Friday, November 6, 2015

The Scarlet Gospels: A New Hope

This doesn't often sink in with people and I'm not sure why: if Lucifer and his Hell are real, then God and His Heaven must be, too. While neither God nor Jesus Christ make overt appearances in Clive Barker's The Scarlet Gospels, Hell and Lucifer do and they are as real as can be within the constraints of the novel.

Horror often comes in one of two types: the completely desolate, no chance at survival/redemption type and the return to status quo type in which the villain is dispatched and things return to "normal." Barker is anything but a traditional artist and so we should be primed not to expect a traditional narrative from him. However, I think there is a popular misconception about his work in which things are hopeless and there will never be any sort of redemption for anyone ever.

The Scarlet Gospels should lay that myth to rest. Barker, while definitively not returning to a status quo, does offer hope and redemption. maybe that will seem like a spoiler and I apologize if you consider it such. But it needs to be said.

Most readers won't come to this novel looking to be saved--and that isn't the point by any means. The attraction is the battle between the Hell Priest (aka Pinhead, whom we learn hates that moniker) and Harry D'Amour, private detective/demon slayer. We get that in full but we also get so much more. We get a journey through Hell imagined as a cold city with castes of demons and the damned (if you've read Barker's Mr. B Gone then you know this Hell). Lucifer is absent and thought to be dead by many of Hell's citizenry. Our Cenobite priest has killed all of Earth's most powerful magicians in a bid for the knowledge needed to take over Hell and meet Lucifer. He wants D'Amour to be the witness to his victory.

D'Amour is still on Earth, however, when Pinhead destroys all of the other Cenobites, including a few recognizable members of the order from both the Hellraiser films and the original novel The Hellbound Heart. They do not get names but I'm sure Pinhead wouldn't hesitate to refer to them by the equally insulting nicknames we readers/viewers have come to know them by.

Pinhead finds what he is looking for and because this is Hell is disappointed. There is a battle for Hell and essentially everyone loses. Yet there is that spark of hope.

Keep in mind how I opened, though. If we concede in the existence of hope we must also recognize the potential for despair. There are enough loose ends for a sequel -- and a war bigger than the war in Hell. Barker does have such sights to show us, which makes his ending and the fate of hero Harry all the more ironic.

I do have a favorite moment, but it's hard to describe without giving away too much. Instead, let me just say that the Hell Priest gets his own games turned on him and his Adversary has a way with words one would expect of a Fallen Angel.

The novel does feel rushed at times and the dialogue between harry and his group of Harrowers, as barker calls them, is often flat and occasionally ridiculous. Barker's strength is in describing the details of action and setting and making the most horrific scenes beautiful. A smattering of cliched dialogue can be forgiven, particularly because the characters in question likely would speak in such low and common parlance. Real people talk in cliches, too, even as much as we hate to admit it when it comes to literature.

This book could disappoint some, mostly based on the anticipation and long wait for the culmination of this project. Some might find the ending unsatisfactory. Those are the people for whom this book is truly meant, I believe. It's meant to show that light and dark cannot be separated and each needs the other. People need to know there is hope. Whether this novel spells the end for Harry D'Amour, we may not know for some time. We can only hope for more.

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