Horror: A study on Cliver Barker part 6, Sex, Death and Starshine.
Welcome to part 6 of my study of Clive Barker. Today we will be looking at Sex, Death and Starshine, story 5 in The books of blood.
Summary: Sex, Death and Starshine tells the last days of the Elysium theater before it is scheduled to be demolished. The theater company is planning one final play 'The twelfth night.' As they prepare, a strange visitor by the name of Mr. Lichfield come to offer his support (though he has an eerie feel to him). The story ends with the theater company performing the play flawlessly, but as the company looks upon the crowd they discover that the theater is filled with the undead who have come to watch them perform. The theater is burned to the ground (killing the acting company) and Mr. Lichfield resurrects the core members of the company. The group decides to roam around the country and perform plays for the dead.
Notes: This story is rich in theme and subtext that it really shows the brilliance of Clive Barker's writing. I will be going through 7 different aspects of this story and explaining their meaning, and possible reasons that Clive Barker wrote this in the manner that he had.
1. Mr. Lichfield: Anyone who reads fantasy (or roleplays) will look at Mr. Lichfield's name and pick up on its meaning right off the bat. A Lich is an undead being, but unlike a zombie, who is still maintain its intelligence. Liches often have magical powers and can raise the dead. This is indeed what this character is, and what I like about it so much is that Clive has taken a sword and sorcery creature and used it in a contemporary setting.
2. Mr. Lichfield is actually the (dark) hero of this story. It took me some time to figure this out, but it terms of story structure it makes sense. Mr. Lichfield has two goals (He wants his wife to perform the role of Viola in the Twelfth night, and he wants the acting company to continue to perform their plays). Mr. Lichfield is the one that has to overcome the most obstacles throughout the story; though the story is never told in his POV which takes us to point # 3.
3. POV character vs Hero: Just like in the great Gatsby, we never see the story through the eyes of the main character. The reason for this is subtextual; seeing the story from Mr. Lichfield would remove us from a Human POV and make his actions look a little less horrifying. The only scene in which we see Mr. Lichfield's thoughts is when one of the actors touches his wife; Mr. Lichfield becomes afraid. He is afraid that their secret (that they are undead) will be revealed, but it is not. The purpose of this scene is to humanize Mr. Lichfield by showing what he is afraid of and earn some sympathy before the final massacre (the burning of the theater).
4. There is a great exchange between Mr. Lichfield and Calloway (the main POV character) that is rich with subtext and double meaning. Mr. Lichfield informs Calloway that The Twelfth Night will be the last 'last production' Elysium will have. Calloway believes this is the case because the owner is planning on selling the theater; what Mr. Lichfield really means is that he plans on killing everyone in the company after they perform the play.
Another great example is this brief exchange between the two is as followed.
(Calloway speaking to Mr. Lichfield) "... Tell me, were you ever and actor yourself?"
... "I have, I will confess, dabbled in the craft a little."
The horror of this line is not revealed until the very end of the story, but what Mr. Lichfield is actually saying here is 'I am currently acting as if I am alive, but really I am dead.' These innocent remarks take a deeper meaning after you've reread this story. This is a great example of how subtext is suppose to work when conversations that the reader put little thought into takes on a whole new meaning after reading the entire story a second time through. This is the reason writers have the POV of the story coming from someone other than the Main character. They want these subtexts hidden.
5. I've been saying that the Dionysian theme appears a lot in Clive Barker's works, and this one is no expectation. Mr. Lichfield expresses his admiration for Dionysian a number of time (he even prays to him later on in the story) and expresses contempt for Apollo (Apollo is meant to be the opposite dynamic of Dionysian.) I am going to go a little deep into why the dead would pray to Dionysian. It has nothing to do with Dionysian being a god of Death, in fact, Dionysian is sometimes called the god of Wine and sex orgies. Part of the Dionysian ideology is the destruction of the individual and the importance of spiritual unity. A more drastic view of this would be that only through death can we be unified (which is one of Mr. Lichfield's goals as he is trying to unify the acting company in death.)
6. I wanted to highlight a passage that is the perfect 'Save the Cat' moment for Mr. Lichfield. A Save the Cat moment is meant to be a scene where the hero of the story performs an action that earns him or her the respect of the audience (reader). Clive Barker has a dark hero who is about to massacre a theater full of people, and yet he needs to get the reader behind this character. Seeing this problem, Mr. Barker puts in this simple exchange between Mr. Lichfield and Tallulah (an old woman who knew Mr. Lichfield when he was alive, and keeps his secret that he actually undead.) To give you a little background info, Tallulah is an old woman who is in a lot of pain due to her age.
"Would you like to die, Tallulah?"
"Does it hurt?"
"Scarcely at all."
"It would make me very happy."
"And so it should."
Mr. Lichfield simply kisses her and she passes away without any pain. This simple act of kindness -though twisted- is meant to get us on the side of Mr. Lichfield who just took away the pain from his dear friend. For me, this scene got me to really like Mr. Lichfield.
7. I wanted to end this with another important note on detail. The Theater is called Elysium, the Greek version of paradise/Heaven (kinda). While a lot of people might know the Elysium is a place where the dead go (which is ironic since the dead come to the theater to watch the play) but there is richer meaning behind this that I believe Clive Barker was thinking of when he named the theater Elysium. The story ends with the acting company begin brought back from the dead, as undead, and traveling the country to perform plays for the undead. In Greek Mythology, people who were allowed to go to Elysium were to perform their earthly jobs in the afterlife. The acting company, in a way, has been blessed with this gift. They will now perform plays for their fellow dead for all eternity.
That concludes my thoughts and note of this short story. If you have any thoughts or comment please leave them.
Previous post: https://www.writingforums.org/entry/horror-a-study-on-cliver-barker-part-5-pig-blood-blues.63795/
Next Post: https://www.writingforums.org/entry/horror-a-study-on-cliver-barker-part-7-in-the-hills-the-cities.63809/
Spencer1990 likes this.
You need to be logged in to comment