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The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus 8

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  THE WORLDS AND WORDS BETWEEN THE CRACKS

  Afterword by David Niall Wilson

  Throughout the ages, storytellers and fantasists have enthralled the world with their tales. At first the bards recorded real events in ways that turned great men into heroes. They converted the world into beautiful verse and compelling song. They passed the words down from generation to generation until their tales grew from the bare bones of reality into the bright plumage of legend.

  When things needed to be explained, they created religions and fables. They painted their histories with brushes dipped in otherworldly ink. Though they were tasked with preserving the world around them, they became something much more important. They were the first fantasists. They remade the world into a place that scared them a little less, and that held its shine a bit better against the encroachment of time. They built a cloak of words to keep out the darkness and embellish the light.

  Some did a better job of this than others. It's not an exact science, and though a man may become very learned and wise, the ability to write can escape him completely. In early times, a few tried to chronicle their world, the men and women they interacted with, and the events that surrounded them with pho-tographic clarity. They failed. When their memories were com-pared with the accounts of their contemporaries, there were al-ways discrepancies. Reality is a schizophrenic, unstable target. It exists only in the moment; anything after that is suspect. We depend on words, and those who wield them, to weave a tapes-try we can believe in, and to preserve images that give us enough to convince us that what we have is memory, and not fable.

  In modern times, fantasy has taken on new dimensions. The ability of readers to suspend their disbelief has been eroded by the ability of the human mind and imagination to raise the bar. What was fantastic fifty years ago is mundane. What was impossible is taken for granted. What was written as fantasy is filmed and served up as the evening news.

  We still have our wordsmiths. We have more of them than we need, truth be told, but the ones with the magic have thinned out. There are entertainers aplenty, tricksters who can bend reality a little bit and wrap it around comfortable, familiar stories so that things change just enough to take readers away. For most readers, this is enough.

  In every generation we also get a few new masters. These are the men and women who can shift a reader into an alternate existence with such power that the new world becomes more real than the one left behind. It's seldom a very different place on the surface; it's the details and the shadows that change—the things we might otherwise take for granted.

  Clive Barker is one of those masters. He takes our world and finds things that have fallen through the cracks. Those are the building blocks. His characters live in a world so closely akin to our own that we recognize the details. We think we are on solid ground, and he lures us in. When we come across something unfamiliar, it is born of things that we are familiar with, created in ways that seem plausible and make the shift from one reality to the next so simple that it happens before we're even fully aware.

  When I read Galilee, I believed in a family who lived right beside us, with powers we could barely comprehend, hidden and secret. Nothing in what I read was jarring, or implausible within the context of the novel. I wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe in love that transcended everything I know, and that is what I found in Barker's words; a story I was more comfortable with, for a time, than my own world. A story that will stick with me forever, and will crop up now and then with fictional story elements that feel like memories.

  In Sacrament, the idea of the old man whose job it was to travel the world and destroy the very last of every species rang true. The notion that gods are not infallible, but in fact have limitations and rules and personalities that make sense in the context of history intrigues and attracts. While we have been taught that we are made in the image of God, it is equally true that throughout the years and ages we have created our gods in our own. We personify them; we give them feelings and emotions and flaws that make them believable and give us points of reference that prevent the loss of our sanity.

  In his novel Coldheart Canyon, Barker peeled back Hollywood's glittering skin to show us what we've known all along—that there is decadence flowing just beneath the surface. We know things are different there, but it's another world, so that makes it something we can justify and tolerate. It's not our world, it's one just off to the left. We get bits and pieces from tabloids and sensational journalists, but beneath it all, we believe there is more. There has to be magic there—how else could normal men and women transform strips of celluloid into moving fantasies? How else could worlds that don't exist come to life?

  Barker shows us how, but again he grounds us in the familiar. He starts with a very real story about an aging actor, fighting entropy and drawn into plastic surgery that is supposed to return his withering magic. As the story unfolds, Barker expands the circle. We discover a house, also old and fading. We find that there is a woman clinging desperately to a horrifying version of youth and beauty. As the ghosts and the magic beneath that mansion draw the protagonist in, we follow in his footsteps, amazed, horrified, and absolutely captivated by the world he inhabits. What starts as a path angling slightly off from our own slowly widens the gap as you follow it, only to bend back toward true near the end. Again and again we experience visions and wonders that seem too perfect—too precious to release—and each time we see those wonders crumble to reveal their inner truth.

  It may seem that I have strayed off point, so let me begin to wind this back toward Maximillian Bacchus. The book you hold in your hands and have likely just finished reading is a work of magic. It's not the polished spell that binds readers to Coldheart Canyon, or the heart-wrenching, powerful thing that Galilee represents, but it cannot be taken lightly.

  Maximillian Bacchus holds court over a group of fantastical performers such as the world has never known. That is how it seems at first glance. Then you read the words, and the names. You feel the threads of mythology and religion weave themselves into the fabric of the story and it happens. Things shift. A character that is essentially an Egyptian crocodile named Malachi who name drops Egyptian royalty from the annals of history becomes believable. Characters named Ophelia and Hero are not jarring. You take for granted the trip to Coleridge's Xanadu, and the arrival at the fabled pleasure dome. It is not difficult to imagine Bacchus' enemies shanghaied by pirates, or a chasm where, when one is dragged over the cliff and ceases to exist, or how the juggler escapes it. A boy with the sun shining from his eyes seems perfectly normal in the person of an apple thief and traveler. The names appear in a long string, and as they pass by your mind's eye, they fling lines into your memory and drag out ghosts from old literature classes and films about mythology.

  These stories take you away from our world and lead you down a trail peopled with slightly off-center versions of fables, deities, and ancient powers that itch at your thoughts and taunt you with images that might be memories, or lessons learned in childhood, or something from an article in a long lost magazine—but are not. The thing that it is easiest to forget is that these stories of Maximillian Bacchus aren't the work of a seasoned veteran. They are the first, tentative efforts of an amazing talent coming into its own. They stand against the work of the tricksters and the shysters effortlessly. They are alive with the hint of something wonderful, something amazing that can't quite be defined or explained.

  I came away from The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus with a familiar ache. I've felt that same ache in the past, at the end of works like The Lord of the Rings, or Stephen King's Dark Tower books, or when Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere ended with so much promise of something more. I felt this same ache at the end of the last two or three novels by Mr. Barker that I had the pleasure to read, and I felt it in this book. I want the story to continue. I want to know more, to experience more performances and to meet new characters. I want that other world I visited to r
emain intact with its own continuing time stream so I can go back to visit. I feel like new rooms have opened up in my mind, and I don't want them to grow old or faded or covered in dust.

  In the pages of this book, the seeds of something truly remarkable were sown. Pinhead and his cube, the Books of Blood, novel after novel and world after world have unfolded to entertain us, amaze us, and draw us from our tired, drab existence into places that are something more.

  In a recent interview, I read something that Clive Barker said, and it stuck with me. I'm paraphrasing—I hope he won't mind. Horror fiction has been growing more and more into an extension of the sensational, graphic depictions of our world that people seem to find so fascinating in the news. When fiction begins to emulate those types of horrors, and writers spend their time dwelling on things that are happening down the street, embellishing them with bits and pieces of magic to make them shiny and attractive, it's dangerous.

  Horror fiction needs a jolt of the supernatural. There needs to be some clear rift between the imagined world, and the horrors we deal with from day to day. Bilbo Baggins wrote There and Back Again, and though he was talking about his quest, it applies to fiction - in particular fantastic fiction - as well. If we are to escape, we should go somewhere that offers us something in return, and then we should come back. Violence, torture, graphic dismemberment and endless strings of horrifying events fall short of the goal, particularly when they bear no message, moral, point, or purpose but to shock. They expend creative energy—the magic—and leave that energy with no positive outlet.

  We need the supernatural to symbolize what we can't overcome, presented in a way that changes things just enough that we can overcome them. We need a measure of hope in the face of evil. In the movie Hellraiser, Frank Cotton is flayed alive by hooked chains. This happens when he encounters the Cenobites on the other side of the Lament Configuration puzzle. We can suffer with him, and then, we can return to our world. If you wrote that same scene with some drug dealers in a Manhattan warehouse, it would no longer be escapism in the same sense. It's too close to home, and there's no safe way back from the shadows. They are all around us. Journalists are fantasists too, remember, and for drug dealers with chainsaws, we have them. For the magic, we need the Clive Barkers of the world, young and old.

  If there was ever a question whether the best and brightest of artists are made, or born, works like this one come very close to answering it. Here's to Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and his entourage. I hope that we have not seen the last of them, but if we have we can be content in the knowledge that other worlds, and other magic will follow. We only have to turn to the next page.

  David Niall Wilson

  The Following gallery of Illustrations

  by Richard A. Kirk

  Was included in the limited edition

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Clive Barker wishes he had a circus.

 


 

  Clive Barker, The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus

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