Thursday, September 16, 2010

Goodnight Moon, With Lots of Teeth and a Disdain for Women

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.


  1. See, to me, the story made a statement about women having the REAL power in the world. And, as a further step, it was a statement that, while the followers of the one God burned and murdered the pagans, it was the old way that was finally able to save them, not the new. As for statements about the moon, yes, Pagans are more enamored with the moon, but no moreso than with the Earth or the sun. It's a duality thing...The moon is the representation of the Goddess while the sun is the God, the Earth is the Goddess while the sky is the God. According to Barker, what he wanted to put forth here was the Rawhead was a large walking penis and that he was 100% testosterone: Destruction, pillage, blood-lust, and that it was the female that could destroy him. I agree with you, it should have been a woman who wielded the Venus rock.

  2. I have to chime in on behalf of womankind and ask what may sound like a stupid question: When did a "large walking penis" become a bad thing?

  3. I have no idea why I didn't think of this when I read it, but now that I've seen your post I'll never be able to think otherwise: it should have been a woman who brought Rawhead down. The fact that a man did it leaves us a little unclear on the message there. The religious commentary is clear enough, but there is a lot of suggestion that women are dirty and frightening -- and our villain is terrified of them. A female character would have been the perfect one to destroy Rawhead. But then, of course, we wouldn't have had that uncomfortable scene at the end with the father's erection. :-/

  4. Oh, I didn't think of a woman bringing Rawhead down instead, but now that you mention it, it does make a lot more sense.


  5. I think if given a chance, Rex would take over the world. He's that kind of monster. He is definitely a monster too. One of they types I really expected when we started this class. After reading a lot of other comments on the story, I do see the male/female thing going on here. This story almost takes on a misogynistic point of view. I think it was ridiculous how the monster was thwarted with the little figurine too.
    I can see the rancor here. I saw that and the cave troll from Lord of the Rings. But yeah, good visualization.

  6. Well, well, well, I certainly didn't recognize Rawhead Rex as a big penis; but now that it's been pointed out, I'll never look at him the same way. A female Ripley type character would have made a great advasary in the end.