Representation matters even in horror. There’s something to be said for seeing yourself in a role other than an emotionally-flat monster or a bit-part side character. There’s a reason for the trope “the Black guy dies first” in such films. Growing up, the only time I saw queer character in horror was as flat-villains or villain-fodder. We rarely got complexity. We never got to survive.
And then, I started reading horror.
Then, I picked up Clive Barker.
While today, the efforts of a white cis-gay British man might not seem revolutionary on the surface, they truly were and are even in a contemporary sense. Clive dealt in what was seen as deviant, not only via queer sexualities and genders, but also in their expressions. The Hellbound Heart and Candyman are his most famous works–both dealt with the horrors of hyperrealities, with the first dealing with the concept of fear of “deviant” sexuality and the other of revenge over past racial wrongs in the United States.
But the one I want to speak on today is Barker’s weird horror-fantasy and lesser known work–Imajica. At its heart lies the sensualist and master art forger, Gentle, whose life unravels when he encounters Judith Odell, whose power to influence the destinies of men is vaster than she knows, and Pie ‘oh’ pah, an alien assassin who comes from a hidden dimension.
That dimension is one of five in the great system called Imajica. They are worlds that are utterly unlike our own, but are ruled, peopled, and haunted by species whose lives are intricately connected with ours. As Gentle, Judith, and Pie ‘oh’ pah travel the Imajica, they uncover a trail of crimes and intimate betrayals, leading them to a revelation so startling that it changes reality forever.
Complicated? Yes. And the revelation is magnificent and I won’t spoil…well, I won’t spoil all of it. But I will say when they revealed who Pie’oh’pah was, really was….
It was the first time as a young adult in the early 2000s that I saw a non-binary character. It was the first time I knew what being nonbinary <i>was</i>. I know these blogs are meant to be mildly more in character than this, but only until you’ve been in the position of finding yourself in the pages of a book, can you understand how important this is.
Pie is also not morally pure. While they aren’t evil, they are flawed and make evil decisions, and it is so so important to see realistic, contradictory, utterly <i>real</p> people in diverse characters and not just cardboard cutouts of perfect morality as an author’s voice piece or attempt at brownie points.
Representation matters, even in horror, and Clive Barker’s work has been formative for so many queer and Black young readers. Just remember, if you feel you have a story in you, but fear that who you are and who your characters are will turn people away…
Try anyway. Write your Imajica. We’ll be there to read it.
What book was the most formative experience for you as a young teen or adult? What book changed your life for the better, if you’ve found it? And if you haven’t, what are you looking for, so we can help you along?