I'm writing an appreciation of Clive Barker this week. I feel fortunate that I'm not writing an obituary.
As reported here on FEARnet and many other places, we almost lost the author/painter/filmmaker thanks to a trip to the dentist. According to his own account of the incident, Barker contracted Toxic Shock Syndrome (a serious and often fatal disease that involves fever, shock, and impairment of organ function), slipped into a coma and came very close to dying. Fortunately he is now recovering at home, working hard to overcome the latest in what's been a string of misfortune over the past several years that's included several surgeries, the breakup of his marriage and the death of his mother. Thankfully, Barker is a fighter who plans to be around. "I've books to write, films to make and paintings to paint," he wrote on Twitter. "I seem to have come home with my sight clearer somehow, and my sense of purpose intensified."
That's good news – for Barker, obviously, and for his family and friends. It's good news for his fans. And it's good news for the horror genre, too, because even though Barker has not released any straight-up horror in a long time, he's done much for the genre in the past, and has much to offer it in the future.
When I say he's done much for horror in the past, let me be perfectly clear – I'm not just talking about Hellraiser. That's the thing he's identified with the most, the thing that even the most casual horror fan can point to and say, "Clive Barker? He's Pinhead's dad." They might also know that he's the guy Stephen King once called "The Future of Horror," or that he now releases those elaborately illustrated Abarat books every five years or so.
But there's more. There's more beyond titles like Cabal (which lead to the cult film favorite Nightbreed) and Books of Blood and The Thief of Always. There's more beyond the crappy direct-to-video Hellraiser sequels that drag his name through the mud once a year, and there's more beyond the long list of promised works (Scarlet Gospels, anyone?) that are yet to appear.
If Clive Barker had died, those terrible sequels and unfinished works would have eventually faded from memory, leaving a hundred careers' worth of talent and achievement to stand tribute. But you know what? He didn't die. So I think it's the perfect time to look back and appreciate what he's given us, and renew our anticipation of what still lies ahead.
What has he given us, aside from the great books and movies I've already mentioned? I think Barker's greatest contribution is the way he has obliterated limits and barriers placed on what he – and any artist – can achieve. He's proven that you don't have to be pigeonholed in order to build an audience. He came to our attention via the Books of Blood collections, which are unequivocally (and unapologetically) horror. He blended horror and fantasy in Weaveworld, The Thief of Always and Imajica, and continues to do so now in the Abarat books, which lean more toward fantasy but certainly contain an abundance of nightmarish imagery and elements.
He's proven that a successful writer can also be an accomplished painter; that a respected novelist can also be a terrific filmmaker; that someone who creates art for adults can be equally adept at creating art for younger audiences. In short, he's proven that the only real limits are the ones we place on ourselves and our imaginations.
We didn't lose Clive Barker, which means there's still a chance that we'll get the last two Abarat books, and that maybe we'll one day get that huge collection of short stories he's been teasing us with, and that we'll finally get to read that last Pinhead story. Above all of that, though, is the fact that we still have among us one of the true visionaries, someone so in thrall to his own imagination that he can't keep up with it at times, and someone for whom there truly are no limits. If that's not cause for celebration, I don't know what is.
Thanks for everything, Clive – for all that you've given us; all you still have to give; and all that you inspire others to do.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.