialogue and becomes hungry for blood, but he runs from his wife so he won’t hurt her and goes to fight Vicente. He’s a vampire, but he’s still Eben. So what was with the other guy’s instantaneous switch to evil? Does Eben just have awesome willpower? Was it the way he was infected? Did a panel explain it and I missed it? I thought when he and Vicente were arguing about whether being a vampire is great or horrible, they were going to clear this up for me, but they didn’t.

Also, am I crazy, or did most of the vampires look like what would happen if Nosferatu was about mobsters?

Al Capone + Count Orlok from Nosferatu


On second thought, maybe I am crazy.

Despite my confusion, I did think the vampires were good monsters. They were dangerous, they spent most of the book killing people, and like I said, I liked the teeth. And even if they were a bit one-dimensional, there were enough differences between them to make them actual characters. When Vicente arrives, and the other vampires are clapping while he’s wondering how they could all be such idiots, I laughed. They were interesting. I just would have liked to know more about them.

And that isn’t confined to just the vampires. I didn’t feel like I knew any of the human characters, either. I rooted for them because they were the humans, but that’s it. Most of the survivors just seemed like they were there to be victims, and even the main characters, Eben and Stella, weren’t much to me beyond named good guys with a chance at success. I’d chalk it up to my unfamiliarity with graphic novels, but other graphic novel characters have come to life as characters for me.

I liked 30 Days of Night. It’s earned its spot in my tiny graphic novel collection. I just didn’t like it as much as I wanted to.

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Sep 162013

This week we’ll take a look at “Rawhead Rex,” a short story by Clive Barker. I’d never read anything by him before, despite a friend telling me I should. I filed the recommendation away and more or less forgot about it. The closest I got was when I watched the first few videos of a Let’s Play of Clive Barker’s Undying. So I didn’t really know what to expect from this story, but as long as the monster didn’t have eight legs, I wasn’t too worried.

I should mention that I’m not a big fan of visceral horror, and “Rawhead Rex” was filled with blood, people being eaten, and similar gory moments. But I’m not going to complain about that. It worked for the story and made Rawhead a gruesome, serious threat. If Rawhead comes after you, it’s probably over. What can you do against a force like that? (My suggestion: count to zero, then scream and run away.)

Once again, to give fair warning to anyone who reads this before reading the story, there will be spoilers in this post.

When characters in fiction come across a door that’s been welded shut, a box that won’t open, an insanely strong prison, or in this case, a boulder that doesn’t want to budge, you can usually count on two things. First, they’ll find a way to force their way in. Second, bad things will result. As soon as Thomas Garrow came across a massive boulder in a field his family never used, and decided to get rid of it no matter how ridiculously hard it was to remove, his fate was sealed.

This story worked for me, especially since it had several of the elements that make demons my favorite monsters. If Rawhead wasn’t exactly a demon, he was still a demon-like monster, sealed away years ago and accidentally released by humanity, and ultimately defeated by a force of good. He even shows signs of being able to possess people, or at least exert considerable influence over them. I’ll resist the urge to veer off-topic and babble like a lunatic about Ray Bradbury, but I consider Rawhead to be demon-like in the same way that Mr. Dark and Mr. Cooger from Something Wicked This Ways Comes are demon-like–forces of evil with undeniable similarities to traditional devil portrayals, but who don’t necessarily fit the role in a Christian sense [Mr. Dark mocks the idea that the Bible could harm him, and Rawhead is delighted to realize that “the true power, the only power that could defeat him, was apparently gone: lost beyond recall, its place usurped by a virgin shepherd” (Barker 390).]

You could say “Rawhead Rex” subverts religious ideas because of that, but Rawhead was terrified of and repelled by a statue of (arguably) a goddess, which had been hidden in the church.

When I first read it, I thought Rawhead was an invention of Barker’s, but apparently he’s a variation on a mythological bogeyman-like figure that eats children who misbehave. (I looked it up because  Rawhead reminded me of a bloodier, more violent version of the troll in Ernest Scared StupidThe troll was sealed away years previously, goes on a rampage when it’s released, and targets children. The similarities end there.)

While Rawhead’s actions–murdering people, eating children, etc.–and appearance make him a brute force sort of monster, he gets point of view sections. His thoughts mainly revolve around eating people and claiming his position as King (hence the “Rex” in the title), but there was something disturbingly childlike about his confusion over technology such as cars. Rather than make his less monstrous, his fears made him even creepier. He knows what can harm him and what can’t. He is capable of learning, as seen when the crashed car teaches him “a new and lethal lesson” (383) and he later uses petrol as a weapon.

Rawhead's downfall

Rawhead’s downfall

Rawhead’s downfall is female fertility, or the creation of life, which is an unusual weakness…but we’re dealing with a demon here, so it works. I liked the way Barker handled it. It didn’t come out of nowhere, but was foreshadowed quite early on, when Rawhead was afraid to touch a woman having her period. In the end, one of the characters finds a Venus statue hidden in the church, and the sight of it paralyzes Rawhead with fear. From the description, the statue is not the Roman goddess Venus, but a prehistoric figurine similar to Venus of Willendorf (pictured).

All in all, I enjoyed “Rawhead Rex” (and look at all the things it gave me excuses to reference). With so many characters, many of whom die partway through the story, it’s hard to pull out one as the protagonist. I like to think it’s Reverend Coot. Sure, Ron got the statue and delivered the killing blow to Rawhead, but he only found it because Coot clung onto life long enough to tell him the altar was the key. But of course I’d choose a good-hearted Reverend as the protagonist in a demon story. Don’t tell me you didn’t see that one coming.

Works Cited

Barker, Clive. “Rawhead Rex.” 1984. Books of Blood: Vols 1-3. New York: Berkley, 1998. 362-407. Print.

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