Books That Inspired Me: The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker
I was reading Stephen King at the age of eleven. No joke. Eyes of the Dragon was the first one of his books I knocked off. After that, it was Pet Semetary. And even though I didn’t understand a lot of the adult stuff in it, it still scared the hell out of me. I kept reading King and any other horror that came my way for years.
But it wasn’t until I read Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show at the age of 16 that I knew I wanted to write horror fiction.
Barker’s The Great and Secret Show was the first horror novel I read that also blended fantasy and magic. It has its horror-shock moments and it has its gorier and explicit scenes, but there was something else to Barker’s writing that I had not yet experienced. Even now, I can’t really give it a name, although I believe most would call it dark fantasy.
Reading The Great and Secret Show (and its follow up, Everville) showed me that horror has more depth than I realized. Whereas King had shown me horror in a grounded sense (ordinary people placed into extraordinary situations), Barker introduced me to horror as a surreal and often magical creature that allowed the fantastical a place in the story.
I had read fantasy as a child and recognized its roots in The Great and Secret Show without much trouble. But I did not realize that the line between fantasy and horror could be so razor thin. Barker not only balances his reader on that line, but pushes them playfully to the edge of either side within any given page.
The Great and Secret Show is the book that made me want to write. To this day, I admire Barker’s ability to drop the reader into madness only to rescue them from the fall with the trappings of fantasy (no matter how dark tinged it may have been). This book will take you to some dark and unnamable places, but it is well worth the trip. There is just something about this story that is more epic than its 700 or so pages lets us see. There is are unexplored elements of magic and horror lurking behind every comma and every finished thought.
A tale of estranged families, love, ghosts, and power, The Great and Secret Show inspires me to this day. I recommend it to fans of straight-out horror, dark fantasy, and readers looking for something unique and inspiring (although there are a few queasy and uncomfortable moments to be forewarned of). As far as I’m concerned, The Great and Secret Show is a must-read for writers and readers that enjoy their unbridled darkness illuminated with the best parts of other genres.
Barry Napier has had more than 40 short stories and poems published in print and online. He is the author of The Bleeding Room, The Masks of Our Fathers, 13 Broken Nightlights, and Everything Theory, all of which are currently available as Kindle and print titles. You can find him online at www.barrynpaierwriting.wordpress.com