after an experience gone awry, Seth Brandle turns into a fly. And, as his body loses its integrity, which becomes something else, Seth Brandle constitutes the Seth Brandle Museum. A museum of spare parts, pieces of bodies that have bowed out. A museum entirely dedicated to what he was until then. Seth Brandle deconstructs himself to evolve while celebrating a past that is no longer just a fantasy.
The vestiges of him are still there so “He” is still there in a way, terrified that he is no longer himself. But what exactly is “Him”? Where is the Seth Brandle entity? In this ear? In this eye, his brain, his DNA? At what point in his transformation can we consider that this is it, we are facing something else? Total otherness, without a return ticket?
Is that when his human features disappear? Is it when he gives up his human morals in order to survive or does Brandle just boil down to remembering being himself? Seth Brandle is the experience that continually transforms us. An event, an accident, a meeting, the discovery of a work … Brandle is the illusion of what we think of as identity. We are fragments.
This Hook scene always broke my heart and for a long time I couldn’t quite say exactly why.
The children of Peter and Moïra come back from Never Land and throughout the film there was a strange relationship with memory. By becoming Peter Pan again, remembering what he was. The hero forgets for a moment that he has children, yet he is there to save. And as his son Jack lets himself be consumed by his resentment towards him, he even begins to forget that he has a father. And then this end. Returning to their room, the children, for a moment barely recognize their own mother. Yet it’s an ethereal, happy moment but it makes me sad. There is something oddly scary about this. Why do you think Jack’s voice is shaking despite his smile? This little detail touches me every time.
The film does not only capture this fear of losing loved ones, it captures this floating and cottony moment between sleep and waking up when for a moment, we are no longer ourselves. Where the memories that make us “Us” fade away. This moment when identity is more fragile than you thought.
Sincerely with the little girl who talks about her mother as an angel, this almost divine light, where even this sequence just after, euphoric to the point of absurdity where this woman enjoys seeing an old man flying instead of s ‘surprise or even be afraid. Spielberg is well aware of this ambiguity.
Yes we are surely in a tale but also possibly elsewhere. An elsewhere much less easy to accept. For such a colorful film, there is still some sacred darkness lurking on the edge.
It’s so easy to forget
In a story, memory loss is perhaps one of the most worn-out story arcs but, strangely, also one of what affects us the most because it causes so much discomfort. particular. We can come out of it grown up, but we know it’s going to be a long time to pass.
Memory loss can symbolize a whole lot of things. The passage of time, just like becoming the ideal hiding place for a secret, but above all we touch on what seems to us a little too often to “who”, identity.
When you touch memory, you touch a fear that is very strange. This fear of thinking that if a memory is no longer shared with someone, what makes it real? What made all “that” real?
Look at his movie posters, all of which represent “the spirit”. There is one idea that brings them all together. A very simple visual idea. The idea of Multiplicity.
Multiplicity of memories, multiplicity of facets of the personality, blurred border of the psyche, unfathomable potential that overflows well beyond ourselves. Visually, one way or another, this is what comes obvious to so many artists who represent the spirit.
There are many of us. The thing, however, is that the vast majority of works tend to show us this multiplicity as an evil, a disorder that leads the characters to either their demise or destruction. Pure tradition of Lovecraft with its protagonists who discover a cursed ancestry that lies dormant in them. Fiction illustrates again and again this fear that we have of losing our “me”, fear of seeing our identity dissolve and therefore all these sometimes simplistic concrete barriers to protect it.
Among the exceptions we can cite the fourth volume of the “Cycle of Dune” where the character of the emperor Letho II Atreide who gradually turns into a sand worm while possessing in his heart the memory and the personalities of all his ancestors.
This is a logic that we had already seen in the Cycle of Dune, in particular with the reverend mothers of the order of Bene Gesserite, but which there, is pushed to its climax with this relationship so particular to long time and to a kind of intimate immensity to be conquered. There the inner multiplicity is shown as an opening to something greater. Towards an extended consciousness of the world and of oneself.
Here, unlike memory loss, it is therefore a kind of “hyper memory” that questions the boundaries of identity, which is no longer a simple, closed whole, but rather a tree structure. The fear has been neutralized. Over time has so oversold us characters built as cohesive units, oversold us assertiveness like a simplistic sign, that we ended up forgetting. We are fragments.
Brienne has mellowed over the seasons, of course, but she would never have cried. Not here, not like this, not for this. There you betray the sap, you betray the essence of something. But once again this essence, where exactly is it? What do we know? We expect characters to be human and complex without being chaotic. And here we are, a walking paradox, clinging to what makes us “us”, while wanting “more”.
“Life is a cut up. Every time we walk down the street, or we look through the window, your consciousness is cut by random factors. And there you start to realize there aren’t that random, that it makes sense to you.”
Cut Up, this technique popularized in particular by the writer William Burroghs in the 1960s, which consists of cutting up a work and randomly rearranging the ends so that a new meaning emerges.
A technique that has inspired a lot of artists but also the whole internet culture, this culture of mashup and collage that you know so well. Life is a Cut Up. Our experience of the outside world.
With Seth Brandle, who does a kind of Cut Up with his body, which becomes a new form of life, in accelerated mode, we are dealing with one of the deliberately extreme cases where the multiplicity which is in us is shown as negative.
That said, for a moment through his natural and scientific curiosity, Brandle is tempted to greet this transformation with serenity, without judgment. Very quickly, human fear takes over. As if there was, no matter what, an insurmountable frontier for the mind. We have to close the loop. However, there was the start of something, there was a tangent. As in the end of Hook, in the background we explore this “what if”. Unfortunately, the two films do not really follow through on this idea. One because Spielberg, despite his doubts, has to make a feel good and accessible film. The other, by its horrific specifications. But what if becoming “other” wasn’t really the end of “self”?
Memories, that glue that gives shape to our fragments, that make our lives tell something. We always tell of a change and inevitably we get hooked. We cling to our tastes, we cling to the stories that have built us, we cling to them as over a precipice, at the risk that sometimes it boils down to a simple road map of taste and opinions.
Life is a Cut Up. This article is a form of Cut Up. Fragments of emotion, fragment of memories, of thoughts. The fragments of films which, once taken out of context, begin to tell something quite different. Editing means shuffling the cards, finding an unexpected meaning in the random.
In “The Fly” David Cronenberg and his director of photography lit up certain scenes like an old film noir. All the visual codes are there. The dim light of the blinds, the soft and ethereal lighting on the face of the femme fatale, a woman who stands out in the doorframe, who is therefore the center of attention but who is also lost in the frame, the only source of grace in a dirty and chaotic world. And of course a disillusioned main character, the unwilling detective Brandle investigating human identity. Fragment of one cinematographic genre lost in another.
Or how the film illustrates its point by becoming it self a Seth Brandle, and by showing that all films, at various levels, are Seth Brandles. Fragmented over and over and over again … Maybe in the middle of it all, in the midst of this inevitably flawed, never-ending puzzle, something will resonate. We are multiple, we are fragments.
Personally I am never more stimulated, when I create something, when I have the impression that it is beyond my control, that strangely, it is not my conscious part which has acted but something more mysterious, something something freer, which is not necessarily the “me” that I know. For a few moments, we become a little more than the sum of our tastes or our memories.
We are more than an abstract line, like an arrow crossing the void.
We have become like everyone else, but in the way that no one can become like everyone else.
We painted the world on ourselves, and not ourselves on the world.
To create, to feel deep down, is to welcome the other.
We are our elsewhere. We create universes because we don’t like the world as it is and sometimes scares us.
No one can face “The Lord of The Rings”. We can love, we can hate, but nothing beats “The Lord of The Rings”. Calling Tolkien the father of fantasy is questionable (or even false), but he remains a luminary. It’s hard to escape its influence, whether in literature, cinema, role-playing, video games … in short, the collective imagination.
Suddenly we’d be wondering, seeing as his stories are so important in the end, what are they really telling? These stories of legendary magicians, ancestral forces and their countless humanoid characters with the names of medicines, what can they mean? Is it just cool? It’s epic, it’s dreamy and it’s beautiful like anything… So there you go? Isn’t it possible that this other world is actually ours?
An allegory of world war II?
That seems to bother a lot of people for quite a while. And it must be said that when digging, there is plenty to ask questions. No, but it’s true! A book that came out in 1954, which talks about a great war involving almost all of all nations, in a world that more or less resembles medieval Europe.
A threat already defeated in the past comes to us from the east, which is about to relentlessly invade the western kingdoms. A comeback that many refused to see return, allowing it to gain strength before becoming inevitable.! Some take the ocean to find a country further west. Some former allies give in to the influence of the unstoppable enemy and collaborate with it, to assert their own authority. The peoples must unite to fight the AXIS of evil. And in the midst of all this a fight for an immeasurable object of power, which must not fall into the wrong hands at all costs … A power so absolute and so terrifying that many people refuse to use it even if it would guarantee them victory.
We have to admit that with all its coincidences, the parallel with World War II works surprisingly well. So that would be the meaning of the Lord of the Rings? Oh, if only it was that simple! But we haven’t released The Prancing Pony yet.
So indeed we can see the Lord of the Rings as a sort of Second World War, redrawn on tracing paper of heroic fantasy. But as much as we can marvel where it overlaps quite well, but we must question the overall design.
The real war does not resemble to the legendary war in its process or in its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, and certainly the ring would have been sees and used again Sauron. It wouldn’t be annihilated but enslaved. And Barad-dûr would not to be destroyed but occupied. In that conflict, both side would have held Hobbit in hate-hood an contempt. They would not long survive even enslaves.
But would there be a metaphor or a symbol?
I must quite frankly express my profound but polite negation of your clever and neverless somewhat false assumption my dear. And if you excuse me I’m now going to Brexit this conversation.
Answer which I think is the way the British say ‘nope’. And don’t bother looking for another metaphor if it’s not World War II, as he adds:
I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence
The end ?
No, but what does that mean: “I don’t like allegories …”? We’re here to analyze stuff when in fact it would just be a story? A headless story that has nothing to do with us and our world? Would he have cut all ties with reality, precisely to allow us to escape to an elsewhere, another world? Well yeah, because life is a bitch, God is dead and we’re gonna be soon, and then nothing makes sense and Henry Cavill already has a girlfriend and I forgot to buy Nutella. From the cost, our need for consolation is impossible to satisfy and that sucks.
From this perspective, we would say that the less it reminds us of our world, the more this quest is accomplished. So when we want to forget our daily worries, it is not so that we are reminded of the fucking World War II, especially when your daily worry was the fucking WWII, no later than ‘yesterday! Tolkien assumed escape as a function of fairy tales, for example. On the other hand, think again, he also said:
Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.
If you trade your worries for a road-trip in Middle-earth, I’m not sure you won the day. Even admitting that the anxieties that haunt you are more existential than your bills or your boss overwhelming you with unstable overtime, is The Lord of the Rings really the best plan to help you avoid thinking about death. , suffering or your responsibilities? In short, Tolkien’s tales, indeed, offers you an unexpected journey into a distant horizon, but it is no picnic. If what you’re looking for is anesthetizing yourself with his books, you’ll get the better of hitting yourself with them.
Tolkien did not conceive his stories to cocoon us and on the contrary to immerse us in tragic events whose protagonists never seem to be able to triumph before an unexpected salvation. A resolution he called “eucatastrophe”, a good catastrophe of which he took as a “real” example, the incarnation of Jesus. It’s a bit like Don Bluth’s cartoons, who instead of sparing toddlers, tormented them as much as possible so that the resolve was only more powerful. The idea shared by both men is that a ray of hope shines even more as one has walked through the darkest darkness. Surely an idea rooted in their religious faith.
In the same way these critics, to make confusion worse, and so to bring into contempt their opponents, stick their label of scorn not only on to Desertion, but on to real Escape, and what are often its companions, Disgust, Anger, Condemnation, and Revolt.
Tolkien does claim an escape process, not thought of as an escape but as a fervent desire for something else.
And, does “The Lord of The Rings” have anything to do with WWI?
It should also be noted that Tolkien may not have fought in WWII, but he did go through hell in the first. Sleeping in the trenches for a year is enough to cause some nightmares. The influence of this experience in Tolkien’s writings is quite evident and documented. His first text located in the Middle Lands, “Fall of gondolin” was written during his convalescence after having contracted a “trench fever”. He recounts in particular, the destruction of an ancient elven civilization by an enemy, described as relentless machines.
So in looking for our allegory we would have been wrong opus? These were all WWI metaphors? But is Tolkien saying that allegory is not his cup of tea?
Maybe we’re just asking ourselves the wrong questions. Again even though “the Fall of Gondolin” was written during his recovery from what he experienced in the trenches, that doesn’t make it an allegory. . But that does not mean that one cannot deny the influence of his experience in the Somme. Trauma like this changes you a man on a fundamental level, even though an author might not realize it, or even deny it. Tolkien does not say otherwise.
The first world war had a broad and specific impact on Tolkien’s writing. One you look the Tolkien’s writing in the first world war in detail, you can be struck by all kinds of really curious comparisons. One Interesting I found is between, the ring’s wraiths, the Nazguls and artillery shells, sound of artillery shells.
John Garth Autor of « Tolkien and the Great War »
So i think these terrors are connected completely to a mythological and Gothic I think Tolkien wanted to use in the Lord Of The Rings.
An author, can not of course remain holy unaffected by his experience but the ways in witch the story germ use the soil of experience are extremely complex, and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidences that is inadequate and ambiguous.
In fact this is something that we often get confused about, you know, like in college when we laughed when the teacher said: “The chair is blue, it represents melancholy” … And that we all thought (yes even you over there who pretend you weren’t): “Yes, if that’s right, the author just meant that the chair is blue! “…
Allegory or not allegory?
Well, we must already understand that writing is not a 100% conscious process. It’s not like coding a message in HTML. Even being in control of what we are doing, there is not an exact science of evocative power and we do not copy / paste meaning into people’s heads.
in an interview for the release of “Close Encounter of the Third Kind”, Steven Spielberg realized this:
– It is one of your famous scene in all of your movies I’m sure. Now look, I don’t mean to make to much of this but I’ll ask you a question.
– Your father was a computer scientist, your mother was a musician, when this spaceship was landing, How do they communicate ?
– That is a very good question, I like that. The answer is on the question.
-They make music on their computers and they are able to speak to each other.
– You see I’d love to say you, I intended that but you know, I realize that was my mother and my father was not until this moment !
Just as it is no wonder that Frodo’s feverish scenes came to the mind of someone who suffered the fever in the trenches. The same Frodo that he will see come out of such events with something akin to post traumatic stress disorder.
Moreover, some of the parallels that we had drawn with the Second World War also work with the first, because there is no need to look for more or less hidden metaphors to say that an author English of this period will have imagined a more “Europeanizing” imitation Middle Ages where the protagonists tend to start from the West, while the threat will instinctively be more represented in the East.
Even at more abstract levels, the context experienced by the same author will no doubt have facilitated his vision of men as corruptible and the leaders of their nations as having fallen into the camp of evil, especially from those who write:
Gentleman are not existent among our superiors. And even the human beings are rare indeed
There is no need to see it as a metaphor, and just because it isn’t one doesn’t mean it hasn’t to do with it. We write where we are from. What we do with a metaphor is take an image to represent something else.
An allegory is a bit the same but on the scale of a whole story. A bit like a system of coherent metaphors.
Something that is used in painting for example. Very convenient process for graphically representing abstract ideas that have no shapes.
Example, how to paint justice? in general it is represented:
A blindfolded woman, because justice is blind, impartial;
She has a scale in her left hand to weigh the acts;
She has a sword to punish.
So, on the other hand, it implies having decryption keys to understand the work, but once everyone has them, this representation becomes universal. This is the basis of press cartoon.
Allegory applied to a story is called a fable. The ant is the hardworking person and the grasshopper a hippie who does not give a fuck. And you have to understand the symbols in a fable to understand its moral. In other cases, religious parables serve the same purpose. This is why some scholars spend their time studying the same book for years to make exegesis according to a doctrine etc.
I much prefer history – true or fiend – with it varied applicability to the thought and experiences of readers. I think there is many confuse « applicability » with « allegory ». But the one resides in the freedom of the reader and the other in the purpose domination of the author.
This is where Tolkien puts his finger on something when it comes to applicability or relevance. Stories, good stories have a relevance to themes, emotions, values etc. They operate in a secondary world, which must have its own coherence, which cannot be copied as is on our own.
Take Robert Zemeckis’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. The “Toons” are second-class citizens there, who are used in entertainment, especially cinema and who must live apart. Here the club is based on the Cotton Club, where African Americans came to do service or show numbers, but entry was reserved for whites. In the film, the “Toons” do the show for an exclusively human clientele. In this case the “Toons” are an allegory of black people?
Yes, but the film is also inspired by the period when homosexuals worked in show biz and in Hollywood, where they were sidelined but more or less covered.
So, is this an allegory of blacks people or of homosexuals?
Well both and both neither, and other stuff … Being in a secondary world doesn’t stop the stories from hitting the mark, on a level that doesn’t depend on the very contextual stuff of our reality. For what we call “imaginary literature”, science fiction and fantasy, we also speak of speculative literature. It is precisely this speculative aspect which makes it possible to evoke more fundamental things since it explores possible “other” than our history, our society, our current events … etc, including when it is not intentional, contrary to Roger Rabbit where it is very clear.
Often Winnie the Pooh is presented as an allegory of mental disorders:
Piglet is anxiety,
Tiger, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,
Winnie, he’s having addiction issues and eating disorders.
You can imagine it but it is not at all the perspective of the author, and it would even be anachronistic to imagine that, but for all that it works very well, so much so that we find this allegory in scientific publications. The author characterized his characters in a certain way and he typed it right. They conjure up pretty relevant stuff without needing to voluntarily adapt a list of shrink categories, which weren’t even theorized yet.
In this case, unlike pure allegory, there is no need for interpretation keys to understand the meaning. Especially since, as Tolkien said, with his freedom of the reader in the face of author’s dominance, it’s going to make sense, including person-to-person or period-to-period making the story more accessible and timeless.
A story for “Hippie”?
To come back to “Lord of The Rings”, for example, this story has turned a lot in the hippie generation, people in all points dissimilar to the author and who yet is reflected in his work. Because at some point, once he lets go of the result of his work, however manic he is, in nature, he no longer has control over who it is going to touch.
Magic, an ethereal story, even if it was written by a conservative Catholic, it evokes a kind of “neo-pagan-mytholo-ancestral” mysticism and that speaks to them. And this counter culture, has contributed to perpetuate the success of books and to pass the torch. If this generation is found in the works of an easy British father born at the end of the 19th century, it is not just because of the drugs!
A tale for “Aristocrat”?
It could not be clearer, in many ways that Tolkien can easily be described as a conservative, with omnipresence of his religious sensibility, his “epically” Wagnerian tone, his call to an imaginary of glorious kings and his categories with rather racialist springs, it is expected that this will touch the fiber of some people nostalgic for an old fantasy time. Especially since his middle age doesn’t pretend to be fantasized. The distinctly reactionary and dated aspects of his prose have been rightly noted by other more “socialist” fantasy authors.
The stories are structured by moralist and abstract logic rather than being grounded and organic. Tolkien wrote the seminal text for fantasy where morality is absolute, and political complexity is conveniently evaporate.
• Battles are glorious and death is noble. The good looks superb and the evil are ugly. Elves are natural aristos • Hobbits are good people • And in a fairyland version of genetic determinism, Orcs are shit by birth.
This is a conservator hymn to order and reason, to the status quo.
How can both a “Hippie” and an “Aristocrat” be drawn to Tolkien’s work? Did either of them get it wrong? But come to think of it, is it really so surprising that activists have been touched by “The Lord of The Rings” even though its author would have been foreign to modern environmentalist categories?
Was Tolkien that conservative?
It should be noted that tackling Tolkien as a caricatured straw man of conservatism does not shed a very useful light on the themes he addresses, just like the 1970s counterculture with which he resonated is not a monolith. Indeed, it goes from the radical environmental activist anti Vietnam war to the “neo-payan” new age of a random sect whose heritage will be found as much in the libertarian billionaires of the silicone valley fan of Ayn Rand as in the serial killer to swastika tattooed on the forehead, or in geek culture itself. Even Greenpeace has been able to invoke “The Lord of The Rings” for anti-nuclear campaigns.
Fantasy has always carried a critique of industrial modernity, organic to its recourse to a legendary past. In the same vein, one of the forerunners of the genre, and other medieval enthusiasts, who influenced Tolkien is William Morris, a libertarian socialist writer who defends the environment. Although expressed from different angles, they have this distrust in common.
In “The Lord of The Rings” the protagonists are, I’m not spoiling you anything, the Hobbits. And by far the characters to whom Tolkien sympathizes.
Their entire civilization resembles a shorter legged version of the traditional English countryside, where they spend their time living their best life, namely smoking their pipe filled with ‘pipe-weed’ whose effects resemble cannabis, eating well, without working too much and without worrying about many things except the family who steal the silverware.
Then like Tolkien at the time of his departure for the war, there they are catapulted, from their island of peace, into a vast world with stakes beyond them. Here they are confronted with a universe of which they are a part whatever their efforts to ignore it. War, evil, corruption, and the forces involved, as diverse as they are difficult to reconcile. The heavy toll to pay for trading his quiet life for adventure.
In contrast, to the peaceful way of life which is admittedly a little naive but very sympathetic to the “brave country folks” of The Shire, horror arises from modernity:
Saruman: Together, my lord Sauron, we shall rule this Middle-earth. The old world will burn in the fires of industry. Forests will fall. A new order will rise. We will drive the machine of war with the sword and the spear and the iron fist of the orc.
Tolkien deeply hates this industrial world which he discovered with dread in the First Industrialized War, but also in the toiling towns which tore him from his countryside to pursue his studies. This industrial modernity dirties nature and alienates men. Its armadas of orcs are in fact elves who have been tortured and enslaved. To the working masses stupefied by labor, he prefers the fantasy of “good common English folks” to ambitions and simple values.
Because if the hobbits are a recourse in this globalized world, it is precisely because they are not tempted by it. For Tolkien, they carry with them, naturally superior virtues to yet much more powerful magicians and other hundred-year-old elves, precisely too powerful to use the ring without putting all things at great risk.
A fascination with supposedly intrinsic values of the real simple people of the real simple life, which could be invoked as much by dictatorships, the France of Vichy, Franco, Mussolini … as in a diametrically opposed way a socialist like Orwell , which postulated the “common decency”, a kind of common sense inherent in the popular classes, that their way of life would make naturally good, simple, united and immune to the misappropriation of the powerful.
Because if the hobbits are a recourse in this globalized world, it is precisely because they are not tempted by it. For Tolkien, they carry with them, naturally superior virtues to yet much more powerful magicians and other hundred-year-old elves, precisely too powerful to use the ring without putting all things at great risk. A fascination with supposedly intrinsic values of the real simple people of the real simple life, which could be invoked as much by dictatorships, the France of Vichy, Franco, Mussolini … as in a diametrically opposed way a socialist like Orwell , which postulated the “common decency”, a kind of common sense inherent in the popular classes, that their way of life would make naturally good, simple, united and immune to the misappropriation of the powerful.
This ordinary decency is not only innate, it is due to social conditions which are degraded, metamorphosed by the age of technology, triumphant capitalism and totalitarianism. And indeed, people can no longer cultivate this ordinary decency in this world.
Ultimately and in the final analysis, if Tolkien had no sympathy for the socializing or progressive ideologies of his time either, it is also in the name of his distrust of modernity, industry and progress, precisely, which there were associated. Moreover, if Tolkien relies on an epic register inherited from legends, to high moments of bravery he adds the darkness and the tragic of conflicts. As we recall, his visions come out of the mind of a survivor of a dirty war, which has confirmed him in the idea of the benefits of a quieter way of life.
So yes, if the evocation of great heroes with pure blood can make vibrate nostalgic for the crusades, a force capable of attracting anti-militarists emerges just as much from “The Lord of The Rings”. So from “Aristocrat” to “Hippie”, the two find their account, only it is not the same.
Tolkien and his vision of Power
Even in a subject like power, “The Lord of The Rings” brings many other themes to which would not be limited to the sole recourse to a monarchist imagination full of dynasties of wise aristocrats and blood rights which naturally makes enlightened despots even 15 generations later.
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people.
This is sort of the central theme, the ring, of power. Because in “The Lord of The RINGS”, power is a bit of a shit. A power in the very general sense embodied in a shining charm, with the thematic density similar to inspiring a totalitarian regime, the wealth of a PRECIOUS treasure or the power to do good, in short any form of power imaginable. The ring, on the other hand, seems obvious from its name alone to be a pure metaphor for power, but even it is insignificant, hollow, since it symbolizes all powers and none in particular. With Tolkien, there is no virtuous pursuit of power. Power must be destroyed.
There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power stations. I hope that, encouraged now as patriotism, may remain a habit. But it wont do any good if it is not universal.
The fundamental evil in “The Lord of The Rings”, despite its use of racial notions and its “legitimist” discourses, is not a person or a group of people! It is a disembodied notion. For Tolkien, it’s not so much the ring that matters, but what it brings out in people. The ring is a Rorschach test, everyone finds what they want in it and it is one of Tolkien’s great strengths. Although his tale takes place in an imaginary Middle Earth populated by elves, orcs, and other unlikely creatures, he tells us about us, us, men, all of which we run after. The ring can be money, love, fame … And in the end Sauron has no body because deep down, Sauron is all we want.
So no wonder that beyond his imagination of old school kingdoms, Tolkien’s apology for small communities to diffuse governance coupled with a passionate love, solidarity, camaraderie and brotherhood, which may come to him. powerful links forged in his student club, can also seduce a public not fond of his royalist icons. They were reactionary icons whose approach he had in fact quite consistent with his vision of power.
Not one in a million is fit for it and least of all of those who seek the opportunity. Give me a king whose chief interest in life is stamps, railways, or race-horses; and who has the power to sack his Vizier (or whatever you care to call him) if he does not like the cut of his trousers. And so on down the line. But, of course, the fatal weakness of all that – after all only the fatal weakness of all good natural things in a bad corrupt unnatural world – is that it works and has worked only when all the world is messing along in the same good old inefficient human way.
Postulating for nothing except tranquility, and sovereignty yet capable of rising against the yoke of Sarouman with his companions whom Tolkien attributed to escape, disgust, anger, condemnation and revolt.
“The Lord of The Rings” is not an allegory of World War II, not even the first that its author experienced. Neither is it an allegory of the good times of monarchies, nor of libertarian communism or reactionary conservatism, or of radical ecologism, of racialist hierarchies or of international solidarity, which does not prevent that he carries all of that inside him.
Like any work that has a lot of meaning, it doesn’t have just one, it is polysemous. Entire generations have seized upon it with a wide variety of issues and problems. You also got hold of it when you read it, discussed it and brought it to life. And this is the case even if you’ve never read it because it is so present in our common imaginations. When Peter Jackson took on the titanic task of fitting it to the screen, so did he, in his own way. By making choices that you liked or that you did not like that necessarily went one way or another, a meaning he wanted to give to it all. Like that old man at a dinner in Rotterdam in 1958 who used this imaginary world to describe in his own words the world he did live in.
I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron; but I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentle hobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.
This man was the same Tolkien who refused to see his work as an allegory, which did not prevent him from making parallels when it struck him, when it seemed to apply, to be relevant. It may even be precisely this lack of allegory that allows it. So why go without?
Remember China Mieville cited above dunking on “The Lord of The Rings” as a clean evil? Well he also said this:
The literary establishment’s incoherent critique combines snobbish disdain for popular culture with an historical philistinism. And there is a left variant of this dismissal, seeing the fantastic as decadent or socially irresponsible. Tolkien refuses that the notion that a work of fiction is, in some reductive way primary, or solely or really, about something else, knowly and precisely, that the work of the reader is one of code breaking. Only if we find the right key we can perform an hermeneutic algorithm and solve the book. This is not a plea for naivety, for evading ramification or analysis, for some impossible and pointless return to « just a story »
Because like any story, “The Lord of The Rings” does not mean nothing, does not talk about nothing … I don’t know the “Meaning” of “The Lord of The Rings”, and neither do you, but I hope you find this story meaningful too.
Sources (not exhaustive):
“Winter is coming – Une brève histoire politique de la fantasy” William Blanc (I dont know if there is an english version)
One type of reading and film that I love more than anything, in fantasy or Science Fiction, is horror. And when we talk about horror, a name immediately comes to mind: Clive Barker. I have a lot of time to write this article, three or four months. I wanted to write an article that pays tribute to this writer who I particularly like but, with the lessons and my extra-scholastic activities, I had not really had the time until then. So I could have learned something positive from this confinement, I hope you enjoy it! To show you his genius, I’m going to tell you about Hellraiser and his universe. It all started with a book.
I have always been fascinated by this fabulous story of puzzles from ancient times that, once resolved, open doors to hell. And then one day, a man contacted me to donate me a box from the merchant, an artifact that I had coveted for years. Last night, fighting fear and envy, I performed the ritual deciphering the pattern of lamentation.
After so much research, I thought I knew the secrets of the Hellraiser well. But the mechanism came to life, the box opened … only then did I understand …
For this article, I thought it necessary to make a little warning. If you are under 16, impressionable, or a stranger to artistic darkness, I kindly suggest that you avoid this article. If on the other hand you cherish modern mythologies, the creation of universes and its hazards; if you are fascinated by horror and its symbols then be ready … For you are entering the most infernal cathedral in the fantastic galaxy: Hellraiser.
Before starting our descent into Hell, I would like to invite you to take the place of a creator of horror stories for a moment. As you are a demanding creative person, your secret ambition is to invent an original and detailed universe. We will find memorable abominations, striking images, rich concepts and depth that will allow you the most incredible freedoms. An idea then comes to you and you open your notebook, contemplating the infinite possibilities: We need protagonists with whom all will identify, but above all charismatic antagonists, with inhuman powers, with a legendary and terrorizing appearance. Thus the work will mark minds, inhabit the nightmares of generations, and allow the world to dream and fantasize through your cathartic visions.
The twentieth century has seen a rich and complex horrific culture explode, with many iconic figures, many of whom have become classics. So it’s hard to come up with totally new things … Especially since you’re in 1986, and the heyday of horror is at its peak. What else do you have left to create? How not to reproduce? How to shine brighter than the others in an already dazzling galaxy? Now imagine that you are … Clive Barker.
You are a fantastic young writer, full of ambition and talent. Your first collection, “Book of blood” has a good press and the great Stephen King himself, repeats to anyone who wants to hear it, that he saw the future of horror … and that his name is Clive Barker. You feel it. You are at the threshold of your creative career and you are seething with crazy concepts and the desire to shape the refined nightmares that inhabit you. Besides, for some time now, a story has obsessed you. You feel that it is different, that it conceals a dizzying richness and glows with a black of darkness.
After a feverish and passionate writing, your novel finally comes out and is entitled: “The hellbound Heart”. Even if the literary success is satisfactory, the world has not yet become aware of your history and its potential. Cinema would be ideal, but the studios have already approached you twice and what they have done with your story has disappointed you. So if it takes a film for the world to know, it’s you or nobody.
This is how Hellraiser came out in 1987. Direct adaptation of “The Hellbound heart”, produced by Clive Barker himself. The 35-year-old has just arrived in Hollywood and intends to seize this opportunity to make an impression. Passionate about the horrifying thing, Barker achieves a real tour de force. With a limited budget and no cinematic experiences, Barker easily invites himself into the pantheon of universal horror. All thanks to powerful concepts and creatures that are second to none in pure terror. Thus the world discovers Hellraiser and its mythology, of which here is the almost perfect narrative invitation:
“There is a magic box in our world, carved out of wood and covered with gold … It is said to allow us to discover pleasures that the mind cannot imagine. Unfortunately, for those who own it, the box is actually a key that opens direct access to hell. From this portal emerges the most sadistic creatures that hell has carried: the Cenobites. “
The film is a success because in addition to a striking and poisonous story, a recognized soundtrack and involved actors, it gives birth to a new icon of genre cinema, which the public will baptize Pinhead.
This man with a bluish complexion, wearing nails and adorned with dark leather joined without waiting the Freddy, Jason and other Leatherface at the table of our nightmares. The film will even have the right to a direct sequel, Hellbound, of which Barker will co-write the screenplay. This quality sequel takes us to hell and shows us a little more of the cenobites. On opus 3 and 4 Barker is only a consultant… and from the 5th to the 10th, B’arker is overshadowed by a franchise that will sink into the obscurity of dispensable films.
At the origin of this disintegration, the transfer by Barker of its copyrights to producers, and this from the first film. And very quickly the saga escapes him … to the point of making Hellraiser the biggest missed event in the history of horrific cinema. We are watching new releases, but more out of nostalgia for the first films than out of real hope. Above all, we are watching, a little guilty, for the arrival of new cenobites, which even in a bad film, remain fascinating and unhealthy monsters. Unfortunately, the films do not deliver many mythological elements and achievements without souls will end up killing the franchise. But the good news is that beyond the film and the first novel, other books and comics give life to an extended universe.
The Extended Universe
So this is where our journey into the hell of Leviathan begins. Any story of the saga begins with a mysterious box that one day ends up in the hands of a person.
But the box chooses such victims at random? Before talking about this evil artifact, I must reassure you, the box does not arise randomly in your life … It only appears to have a certain number of profiles. After having gone through all the stories of the saga, it is possible to identify large families of candidates for damnation, in order to understand what profiles are looking for recruiters from hell:
1 The explorers : Who hasn’t dreamed of knowing more about the secrets of the world? Like Frank in the original story, explorers are looking for secret knowledge and forbidden pleasure. It is therefore not surprising to find among our victims 2 journalists, a photographer, an explorer, a librarian or even a disillusioned detective. Whatever the purpose of their research, it leads them into obscure corners of reality and reason. These profiles have in common the quest for a hidden truth and this thirst for knowledge implacably leads them to the box, when it is not she who comes to them. It is often symbolic of the price to pay for those who seek what a human should not know.
2 Scientists : Another family even more dedicated to empirical research into the unknown. We thus find a doctor, a researcher in virtual reality, a virologist or even a researcher in physics. Either his jobs are close to death, or they raise moral and ethical questions which the box monsters are fond of.
3 The lost souls : Even darker profiles. The box often arises in the hands of desperate people, either to shorten their suffering, or to quench their thirst for revenge … towards those they consider responsible. We find there, a depressed woman who committed suicide in her bathtub, a regiment of ex-soldiers traumatized by the horrors of war. But surprisingly, the box appears twice in the hands of abused children, who without knowing it will invoke cenobites to suppress their toxic entourage.
4 criminals : Despite the apparent glimmer of justice suggested by the latter two cases, the box often arrives in the life of the ill-intentioned who make up this family. These candidates evolve in badly famed circles with often absent morals: bettor, delinquents, members of gangs or sexual predators and even serial Killers. They are somewhere the most anticipated candidates in our traditional understanding of Judeo-Christian hell.
5 the leaders : The family with the most members, bringing together all those who exercise and abuse power over others. It is fascinating to see that its elected representatives occupy different levels of society. From the shady promoter, to the manager of a nightclub, to a tortured horse trainer and an unhealthy producer, one who abuses his position is one of the club’s favorite candidates. The same goes for the authoritarian power exercised by a state or an administration: one thus finds soldiers, police officers and even a prison guard. This family also includes leaders, dictators, business leaders and a bloody tale from the Crusades. Finally something that could seem incongruous, there are also several fundamentalist religious who think to invoke God only harvest Cenobites.
There is finally a last family, that of the creators but it is too early to evoke this strange specificity…
You would think that I have not yet revealed the Mythology of the saga, but we have just mentioned its heart: it is in the realm of human darkness that the Cenobites hunt. Their appearance is the crowning of a human life doomed to the dark side. Then resonate this quote from the author:
“Each of us is a book of blood. When we open it, everything is red ”
It is therefore not surprising to see in the tales of the saga direct references to dark periods in our history. From violent colonizations to fratricidal wars, from slavery to apartheid to Nazi horror, Hellraiser keeps reminding us that the darkness of his Cenobites has nothing to envy to that of humans. With its fantastic charge, the saga could have gone headlong into the most uninhibited dark fantasy, but more often than not, stories are born on the contrary in very realistic contexts that reflect our world. This often puts us in front of what we would prefer to avoid …
It’s time to tell you about the box. Based on the movies, we know very little about this strange artifact: It’s a cubic shape with mysterious patterns. Regarding its origins, the film “Bloodline” reveals that in the 18th century, an architect versed in the occult arts would have manufactured it. His name was Philippe Lemarchand. But, as we said, the films do not reveal anything about the magnificent and sophisticated complexity that gets impatient on other supports
Let’s retrace the journey of this mysterious engineer together to understand his role and his motivations … And since I was lucky enough to be able to go through it, I will give you the contents of his diary.
We are in 1740. Philippe Lemarchand, architect and artist, worships the sacred and mysterious geometry of the Cenobites… Increasingly involved, Lemarchand embarks on a frantic quest for knowledge on this subject. He says he goes through the enigma of Albertus Magnus, devours the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Agrippa or Pic de la Mirandole, all of which refer to the Cenobites. (The technique of credibility of mythology requires the convocation of historical figures and troubles.) At the end of his research, Lemarchand became obsessed with these legendary cenobites. Although he thinks that some of these writings are fabulous, the architect leaves the domain of reason.
He gradually slides towards the unhealthy by examining works of frightening anatomy and especially by devouring biographies of Gilles de Rais. This lieutenant of Joan of Arc committed such atrocious misdeeds that he became the inspiration for The Bluebeard, very present in our collective imagination. He was accused during his trial of the murder of 140 children and Gilles de Rais is often mentioned as one of the first documented serial killers in history.
In the diary of this sinister character, The merchant discovers that a cenobite would have guided the murderer in his low works, but especially that there is a box containing a magic formula which would make it possible to invoke the monster. Activating his occult networks, he manages to get it. It was therefore not Lemarchand who invented the first box. On the other hand, he analyzes it until he understands its mechanism. His frustration runs away as he approaches supreme knowledge, with forceful sketches and calculations. To complete his apprenticeship, he activated the mechanism one evening and finally invoked Baron, the famous cenobite who had dictated his actions to Gilles de Rais. The cenobite observes Lemarchand’s sketches and feels his obsession with order and symmetry. Baron accepts that Lemarchand manufactures his own mechanisms to invoke cenobites. He thus becomes the first human to have the right to make boxes.
Let’s now enter the depths of myth. First of all, it is no accident that brings up the box in your life. These are the cenobites who spotted you from hell and send you the puzzle, but we will come back to this point a little later … For the boxes to be mythical and credible, it is therefore necessary to create a story for them, but also a striking appearance and operating concepts. In terms of appearance, there are a multitude of different designs. The shape is overwhelmingly cubic but this look is not exclusive. To convince yourself, just browse the cursed pages of the Sigillum Diaboli, a work that lists the appearances and effects of all the boxes. On the walls of this one, mystical symbols and shapes on which, certain precise finger movements must be applied, in order to activate the mechanism. All the inscriptions on the box draw references to Indian myths, to the Jewish cabbala, to the treatises on demonology or even to the Bible, as if the box were an overlap of several cursed knowledge, a key to darkness.
Once the puzzle begins, a music box melody is heard, which grows as the resolution progresses. The final click sounds, the box sets in motion, pivots on itself and metamorphoses, subject to a sinister logic. At the end a bell rings, like an infernal knell. You can hear the stone on the walls groan and fall apart as you approach the cenobites. Then the walls of the room move away and a bluish light shoots out of the darkness. Ill shadows emerge, they are there. And unless there is a market or a miracle, they will leave with you to let you know hell.
Just before seeing what happens to the unfortunate elected officials, one last point on the magic boxes. While they are practical, they are not the only way to appeal to the Underworld. By solving the boxes, we actually perform a geometric ritual called Configuration. In the movies, the magic formulas are hidden in these puzzle boxes, but far more amazing configurations have existed. Some may take the form of a pocket watch, others the appearance of an innocent music box. We also find a configuration in -400 BC which appears under the appearance of a stone table in front of which incantations must be pronounced … Even more surprising, Lemarchand has for example constructed buildings in which the dark ritual is hidden . This is the case for a leprosy treatment center, for an artist’s pension in Paris but also for a disturbing building. For the latter, it is the journey made with the elevator that gives life to the configuration. But it also works with a guitar if the chords played follow a certain pattern. But the configurations can also be hidden in the cardboard pieces of a puzzle to be assembled, in a crucifix, a crossword puzzle, a novel or even in the way of harvesting a wheat field. They seem like there are more highways to hell than stairs to heaven.
What happens after the cenobites are present?
Several scenarios can occur: As long as you have a bad contact, the view can go wrong and the cenobites will make dozens of chains end with a hook that will spread you in a sheaf of blood.
If on the other hand, you manage to arouse their interest, the cenobites can be tempted by a market. For example, to bring them more candidates for hell and therefore to work for them in the real world. Useless to want to double them or to play with them if not return to the first scenario. Let’s assume that the cenobites save your life, that does not mean that they can leave empty handed. So you have to sacrifice someone for you.
If on the other hand they consider that you are ready to leave with them in the lower kingdom, then the cenobites will carry out the weighing of your soul. Depending on the desires and impulses they discover there, they will reserve a spell for you which can vary, but in any case, rest assured that eternal suffering will be there. If the infernal priests believe that your vices are sadly common then you will be just having fun and your destination is called the Well. There are other wandering souls like you, who have the common appearance of the skinned, who drag like a suffering herd on the desolate moors of the place.
This explains the presence of skinned in films. They are damned who managed to escape from hell with the help of a human, this is the case of Frank in the first opus or for Julia in the second. The sentence “Help me I’m in hell ”written in a letter of blood on the wall by the cutaway therefore takes on its full meaning. To hope to become human again, they must kill people to recover their skin. The population of skinned wells is subject to the yoke of cenobites who treat them like cattle and we will even see them rebelling against their masters.
How does one become a cenobite? After a human life turned to darkness, you are called through the box and your future companions come to pick you up. This is followed by a very unpleasant phase, which takes place in a reconstruction room.
This room can take several forms: it is sometimes an iron virgin, a medieval sarcophagus filled with deadly peaks, other times a niche with walls similar to that of the box, but more often than not, it is a bare room to the medical atmosphere. There is a new kind of surgical instrument, but also repulsive tentacles that search your brain. The machine recomposes your body into an abject and fascinating form, which generally adapts to your psyche, but still, your appearance breathes torture, suffering and unhealthy eroticism. Once the operation is complete, you are officially a cenobite. Your goal now is to harvest souls for your God Leviathan, or recruit new cenobites from humans. The demons of the order of the hack, also have a role of police of the hell because their goal and to catch the rare damned who manage to escape from the limbo. The cenobites evolve in a very hierarchical caste with well defined roles, as in a classic religious order.
Before talking about their laws and their motivation, let’s dwell on their appearance, which is beyond measure in the horrifying genre.
Cenobites have the distinction of being as repulsive as they are fascinating. It was in the original film that the cenobites first appeared. The make-up and the game of the cenobites have laid the foundations of their school, even if the comics will reserve the most decadent expressions for us. The choice of black leather is not trivial. When we look at the occurrences of cooking in the Cinema before the release of the first film in 1987, we are already in a fairly marked imagination: in addition to the black jacket of bad boys on motorcycles, leather is associated with domination, sex and to the interlope places. He’s the offender’s uniform, the murderer’s glove. Leather is the ideal choice to combine attraction and repulsion, eros and thanatos. The design of the costumes, between religious clothing and keeping of sm dungeon creates a particular contrast. To this dark sexual aura is added the gashes. Often the costume is mixed with the flesh. It is even often designed to provide permanent suffering to the wearer. What is disturbing about the cenobites is that despite the constant suffering they endure, they are cold, amused, calm and fanatical, worshiping the pain they present as ultimate refinement. Pain is however what we have been fleeing from the dawn of time; so seeing creatures who have embraced it as a religion takes us into metaphysical malaise and makes them totally inhuman.
Cenobites can have very different aspects and dress. Most of them are humanoid but some are more of an abomination, an indescribable chimera. The bake and piercing look is dominant in cenobite but the environment has its originals. We can especially meet demons dressed in white and red canvas. One of the chiefs of the order is even dressed in a Prussian general’s costume, when another cenobite with facial scarification presents all the paraphernalia of the American soldier. Others have a more monstrous physiognomy, the deformed facies, the skin of another color … There are also animals which accompany them and serve them like dogs or bees. The cenobite therefore offers the creators who shape them a great creative attitude with regard to the form they can hear.
The same goes for their characters: the disparity of personality in cenobites very often reflects the humans they were. Some are rebellious and do nothing but lead, others are cynical, some even try to keep a part of humanity in their decision. The cenobites are extremely innovative for me because they have in their way enlarged the spectrum of what the cinema monster can evoke. Their moral ambiguity, the luminous aura that accompanies them, their chilling calm and their infernal cynicism go beyond the terror of classic cinema to transform it into a venomous fascination.
One of the phrases used by Pinhead to introduce itself is as follows:
« Demons to some, angels to others. »
This contradiction is therefore assumed, to place these entities on more intellectual and psychological ground, to blur their motivations and make them unfathomable. And therefore the classic Manichaeism of our society which opposes good and bad is ineffective here, and this is one of the many genius traits of Barker on the saga. This is due to the underlying philosophy of the Notch order. Indeed, cenobites do not read the actions of men under the specter of good or bad actions, but assess your actions according to whether they have generated chaos or order. And that makes their value system more complex. For example, a cenobite will not try a serial killer because he has killed people. but rather he will assess his motivations and the consequences of his actions. In a way, chaos is associated with man and his freedom, the unexpected and the impulses of life. In contrast, order and structure are associated with control, law, oppression and the system. Besides in Hell, this balance is somehow personified by two strange deities called Chidna and Basilisk.
These two antediluvian entities recall the double helix of DNA and symbolize the necessary balance between darkness and light. A quote from the master clearly expresses this balance between two forces: “Darkness has its role to play. Without them, how would we know we are walking in the light? When the ambitions of evil become too grand, they must be thwarted, disciplined, and even sometimes extinguished. Then they will reappear again as it should. ”
The order of the world is therefore a clever combination of chaos and order. If this balance is disturbed, then Chidna and Basilisk will fight, thus alerting the cenobites that they must repair this anomaly by changing destinies in reality. Because the job of a cenobite is to select people who have power over the world, to tip them over, but a cenobite must also answer to its hierarchy. If he has failed to manipulate the right way, then he will be tried in a trial. Each judged cenobite will have to tear out the heart so that it passed without a balance in front of the members of the order. Because let’s not forget that at the end of the chain of command is their supreme God, Leviathan. Cenobites are therefore a form of police force in the service of a religion, with the whole oppressive and rigorous universe that such terms bring together. Pulling the threads of the spirit, they manipulate destinies to twist them in their interest … Some cenobites have been assigned particular functions which make the myth even more profound.
This is the case of Sister Flagellum, who is called the police. Flagellum is plunged into a deep meditative sleep from which it is drawn if its God Leviathan feels a disturbance in the balance of forces. She will refer them to the cenobite teams so that they go to resolve the situation on the ground, much like a damnation task force.
There is another major role played by a cenobite, very symptomatic of the depth of the Barkerian narrative. But to evoke it it brings us back to the very beginning. How do the boxes end up in the hands of their victims? A box is always given, protected and recovered by a guard. In films, it’s always a strange individual who puts the box back is always the same: Initially a merchant, then an art seller, the guard appears most often in the guise of a homeless man with a beard unkempt and with crazy eyes, which seems to have a particular connection with the locusts. Again, these are the comics that give us keys to understanding these famous guards. First of all they are shape-changers, they have the capacity to take the appearance that they wish to approach and seduce the target without it being suspicious. But how are these mysterious smugglers created? Thanks to our famous cenobite with such a special role.
His name is Orno, and he has his own cabinet in the bowels of hell. To create a puzzle keeper, Orno chooses a damned that he calls “Raw Material”. He alters his soul by placing a bit of his own demonic spirit in it. He then returns his guinea pig to earth so that he can have sex with a woman. From this relationship will be born a child who Orno will take care to make orphan. Once he reaches 16 years of a life of sadness, Orno will reveal his true nature to him by offering him the box of which he will be the official guardian.
As a result, with the Hellraiser universe, we are witnessing a phenomenon which is after all quite frequent, which one could call “transmedia mythological development”. It’s the idea of expanding a fictional universe to other media than the one by which he was born. For Hellraiser, it’s a classic journey to Hollywood for a successful franchise: we adapt a book to the cinema, and if it is successful, we then develop comics or video games to tell new stories and spread the universe. And if the adaptations are sometimes soulless commercial moves, there are cases where this passage is extremely beneficial for a work. This is the case for Hellraiser. Making a fantastic film is expensive and we are subject to regulations that limit what we can show. With a comic, no problem. The only limit is the talent of the artist and the imagination of the authors.
In the work, the hell that Barker describes is very different from the classic hell representations. Where we knew a hell of red and burning limbo led by Satan, we find here a blue and icy labyrinth dominated by Leviathan. The first visual representation of the labyrinth of the underworld is delivered in the second film of the saga named Hellbound, during a sequence which literally convinced me that the saga hid an incredible mythological potential. We see there for the first time a reconstruction chamber and the making of a cenobite, but, above all, we discover a landscape worthy of the most dizzying nightmares. Perspectives that are lost from afar, abundances of senseless architecture, bottomless precipices …
The main inspiration for this representation comes from the work of Piranesi, a brilliant Italian engraver who lived in the 18th century. The latter unwound one day to create 16 engravings that would present nightmarish imaginary prisons. In this suffocating world, one enters a monumental architecture, with multiple dungeons, suffocating and dirty, with walkways that lead nowhere to spiral staircases. They are also intertwined with pulleys, chains and other instruments of torture. If the labyrinth also reminds of the Minotaur’s labyrinth, it also summons the architectures of Escher. We can safely quote the artist since a plan of the film shows one of his works.
For Piranesi, The link is especially strong when we contemplate the bowels of the labyrinth with its multidirectional corridors, its abyssal staircases and its general function of prison of souls. The fact that Barker wanted to quote Piranesi to make hell a prison place and cold is of a strong originality, which moreover suits perfectly the cenobites. On the top of the walls of this labyrinth, the cenobites can walk, meet and above all pray to Leviathan, who overlooks this gigantic area. When one descends from the crests of the labyrinth to enter its entrails, one enters a dark and dense area, with stairs which intersect to serve the various places of torture and other hellish abominations. The depth of this place seems endless, like the torments that stand there.
Since the cenobites are ancient humans, it makes sense, after all, to keep activities from their previous lives. So do not be surprised to know that in the labyrinth there are archives of operating theaters, an armory, but also a bar, a theater, or even places for political meetings. Finally above this Leviathan plane labyrinth.
This name originates from the Bible where Leviathan is described in several books as a multi-headed sea monster who revolts against God. We can also make the link with the eponymous book by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes uses Leviathan as a metaphor for the perfect state, ruled by an absolute sovereign who exercises total control over society. Written by Hobbes during the First English Revolution, Leviathan insists on the need for a strong and total social order to avoid society from sinking into a state of nature which, for Hobbes, is a chaotic war of all against all. This choice of name is therefore not trivial and its symbolism has its place in Hell.
In Hellraiser, this volume of depths is also designated as the God of Flesh, Hunger, Desire, or Lord of the Labyrinth.
It is complicated to create a God in a fictional work, especially if one decides to show it. What form should be given to an abstract idea? Barker opted, not for yet another hackneyed classic demonic abomination, but for a surprising and mathematical form, perfectly symbolic of the concepts of Order and Structure. Indeed, the god of cenobites is an octahedron whose walls recall the esoteric ornament of Lemarchand’s boxes. Leviathan gravitates, lonely, dominating hell. It has the power to launch rays of black light which infiltrates your soul to reveal your sins to you.
The origins of this entity are unknown, but several clues point to the fact that it has been present since time immemorial. It is even said that he could be the fallen angel of the scriptures, but above all, this strange god is the one who makes the cenobites. It has the capacity to transform any human being into a suffering monster and thanks to its reconstruction chambers and its tentacles, it has total freedom in the grotesque and terrifying form that it will want to give you.
Leviathan does not speak directly, and to be able to exchange with him, it is necessary to go in his entrails. You can enter it thanks to a wall that unfolds and reveals endless markets. Once inside, the cenobites must play hard an organic organ made of supliciaries of hell to hope to communicate with this God. In the film, his only form of external language is a tetanizing foghorn which spells the word “GOD” in Morse code. So here we are at the top of hell.
After this painful journey, we can already note that the only thing that equals the darkness of Hellraiser is its black aesthetics and its mythological sophistication.
A connection with the Bible? In most works wanting to install a contemporary mythology, these almost systematically refer to Catholic mythology, whether it be the films Freddy and the relationship of his famous killer with hell, the game Bloodborn and his pantheon of Gods who seek to procreate or the manga Berserk and its multiple references to the Inquisition…
For Hellraiser, the least that can be said is that Clive Barker has a unique approach to the issue. Like the character, she is amazing and complex. In an interview book with Peter Arkins, one of the great screenwriters of the saga, Barker writes on the question. He immediately confesses to trying in his writings to find the rhythm of the Bible, which he says is his favorite. He also has a sort of fascination with the figure of Christ. Conversely, his vision of the church and of dogma exudes the most dissenting rejection there is. The work translates very well this oscillation of the author between fascination for the verb and the biblical symbols and detestation of what the men of church made of God. And the saga is dotted with games with religious symbolism, often to return the values. The word cenobite itself refers to an existing order. In contrast to the hermit, who lives in solitude and contempolation, the Cenobite monk lives in community. By thus making reference to an existing order, Barker can thus criticize religion while retrieving the lexical and symbolic fields. Pinhead is a nickname but its real dominion is “Hellpriest”, and the monster even marries its gestures. In addition, the cenobites despise the God of men. This phrase from cult Pinhead is a perfect example:
« Do I look like some one who cares what God thinks ? »
Barker’s vision of hell is therefore not made of horned demons who plunge us into the pot of lava, but of a religious, calculator based on suffering.
And if we wanted to go a little further, we might wonder if the cenobites in their concepts are not very close to the Catholic religion. Indeed, among Christians, the supreme act that launched religion is the crucifixion of a messiah, who became a martyr to save men. One can almost say that this act of torture is the basis of the Catholic religion. To the point that the symbol worn by its followers is an instrument of torture. Even if this is presented as an act of supreme love, the fact remains that this myth bases its genesis on the suffering and sin of men. Just like the cenobites.
It is also fascinating to see that the Christ figure has the same right to its rereading with the female figure of Morte Mamme.
In the Barkerian myth, she is the sister of Leviathan, who captured her in a stone tomb thousands of years ago. She is named priestess of chaos and the image she represents is no big mystery. Yet another camouflaged anti-dogma by the author who tells us that Jesus is a woman, that she is the impulse of life and chaos and that her goal is the destruction of the cenobites. Impossible not to see a political dimension when we know the place of women in religions. Thus Clive Barker seems to be in the grip of a fascination for the original biblical stories and the symbolic power of these myths, while castigating the purely evil deviation of our modern religions. For Clive Barker, God is imagination and imagination is God.
He is He may be some of you who are not used to horrifying creations for whom this universe is undoubtedly dirty, shocking, depressing or repulsive. This prompts us to ask ourselves the question: how can we imagine such things? Isn’t creation supposed to generate beauty, transcendence, a pleasure for the senses and the eyes? And I, who am swooning in front of this universe, do I have problems? Am I a creepy person, feasting on the kind of metaphorical darkness? It’s strange because I see the opposite. Barker himself says that what is pornography for some is theology for others. Everything is therefore a question of point of view. As far as I’m concerned, I see in this work an incredible ode to creation. A declaration of love for the surreal adventure it implies. Finally, I see in Hellraiser a reflection on the Artist’s sacrifices. After three months of living in this universe, I ended up thinking about it in my sleep. And one night, I dreamed of this cover of Comic:
We see a painter’s palette there. Brushes are blades and paint hemoglobin. And there I had the feeling to understand. Clive Barker explains that he writes as we paint, and that we only paint with his blood. No wonder, then, that we find our last family of damnation candidates here. The artists…
Inhabited by an intangible and devouring need, they are often visited by the cenobites in the saga. They come to find a young poet, a blind composer, two writers, a crazy painter … The work of a creator consists in deciding between structure and chaos, putting his soul into the configuration that is a work. In Hellraiser but especially in life, Art is a sacrifice, an activity of a reclusive monk who would only have his imagination for God. It’s a life where places are scarce, where the waiting and learning are endless, where you have to undergo the opinion of people who rarely understand you … The artist’s freedom is strewn with a thousand obstacles: how to earn something to eat? How to reach people? How to make a work that excites us ourselves? How to surprise yourself, surprise others and mark their hearts and minds? And how to survive a world that does everything to suppress the dream? Barker is a free spirit, a man who fights daily against the idea of death, a man for whom the imagination is the greatest mystery of humanity. For whom the imagination is God. A man, finally, who is not afraid to rub himself in the dark in order to draw resplendent jewels from it.
I don’t know if you’ve ever encountered a creator virtually. I am quick to marvel at multiple subjects, but feeling an intimate artistic shock in front of an artist’s mind is rare. And that’s what happened to me with this character that I’ve been contemplating from afar for years, without knowing anything about him. On a sleepless night, I tried what I often balk at doing: knowing everything about the creator whose work I explore. For me the work is what interests me in the first place and I was sometimes disappointed when I discovered the person who was hiding behind. But with Clive Barker, the sensation was quite different, around 4am and after 20 interviews, I felt like I had found a mentor, an incredible model, someone I would like to count among my friends.
The sequence that touched me the most was an English interview where Barker faced a crowd of young people whose age was not so far from his at the time.
And all the questions from the public are curiously enough reactionary and suspicious. Hellraiser first of the name had just come out and everyone was suspicious of the singularity and the violence of the work. And Barker to enter into a soft, understanding and sensitive plea on the power and the necessity of the horror stories, on the strange beauty that they contain. Seeing him justify himself in front of people who did not understand his sensitivity touched me in the messages they delivered, and his kindness confused me. So I often think back to his mantra:
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you can be violent and original in your work”.
One of the beauties of this saga is to see the ambition of its concepts, the creative and symbolic freedom that it contains. What an emotion to contemplate the birth of a world with its geography and macrocosm, to follow its emblematic heroes and demons struggling in an abyssal mythology, with so many readings. If I was talking about the opening cathedral, it is because every detail of this universe is coherent, finely chiseled and that it allows 1000 things, not forbidding anything. We recognize here the work of a goldsmith of horror, of a watchmaker of the imagination … who would take the bias of art to reveal things that life does not show. The work then becomes like a revelation that speaks to everyone, like a metaphorical vision of our world.
I would like to end, with a little heavy heart, this trip in the meanders of this total artist with one of the sentences of which he has the secret: