Rawhead Rex, much has been made of the male/female interplay in this story. It is there, it is pretty overt (some might say overwhelming), but I’m going to focus on something else.
The moon. Clive Barker’s Rawhead Rex is obviously a monster. He has monstrous proportions with hands three times the size of a man, a nine-foot height, incredible strength, and that monster classic: a taste for human flesh, kids especially.
If we remove ourselves from the violence and gore (blood and semen and piss, all hard to ignore, but bear with me) Barker has personified the prehistoric. Rawhead stands in for pre-Christian society. He is uncivilized, untamable, comes from the wilds, and is most comfortable under the moon.
I am by no means an expert on Pagans or any of the pre-Christian societies. I know there was a big disconnect between a mono-deity religion and one that worshipped multiple gods (and goddesses). I know many of the Druid and Celt worship sites and temples were converted to Christian worship sites, and that many churches share ground with temples that came before them.
But that moon. I don’t know if this is my pop-culture tinged education, or what I’m supposed to believe, but if pressed I would say that Pagan’s were more enamored of the moon than are Christians. I don’t believe they worshipped it, but they had outdoor temples and ceremonies held at night. These have been demonized by modern culture and religion and made into something scary and dark and evil.
Enter Barker with Rawhead Rex on his leash. He comes out of the earth to wreak havoc. He’s a monster, but a thinking one. Sure, he doesn’t think well, but he’s more than just a beast. He has a plan, another monster classic (cue cartoon mouse Brain’s voice): to take over the world. I never was sure, but I think maybe Rawhead’s idea of taking over the world might have just been his little patch of wild woods now known as Zeal. I didn’t think he meant the entirety of the world. He just wanted to go back to the being the Alpha Monster in his neck of the woods.
Alright, I can’t ignore it completely. Rawhead can also very easily be a monstrous manifestation of male appetites. He eats what he wants, he sees women in very derogatory terms and deems them unclean when they are menstruating and has fond memories of raping humans so they can spawn his mutant hybrid offspring (killing the women in the process of course).
More than anything else Barker’s references to women from Rawhead’s point of view was the most monstrous of his traits. I thought it a huge copout that an angry mob led by a grieving father was the wrong ending. Rawhead needed to be taken down by a woman, not just the Venus statue, but a modern human woman acting like a momma-bear when her child is threatened. Instead Barker allows a male to take down the monstrous pre-historic all-male he’s created in Rawhead.
Finally, the descriptions of Rawhead were good. The idea of a moon face splitting wide to reveal a giant tooth-filled maw was excellent. Again, giving away my age and era here, but I couldn’t help but see the Rancor from under Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Return of the Jedi. That was probably just me, but the image of the all-mouth towering creature kept coming up Rancor for me.
All in all, not Barker’s best story. But Rawhead Rex is a great monster who has leapt from short-story pages to have a bit of a following and notoriety.