Iceland’s Dracula

draculaHere’s an odd piece of literary trivia. People in Iceland have been reading an entirely different version of Bram Stoker’s famous vampire novel Dracula than anyone else in the world, and we all were none the wiser. The Icelandic translation of Dracula is titled Powers of Darkness, and while the book starts out the same way, it is really not a translation at all. It’s more like Dracula fan-fiction that tells a similar tale.

In 1900, Icelander Valdimar Ásmundsson translated and published Makt Myrkranna in his newspaper. It purported to be a translation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the horror story of a young lawyer who finds himself imprisoned by Count Dracula, and the exploits of his friends who help defeat the vampire. But in 1986, Dracula scholar Hans Corneel de Roos realized the Icelandic text was wholly different from the one originally published in English. For 86 years, any Icelandic readers of Dracula were unknowingly reading a different book than everyone else in the world.

The biggest difference between the Icelandic text and the original is that the former takes place almost entirely in Dracula’s castle, whereas the latter moves between England and Transylvania. It takes about three-quarters of Powers of Darkness for the protagonist—”Thomas Harker” instead of the “Jonathan Harker” of the original—to finally uncover the count’s secrets. (In the original, this section comprises just a quarter of the book.)

There are also significant differences between the later sections of the two books. In the original, after we leave Harker in the castle, the narrative continues in an epistolary style, with the plot unfolding across letters and newspaper clippings. In Powers of Darkness, the point of view suddenly flips from Harker’s diary to an omniscient narrator:

“While Thomas Harker hovered between hope and horror in the castle of Count Dracula, his beloved fiancée, Wilma, spent her time at the bathing resort at Whitby, on the east coast of England.”

In essence, Powers of Darkness is an expanded, more grotesque version of Harker’s adventure in the castle, followed by 50 pages of summary describing what happened after he left. It’s like a detailed Cliffs Notes. There is also an over-the-top ritual sacrifice of three nubile women.

So it sounds to me like the author set out to translate Stoker’s work, but found the novel’s unique storytelling style that involves newspaper clippings, diary entries, and so forth too difficult to work with. Then, after summarizing the end of the book, he decided to pad it out by including more action involving Harker in Dracula’s castle. It wasn’t until an English translation of Powers of Darkness became available that the differences were clear for readers around the world to see.

Where Modern Vampires Came From

Vampire myths have appeared in various forms all over the world from time immemorial. The discovery of “vampire burials” in eastern Europe confirm that the myth is quite old in that part of the world as well. However, our modern image of the vampire has little to do with the original folklore. The vampire stories that most of us know, involving aristocratic, sophisticated immortals who attract at the same time that they repel only date back to the 19th century. The first vampire of the modern type was probably John Polidari’s Lord Ruthven who appears in his novel The Vampyre.

There is evidently little appeal or attraction felt for these early revenant figures. Unlike the English aristocratic vampire, modelled on Lord Byron, these early folkloric vampires are peasants and tend to appear en mass like modern-day zombies. Agnes Murgoci explored this folk belief further. She argued in 1926 that the journey from death to the afterlife is perilous – in Romanian belief it took 40 days for the soul of the deceased to enter paradise. In some cases, it was thought that it lingered for years, and during this time there are a myriad of ways that deceased family members can succumb to vampirism.

It was thought that dying unmarried, unforgiven by one’s parents, through suicide or being murdered could all lead to a person returning as a vampire. Events after death could also have the same effect – beware breezes blowing across corpses before burial, dogs or cats walking over coffins, or leaving a mirror (a soul trap) not turned to the wall at this precarious time. It was a treatise written in 1746 by the French monk Antoine Augustin Calmet that famously gave British writers access to a number of encounters with vampires. Calmet took inspiration from Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, a botanising man of science, who had earlier claimed to have come face to face with a plague of bloodsucking vampires in Mykonos in 1702. His account was still being read in 1741.

Three decades after Tournefort’s encounter, the London Journal of 1732 reported some enquiries into “vampyres” at Madreyga in Hungary (a story later referred to by John Polidori). Greece and Hungary feature prominently in these early accounts – and this is mirrored in Romantic literature: Lord Byron for example makes Greece the setting of his unfinished vampire story A Fragment (1819). But it was Polidori who was responsible for the vampire’s English pedigree and its elevation of social rank. There seems never to have been an urban, nor an educated bourgeois bloodsucker prior to The Vampyre (1819). A predatory sexuality is also introduced. We see for the first time the vampire as rake or libertine, a real “lady killer” – a trend that metamorphosed into Bram Stoker’s Dracula and anticipated the arrival of vampire romance in the beautiful undead form of Twilight’s Edward Cullen.

As this all reveals, the history of vampires is a disputed and uncertain one whatever your perspective, scientific or literary. But the “vampire” burials discovered by archaeologists of late do cohere with practices that are known to suggest a belief in vampirism (such as piercing the corpse, nailing down the tongue, putting a needle in the heart and placing small stones and incense in the mouth and under the finger nails to stop blood sucking and clawing). These “vampire” corpses do therefore go some way towards finding out how old our belief in vampires actually is.

As an interesting aside, John Polidari was Lord Byron’s physician, which explains his vampire’s suave image and aristocratic manner. And Polidari began The Vampyre in response to the same writing challenge that produced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankenstein was the first science fiction novel in history, and vampires of the Lord Ruthven type, including of course Count Dracula, have long dominated the genre of Gothic horror. So the sheer amount of genre fiction that owes its genesis to that one particular writing challenge is staggering.

Famous Female Werewolves?

Artsy has an article up today that asks an important question of the horror genre – where are all the great female werewolves? Think about it. It’s not that there are no female werewolves depicted in books, film, or television, but for whatever reason it seems like they never become anywhere near as famous or iconic as their male counterparts and there are far fewer of them.

Where are all the great female werewolves? Other than the occasional few over the years, there is a marked dearth of them represented in literature and film. When envisioning famous male werewolves, there’s certainly no lack. We can point to young Bertrand Caillet from the famous 1933 horror novel The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore; Scott Howard from the 1985 movie Teen Wolf; Remus Lupin of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter-verse; Wilfred Glendon of the 1935 film Werewolf of London; Lawrence “Larry” Talbot of the 1941 film The Wolf Man; and Jacob Black, the hunky teen werewolf from Stephenie Meyer’s 2005–08 Twilight books (and subsequent films).

There is a certain irony here, because many of the first werewolves to be outed in society from the 16th through the 18th centuries were actually women. Just as our American ancestors had their Salem Witch Trials, Europe had its Werewolf Trials, and a large number of the so-called “werewolves” tortured and burned at the stake were female.

Still, many of the tales that have trickled down from this period of history to the present day focus on celebrated male werewolves who ravaged villages, the most famous of whom may be the German farmer Peter Stumpp (sometimes written as Stubbe or Stumpf). That gentleman made a dastardly deal with Satan himself in order to become a werewolf, murdering and consuming the flesh of good Christian villagers, even his own kin. He was tortured ruthlessly, and his mistress and daughter were flayed alive and killed alongside him.

We remember Stumpp, yet so many of his female peers are long forgotten. In the 17th-century werewolf trials of Estonia, women were about 150 percent more likely to be accused of lycanthropy; however, they were about 100 percent less likely to be remembered for it.

The article offers a long, detailed analysis that pretty comes to the conclusion that female werewolves don’t get traction because the idea of a woman as a huge, hairy beast isn’t very sexy to most people. That’s probably part of it. Also, just as vampire stories are metaphors for dangerous sexuality, werewolf stories are metaphors for dangerous anger – and the idea of a dangerous, angry woman has cut across the grain of popular culture until relatively recently. Then again, with the massive success of films like Quantin Tarantino’s Kill Bill – essentially an homage to the entire concept – it may be that the female werewolf’s time has come at last.

As far as what more can be done about it, we here at Moonfire would love to take a look at a story with a strong female werewolf protagonist. If you have one of those, go ahead and submit it. We’re happy to do our part to promote monster equality!

Is Keanu Reeves Immortal?

Immortal celebrities are now a thing. As the information age allows us to digitize more and more images, and advanced search engines allow us to comb through them, we can identify photographs and portraits from the past that look like well-known people from the present day.

Paranormal should never be the first explanation for these phenomena, since the whole point of paranormal events is that they are by nature unlikely and unusual. On the other hand, some of these likenesses from the past are awfully close their modern-day counterparts.

Keanu Reeves has been the subject of immortal speculation for some time. There’s even a whole website dedicated to exposing the actor’s immortal nature and previous identities, keanuisimmortal.com. The site notes that he barely seems to age, and lists his dopplegangers from the past. There are only two so far, and one of them is kind of a stretch, but still. According to the website, these are Keanu’s confirmed identities through the ages.

Charlemagne (748-814)

Aside from the striking resemblance, the account of the death of Charlemagne rise suspicion.First of all he crowned his son just before dying (just like he knew he was going to “die”) secondly his burial was rushed during cold weather this is a clear hint that they needed to bury a body to not rise any suspicion.

Paul Mounet (1847-1922)

Aside from the striking resemblance, there are sevaral facts that without any reasonable doubt shows that Paul Mounet is Keanu Reeves. He was a doctor first and then an actor, the rise of the medical science could’ve been a problem to an immortal, by becoming a baron of the medicine he gained protection from any kind of inquiry about his everlasting appearance. Paul Mounet allegedly died in 1922 although his body was never found.

Charlemagne is probably a stretch. The main point of resemblance is that he has a similar long, oval face, but tons of people look like that. Also, we have a number of conflicting portraits of him, and when that happens it’s easy to look through them and pick the best match.

On the other hand, take a look at the portrait accompanying this article. That’s not a promo piece of Keanu Reeves from Bram Stoker’s Dracula or something. That’s Paul Mounet, and the resemblance is uncanny. If his body was really never found, maybe he lived on after all.

New Salem Witch Trial Memorial

witch_trial_memorialOne of the oldest tricks in the book is to ask somebody how many witches were burned during the Salem witch trials. It’s a trick question, because the Puritans executed witches by hanging. Of course, it’s also a trick question because none of the victims of the trials were actually witches. The trials were in fact a massive moral panic, in which neighbors involved in feuds accused each other of witchcraft in order to get rid of adversaries and the like.

The site of the hangings has long stood abandoned and unmarked, but that’s about to change. The town of Salem will be dedicating a memorial to the victims of the trials on July 19th, a recognition of this great injustice that is long overdue.

If they’d been there in 1692, they would have known. That’s when the rocky ledge on the parcel next door turned into a site of mass execution—and when the bodies of people hanged as witches were dumped into a low spot beneath the ledge known as “the crevice.” In the night, when the hangings were over, locals heard the sounds of grieving families who snuck over to gather up their dead and secretly bury them elsewhere.

But for much of history, the site sat quietly obscured by woods and buildings. A leather tannery and railroad operated nearby, and in recent years, houses surrounded it. And for O’Connor, Benedict and much of Salem, that history has faded despite the town’s outsized reputation.

Now, it will finally be commemorated when Salem mayor Kimberley Driscoll dedicates a memorial below Proctor’s Ledge on July 19. The date coincides with the first of three mass executions there. On the same day in 1692, five women—Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Wildes—were hanged from a tree on the ledge, and their bodies fell into a “crevice,” where the memorial now marks their names.

Later victims included wealthy landowner John Proctor, killed in August. He had publicly condemned the witch trials and had punished his female servants for claiming to be possessed by witches’ spirits in the hysteria of the day. Proctor’s Ledge is named for his grandson, who bought the land knowing its history.

The next time you see Salem’s “witch city” motto, keep in mind that the place should probably really be called the “non-witch city,” regardless of how popular culture keeps insisting on associating the victims of the Salem trials with real witches. They weren’t. They were the unfortunate targets of what was essentially a theocracy run amuck with no real checks on its power.