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

Bad Moon Books / March 2009
Reviewed by: Blu Gilliand

It’s difficult to offer any sort of critique of Clive Barker’s The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus. It’s not that there aren’t things to be critical about. It’s that any mistakes, heavy-handedness or clumsiness in the prose have the built-in excuse of having been made when the author was just a teenager feeling his way around the craft of setting his dreams to paper.

You’ve got to hand it to Barker for having the courage to put this early work out there warts and all. The temptation to go back in to tinker and polish must have been difficult to resist for someone like Barker, famous as he is for the multiple handwritten drafts and rewrites that are part of his process. But Circus has been left as-is, and while it’s not as satisfying as Barker’s more mature work, it’s an intriguing peek at an early draft of the talent that was to come.

Circus is composed of a quartet of tales following the titular caravan as it makes its way to Xanadu, where Mr. Bacchus hopes to stage a show for the famous Kublai Khan. As they travel dusty side roads that carry them from sleepy towns to the very ends of the Earth itself, they pick up several bizarre companions to complement a troupe that already contains its share of clowns, trapeze artists, and even a talking crocodile. There is a wedding, a run-in with pirates, and even the theft of the Sun itself.

Barker’s love of language is on display in this early work, even though his eventual mastery of it has yet to show itself in these stories. While there is a definite gap in his craftsmanship from then to now, the brute force of his imagination is on full display. His characters and settings in Circus are a rich foretelling of the worlds he would go on to build in his books.

The weaknesses of a teenage author may be too much for anyone other than Barker purists to withstand, and this is definitely not the book to give someone looking for a first impression. But for those who have followed Barker’s vivid storytelling since he shocked the world with Books of Blood, this small collection is a wonderful thing to have.

Purchase Clive Barker’s The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus.

Posted on Monday, May 18, 2009 at 10:16AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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