The Great and Secret Show

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The Great and Secret Show
Cover of first UK edition
Author Clive Barker
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series The Art Trilogy
Genre Fantasy novel
Publisher Collins
Publication date
January 1990
Media type Print (hardback)
ISBN 0-06-016276-7
OCLC 20669762
823/.914 20
LC Class PR6052.A6475 G7 1989
Followed by Everville

The Great and Secret Show is a novel by British author Clive Barker. It was released in 1989 and it is the first "Book of the Art" in a trilogy, known as The Art Trilogy by fans.[1]

The novel is about the conflict between two highly evolved men – Randolph Jaffe and Richard Fletcher – over the mystical dream sea called Quiddity. Jaffe hopes to tap into Quiddity's power while Fletcher wants to prevent it from being tainted. The conflict between the two men spills into the real world in a decades-long feud, distorting reality and affecting the entire human race.

Clive Barker has said in interviews that this novel was the hardest to write of all his books.

Plot summary[edit]

While working in the dead letter office in Nebraska in 1969, a disgruntled postal clerk named Randolph Jaffe discovers hints to a mysterious part of society known as "The Shoal" that are ostensibly practising what seems to be a form of magic only vaguely known as "The Art". His search eventually brings him to Trinity, New Mexico, where he encounters the mysterious "Kissoon" who claims to be the last of the Shoal. From Kissoon he learns of the mystical dream sea Quiddity and the islands within it known as the Ephemeris. Quiddity, as it turns out, is visible exactly three times to an ordinary human: The first time we ever sleep outside our mother's womb, the first time we sleep beside the one we truly love and the last time we ever sleep before we die. However; this simply is not enough for the megalomaniac Jaffe, who wishes to actually visit the dream sea in person and gain control of it. Jaffe flees when Kissoon tries to bargain for his body, and later teams up with a scientist named Fletcher who is able to create a liquid called the 'Nuncio'. Nuncio is theoretically able to enable a human to evolve to a state that would enable him to physically reach Quiddity. Fletcher has second thoughts however, realising that Jaffe will only use Nuncio for evil, and destroys his laboratory. Jaffe arrives and both are exposed to the Nuncio. The two battle each other for a year and their spirits arrive in Palomo Grove in California in 1971. There, they rape and impregnate four teenage girls. One of the girls is infertile and fails to give birth while another kills herself and her child after giving birth. The third, Trudi Katz, moves away with her baby Howard while the fourth, Joyce McGuire gives birth to twins, Jo-Beth and Tommy Ray.

Eighteen years pass. Howard returns to Palomo Grove after the death of his mother. While Jaffe and Fletcher produced offspring to continue their battle, Howard and Jo-Beth instead fall in love after meeting. When a former TV comedian, Buddy Vance, passes away at the cave where the lake once was, Fletcher and Jaffe are able to escape. Jaffe is able to amass an army of creatures known as Terata using the minds of vulnerable people and gets his son Tommy Ray on his side as well. Howard encounters Fletcher, who explains his heritage to him. Fletcher explains Quiddity to Howard, telling him that the islands Ephemeris contain the Great and Secret Show. However, Howard refuses to align with his father. Meanwhile, a reporter, Grillo, and his friend Tesla arrive to Palomo Grove to report on Vance's death. Fletcher is unable to amass his own army of hallucigenia from the mind of dreamers and instead kills himself through immolation, spreading his essence to the people of the town.

Having encountered Fletcher before his death, Tesla heads to the remnants of his laboratory to recover the remains of the Nuncio. Tommy Ray is sent by Jaffe, who has managed to convince people that he is the ghost of Vance. While there Tesla encounters Raul, an ape who had been evolved through the power of the Nuncio. Tommy Ray arrives and shoots Tesla, but the last remaining vial of Nuncio breaks, infecting both Tommy Ray and Tesla. Tesla's consciousness travels to a time loop in New Mexico where she encounters Kissoon. Kissoon explains to Tesla that the Shoal were dedicated to keeping Quiddity and the Art pure but with them all dead, Earth (known as the Cosm) could be dominated by the evil race Iad Uroboros who live in the Metacosm on the opposite side of Quiddity. Tesla leaves when Kissoon tries to take over her body but agrees to find another body for him to inhabit. Leaving the time loop, Tesla encounters a woman named Mary Muralles who reveals that it was Kissoon who murdered the Shoal and he is actually an agent of the Iad Uroboros. Kissoon manages to kill Muralles using snake-like creatures created by his excrement and semen (Lix), then captures Raul to take over his body.

Tommy Ray heads back to Palomo Grove having amassed an army of the dead while the hallucigenia created by Fletcher's death convince Howard to help them attack Jaffe. In Vance's house, Jaffe manages to tear a hole through reality into Quiddity but realises it is too much power for him to deal with. As his terata battle the hallucigenia many are dragged into Quiddity including Howard, Jo-Beth and Tommy Ray. Tesla, Grillo and Jaffe flee Vance's house and attempt to close the vortex into Quiddity. Quiddity transforms Howard, Jo-Beth and Tommy Ray as they float through Quiddity and reach the Ephemeris where they find that the Iad Uroboros are crossing Quiddity towards Earth.

Palomo Grove starts to collapse and the entire town is sealed off by the authorities. Tesla recalls a word Kissoon had brought up, "Trinity", which is the place where the first atomic bomb was detonated. Kissoon, now occupying Raul's body arrives, but Jaffe is able to distract him as Tesla transports the vortex to Quiddity into Kissoon's time loop. Howard, Jo-Beth and Tommy Ray, completely transformed from their experience in Quiddity arrive from the vortex. Jaffe is able to kill Raul's body and is reunited with Tommy Ray. Tesla finds that Raul has occupied Kissoon's former body and by convincing Raul's consciousness to enter her body, Kissoon's body is killed which disintegrates the time loop, destroying the vortex to Quiddity and the Iad Uroboros who were arriving. Tesla and the others are able to escape the time loop just in time.

The remains of Palomo Grove are destroyed, and Jo-Beth and Howard meet supernatural investigator Harry D'Amour who asks for their story. Tesla meets Grillo and tells him that the worshippers of the Iad Uroboros are still active and will try to summon them again.



It was also released as a 12-part comic book between March 2006 and May 2007 by IDW Publishing.


Critical reception for the book has been mixed.[2] Ken Tucker of the New York Times gave a mixed review of The Great and Secret Show, writing "From The Great and Secret Show, it is clear that Mr. Barker's intention is to force the horror genre to encompass a kind of dread, an existential despair, that it hasn't noticeably evinced until now. This is a tall order, one that this novel, which is skillful and funny but ultimately overwrought, doesn't quite accomplish. But, having announced the intention of writing a trilogy about the Art and its mysteries, he may yet achieve his goal."[3] Author David Foster Wallace was also mixed in his review as he heavily criticized the work as overly pretentious but commented that the novel was "not without some cool sections".[4]

Publishers Weekly panned the work overall, stating "Though diverting, the novel is something of a potboiler, and despite its pervasive horrific imagery, it fails even to frighten us--or invite us to suspend disbelief."[5]


  1. ^ Mierzejewski, Gene (March 1, 1990). "Brit Clive Barker masters horror in movies, books". Chicago Sun-Times (subscription required). Retrieved 9 May 2015. 
  2. ^ Budrys, Algis (February 4, 1990). "In summary, this wasn't a bad idea". Chicago Sun-Times (subscription required). Retrieved 9 May 2015. 
  3. ^ Tucker, Ken. "ONE UNIVERSE AT A TIME PLEASE". New York Times. Retrieved 9 May 2015. 
  4. ^ Foster Wallace, David (February 19, 1990). "The Horror of Pretentiousness". Washington Post. Retrieved 9 August 2015. 
  5. ^ "The Great and Secret Show: The First Book of the Art (review)". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 9 May 2015.