RSS

Tag Archives: folklore

On Constructing Folklore

One of the things which bothers me the most in speculative fiction is how the folklore and mythologies are constructed. I love mythopoeia (constructing mythology) and I love folklore, but there’s one thing I see a lot of which drives me so far up the wall that I make friends with the ceiling.

That’s the assumption, by writers, that anything folklore that they write in – fairy tales, myths, legends, ancient prophecies, tall tales, jokes, etc – are basically like little stories in the main story which all work on the same rules. Yes, a focus on the numbers three and seven will appear – along with a few other ‘staples’ of the fairy tale – and the language will take on a more pretentious ‘old fashioned’ air, but other than that they are written as if they are working on the same rules as modern fiction writing. That they have the same sense and polish.

They arent polished. The ‘rules’ of writing a story are rules for polished, planned, stories written at once by one person for the purpose of telling that story. Folklore isnt. Myths, legends, folk tales, fairy tales, etc are the mish-mashed amalgams of many generations telling what they can remember of incidents, jokes, and stories, to each other and themselves, and twisting with each new teller – none of whom save the last (the one who writes it down in what comes to be the ‘final’ or ‘popular’ form) will be professional story-tellers and none of whom will know the craft.

No one who created folklore (as opposed to setting down on the record) set out to write a story. If you want your fictional folklore – your fairy tales, or mythopoeia, or legends for your heroes to go in search of – to ring true, to actually sound like they are folklore and not the author slamming a massive infodump down on a culture it doesn’t mesh with, you have to do one thing:

Take everything you ever learned about how to write a story or write correctly and THROW IT OUT.

Myths, fairy tales, and other folklore do not obey the rules of fiction writing. It’s not just a stylistic tone change. You know the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’? Doesn’t apply here. Truth is stranger than fiction because truth involves the actions of humanity as a group. Fiction, in the modern sense, is not written by humanity as a group – it is written by one or two individual humans. Folklore, like truth, comes from humanity as a group. And humanity as a group is batshit crazy.

Folklore is not neat and tidy. Fiction is expected to be neat and tidy (tie up loose ends, not have plot holes, have characters who aren’t acting like they’ve been slapped half to death with a stupid stick, have a message or theme, etc). Most folklore, for all that there are some very ‘logical’ things within it (like how most vampire’s weaknesses are anti-septics), makes no sense. Consider the modern meme. No one can explain why certain things suddenly become hugely popular and get quoted and remixed to death, but they do and they are – for the most part – nonsensical. Nevertheless, they become a common theme amongst large swathes of the population – and while most fade from existence as rapidly as they occur, others linger …despite there being no rhyme or reason to which or why. The same is true of folklore. The myths and fairy tales which we have had passed down to us are the ones which lasted best – the funniest, or the least confusing – but if you actually read them (not their many retellings and adaptations) you find that they make no sense and that all of the ‘rules’ of fiction writing appear to have been ignored.

They weren’t ignored. They just aren’t applicable. And this is what modern writers creating folklore for their works need to understand. Fiction is orderly, but folklore is chaotic. If you are trying to neatly categorise your gods by what they are god of and your myths follow modern writing structures …well, then, you’ve failed to understand what real mythology is like.

Folklore – myths, fairy tales, the like – should feel alive. The clear, plot-relevant, modern-structured ‘myths’ and ‘fairy tales’ seen in modern speculative fiction don’t. The heart is missing from them. The myths and fairy tales – all the folklore, in fact – that writers create for the world’s they build work very well as little modern stories, but not as myths and fairy tales.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Folklore Is Not Static

Only a short post today because I’m ill and struggling to concentrate. Just a brief list of misconceptions about folklore that really piss me off, those being that: the oldest form of a folktale is the “right” one, that folklore is somehow accurate to political correctness and other things the folk didn’t know about, and that innovation in writing about folklore by exploring its limitations and changing thins is somehow “Wrong”. Dear people who think these things: [redacted due to excessive vulgarity in vulgar Latin].

 

1) There is no one “true” or “purest” version of any folklore. Just because you’ve gone back to the earliest form of a folktale or the earliest description of a creature that we know of does not make that version any more “accurate” or “real” than any later version, okay? The Strigoi Mort, for example, is no more real folklore than the Stokerian vampire or the, loath as I am to have to include them, sparklepires of Twilight and its ilk. They are different pieces of folklore from folk who differ in both location and era, but they are all folklore. One can argue whether the latest still deserve to be called vampires instead of some new name, but the same was indubitably true when the Stokerian vampire first immerged from literary origin and became folklore. If, say, you had one person fall ill from iron deficiency or TB in one town and the story of their illness or death spread sideways to the two neighbouring towns – one of which recently had things knocked off tables by a minor earthquake in the night and one which had an albino merchant travel through it recently, within no time you’re going to have three completely different sets of vampire folklore (one without attachment to other issues, one implying vampires are also nocturnally poltergeists, and one laying blame on the poor innocent albino person who happened to pass through the week before). None of those is any less folklore than the others. Nor are the inevitable versions that form as time goes by, but which were based on those, any less true folklore than the earlier forms. I don’t say “original” because, frankly, although we can tell where certain traits originate from, all these ideas have to come from somewhere before and so there can be no true “origin” of any folklore.

2) Folklore is the lore of the lowest common denominator: that means it’s every –IST and –ISM in the book and then some. As a collective, humans are pretty stupid. And when they’re not stupid they’re still prejudiced – especially in groups. Folklore, as the name suggests, is the lore of the folk – that is, of the least educated group. Folklore, essentially, is ruled by the lowest common denominator amongst the social group it originated in. This means that it’s racist as hell. It’s sexist as hell. It’s sexualist (also called homophobic, but that’s narrower) as hell. It’s ableist as hell. It’s classist as hell. It’s religiously intolerant as hell. And it’s every other –ist and –ism which I’ve failed to mention as hell. Somewhere, I believe (it’s been a while since I read them) in one of the Eddas there’s a line about how Odin could seduce any pale wristed woman in the world. To the people who came up with that it probably was just a pretty way of saying “all the women in the world”, but to the modern lowest common denominator it begs the question “so what about women who aren’t white?”. The Sirens of Greek myth were said to be able to seduce any sailor (into crashing or drowning) with their beautiful singing… until one day someone pointed out that deaf people are a thing. Western European fairy tales, or rather: the majority of those fairy tales, have taught children for centuries that women are a passive reward for a heroes actions and only recently are fairy tales beginning to be retold without love interests or with more active female characters. Many traditional Scandinavian mythical creatures were said to be able to seduce (a word now almost exclusively attached to sexual seduction, although it originally also included leading astray and winning someone over to the other side – something vaguely remembered by “seduced to the Dark Side” although there tends to still be the evil=sexy implication) both men and women, both gay and straight – probably because Scandinavian countries have had a somewhat healthier mindset toward homosexuality and bisexuality. However, this does not account for asexuals, for whom there was no term until 1940 and before that either had to put up with almost definitely having to marry a sexual person who wouldn’t understand or taking a vow of chastity. (This is why it is hard to find “proof” of asexuality in the past. Also, my pet theory is that the concept of chastity – choosing to not have sex for religious reasons – cam about one day in prehistory when one quick witted repulsed Ace, who either didn’t want kids or couldn’t put up with sex to have them, was reminded that the way things are is that when you grow up you get married and have kids and that Ace went “NOPE! …because …um, religion! Yeah, I promised [vaguely appropriate deity of choice] that I’d dedicate my life to them specifically and that means ix-nay on the sex and babies thing, okay?” – and then it got dogmatised and lots of people who weren’t asexual and weren’t going to be okay with a vow of no-acting-on-pantsfeels got pressured into it, leading to all the disturbing jokes about “favourite” altar boys.) In all of these cases the common people – the folk – give absolutes which may make sense to them at the time because they don’t know that people aren’t all like that, but which are horribly restrictive and offensive when viewed through the critical eye of a different culture or era. All of which leads me to point 3:

3) Folklore adapts and changes as the L.C.D. changes and there’s no point clinging to the past. The nature of folklore is change. The beauty of folklore is change. Folklore shifts, like sand dunes in a desert – slowly to the human who stands there for a time but shockingly fast to the human who sees, leaves, and returns to see again. This shifting is a detailed record of how the lowest common denominator – how the general population or common folk – viewed the world. Both what is included and what is not excluded but simply not considered tell us far more about how people viewed the world and how those cultures changed (I won’t say evolved because people tend to mistakenly believe evolution is a linear progression to some betterment rather than just adapting to different circumstances). Folklore does include traditions, it is true, but to say “you shouldn’t change [X] or consider how [Y that the folk the lore originated from didn’t know about] and must take those absolutes they told for granted despite their lack of universal applicability because IT’STRADITIONAL” is bullshit. Folklore includes traditions, but is not confined by them. Folklore is about the ebb and flow of traditions, the path they take from when the idea was first formed to when it becomes defunct and forgotten. Folklore is about change. Without that person history has made anonymous who first pointed out that “uhhh, guys, deaf people can’t be seduced by Siren-song because they can’t hear”, we would never have had the story – so much a part of folklore for thousands of years now – of Odysseus being tied to the mast while his crew sail them safely past with wax blocking their ears. There is no reason, for instance, that the “common knowledge” (the folklore) that a creature can seduce any gender should not eventually amend itself to “can seduce any person who is interested in sex” and that new Western European fairy tales and new telling of old ones should not slowly change to reflect the fact that women are people too.

Sure, sometime writers and other artists will try to do a new take on a piece of folklore (by examining the changes between what the originators of the folklore believed was normal and what the modern folk believe is normal) only to have it be quickly forgotten because the older form of the folklore still holds strong and the new idea was not adopted by the folk, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Folklore is like a wild and thorny, but beautiful, plant: you can’t control it; you can only offer it things to support itself with and stand back in awe.

 

…This was supposed to be short.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 11, 2016 in On Folklore

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Scrap Pile 2 – The God-Writer Metaphor

This is another piece I had originally intended for my current writing project, but which I found simply didn’t fit in the work.

 

Now, you may be thinking “How can anyone say writing has to make sense? Everyone knows the author is god for that world so if I don’t want to bother keeping track of what my background characters special powers, names, appearances and personalities are that’s totally, like, my choice”. Unfortunately, this idea that the god-author of a universe can do whatever they want with it comes with a fundamental flaw in the god-author metaphor: it doesn’t specify what kind of god the author or creator of a universe actually is. And when examined, it proves to not be the one you’d automatically think it is. You see, conceptually speaking, there is more than one type of god (and we are NOT getting into any actual religious debates here, okay? Whether or not I or anyone else believes in one or more deities, which I don’t, is irrelevant to the metaphor).

Most people when they think of a writer as the god of a fictional universe imagine them in a vaguely monotheistic form – a single, omniscient and omnipresent deity who is supposed to have total control and who created the entire universe (often with ease, which just goes to show how little some people know about how much effort viable writing actually takes). The idea of the author as a singular all powerful, unquestioned, creator-god is certainly tempting to the ego of those who write, but ultimately it does not gel with the common experiences reported by writers (phrases like “[character x] insisted on doing the opposite of what I wanted”, “I’ve got so many stories fighting to come out that if I don’t write my head will explode”, “the story just decided to go a different way”, “you [the readers] asked for more [blah] so…” and “my editor/beta suggested” are typical) . If the author of a work was a monotheistic omniscient and omnipresent deity, none of those things would be the typical experience of a writer.

Similarly, it might be tempting to expand the metaphor to say that the author is one of a dualistic pair of deities – the other being the editor/beta or story as it so pleases – but this is also not quite right. The story is the universe the deity creates, the editor – although a non-negotiable necessity – is not an equal creator as the author. Likewise, the author is not a deist deity; impartially creating the world and then letting it run amok as it pleases, because authors are actively involved in the path their work takes and find it to be not-unlike herding cats. So what kind of god is the author if the metaphor can work at all?

Congratulations, dear authors, you are but the head of polytheistic pantheons. The author, essentially, fills the same role as Zeus atop Mt. Olympus (although, I feel I ought to specify, Zeus was a third generation deity and did not create the universe – minor issue with the metaphor there).

The author is officially the ultimate power, as head King of the gods, but is forever struggling to deal with their shrewish and demanding Queen (editor or beta who, like Hera with Zeus, was actually – for all that she could be unreasonable – vital for keeping Zeus’ head from getting too big and to stop him from doing too many stupid things). The author is forever dreading the passing visits from and occasional wars with the Titans and Protogenoi who came before (such as Real Life [Gaea], Critics [Kronos], Publishing Houses [Rhea], Legal Issues [Tartaros], and Money [Ananke]).

It just gets worse from there, too, since as King of the Gods the author has people with their own opinions to rule over (and hope that, as Zeus did to Kronos and Kronos to Ouranos, no one of their children will overthrow them – that’s why he ate Metis and their daughter Athene came out of his head and why he married Achilles’ divine mother off to a mortal, by the way). That means having to keep a lot of people happy while keeping the world working as it should.

First come the other deities – the siblings (co-creators) and divine children of the king of the gods (characters) – and boy do they like to fight! Aphrodite is supposed to be going along plot A with Hephaestus, but instead keeps sneaking into plot B with Ares, which causes Hephaestus to go totally AWOL. Artemis shoots every plotline that gets near her, while Apollo is supposed to be off doing important things but instead chases Hermes around because he decided to fuck up a plot twist again. Demeter seems to be a perfectly compliant secondary or background character, but when Persephone’s plot goes a way she doesn’t like she starts ripping the setting to shreds (that was SUMMER by the way, not Winter – it was the fucking Mediterranean, after all). Dionysus gives everyone a case of writer’s block by insisting on being too drunk to make the plot anything other than a drunken I-give-up-party. Aphrodite and Athene fight over their prominence as characters while Hera-the-editor tries to strangle them both because she doesn’t like those characters. Meanwhile, Hebe’s whining in the background that she doesn’t get enough page-time (even though the fans love her and have invented a Fan Character – Heracles – to be with her), Athene’s whining about how Poseidon destroyed a background character (Medusa) in Athene’s (setting) temple, and Hades is hanging around in the back, refusing to do any work and snarking about how the story would probably work better if rocks fell and everyone died. Oh, and then, to top it off, the Titan Prometheus (another author of other works) decides to steal a major plot point off you and buggers off to leak the spoiler for free so that the author/Zeus can’t use it and they can take it for their book.

Then there’s the little people down the mountain. The readers. They’re always whining for something. More rains of angst so the crops will grow. Set a hydra on those people. Stop setting a hydra on those people. Pay more attention to this character. Pay more attention to that character. Don’t smite me for complaining about how you made the world even though I don’t like the way you made the oceans and the streets aren’t clean enough and I want more cows. Give us more heroes. Take away the heroes they’re making a mess. Make someone really pretty. Get rid of her: she’s too pretty. It’s little wonder that Zeus spent so much of his time as a drunken manwhore – and that Hera was always getting exasperated at him for that and chasing after the trouble he caused while doing it.

So, yes, the author is the metaphorical god of their fictional universe. But they aren’t a monotheistic, omniscient, omnipresent deity; they are but Zeus atop Mt. Olympus, fighting the urge to give up and get drunk in order to deal with all the editors, character and readers making demands of them and constantly aware that – as Zeus overthrew Kronos and Kronos overthrew Ouranos – if they fuck up too badly someone else might wrestle control of the rights away from them and take the position of King of the Gods of that fictional universe, leaving the original author exiled to Tartaros.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 29, 2016 in On L.C. Morgenstern's Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

V is for Vampire Vegetables

Due to the fact that Traditional Vampires come in just about every shape and size not covered by Modern Vampires, doing a post about them in general is near impossible. So I’m going to stop doing the general V is for Vampire posts in favour of skipping straight ahead to the individual Bestiary posts – despite the fact that I will start by covering, one by one, all the traditional forms of Vampire. As many of these are less well known in general, if anyone has reputable sources of further information or finds any errors, I would be happy to improve any of the posts.

V is for Vampire Fruit and Vegetables

Common Name: Vampire Watermelon (or Pumpkin or Fruit or Vegetables)

Scientific Classification:

Kingdom: Folkloria

Order: Mortui

Family: Lamiae

Genus: Strix

Species: S. Strigoi

Binomial Name: S. Strigoi Curcurbita

Conservation Status: Endangered

Range: Vampire Fruits and Vegetables are traditionally from and found in the Balkans region, and have been spread – albeit rarely and in a very scattered manner – by the travels of the Romani people. Although in modern times the S. Strigoi Curcurbita is rare even in its place of origin.

Habitat: Vampire Fruits and Vegetables (traditionally, just gourds, but it has occasionally been expanded) are a very rare sight, although in recent years their situation has improved as they moved from Critically Endangered to just Endangered in conservational status. They are occasionally found in books and webcomics – typically humorous in nature – and in verbal jokes.

Evolution: It is difficult to give specifics about the evolution of plant-based vampires, given that it is unclear whether vegetable vampires were ever truly believed in or just created as a joke. Certainly the vampire originated in the 18th century and the belief that cats, dogs and inanimate objects left out on the full moon can become vampires is certainly an old one (we cannot give its dates for certain, but it certainly predates the beginnings of the Modern Vampire – S. Stokerii – in the 19th century). However, this variant – the vegetable vampire – cannot be proved to exist before the middle of the 20th century, when it was given a brief paragraph in one Tatomir Vukanović’s account of his travels through Serbia in the years 1933-1948. However, it is important to note that it is impossible to tell whether the people of the two towns in which he encountered this belief were telling him about real beliefs which had existed in their towns for some time, or whether it was simply one person playing a prank and the other people he talked with deciding to run with it. It is also possible that they were always a humorous joke within the traditional folklore. Nevertheless, this makes it one of the most recently evolved of the traditional vampires.

The descriptions of vampiric vegetables making noises, the “blood” that appears on them (actually a perfectly normal discolouration which occasionally appears after some time), and the descriptions of them stirring can be attributed to the normal process of decomposition (decomposition gases making noise and straining to escape a hard shell and possibly making the vegetable burst or roll, discolorations appearing on the outside, and the minor damage to humans, being easily caused by all the gases and filth that unintentionally keeping rotting food in your home, with your good food, can cause). This also makes sense as most traditional types of vampire are associated with rot.

Physical Description: Traditionally, S. Strigoi Curcurbita always takes the form of a pumpkin or watermelon with a “drop” of “blood” on its skin. However, possibly due to modern people’s lack of understanding of the differences between fruits and vegetables (and their uncertainty of what, exactly, defines a squash), modern times have seen S. Strigoi Curcurbita in many different formerly-edible plant forms.

Strengths: Some unspecified ability to cause harm to humans at night. Also; they have apparent ambulatory abilities, despite a lack of legs.

Weaknesses: Boiling water and fire, just like regular fruits and vegetables.

Diet: Unknown. Presumably blood.

Reproduction: It seems that vampire vegetables are less inclined to reproduce than they are to transform (spawn?) spontaneously. This happens in various ways: after normal watermelons or pumpkins have been “fighting each other” (I’m not going to try to explain how that one works), being kept for more than ten days after being ground, being kept after Christmas, when used as a siphon, or when left unopened for three years (which actually makes it far better preserved than normal gourds).

Behaviour: S. Strigoi Curcurbita don’t actually …do much. They make noises – this was transcribed by Tatomir Vukanović, as he was told it by those he interviewed, as “brrrl”. They stir and shake. Sometimes they wander around the house they are kept in at night and do minor harm to the people who live there. They do not appear to do anything to defend themselves when they are destroyed by being dropped into pots of boiling water.

Competition: None. They seem to get along well with the traditional vampires that take the form of inanimate objects, and nothing else seems to want that particular folk-ecological niche. Except vampire bunnies, which are from the kingdom Pop-culturia, and presumably eat vampire vegetables – making them predators, not competition.

Pros and Cons in Television:

Pros: Watermelons and pumpkins are not members of any television actors’ guilds and do not need to be paid or go on strike, and they’re easily switched out for others of their kinds.

Cons: Unless you are writing a children’s cartoon; no amount of special effects or jump scares can make these vampires believable. Moreover, if you’re not using them as a one off thing for a single episode – preferably an all just a dream episode – or an imagination spot in one scene, I wish you luck which you will desperately need to keep your funding after a script like that. If you’re intending to make them major players throughout a series, I sincerely hope it’s an animated piece staring anthropomorphised fruits and vegetables in general, otherwise you’re probably digging your own grave out in that vegetable patch.

Pros and Cons in Film:

Pros: If you’re making a B movie horror flick this might just be the monster for you, provided that your characters are very self-aware of the insanity of this particular danger and make “witty comments” about how the Explains Things Placeholder wise character has got to be kidding. If you are writing a parody of a horror film or just a straight up comedy this might also be a good choice of monsters. If you’re quite talented at drama, it might be worth considering as a delusion suffered by a mentally ill character, so long as none of the other characters are shown to believe it and it is played as a definite delusion. It would also, in that case, take a heck of a lot of explaining.

Cons: Where to start? Vampiric vegetables are not a well known thing, so the very premise is going to break the audience’s suspension of disbelief. In a film the sheer length of the story would require them to hold a great deal more story-weight than they are capable of taking. There is no way to make the special effects and props believable and especially not believably frightening. Working with food is always a nightmare. The only form of film vampire vegetables would make any sense in is horror flick parodies and those are always based on a real horror film trend that came first. Those who believe they are responsible for the morality of their country and protecting the innocence of children will misunderstand the message and assume it is “don’t eat vegetables” rather than the true “eat your vegetables before they become demonically-possessed, rot, and start eating you”.

Pros and Cons in Theatre:

Pros: Well …um. Yeah. I got nothing. Even if you’re allowed to eat your “co-star” vegetables each night to prevent them going off, because new ones will be bought the next day or are in the fridge, you’re going to be fucking sick of gourds by the wrap party – where the remains of it will be served.

Cons: Working with food is always a disaster. This is even more true of foods which, if they are dropped and hit the ground, will shatter irreparably between scenes rather than simply being filthy and easy to pile back on to the (plastic) plate – because actors are always eating weird shit anyway and really, who’s going to notice as long as you keep the other props people and the A.D. quiet? Fruits and vegetables are small and difficult to see from the audience, which is especially bad when they’re likely to be your antagonists. There’s always one idiot on set who will eat the prop by mistake. You’ll be constantly inundated by the stench of them and by the time the wrap party comes and they are served your stomach will turn at the thought of them. Bored actors will inevitably attempt to play catch and wind up breaking something. Do you really want to risk watermelon juice and pumpkin seeds in your expensive lights and sound equipment? Vegetables are extremely difficult to put on wires, strings or hidden wheeled boards so that they can look like they are moving under their own power. Foods may need to be replaced each night and therefore are exceedingly expensive. Stage make up on vegetables is not likely to work well, if it works at all. Working with food is always a disaster.

Pros and Cons in Books:

Pros: Vegetable vampires can make very good puns or one scene jokes. If you’re channelling Stephen King or are H.P. Lovecraft come again, or think you are either of those but are actually just running on your own steam of talent, you may be able to make vampiric vegetables sufficiently horrifying in a psychological horror, or drama, novel – so long as the focus is on delusion, obsession and mental illness, and not actual vegetables turning into actual vampires and actually attempting to suck your blood, because that’s just silly. Speaking of silly, if you are aiming your work at children then a vampiric fruit or vegetable could work very well – especially as a warning or explanation regarding food that may have gone off.

Cons: Regarding children’s stories, what I said earlier about overly-loudly-moral adults misunderstanding the message of a story with vampire vegetables (back in the film section) hold true here as well. For non-children’s stories, you have to explain and describe it very well in a manner which is funny and not directly lifted from when PTerry did it, in order to use vampire vegetables as a pun or one off scene. If you are going to make it your main focus, you had damn well better be good at writing psychological horror, because otherwise it’s going to be laughable rather than scary. In all cases the premise of vampiric vegetables is extremely off putting to the average audience and is not likely to sell well. There is also very little in general that can be done with it.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 12, 2016 in On Folklore

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

V is for Vampire Part Three: Vampire, Modern

Regarding all pseudo-scientific names in Bestiary-style posts: please note that while I did study Latin at university, I was never very good at it (tri-weekly mortification hour, as I knew it) and I haven’t done any revision in the five or so years since I graduated. I also, unfortunately, am not overly familiar with the rules governing the grammatical form of all types of scientific classification. As a result, if anything is erroneous (either by the rules of classification or because my Latin is ungrammatical – or because that word does not mean what I think it means inconceivable) please do mention it. Furthermore, as dividing creatures by scientific strata can be complicated (should a vampire be classified as undead, sub-type magical person or magical person, sub-type undead? etc) any sensible opinions on that would be much appreciated. But don’t get too worked up over it, given that it is primarily a joke. I also suspect that proper academic folklorists have a system for classification which I have simple not been able to get my hands on. If there is such a thing, I would very much like to have a copy of it, although I would probably end up using both that and my method for classification, because mine seems likely to be more amusing.

V is for Vampire Part Three: Modern Vampire

Common Name: Vampire (also: Modern Vampire, Literary Vampire)

Scientific Classification:

Kingdom: Folkloria

Order: Mortui

Family: Lamiae

Genus: Strix

Species: S. Stokerii

Binomial Name: Strix Stokerii. Sub-species: Horror Vampire (S. Stokerii Stokerii), Paranormal Romance Vampire (S. Stokerii Verpa), Child Friendly Vampire (S. Stokerii Sesame)

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Range: Modern Vampires are found worldwide, although this is because many of them have migrated from their native Britain and United States, where they are still found in over-abundance.

Habitat: This differs per sub-species. The Child Friendly Vampire typically inhabits children’s entertainment of all formats (television, film, stage and book) as well as advertisement campaigns and Halloween decorations. The Horror Vampire is all but extinct on stage and a rare sight in books, however in television it can occur with reasonable regularity and it is still the dominant species in film. The Paranormal Romance Vampire is massively overpopulated in books, appears regularly in television, is occasionally sighted in film, and is completely unheard of on stage.

Evolution: Despite the term Stokerii, the Modern Vampire began to evolve before Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, although it is certainly when the species’ defining traits became pronounced enough for them to be viewed as a separate species to their Traditional forbearers. The Modern Vampire first began to evolve in 1819 – in Dr. John Polidori short-story The Vampyre. Polidori’s Lord Rutherford can, in fact, be viewed as the missing link between the S. Strigoi and the S. Stokerii. Various other proto-forms of the Modern Vampire followed, but by 1922 they had developed into a fully-fledged species of their own; the better known cousins, and descendents, of the Traditional Vampire. After this the Modern Vampire went largely unchanged for several decades, before the wild diversification of the late 20th century resulted in the three key sub-species of Modern Vampire: Horror (S. Stokerii Stokerii), Paranormal Romance (S. Stokerii Verpa) and Child Friendly (S. Stokerii Sesame).

It is worth noting that the original form of the Modern Vampire – the typical high collard, be-cloaked, pale aristocratic Count (never a Viscount) – was originally viewed as horrific, hence the Horror Vampire also being called the True (Modern) Vampire – but in later years has only been retained by the Child Friendly Vampire, which is the smallest, weakest and most docile of the three sub-species. It is believed that the evolution of the three sub-species was jumpstarted by the advent of cheap, colour, television and higher literacy resulting in higher rates of utter garbage being written and sold. It is also believed that the Paranormal Romance Vampire’s population explosion in the last few decades may be the result of cross-breeding with beings from the Scientific Kingdom of Pop-culturia (as opposed to Fokloria, Animalia, et cetera), and a plague of Wasting Angst Disease. It may also be on part to do with a delusion among modern humans that “you can be anything you want to be when you grow up” (this has empirically been proven to be untrue on the grounds that I am not a turtle) and that “Writing is easy: everyone can do it”.

Nevertheless, on occasion truly remarkable and admirable specimens of S. Stokerii Verpa have been sighted and they fill a pseudo-ecological niche which might otherwise be filled by (and is being encroached on by) Paranormal Romance Zombies (Braaains Braaains Diiick).That, in none-pseudo-academic phrasing, is to say that while a vast amount of people are convinced that they are writers nowadays because they excuse a complete lack of ideas as “writer’s block”, a complete lack of talent or skill with “there’s no such thing as bad writing” (which is complete nonsense) and a complete lack of willingness to put effort into improving their work with “but that’s haaaaaaaaard”, they are a problem that affects all genres and while they are over-common in Paranormal Romance (because they can simply change names and regurgitate), it would be wrong and unfair to say that all Paranormal Romance was like that. Some Paranormal Romance (both published through publishing houses and self-published) is, I am given to understand, of a very high quality – provided you like that sort of thing. But I digress – and ought to stop digressing, before it gets so rant-y that I need to file it under (Rants) On Writing, instead of here in the On Folklore (Bestiary). But I’m sure those of you who do like Paranormal Romance must get sick of having to slog through crap to get to the quality works, given that so many people think of it as the “easy, money-maker” genre and don’t have their hearts in it.

Physical Description: Unlike their more traditional forbearers, Modern Vampires are beautiful™. (This, of course, has the occasional exception in the form of S. Stokerii Sesame, which – although never unpleasant looking – can occasionally bear a strong resemblance to felt or chocolate cereal.) This is notable as one of the major evolutionary traits which separate them from their ancestors – the Traditional Vampire (S. Strigoi). In the event that you (in your perusal of stage, page, film and television) should come across a vampire that is always hideous – rather than just occasionally horrific when deliberately being scary – you are actually dealing with a Traditional Vampire (S. Strigoi) which has somehow managed to survive into the modern era. You should also run like hell, because those types are much harder to domesticate.

Although the Modern Vampire started out uniformly “aristocratic”, this has become less specific of late – vampires are almost uniformly described as beautiful (albeit “unnervingly” so in the case of the Horror Vampire, which is a rare species and tends to cross breed with various forms of S. Strigoi). This beauty, in turn, is always of the pale, high cheek-boned and suspiciously Western European Upper class kind (which has some interesting implications). Occasionally they will be “deathly” pale, yet still they will look good – with a distinct lack of physical imperfections, which are the norm among real humans, and absolutely no rot or rigor mortis in evidence.

All Modern Vampires are distinguishable from their Traditional relatives by their elongated upper (and sometimes, but less often, lower) canine teeth (“fangs”), through which they somehow suck the blood of their prey, indicating that these tooth-like structures must be hollow and that the connection of the throat to the oesophagus is an unnecessary accessory.

The Modern Vampire is typically a humanoid, which can shape shift into various forms – although typically the bat-form and only the bat-form will be in evidence. The Modern Vampire is always undead, as is made evident by a lack of heartbeat and breathing (but, oddly, not a lack of ability to have orgasms or erections). Although the Child Friendly Vampire (S. Stokerii Sesame) still wears the original Victorian Era white tie outfit plus black cloak, the other types of Modern Vampire (S. Stokerii Stokerii and S. Stokerii Verpa) have taken to wearing clothing appropriate to the culture and era they find themselves living in (a trait which the original S. Stokerii also had: they simply found themselves in the Victorian Era, at events which were white tie).

Strengths: Since they first evolved the strengths of the S. Stokerii have continued to develop at an alarming rate – they have quickly become overpowered and overdeveloped. They have developed (or possibly retained) an ability to avoid decomposing. They have developed supernatural speed, strength, and astounding Parkour abilities. As well as capable of humanoid-form flight, they are immortal and super-durable (leather made out of vampire-hide would likely be better than Kevlar), as well as eternally youthful. Oddly, they have mostly lost some of the strengths of their Traditional ancestors (such as poltergeist-ing, the ability to interbreed freely with humans, most shape-shifting and being demons possessing human corpses which can be driven out but not necessarily killed). Control over the weather, although present in the earliest S. Stokerii, seems to be completely lost to the current variants. A strength which the S. Stokerii has gained of late, on the other hand, is almost superhumanly good fashion sense.

Weaknesses: As with strengths, the Modern Vampire has both gained new weakness and lost many of their ancestral weaknesses. Among Traditional Vampires, most things that would kill a human (fire, drowning, decapitation, stake through the heart) were fatal (although to some Traditional Vampires the stake only stopped them moving around), however only the stake remains effective against Modern Vampires. In fact, the most common traditional weaknesses and apotropaics – garlic, water, silver, stakes, religious symbols and holy water – are utterly hit and miss on a case by case level with Modern Vampires, while less known Traditional Weaknesses and apotropaics (mustard seed, running water, hawthorn, wild roses, telling the night time invader to leave and come back with fish I kid you not, disorientation at crossroads, and OCD-like tendencies when confronted with messy knots and small countable things) have all but completely ceased to affect the Modern Vampire. S. Stokerii Sesame seems to be the sole exception in this case, as obsessive counting is a habit of his. Modern Vampires, however, have developed a bizarre allergy to sunlight. In some cases it can be quite explosive. They also typically lack shadows, reflections and the ability to be heard over a mobile phone or have their passport photos taken. Finally, and least notably, they may be unconvinced by their inability to blend in completely thanks to their unnaturally good fashion sense and apparent ability to physically repel dirt.

Diet: Blood (human). Blood (animal, excluding human). Blood (artificial). Life energy. Mental energy. Emotions. Whichever of these, or combination of these dietary options, the vampire prefers, one thing remains common; they gain their food by “sucking” (oddly, vacuum cleaners are not granted status as vampires despite feeding by the same method).

Reproduction: It is generally agreed that, despite being regularly treated as a metaphor for drug addiction rather than the more logical option of being a metaphor for eating disorders, Modern Vampires are viral. This they have in common, to some degree, with their Traditional ancestors. Unlike their ancestors, however, Modern Vampires seem to be exclusively viral. (Traditional Vampires were more diverse about their reproduction.) Child Friendly Vampires (S. Stokerii Sesame) appear to go completely without reproducing, and spawn fully formed as single individuals in children’s television, toddler’s storybooks (in this case they will likely be fluffy animals as well) and advertising campaigns. Meanwhile, the Horror Vampire (S. Stokerii Stokerii) and Paranormal Romance Vampire (S. Stokerii Verpa) almost exclusively reproduce by biting and transforming suitably attractive humans – although the exact details of the method differ on a case by case basis. Certainly they do not reproduce (except on very, very rare occasions) by sexual reproduction, despite how much rampant unprotected sex they (especially the Paranormal Romance Vampire) tend to have. The Horror Vampire rarely gets to go through with raping their victims before the heroes arrive to save the day and often are more interested in eating from them anyway. The typical method for transforming a human into a Modern Vampire seems, on average, to be: biting them, drinking from them, and then making them drink from the vampire. Apparently it is this last which differs them from bite-induced-mind-slave status and status as late lunch.

Behaviour: The behaviour of the S. Stokerii differs vastly per sub-species. The Child Friendly Vampire almost never is shown engaging in vampiric behaviour (or will only hunt vegetables and chocolate milk) and typically will be a goofy, friendly eccentric. Meanwhile, the Horror Vampire (an increasingly rare breed) typically hunts – menacingly, from the shadows – at night and prefers spooky, environments with lots of jump scares. It has been having increasing difficulty finding suitably eerie places to hunt unwary humans in modern times as smartphones and city living do not often blend well with the creeping dread it likes to associate with. Occasionally, it will adapt well to this environment and disguise itself as its cousin – the Paranormal Romance Vampire – until it is too late for the victim to fight back (in the event that the victim is a blonde teenage girl, this is unlikely to go well anyway, but they try). The Paranormal Romance Vampire is tends to prefer either small towns or big cities, especially nightclubs, and is usually the vampiric equivalent of a health nut on a vegetarian or vegan fad (as opposed to actually being consistently vegetarian or vegan). Sadly, most Paranormal Romance Vampires, although fighting their dietary requirements (often with copious, unnecessary, angst), still take their hunting methods from their cousins the Horror Vampires, which can often result in problems (or meta-problems) given that those methods are suitable for killing, not wooing.

Competition: Primary competition differs per subspecies. The primary competition of the Horror Vampire is the Zombie (Braaains Braaains). The primary competition for the Paranormal Romance Vampire is the Paranormal Romance Werewolf (Lycaon Verpa), although it should be noted that the L. Verpa almost always loses its prey to the S. Stokerii Verpa unless it is hunting in a location free of its competition. The S. Stokerii Sesame has no known competition as it is friendly and gets along well with everyone, except the large purple dinosaur (Barneus Makeitstopus) which all creatures in their native habitat live in fear of meeting.

Pros and Cons in Television:

Pros: If you’re looking for a single-episode or arc villain, a Modern Vampire is an excellent choice on account of the fact that the basic rules and their variations are near universally known. As long as you don’t stray too far from the way everyone does them, your audience will have no difficulty understanding what is going on. Child Friendly Vampires can make good reoccurring minor characters in children’s television, while Horror Vampires can get away with fudging how they get around in their modern environments. Paranormal Romance Vampires can be good love interests, although it often becomes a case of “of course they’re going to win the love triangle”. In all of these cases, the makeup can be easily handled and special effects of that type are commonly enough done that they should not be difficult to figure out.

Cons: Modern Vampires are so common that within the first five minutes your subtle clues will have the audience screaming at the characters for being idiots because it’s “obviously” a vampire. Child Friendly Vampires must either have some alternate source of sustenance than blood or remain largely unexplored background characters else the moral guardians will complain. Horror Vampires can be difficult to pull off in most settings, so extra care must be taken to make them scary (and just adding more gore won’t necessarily cut it – besides, fake blood and all those effects will add up to huge costs if left unchecked). Meanwhile Paranormal Romance Vampires can make a show suffer from severe arc fatigue and create in story paradoxes if they behave more humanely, due to being a love interest, than the rules of the show imply are possible. Finally, given that everyone and their grandmother do vampires, the special effects have to be damn good and that’s expensive – especially if the vampire is a reoccurring character or, worse, on the main cast!

Pros and Cons in Film:

Pros: Modern Vampires are well known enough that a film dedicated to them can take the time to thoroughly explore the concept and get creative. Horror vampires tend to thrive in this environment and a film budget often has more room for good looking special and makeup effects. Many of the things which have become cliché in books and television have gone mostly unexplored in this medium and therefore will seem fresh and new.

Cons: In all Modern Vampire films there can be an overdependence on special effects and clichés (werewolf/vampire war with tragic star crossed lovers, anyone?) Horror based Modern Vampires in film are beginning to run out of new things to do with themselves, consequently most audiences can identify what is going to happen and when and thus cease to be scared. A feature film length time spent on a Child Friendly Vampire is nigh on impossible without offending the supervising adults somehow. Paranormal Romance Vampires have difficulty adjusting to a medium where their irresistible attractiveness can be judged by a viewing audience rather than described vaguely and left to the imagination. As filmgoers still associate the vampire in film with horror more than romance, there is considerable difficulty in being taken seriously – a fact which even romantic comedy setups cannot necessarily fix, as Paranormal Romance Vampires hunting-turned-wooing techniques can be much harder to portray as romantic rather than horrific sexual assault when you cannot climb into the character’s head (attempts to get around thins with voiceovers generally just make it worse).

Pros and Cons in Theatre:

Pros: Modern Vampires are exceedingly rare in theatre, with the exclusion of a musical or two specifically focused on them and an uncommon performance of Dracula, and so can be an unexpected enemy, background puppet, or dark secret for the love interest. The preference for large makeup on stage can also allow for more exaggerated or traditional costume and make up to not look as ridiculous as it would on screen. Again, the vampire is so well known that very little effort is required to ensure comprehension on part of the audience.

Cons: As the black cloaks originally used to make them disappear on stage have become standard vampire wear, other – more expensive – special effects are now required to allow vampires to seemingly vanish on stage. Actors with fake fangs – especially those large enough to be seen from the audience – will have a bloody difficult time enunciating clearly enough that the audience will be able to understand them. Fake blood is an absolute bugger in live performances, no matter how large your crew of stagehands are and often must be replaced (expensive) every show because you’ll always loose a significant amount to the floor.

Pros and Cons in Books:

Pros: Modern Vampires are exceedingly popular in fiction at the moment, which means you have a pre-made audience. Modern Vampires can work in just about any genre – from storybooks to horror to romance to detective fiction, et cetera – and the benefit of the written word is that you can get more rule and lore building done for your specific vampires than you could get away with in the long speeches which other formats would require. Vampires are also cheap in fiction, as you can get lavish with things that – to produce in a visual medium – would require massively expensive special effects.

Cons: No matter what idea you had, no matter how original, it’s already been done. The Modern Vampire is not yet one hundred years old and yet everything has been done. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it again, and possibly do it better, but it’s been done. Many people are sick of vampires and wave all of it off as “teen porn”. That being said: as of the last two decades; if you are writing any genre that is not Paranormal Romance and it isn’t obviously a storybook for toddlers, you will find your work being misplaced and mislabelled as Paranormal Romance. If by some miracle it is put in the right genre (or you are writing in the common genre) the chances that anyone will actually read your work are slim because they will have to wade through ten billion other books with the exact same premise to get to it.

 

URGH. That was an exhaustingly long post. Sorry.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 3, 2016 in On Folklore

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

V is for Vampire Part Two: A Bite Sized History

The irony of detailing any folkloric creature’s history is that at some point you will find yourself recounting the history of creatures which are no longer even remotely the same as the creature you set out to discuss. This leaves the writer with a dilemma: describe all of the vaguely similar folklore leading up to what is definitely the early forms of the creature in question, or give a less than complete description of the origin of the species (okay, okay, bad pun) and focus on that folklore which is definitely related to that creature – rather than just any vaguely similar creature or which could be related but which is missing links to connect the two.

I could begin by talking about the history of vampiric beings in folklore, but this is supposed to be about the history of the vampire – which overlaps, but is somewhat different. Certainly, the idea that something supernatural could be sucking human blood for food or nefarious purposes is far older than the idea of the vampire, and the idea of supernatural bloodsuckers would therefore have already been in the minds of our species as a whole by the time the vampire was invented, there is no real causal link between, say, the vampire and the Indian Vetala (a ghost-like creature which takes over a dead body).

A good place to start might be mentioning that some of the oldest known depictions of vampiric behaviour (the consumption of human blood) can be found on Ancient Persian pottery (for the record, given that I’ve been flabbergasted in the past by people who thought it was fictional; Persia is an Ancient Greek name for Iran) . It would be tempting to suggest that the vampire might be the result of Ancient Greek and Roman stories of Empusa (a demigoddess who caused sleep-paralysis in young men and drank their blood – but who has more parallels with the succubus than the vampire) and Lamia (a lover of Zeus whose children were murdered by Hera and who took to eating children in vengeance). It is very tempting to suggest that there may be some mixing of those Greco-Roman creatures and the Assyrian & Babylonian Lilitu – which it is believed may have given rise to the later stories of Lilith in the Abrahamic mythology – and that many centuries later this mixed of demonic, humanoid, often beautiful, blood-suckers gave rise to the Eastern European vampire that we all think we know and the subsequent Western Literary vampire which we all actually do know. It is tempting. It is also inappropriate and erroneous to imply such a direct link as records in those days were not so plentiful and we just don’t know. Similarly, a link between the vampire and the Estries of Jewish myth (recorded as early as 1465) is a tempting theory – we know them both in modern times as typically good looking bloodsuckers who can shape shift, can fly and have an association with cats. Indeed, modern depictions of estries often give them vampires’ weaknesses. However, this theory – just as the previous theory – has problems. Specifically, they make connections to earlier mythical beings which match the more modern depiction of the vampire, rather than the older and more traditional forms.

So where can we start without risking that we are going down the wrong road entirely? Well, obviously no matter what we do the earliest recording of a folkloric creature will inevitably occur much later than the idea comes into being, as to be believed enough to be passed down an idea needs time to grow and become common enough to seem reasonable. In this way, a background of Christian (and earlier Jewish and Babylonian and Assyrian and – you get the picture) demonology would have been fertile ground for such an idea as the older forms of vampire, but we cannot prove a direct link.

The vampire originated at some point in the Medieval Period (that is: 5th to 15th centuries) and can be presumed to have been present by the High Medieval Period (11th through 13th centuries) but may have already begun in the very late Early Medieval Period (5th through 10th centuries), as deviant burials found in Kilteasheen, Ireland, which date from the 8th century are believed to predate the idea of vampires. Certainly, as the vampire is of Eastern European origin and tales of them become less natively common with each body of water crossed (Danube, Irish Sea, North Sea, English Channel, Rhone, etc) for all that those more Western places have their own creatures of lore, the Kilteasheen burials can be said to predate the concept of the vampire in Ireland.

It is also worth noting that deviant burials (often erroneously called “Vampire burials”) could have begun in response to any number of revenant (that is: visible ghost or reanimated corpse) stories. The Strzyga (a type of female demon) of Slavic, and especially Polish, lore certainly was prevented from returning to the world of the living in this manner. Indeed, as vampires in their earliest forms are less like reanimated corpses and more akin to demonic poltergeists, it seems quite likely that as vampires of lore became embodied so too did the burial practises aimed at the other supernatural un-dead become adopted into their lore. A deviant (not vampire!) burial, for those of you who’ve been wondering, is a burial which is deliberately unlike the cultural norm – typically found with items meant to prevent the body coming out of the grave (rocks or bricks wedged in the mouth, a sickle placed across the neck, metal spikes driven through the corpse, etc) or in an unusual position (head separate or beneath the buttocks, head and arms in a skull and crossbones position, buried facing downward so that it would claw its way out in the wrong direction and wind up in Australia where it wouldn’t be noticed because everything there is trying to kill you anyway, etc).

Etymology, also, is quite useless in determining when vampire lore came into being. We can date the arrival of the word and concept into English at 1734, quite late in the game, in reference to matters in Eastern Europe, and which came to English via German (and possibly French) from the Serbian vampir. Unfortunately, determining where the word vampir itself came from – not to mention the origins and first meanings of its related terms; upir in Old East Slavic, Czech and Slovak, upyr in Old Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian, vampir in Bulgarian, Croatian and Macedonian, Iampir in Bosnian and finally upior and wapierz in Polish – is made exceedingly difficult by poor historical record keeping (that is to say people back then had better things to worry about) and lingual exchange. A piece of Christian propaganda in Old Russian dating from within the High Medieval Period (11th to 13th centuries) refers to the worship of upyri which could be a reference to older vampire lore, however as it was in an anti-pagan treatise all the information included therein is highly questionable. All we can say for certain, without taking a time machine to go demand answers from the person who wrote it, is that something called an upyr (presuming that upyri was a plural) existed in the native folklore at the time.

In the 12th century accounts from William of Newburgh (Newbury) and Walter Map give accounts of revenants which are traditionally associated with the history of the vampire; however it should not be forgotten that the older vampire legends have far less in common with revenants than they do with demons and poltergeists. Typically, older vampire lore describes the vampire as first non-corporeal or as a gelatinous lump (often a boneless “bag of blood” ) which only gains bones and a more human form after a certain amount of time (often forty days) and a sufficient amount of bloodsucking (sometimes done through a furry snout). Such older-lore vampires would often be invisible at first.

The first accepted record of a person being described as a vampire came in 1672; from the village of Kringa on the Istrian peninsula in what is currently Croatia. Jure Grando Alilovič was a peasant, who lived from 1579 to 1656, and was reported to return from his grave at night (some sixteen years after his death) to terrorise the village by knocking on their doors (foretelling a death in the house within a few days) and sexually assaulting his widow. As attempts to stake him with a stick of Hawthorn failed, he was eventually decapitated. His children were forced to flee the area. However, it is very important to note that the word used to describe Grando was strigoi (a somewhat more sorcerer and/or poltergeist like being from Romanian lore, being the troubled soul of a dead person rising from the grave or a living person with magical properties) not vampir.

Then in 1718, Austrian officials in newly-Austria ruled northern Serbia became aware of a local – and presumably relatively longstanding – practise of exhuming and killing vampires. The reports of the officers, prepared through 1725 and 1732, became a massive inspiration for gossip and panic alike, thus beginning what is now called the 18th Century Vampire Controversy – during which massive numbers of stakings and panics occurred (think pop-culturally-inaccurate-witch-trials-panic). The panic, I should add, occurred even though (or, rather, because) government officials widely publicised their investigations into the supposed vampirism of Petar Blagojevich and Arnold Paole (both Serbian). Blagojevich, in particular, is believed to have been the case which solidified much of the traditional image of vampires in popular knowledge – an image which did not significantly change until Bram Stoker came along. After Blagojevich’s death, within the next eight days, many people died of sudden maladies, claiming that he throttled them. The exhumed body showed all the signs of what we now know as decomposition (skin receding and giving the appearance of new nail and hair growth, bloating with decomp gasses and fluids giving the corpse a fat and ruddy appearance, and blood at the mouth). He was subsequently staked and his body burned.

The 18th Century Vampire Controversy raged until the Empress of Austria sent her own physician – Gerard van Swieten, b.1700-d.1772 – to Moravia to investigate the matter. Van Swieten recognised decomposition and panic for what they were and on his advice the Empress banned all further attempts to kill “vampires”.

Now, vampires had already been appearing in poetry in literature for quite some time (Heinrich August Ossenfelder’s 1748 poem The Vampire, for example) but it wasn’t until John Polidori’s 1819 short-story The Vampyre (featuring Lord Ruthven, who was based on Polidori’s patient Lord Byron) that vampires began to leave their traditional, rotting and bloated, roots and transform into the “original” vampires of Western fictional tradition. The modern vampire came most irreversibly to take over the meaning of “vampire” for most people in Bram Stoker’s 1897 massive act of cultural appropriation, ahem, novel Dracula, which at the time was considered quite risqué. Stoker’s creation cemented the idea that vampires were aristocrats, rather than peasants or overripe vegetables as was traditional, and the association with fangs and bats. Bats, specifically, were not involved in traditional folklore regarding vampires – owls were. Indeed, the associated creature Strzyga, from Slavic myth, has its etymological roots in the Latin strix (owl) and some believed that the Strzyga is the etymological root of the Strigoi.

But I digress. Stoker’s Dracula was not affected by sunlight (this came from the 1922 film Nosferatu), nor did he wear a cloak (an invention of 1920s stage plays done in order to allow an actor to ‘vanish’ while in the audience’s sight), and it was only due to Stoker’s cultural appropriation that Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (also known as Vlad Tepes or Vlad Drăculea) ever became associated with vampirism. Admittedly, Vlad III was already known as the Impaler, but being known for impaling one’s enemies is hardly the most ruthless or bizarre thing rulers of that era did. Indeed, in Romania, Vlad III is known as a folk hero because he prevented the Ottoman Turks from invading – and history has long proven that for the people being invaded a successful invasion is never good news. The patronymic epithet Dracula has often been mis-attributed to devilishness, however in truth it comes from Latin draco – dragon – and was not nearly as negative as it is now assumed. Thanks to Bram Stoker deciding to pinch that because it sounded cool, Romania has suffered through proof of how damaging cultural appropriation can actually be, as most people in the modern world only know it as “that place in Eastern Europe where Dracula came from and no one can pronounce their ws”.

This brings me to my last point in our abridged (yes, abridged) tour of the history of the vampire: Dracula, despite living from 1431 to 1476/7, was never associated with vampirism until Stoker came along in 1897 and therefore he is a modern addition to the folklore. This is mirrored by the case of Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (alternately: Ecsedi Báthory Erzsébet) who lived from 1560 to 1614, was from a noble Hungarian family, and was put on trial for the supposed murders of up to 650 women. Nevertheless, it was only in modern times – long after her imprisonment in a locked and walled up set of chambers as punishment for her declared guilt – that she became associated with vampire lore and compared to Vlad III. It is also worth noting that when Bathory was accused of being a murderer, it was only after her husband had died and the king owed her family an awful lot of money. Furthermore, her son and sons-in-law organised a verdict with the king which would allow them to keep their own property (and large amount of inherited money) and the king’s debt would be wiped away. Whether this means that Bathory was not guilty, or that the crimes were exaggerated, is impossible to tell. She may well have been the monster she was viewed as at the time, but the version of her in modern vampire folklore is significantly different than the historical figure.

And so, patient readers, we come to the end of our investigation into the history of the vampire and can conclude that the traditional or ruddy vampire came into being somewhen in the High Middle Ages (11th through 13th centuries) and was popularised in the 18th century, while the modern vampire – despite beginning to coalesce in the 1890s – is truly no older than the 1920s, created by imitators of Stoker, some of whom may well have never read his book. And now, in the modern era, the vampire is changing again – turning from threat to lust object, slipping away from its demonic and revenant roots into something crossed between an angel, a drug addict and an incubus.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 28, 2015 in On Folklore

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

V is for Vampire (Part 1)

This post, due to the huge umbrella which “Vampire” covers, is just an introductory post – first in the Bestiary I’m compiling in the On Folklore category – and I will go into more detail on the modern and traditional vampires in later posts, as well as giving each named type (Strigoi, Moroi, Mullo, Dhampir, et cetera) it’s own entry. When I eventually cover other, less common and/or less debatable, creatures from folklore, I hope to be able to cover everything (nature, history, causes, meta-causes, pros and cons in film, television, stage and page, and other notes) in a single, or pair, of posts per creature. But in my typically over-enthusiastic way, I’ve started with a hugely complicated and contradictory creature.

So. Welcome to the Bestiary.

V is for Vampire

What is a Vampire? It sounds like a ridiculously easy question to answer, given the sheer oversaturation of vampires in modern fiction, but it truth it couldn’t be more complicated. In folkloristics “vampire” is sometimes used as a blanket term for any creature from folklore which falls under a very wide umbrella of un-death or blood drinking, or sometimes both. However, if you ask a fan of paranormal romance fiction, they will tell you that vampires are immortal, brooding, sex-gods who sparkle in sunshine, while many modern people simultaneously face-palm because they “know” that vampires are un-dead, blood-drinking monsters who are destroyed by sunlight and that the paranormal romance fans are just ruining the entire concept of vampires because they’re straying from the original and embarrassing themselves. Meanwhile, in some of the more traditional and remote villages that still exist in the places where the lore of vampires originated (remote here meaning that it’s a bit hard to get Wi-Fi, not that they’re still living as 17th century peasants) they might tell you that a vampire is a loved one’s spirit which has not been laid to rest properly and needs to be set free – and then someone less traditional will disagree, the media will turn it into a culturally offensive circus, and the entire thing will end in lawsuits.

The key to understanding folklore is that “older” does not mean “better” or “truer” and that nothing in the subject has one “right” answer. Two equally old tales from neighbouring villages may tell completely different truths about some lore. Neither village is wrong. They most fascinating facet of folklore is that the facts change with time and location – we cannot say what definitely started something, even if we can get a rough history of an idea, we cannot say that something is right or wrong; merely observe how (and the possible whys of) its changing. More importantly, we have to remember that folklore did not stop existing in the time of picket fences around thatch-roofed cottages: we are still creating new folklore every day, so Meyer’s sparkle-pires (no matter how unrelated to all vampire lore which came before them and how much they may seem to be other creatures from legend simply misnamed) are not wrong or less true to the “real” vampire than Bram Stoker’s Dracula (who, by the way, was NOT harmed by sunlight – he just couldn’t shape shift in it). Indeed, while it is the Stokeresque vampire which is most prevalent in the modern mind, much of Stoker’s Dracula was as different from the traditional lore as Meyer’s Sparkle-pires are. That all being said: Meyer’s sparkle-pire work may not be guilty of being untrue to the “real” vampire, but – unlike Stoker’s Dracula – it is guilty of being very bad (that is: poor to no quality) writing. But I digress.

In truth the modern vampire of fiction (typically: a pale, aristocratic, fanged bloodsucker which can turn into a bat, which creates new vampires by infecting them, which is inevitably either wholly malevolent or tragically misunderstood with a chance of brooding, and which may or may not have mind control powers to explain its sexualised enticing aura) is so far removed from the traditional vampire folklore (most often: a fangless, bloated, ruddy, un-dead corpse which is – for various reasons – causing harm to the living with its presence but not necessarily meaning harm, often viewed as a disease victim, but sometimes an apparently living, hypersexual, dead loved one or red-headed albino who reproduces like normal people and can go undetected for decades) that it is almost laughable to claim that they are from the folklore of Romania and its neighbouring countries.

What Do Vampires Represent? Probably nothing. No. I’m serious. There’s a considerable erroneous belief about folklore amongst the general population – thanks (sarcastically) to armchair psychology and overly-analytical professional psychologists who neglect to consider human nature when they explain human nature – that everything must represent something (and that’s singular, both meaning more than one thing and meaning nothing are often dismissed in favour of academics and amateurs battling out their theories). Insofar as our ancient ancestors were concerned, however, they were just as much normal humans as we are and just as likely to imagine having wings because that looks cool or come up with scary stories just to spook their siblings as we are. Vampires don’t have to be a subconscious projection of anything, nor a metaphor for addiction (as commonly assumed, whether intended in the portrayal or not, of modern vampire fiction), nor subtly tied to the American political parties (ever going up and down in popularity as the foreign, minority sucking the lifeblood from society, while opposed to the mindless consumption of the Zombie) because America is not the centre of the universe and it’s about time it admitted that. However, it is worth noting that traditional vampires were often associated with illness and rot, as can be seen through both the tales left behind and an analysis of their weaknesses and the apotropaics (a type of magic which wards off harmful things) which shows that many of the items meant to keep them away were actually disinfectants and cleaners (silver, running water, holy water, salt, garlic, etc).

Why Did People Invent Vampires? The most common explanation for how people, once upon a time in a land which – depending on where you read this from – you might actually be in right now, is that people from pre-industrial societies did not fully comprehend how decomposition works and therefore would observe that recently buried bodies appeared to be growing new hair and nails (those don’t keep growing, by the way, it’s just your skin shrinking), groaning (that’s decomp gasses moving and giving you post-mortem flatulence), were no longer stiff from death (that’s because rigor mortis only lasts for about forty-eight to sixty hours; long enough to last the wake, but gone after burial), appeared ruddy (decomp juices again) and sometimes had blood oozing from the nose and mouth (again, not unusual in decomposition). Other popular theories include: to explain illnesses like TB (“consumption” in the Victorian era, which was considered a very romantic way to die) which were contagious and thus made it seem that an invisible killer would take out entire families after the first victim died, to explain premature burial (all of the reasons of misunderstanding decomposition, but with the added bonus of fingernails scratching on the inside of the coffin), and to explain physical and mental illnesses such as Porphyria (mostly debunked as the symptoms it had in similarity to vampirism were in similarity to modern fictional vampirism and not the older vampire of folklore), rabies (symptoms include biting, frothing at the mouth, problems with sunlight – again too modern for the origin – and garlic, according to folklore problems with looking at their reflection; which is questionable in value as evidence as the no-reflections rule of vampires came from their silver allergy in a time when mirrors were backed with silver, disrupted sleep patterns and hyper sexuality), OCD (traditionally vampires could not cope with messy ropes, had to count any spilled grain no matter what they’d been doing before that, could not enter without permission, and could not cope with crossroads) and some forms of albinism.

The truth is: all of the above. Folkloric beliefs almost never come from one single source or have one single explanation. One town might have had a premature burial and dug someone up to find they looked as if they had been drinking the blood of the living, and if a rumour of that spread to two towns – one where the family of a mentally ill person had been sick with a contagious disease recently, and one where an unusual looking person had recently travelled through and played a few practical jokes – then within three towns you would easily have three completely different vampire legends spring up, based on their experiences and how the tales would change as they heard rumours from the other villages.

 

So, that was fun. I hope you enjoyed it. At some point soon I will write and post the next part of this little series on vampires (probably a history of the concept). Sometime after that, I’ll make posts on the modern and all more traditional types of vampire – nature, appearance, behaviour, causes, weaknesses, and the pros and cons of each type in various mediums of fiction. These take more research than my On Writing rants, which I will also be continuing, so these will comes more slowly and intermittently.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 26, 2015 in On Folklore

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,