Clive Barker’s “The Yattering and Jack”: Without The Yattering or Jack There Would Be No Story

I really enjoyed reading Clive Barker’s “The Yattering and Jack”. It was interesting how we get the Yattering’s point of view for the first half of the piece, and his frustrations, until Jack’s point of view sneaks in and then slowly takes over. I want to talk, first, about the point of view switch. I should clarify that as the piece is written in third person, the entire piece would be written from an omniscient narrator’s point of view, with limited psychic distance into one of the characters at any given time, however, I will refer to the narrator’s psychic insight as point of view.

It was handled so smoothly that at first I was unsure it happened. You might be thinking, if you are unsure it happened, wouldn’t that mean it failed? However, I would explain, and say that I was unsure if it happened, not unaware that it happened. There was a paragraph in which Jack’s actions are described, preparing for the Christmas holiday. This paragraph could have been told from the Yattering’s point of view, or from Jack’s, as it is merely summary. It is a necessary paragraph, though in summary, because it was the shift that opened the reader to Jack’s head. As I said, it was so smooth I almost didn’t notice that it happened, and when I finally did, I realized that I had easily shifted into Jack’s point of view. I think my uncertainty stemmed from breezing so quickly through the pages that my mind wasn’t processing what I was reading fast enough, and I had to go back and make sure that I hadn’t been reading with Jack’s thoughts all along.

Another thing that really impressed me was how we were able to see the two character’s motivations and what lead them to the final tipping point at the end. I think had we just seen the Yattering’s point of view, the fight at the end may have been less believable, and it would be the same had we just seen Jack’s for the whole story. We are reading about writing action scenes, and I think as far as the action scenes in this story went, I was able to believe everything that happened, as if it were realistic enough to happen. I think had we not known the intentions of either character, as Hautala mentions in “Fight and Action Scenes in Horror”, it would have been harder to read through the fight scene between the two of them at the end.

Had we assumed that Jack was as naïve as the Yattering thought him to be, we would have been shocked in the end, and thrown for a loop when Jack decided to fight back all of a sudden. Knowing the things that we did about Jack, how he was aware of the Yattering’s presence and he was just waiting for the right time to reveal himself, we were able to fathom the fight at the end, it made it more believable for us. Similarly, having Jack’s daughters in the scene, as both collateral and tool, added to the believability of the fight scene as well.

Overall, I think Barker did a really great job creating realistic characters, and a realistic scenario, given the fantastical elements he chose.

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Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf: A Whodunnit in Which He Tells You Whodunnit without Telling you Whodunnit

I want to preface this by saying that this is the first work of Stephen King’s that I have ever read. Sure, I have seen quite a few of the movie or TV mini-series adaptations, but as a reader, I know that nothing I could ever watch will ever stand up with its book counterpart. It reminds me of what one of my teachers in high school always said, “Shakespeare was meant for the stage, not for the page,” but flipped.

The short horror novel/comic book, Cycle of the Werewolf was one that at first glance, I dismissed. I picked up my battered used copy, the only one I could find that wasn’t a million dollars (an exaggeration, but don’t sue me, I’m still technically a poor college student), and flipped to the first page. Reading through the first page was tedious. His prose is very different from what I am used to reading. Maybe it is because I typically read YA novels and this would not hold up in that genre (though an argument could be made through Marty’s character), but whatever it is, once I got past the first two deaths I was hooked.

I am unsure if it was because of the palpable tension that King builds, with every chapter hinting more and more about the werewolf’s identity, or if it was just the way he wrote the story that intrigued me. Each full moon is written almost like a vignette, but with less of the vividly detailed descriptions that characterize vignettes, at least once the werewolf actually attacks its victims. One of the things that I really like about these “chapters” was that at the end of each, King focuses on one solid concrete image or idea that seems to be on the character’s mind as the wolf attacks. At the end of June, Alfie is marveling at the bright moon outside, and at the end of July, Marty is marveling that it was the best Fourth he had ever had. I think what this does for me as a reader is that it keeps the hope going; it turns me away from the dreary idea that yet another townsperson has died.

The minor nods thrown in somewhere each month that either let me know that this creature is human, like at first, or clues me into his identity, like later, were brilliant. In January, we get nothing but, “And its snarls sound terribly like human words.” (14). Each month after that we get more assurance that it is human, and then in June we are told that not only does everyone see this person every day, but with King’s choice of italicizing the word “everyone”, we get the sense that we, as the readers, have also seen him. At that point, I shuffled through the pages that I had already read, and tried to figure it out. Though it became painfully obvious later, (there was a whole chapter written in his POV beforehand-the only one that does not die besides Marty! Oh, I guess there was also the first chapter with Milt, where we see he’s a wife beater) I had no clue until the final reveal.

All in all, King’s writing style had me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire novel—something I didn’t think would be as possible with a third person, multiple points of view story.

Clive Barker’s “Rawhead Rex”: The Raw Power of Setting as a Character

Clive Barker’s “Rawhead Rex” had me invested in the short story from start to finish. Rawhead was so raw that anytime he was on the page, where we were either privy to his thoughts, or just his actions, I felt chilled to the bone. While I am usually not a fan of stories with scatological elements of humor, and I can assure you that this one has a lot of bawdy details, I couldn’t condemn it simply because Rawhead Rex was so far from humanlike that I couldn’t even attempt to hold him to human standards of decency. When we first meet him he seems primitive; a simple barbarian set on avenging his centuries-long jail time. Yet as the story progresses, the reader learns that he isn’t as simple as we thought he was; we, just like the characters, underestimated him. Although, to be fair, most of the townspeople couldn’t underestimate him because they simply didn’t see him coming. I think that might be the best part of the story. The fact that as the readers we get to see his point of view, see him coming for the town, and by the end we still underestimate his intelligence. It takes him less than a night to figure out that cars aren’t actually threatening, and that he could use them as fuel to the hellfire and brimstone he plans to unleash on the town of Zeal.

The next thing that I want to talk about that was working in this story was the point of view. It is written in third person omniscient, which usually indicates that there will be limited psychic distance from the characters, but Barker does a really great job of switching between the characters and allowing the readers to see into at least one of the character’s inner thoughts at any given moment. I’m usually a first person, or at least a third person limited sort of person, but the choice for omniscient was the best possible option for this story. I believe the reason for that is the setting.

We’ve been discussing how settings can become characters, and I think the little town of Zeal definitely plays a role in this story. The most basic role is of jailer. For hundreds of years, Rawhead was held captive by the earth under Thomas Garrow’s unplowed field. Once his revenge starts, the town becomes a jail for the townspeople. Before everyone becomes aware of his presence, he begins to pick them off slowly, from farm, to barn, then to car, then to church. When the entire town is made aware of the monster’s presence, it seems to hold them there. The character Ron Milton, and his family, choose to stay despite the monster’s presence, because they are planning on moving to the town, and they don’t want to give up on it. At first, I thought they were crazy. Then, the more I thought about the town, the more I realized the town had some sort of effect on the people. We travel through the town in character’s minds.

It’s been ingrained in me to expect the main character on the first page of any story, and it is more true of short stories, when the author has less pages to work with. The readers have to meet the protagonist and feel connected to them very quickly, or they will put down the book. The first page and a half of the book is solely about the town of Zeal and how it became overrun with tourists. When Ron Milton, one of the characters you could argue is the protagonist, rather than Rawhead or even Reverand Coot (maybe), is finally introduced, it isn’t until the ninth page of the story. This made me cringe, until I realized that the main character actually is introduced in the first page. It is Zeal we are introduced to in the beginning, Zeal that goes through the most changes (its people, cars, buildings and crops either dismembered, eaten, or burned down), and Zeal our attention returns to after Rawhead’s excrement travels back into the earth at the end.

Overall, this story treated me well. It not only terrified me, but made me cringe, gag, and question the most important story lesson I was ever been taught. I tried to stay away from spoilers in this article with the hopes that if there are any readers of my blog that aren’t SHU students (high hopes, I know), I could encourage them to read the story.

Sarah Pinborough’s Breeding Ground: A Breeding Ground for Lazy Writing

Sarah Pinborough’s Breeding Ground was one of the stranger books I have read. The premise is that all of the women in the world have contracted some sort of sickness that forms a giant spider-like creature that grows in them until it is big enough to be “birthed”, by ripping itself out and killing the woman, making a new creature that feeds on humans. This book was a quick read, the pacing was pretty solid and I found myself interested, but the structuring of the character and the science felt a little sloppy.

The main character, Matt, is only barely likeable. For most of the story I enjoyed being in his head. He was levelheaded and chill, handling things the way you would expect someone to handle them when the world flips on its head and suddenly the women are turning into “widows” and eating people. It was his overall sexual attitude that kept me from being comfortable in his head. Throughout the small period of time that the book covers, and it seems to be less than a year, he is able to get over the death of his girlfriend Chloe and their unborn child, have a rebound relationship with a girl, Katie, that then commits suicide because she finds out she is turning, and then by the end is in a wonderfully happy relationship with the deaf girl Rebecca, that he pretty much ignored for most of the novel. For me, this was one of Pinborough’s biggest mistake. The portrayal of Matt’s love life was just a mess. I found myself surprised in the end when all of a sudden Matt and Rebecca are happy and Rebecca is pregnant. While I do believe it could be possible for this much romance to occur post-apocalypse, with very, very thin connections between the people, I think that everything just sort of seemed forced in order for Matt to have some sort of hope to hold onto at the end.

When Matt’s group finds Rebecca, he immediately has a problem with her. I had no idea why. At first I thought it was just a reaction because at that point he had been mad for other reasons. However, with each interaction Matt had with Rebecca, in which Matt commented on how his views of her were changing, I just kept thinking something was going to happen. I think him hating her at the beginning was just something thrown in so that the reader wouldn’t be totally blindsided by their “love” at the end. The main growth of their relationship happens largely off the page, in an immeasurable lapse of time summarized by Matt in this log the book stands as. I possibly could have gotten behind Matt and Rebecca’s relationship at the end if it had been shown to me as growing at all. The way it is, I wonder if Matt subconsciously got with her because she’s deaf and he might stand a chance with her by his side. That might be morbid of me though… and just a little unfair.

Matt had virtually no growth throughout the novel. I went back and read the beginning after finishing the novel, and the Matt we see in the beginning is the Matt we see at the end. This could largely be due to the fact that the novel is written in first person, with a future Matt recording the events of the fallout, but I still felt like there was nothing he really learned.

Another large problem I had with this novel was the science. The fact that these creatures grow in the bodies of the females first, and we are blaming it on GMOs in food makes no sense. Why in the world would it just happen to woman, if everyone is pretty much eating the same stuff? Not to mention, why in the world would humans entire genetic makeup mutate into spider-like creatures because of what they are eating? It felt as though Pinborough allowed her imagination to run wild with the concept, and then shrugged when she couldn’t make everything fit together. On top of that, the widows are defeated with the blood of deaf creatures? All of this could have been believable, had there been some sort of connection between these things. If Pinborough had found a way to link GMO’s in food, to spiders, and then to deaf people, I would have been sold. As it was, I just felt overwhelmed. I think because nothing seemed logical, I felt like this world was doomed, even though there seemed to be a “hopeful” ending with Matt, Rebecca, and the baby.

Overall, the book was a quick read that had me interested, but I do think it was a bit of a letdown. The widows could have been so much scarier if they were backed by some semblance of real science, and while Matt was an “everyday guy” that had me caring enough to root for him, I felt like he wasn’t very realistic.

 

Richard Matheson’s “The Funeral”: The Monster(s) in the Funeral Parlor

Richard Matheson’s short story, “The Funeral” is a step away from I am Legend in more ways than one. I am Legend was a roller coaster of emotions, starting with hating the main character, and ending with dejected feelings when the main character doesn’t triumph. “The Funeral” is a much simpler story, one that verges on the edge of parody. Once again, I found myself disliking the main character in the beginning, undertaker Morton Silkline.

Just his name sounds slimy.

From the very beginning, Matheson starts out with details that made me chuckle. The door plays strains of “I am Crossing o’er the Bar to Join the Choir Invisible”. If nothing else, Silkline has a sense of humor. When he hears the song play, Silkline sets aside the funeral arrangements he was making, and puts on a “smile of funereal welcome”. I felt like this was all a joke to Silkline. What is a funereal welcome smile?

When Asper, the new customer enters, it becomes clear that Silkline is in this business for the money. He gets excited when Asper mentions he wants only the best of everything, and feigns concern when he tells Asper his wishes would cost more. Up until this point in the story, Matheson makes sure that the reader thinks that this undertaker is a greedy little monster.

Then, Asper mentions that the funeral is his because he never had a proper funeral, and I had that wonderful feeling of not knowing what the heck was going on. He proceeds to request that the mirror in the parlor be removed, finishes up his business, and vacates the parlor, as a bat, through the window.

When the funeral time comes, poor Silkline becomes just a window for the readers to watch through. Asper arrives with a few friends: a witch and her cat familiar, a hunchback, a werewolf with a schedule, and a few other assumed vampires. This scene was so much like the silver screen horror movies that I couldn’t help but laugh. The characters were exactly the way you would think they would be: the hag that won’t shut up, the creepy hunchback making weird faces at you, the impatient and unamused werewolf, and the stuffy, bone dry vampire that is sensitive.

These archetypes force the reader to think about what sort of archetype Silkline fulfills.  A common “archetype” for morticians and undertakers is that they profit from death.  Silkline seems to do exactly this. While it takes him a little bit to accept the undead’s presence in his world, and we have a brief moment of pity for this guy that has just had everything in his world flipped upside down on him, he does nothing notheworthy during the funeral, or after, until the next undead comes to visit a week later. He picks up his pen and treats the strange beast like any other customer.

I would have run away, or screamed, or bugged out. Perhaps put a sign on the door that said, “No undead allowed” next to the “Shirts and shoes required” posts. Although, that may have angered them, so maybe not.

This story is clearly Matheson poking fun at morticians and I think he succeeded because by then end, I wondered if the real monsters were the destructive group of undead Asper brought into the funeral home, or the slimy toad sitting behind the undertaker’s desk.

Robert Matheson’s I am Legend: A Character Named Neville Whom You Aren’t Actually Supposed to Like but You Will Eventually Anyway

Having seen the movie, and absolutely loving Will Smith’s portrayal of Robert Neville, I was immediately taken aback by just how different I am Legend was from its Hollywood production. Of course, as an avid reader and moviegoer alike, I tend to grudgingly watch movies when I have read the book already. My friends and family tend to steer clear of watching them with me, because they know that I just can’t help myself from saying, “Well that happened like this in the book…”.

Honestly, I am extremely glad that I saw the movie first because if I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have been as happy with the movie. As they stand now, I can happily separate the two from each other, without all of the “I wish they had put this in the movie…” thoughts.

The book covers Robert Neville’s awakening and rebuilding stages in the post-apocalyptic, vampire infested world. We watch as Neville goes from the self-destructive handy man who almost gives himself over to Cortman and the vampires outside his house in desperation to end his misery, to a self-studied scientist, accepting of his final fate as the “legend” in the new society in which his “normal” has become the fear-inspiring “abnormal”.

For the first two parts of the book, I hated Robert Neville. I had no idea why I should care about a man that didn’t seem to care about himself- until I realized that bastard (Neville’s favorite descriptor for the vampires) Matheson totally made me care about the dude that didn’t seem to care about himself. It happened gradually, until finally the novel was over and I was left with the usual dejected feelings of having lost an old friend.

In Writers Workshop of Horror’s first chapter, a how-to anthology for writing a horror novel edited by Michael Knost, we learn about “Creating Effective Beginnings”, and I do think that I am Legend has a pretty captivating beginning. It starts off with: “On these cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.” This opening line really only gives the reader one thing to go on: there is something that comes out at night that Robert Neville doesn’t want to hang around with. This is what hooks the reader, and it isn’t until almost the third chapter that we find out that these creatures are vampires, though we have all the hints leading up to it.

One thing that Matheson does really well is keeping these “hook” questions rolling for the reader. In the beginning we are left with questions like:

Why did this happen to the world?

What happened to Neville’s family?

And more importantly:

Why is Ben Cortman so much more annoying than all of the other vampires?

Gradually, the questions were either explained, made more intricate with new discoveries, or left unanswered. In the last category, we never do find out what exactly happened to Kathy, though Matheson brilliantly sets up the answer in flashbacks to the beginning of the vampire plague, when Virginia is beginning to get sick, and she and Robert are deciding on whether to let Kathy go to school. This is a perfectly concrete example of something that I am still learning as a writer: not everything in a character’s past has to be explained or shown in backstory. While I continue to wonder exactly how Kathy died, my brain fills in the gaps that Matheson left. Kathy went to school that day, eventually ended up in the fiery death pile with all of the other dead plague victims, and her room is now Neville’s walk in freezer. It’s not detailed, but it’s complete. That’s the important part.

I mentioned before that I didn’t like Neville’s character, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that if he were real, I don’t think I would appreciate his attitude. Despite this, by the end of the novel I found myself questioning why I had such a problem with him in the beginning. Sure, he had an attitude and no will to live past day-to-day survival, but would I act any differently in his situation? That is the key to all of this, the reason why we tell stories: to put ourselves into the characters shoes and wonder if we would handle anything differently. If I had to watch all of my friends and family get sick, die, and then possibly re-kill them, would I have any goals past just getting through the day and soundproofing the house because Ben Cortman is annoying me?

Probably not.

I truly enjoyed reading this scientific take on vampires, a lot more than I thought I would. This quick read was definitely one that I had a hard time putting down, in spite of my feelings toward Neville in the beginning. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who saw the movie, as I believe (per usual) that the book holds so much more meaning than the pretty, tied up bow of hope we are given in Will Smith’s Hollywood ending.