My Guest this week is... Me! Well, I've not been on here for a while and I'm a cheap date, so without further ado...
Eric J. Gates
A stake in the Vampire Meme
Many years ago, shortly after dinosaurs evolved into birds, there was a comedy show on BBC radio called ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’, and yours truly was a fan. (I told you I was old, very old and needed blood… sorry, got carried away there). Where was I? Oh yes, the radio (that’s TV without the sound, for the younger people reading this). The program was a precursor to Monty Python and several of that crowd actively took part in its weekly broadcasts, so you can imagine the kind of show it was. I have many fond memories from that program, but one comes to mind now. It was almost a social experiment; perhaps well before its time. It was proposed that anything could become funny if it were repeated often enough. To illustrate the point, the cast chose the word ‘teapot’ and proceeded to introduce it at inopportune moments throughout the half hour of the program’s duration. Yes, you’ve guessed it, by the middle of the show, it was hilarious.
So, what’s all that got to do with the price of tea in China?
I have just published Book 2 of ‘the CULL’, my (s)take on the vampire myth, and I was musing, as I am wont to do, on how far from its origins this particular lore has become.
Just a minute, you say, everyone knows Abraham ‘Bram’ Stoker invented vampires, right?
And that’s just what I mean. Thanks to incessant, uninformed repetition, we now have a meme that equates Stoker’s Dracula with vampires. Yet it couldn’t be more misleading.
Long before Stoker published his book in 1897, or John Polidori published ‘the Vampyre” in 1819, based itself on Lord Byron’s “Fragment of a Novel” published in the same year, myth’s about blood-sucking creatures abounded, and not just in Eastern Europe. Yes, you might say, everyone knows that Bram Stoker was inspired by Vlad Tepes, the Transylvanian Prince who impaled his victims on stakes.
Or was he?
Bram Stoker grew up in Dublin. Twenty-two years before he wrote ‘Dracula’, he may have read a book, popular at the time, called the ‘The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places’ published in 1875 by Patrick Weston Joyce, which cites the story of Abhartach, originally featured in Geoffrey Keating’s 1626 account of Irish folklore. Abhartach was an Irish King who is deposed, and killed, because of his barbarous behaviour. His corpse was left to rot in a shallow grave. The tale tells of how he resurrects and seeks the blood of his treacherous subjects, and how, eventually, a local druid tells the townspeople to rebury the body face down, with a wooden spike driven through it, to hold it in place, and a huge boulder placed on the grave to impede a new walkabout.
A bit extreme, you might think. This custom was prevalent at the time, not just in Ireland, but also throughout most of Europe, and the measures taken were meant to stop the body reviving and exiting the grave to seek redress from those that had harmed them in life. The Roman Catholic Church, the same people who brought us the ever-popular Inquisition, was a prime promoter of these methods – if you contrast known digs of buried ‘vampires’ you will quickly discover their burial coincides with the expanse of Catholicism in the area.
But back to Stoker.
In 1880, seventeen years B.D. (Before Dracula) there was an exhibition in Dublin featuring Keating’s work. An exhibition in Stoker’s home town, and only a few years before he wrote the novel – an interesting coincidence? What’s more interesting is that in Keating’s book, and in the exhibition, these creatures are given the Gaelic name of ‘Dreach-Fhoula’, meaning 'tainted blood' and which is pronounced Droc’ola. So you can see where Stoker may have got his ideas.
But it doesn’t stop there…
Brammy (I feel we are almost friends by now) is said to have been inspired to write his famous novel, one of a total of twelve as well as several books of short stories, he penned during his life, when he saw Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He had been staying at nearby Cruden Bay in 1895, and Slains Castle is said to have become, by the magic of his pen, the home of Count Dracula. If you peruse the description of said home at the end of Chapter 1 and start of Chapter 2, you will see a remarkably accurate description of what could easily be said Scottish abode.
So where the Dickens did all this Transylvanian nonsense come from?
Just cast your mind back to the Victorian Era in the British Isles. Go on, I dare you! There was no Internet, no TV full of reality programming and travel documentaries, and no aircraft to pop over to sunnier climes. What! you say. The novels and periodicals of the time were the major source of news about exotic places and the authors of that period were well aware of this. It helped ensure their popularity amongst their readers if they set their books in such ‘unknown’ territories. Look who else was popular at the time: Rudyard Kipling, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, to name but a few, provided colourful relief to the more socially critical fare of Charles Dickens, the Brontës and Oscar Wilde. Apparently Brammy, who never journeyed to Eastern Europe, met Hungarian writer, incorrigible traveller and Turkologist (yes, such a word exists!) Ármin Vámbéry, who provided ample information on Transylvanian culture.
Inspiration is where you find it!
Inspiration is where you find it!
Imagine, for a moment, if the opening chapters of Stoker’s novel had been set in Scotland or his native Ireland.
So, I leave you with that thought.
And this one…
And before you ask, that's not a stake in the photo; it's a japanese katana sword which I use to lop the heads off werewolves... but that's another story.
Postscript: In my vampire trilogy, I’ve gone back to the roots. They're from Ireland, don’t have fangs, use mirrors without problem, and don’t have a fear of crosses... just those who wield them! Extreme Reading, for those who are looking for a change from teenage angst, too.
Eric J. Gates has had a curious life filled with the stuff of thriller novels. Writing Operating Systems for Supercomputers, cracking cryptographic codes under extreme pressure using only paper and pen and teaching Cyberwarfare to spies are just a few of the moments he’s willing to recall. He is an ex-International Management Consultant who has travelled extensively worldwide, speaks several languages, and has had articles and papers published in technical magazines in six different countries, as well as radio and TV spots. His specialty, Information Technology Security, has brought him into contact with the Military and Intelligence communities on numerous occasions.
He is also an expert martial artist, holding 14 black belt degrees in distinct disciplines. He has taught his skills to Police and Military personnel, as well as to the public.
He is the author of several thriller novels, details of which can be found on his web, and collaborates with other authors and Writer Networks.Author website: www.ericjgates.com
Blog: you're reading it - have a look at the posts by all the wonderful Guests who have passed through here, while you're at it.
Thank you, me, for an informative post about vampires
A very Merry Christmas to all!
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com