by George Lea
There are likely to be more than a handful of Clive Barker’s creations in this series. The man’s tendency to create entities that exist and operate outside the bounds of tradition or proscription; entities that are as beautiful and beatific as they are monstrous, is almost unique, save for the work that he has inspired in his turn: doing for horror literature what H.R. Giger does for surreal and disturbing art, Barker fashions creatures whose ambiguity renders them as attractive and fascinating as they are disturbing or repellent. His iconic cinematic creations, such as Hellraiser’s Cenobites, The Candyman and Nightbreed stand as testament to this, but even they tend to pale next to the lack of parameter the man exercises when creating monsters for his written fiction.
On the page, Barker is limited only by the bounds of his own imagination, which, as he consistently demonstrates, seems to have no bounds whatsoever: amongst his body of work, you will find everything from dragons to deluded angels, from would-be gods to the genuine articles; aspiring divinities and infernal menageries, lampoons of mythic and folkloric archetypes as well as creations that owe little to any specific trend or tradition.
So, attempting to pick a specific example to explore here was, as you’d imagine, something of a problem. The entities in question are all so unique and resonate in such profoundly different ways…
I chose The Great and Secret Show’s Jaffe or Randolph Jaffe, as he’s initially known, because he represents something particular in Barker’s work that has always fascinated me: the man who not only becomes a monster, but aspires to and revels in the condition.
Barker, uniquely amongst horror writers, has a tendency to celebrate monstrosity as much as bemoan it; he acknowledges the fundamental appeal of the monstrous, the transgressive; that we are as much drawn to what disturbs us as repelled by it, as it represents a means of freedom; of experiencing and transgressing beyond one’s own bounds into new and forbidden contexts.
The Jaffe is that concept made manifest and given animus.
His myth beginning in the most bleakly banal circumstances, the man who will eventually become the semi-divinity known as The Jaffe is no one and nothing; a balding, lonely, contemptuous little man, barely employed, pathetic and reviled by most who know him, he sits simmering in a job that he loathes, surrounded by people who despise him as much in return.
It is (seemingly) only by chance that he finds a means of elevating himself from his lowly state; his role in the dead letter office, where undelivered mail comes to die, allowing him to notice a pattern of secret communication occurring across the face of (post) modern USA; a cyphered conspiracy that refers to other realms, worlds and states of being.
This realisation arouses something dark and vital in this formerly pathetic individual; an appetite and a vision that even he did not know existed.
Murdering his employer and tormentor, he takes off from the dead letter office on a kind of shamanistic vision quest across the face of the USA, following his newly aroused instinct for the strange, the uncanny, the supernatural; learning much, experiencing more, becoming a dark parody of a particular archetype: that of the shamanistic voyager, the man in search of enlightenment or Nirvana, but who instead finds only deeper shadows, more compelling mysteries, which become the definition of his world; the treasures he seeks and hordes.
A sorcerer of no little skill, he eventually finds himself in the company of his spiritual opposite; a disgraced physicist and bio-chemist (not to mention opium addict) by the name of Richard Wesley Fletcher, with whom he conspires to create a means of elevating himself and humanity from banality; to raise up the species and undo the parameters of its definition.
Fletcher goes along with this ambition insofar as he believes that he and Randolph Jaffe have the same intentions, and, thanks to the materials and insight the man provides, finally succeeds in synthesising a semi-sentient matter that is neither chemistry nor metaphysics; a simultaneous miracle of chemistry and alchemical folly, which he calls the Nuncio or “messenger.” Essentially evolution in a can, the Nuncio has the effect of speeding living cells to their highest possible condition, but, in contact with dreaming and inspired entities, it doesn’t simply work on their flesh; it speeds them to a state of abstraction, essentially making demons and divinities of them.
So, when Fletcher (accidentally) exposes himself to the substance, he becomes an airy and passive entity of light and dreams; a post-modern demi-god born of opium visions, broken humanity and desperate dreams.
Randolph Jaffe, meanwhile, becomes his antithesis; a shadowy entity of mysteries and secrets; a creature that can see into the hidden fears and desires of humanity, draw them forth and make monsters from them.
Their former humanity abandoned, the two embark on an unseen war across the face of the USA, Fletcher drawing on humanity’s dreams and fantasies for his armies, whilst the Jaffe sculpts and manifests their unspoken fears, anxieties and most taboo desires.
In that, the two not only become divinities, but also reflections of classic mythical archetypes, cleverly re-written and lampooned to reflect the spiritual condition of the USA itself. Fletcher, being a thing informed by the dreams of the nation, is a weak and flimsy thing, his “Hallucogenia” milquetoast and piecemeal; largely pathetic scraps of things drawn from TV shows and video games and sexual fantasies, whilst Jaffe’s creations, the Terrata, are elaborate and terrible monstrosities; always more defined and fulsome, always more numerous than Fletcher’s creations.
The Jaffe and Fletcher act as a kind of commentary on the abstract and spiritual condition not only of (post) modern USA, but humanity as a whole; they are divinities born of humanity, once human themselves, and who reflect the very best and worst in us. It is somewhat telling of Barker’s almost misanthropic leanings that the Jaffe, being the Lucifer of the pair, is always the stronger and more defined; the one who knows what he wants, who is most active and urgent amongst them.
As a monster in himself, Jaffe is far more than a mere Lucifer archetype; there’s still enough humanity in him for him to be ambiguous, for example: his desire to rip open the veils between waking and dreaming is not necessarily a negative one, for all of Fletcher’s didactic warnings: he seeks to elevate humanity and himself in the only way he knows how, though he is still somewhat ignorant as to what that will necessarily entail. His obsession with the abstract muck and filth of humanity is also fascinating, as it is something he regrets, towards the end of the story: during what appear to be his final moments (certainly the last chapters in which he occurs), he bemoans that he was not more like Fletcher, his antithesis; the entity he was born to despise and destroy; that he did not have the inspiration to make things from people’s dreams rather than their “…blood and shit.”
In the end, after all of his transformations and ambitions; his transgressions and evolutions, the Jaffe is still just a man playing at divinity (or infernality, in his case); his core remains frightened, uncertain and distressingly human, which Barker takes exquisite pains to expose, especially when he finally gets what he wants and physically rips through the veil between the waking world and the dreaming, metaphysical state known as Quiddity (there’s a distressingly graphic scene in which the Jaffe attempts to chew his own fingers apart as they bleed with the power that dissolves the barrier, attempting to stop it manifesting, but is unable to; “The Art,” as he calls it, having its own desire and intention; using him as a medium as much as he wields it to achieve his ends).
Part of Barker’s genius when it comes to creating monstrosities, creatures and semi-divinities is that they incorporate certain immediately recognisable mythic archetypes but then layer on shades and structures of ambiguity, exposing the humanity at their hearts; the cores of unspoken fears and forbidden drives around which they are accrued. This happens to the Jaffe in a very literal sense; he not only begins pathetic and broken but ends the same, after everything he has done; all he has learned to be and to celebrate in himself, to draw from humanity…he is defeated, not by Fletcher or by any agency other than himself; his ambition misconstrued from the start, his vision, beginning in blood and murder and obsession, ultimately ending the same.
This is what makes the Jaffe so fascinating to me; he is a man who gets what he wants, who wins every war, who scales every height and descends every depth, and still laments himself and all he has done at the end. There’s a certain mythic poetry to him as there is to his antithesis, the state of significance they create between themselves one of myth that flows and intermingles with the banality, materialism and minutiae of post-modern existence.
They are simultaneously new and ancient archetypes; entities that operate beyond states of pure storytelling or abstraction to better suit the confusions and vicissitudes of the world they are born from.
And it’s somewhat telling that the Jaffe, the darker half of their dynamic; the Father of Nightmares, is the most enduring and even the most endearing; he has far more in the way of word space than Fletcher and is far more defined than the dreaming and idealised creature that is his antithesis:
At times, the Jaffe even lets the mask of humanity he still clings to for convenience’s sake slip, allowing view of the abstracted truth beneath: a condition that is simultaneously that of a man and an unborn babe in the throes of nightmares; a fleeting, hideous glimpse of a foetal entity, too terrible to walk amongst humanity undisguised, but also for itself to acknowledge or endure: for all of his apparent transcendence, the Jaffe is still barely born, as Kissoon, the book’s more established nemesis and manipulator of both the Jaffe and Fletcher, consistently expresses.
He treads the darkest shallows of the Dream Sea, but does not understand it; he has no notion or concept of how it operates, its significance, its nature; he wants to breach and invade it for the sake of doing so, because he has become his own sense of transgression made manifest. In that, both Jaffe and Fletcher serve as simultaneous celebrations of and warnings against certain states of extremity; they become their own dreaming ideals, their own mythic conditions, but learn to lament it; locked in a war that seems almost endless, that pushes both of them to the points of unravelling and beyond and, ultimately, ends up costing Fletcher his ragged and hazy existence, and the Jaffe his sanity.
A beauty more in the sense of what he represents than his aesthetics, it’s possible to write entire theses on what the Jaffe symbolises, particularly in relation to Fletcher and post-modern USA; a metaphorical reflection the like of which becomes more and more necessary in recent years, as the very evils Barker comments on through him swell and come to hold significant sway over politics and culture.
George Lea inhabits a state of being slightly removed from the standard that can occasionally be accessed via the UK Midlands (most notably the town of Tamworth). In between his work as a carer for people with mental disabilities, he spends time baking elaborate cakes and scribbling down the insanity that swills around inside his head. He’s of the opinion that if anyone got a good look at that stuff, it would be akin to when one of H.P. Lovecraft’s characters stares into the face of an Elder God. He’ currently involved with the photographer Nick Hardy in a joint project entitled “Born in Blood,” a collection of images and short fiction exploring psychological disease, on the heels of his last collection, Strange Playgrounds.