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.

Midnight, Texas

Fans of the popular HBO vampire series True Blood will be thrilled that Charlaine Harris’ work has returned to television. The new NBC series Midnight, Texas is based on a series of books by Harris, just like True Blood was. And according to this article from Inverse, the similarities don’t end there.

Sure, it had delightfully absurd moments like vampires attending a Ted Cruz rally, or memorable lines like Pam’s “I’m so over Sookie and her precious fairy vagina and her unbelievably stupid name.” But beneath all the sex and blood and dramatic heart-ripping, True Blood was surprisingly earnest. It was a story set in a southern small town filled with a colorful mixture of humans, vampires, werewolves, and fairies. In one scene, vampire Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) hammed it up in a magic vampire sex dream; in the next he had a serious sad moment with his vampire-dad Godric. And at no point did the show attempt any tonal distinction between these two scenes.

This grey area of camp and seriousness enabled True Blood to balance on the fence. It was a soap opera that gestured towards being a prestige drama. Because Midnight, Texas is not a premium cable show, it has significantly less sex, blood-geysers, and references to fairy vaginas. But it skirts the same odd line of the absurd and the earnest. Scenes that could easily be supernatural punchlines — a man sprouting giant feathery wings and suddenly taking flight; protagonist Manfred fighting with ghosts — are played straight.

Like True Blood, it’s set in supernatural small town America, and features a colorful cast of vampires, angels, psychics, and witches. The Sookie stand-in is Manfred (François Arnaud) a guy with an equally “stupid name,” as True Blood’s Pam would say. He’s psychic instead of telepathic but just like Sookie, his powers make him a constant outsider. And like *True Blood’s setting of Bon Temps, Louisiana, Midnight, Texas is supposedly a sleepy, dusty little town that — shockingly — isn’t as sleepy as it seems. It remains to be seen whether a show like this needs sex and blood spatter or if it can thrive on network TV, too. But for now, if you still miss True Blood, Midnight, Texas is a diluted mixture of the same ingredients.

So vampire fans, werewolf fans, fairy fans, and psychic fans should all enjoy the series. With such an extensive collection of supernatural creatures, there’s bound to be something for everyone. Oh, except maybe zombies – but we’ll have to see where the program goes. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if they show up too at some point. Midnight, Texas premiered on July 24th and airs Monday nights on NBC.

Hitler’s Monsters

I suppose it makes sense that one of the biggest metaphoric monsters in all of history would have had an affinity for literal ones. Hitler’s Monsters, a new book by Eric Kurlander, explores how the Nazi party exploited popular belief in monsters and the occult to sustain its political movement. Vice has an interview with Kurlander up in which he discusses how Hitler and the Nazis employed fantastic tales of vampires and werewolves to create a sort of mythic underpinning for their ideology and policies.

Kurlander quotes pro-Nazi writer Gottfried Benn, who observed, “There tended to be a regression in intellectual advances while those grasping for power… reached backwards in search of mythical continuity.” In Nazi Germany, this meant werewolves, a preference for magic over science, and the influential Thule Society, which traced the Aryan race back to a lost continent, or what Kurlander collectively refers to as “the supernatural imaginary.”

Hitler’s Monsters, which will be published on July 18 by Yale University Press, is the story of a romantic movement—the populist völkisch movement—gone terribly awry, as paramilitary groups coopted magic and religion and effectively banished reality, instead embracing “fantasies of racial faith” like Hanns Hörbiger’s World Ice Theory, which postulated that huge blocks of celestial ice were at the root of all natural science and explained human history. Kurlander also records the attempts of leaders like Reinhard Heinrich to expel occultists from the Party, which proved impossible given that the science-averse Nazi religion depended on superstition to justify itself.

Far from the Hollywood depiction of Nazi sorcerers (Indiana Jones, Wolfenstein 3D, Marvel’s Hydra) or Britain’s harmless-by-comparison Golden Dawn, Nazi magic and mysticism was something far more insidious: an ideology immune to logical contradiction and capable of shaping a faith-based populism rooted in the idea of a common myth and a shared destiny. When I recently spoke to Kurlander over the phone, it became clear that his project was not an idle arcane history of the kind that fills occult bookstores, but a prescient document of how a nation in crisis could come to prefer its own myth over reality, and reap the consequences.

Back in 2016, Augoeides posted an article discussing challenges to the notion that the Nazi regime was literally powered by dark magick. Kurlander’s hypothesis seems to be more on the mark. Whether or not the Nazi leaders really believed in the occult and magical forces, they skillfully made use of popular beliefs in such things as part of their propaganda methods. That may explain why the few Nazis who did believe in such things had trouble being taken seriously above and beyond their ideas being used to promote the party and its agenda. The book sounds like a fascinating treatment of an area of history that is often sensationalized.

Are You a Vampire?

Are you a real vampire? Are you sure? How would you know? The Internet, of course! This page lists a series of questions that are supposed to help you figure it out. It apparently isn’t a joke, either – the operator of the page claims to be serious.

The sole purpose of this page is to help you figure out if you are a real vampire or not. This is to be used with the finding a real vampire page on this site. After all if you don’t recognize yourself as a real vampire then you aren’t a real vampire. All of the traits below are accurate for more than half of all real vampires. All real vampires have at least 85% of them, in other words if at least 85% of them don’t apply to you then you are not a vampire. Assuming that you are a real vampire, the fact that so many of these traits are accurate for you may shock you.

Those are the traits that I am saying are 95% so that I don’t rule any real vampires out that the traits may not be accurate for. If you are convinced that you are a real vampire, yet have few to none of these traits you really need to read up on a term that is known as enabling and stop claiming to be one. You could even seem to have all of them but there is still no guarantee that you are a real vampire.

If you’re in the mood, click on over and run through the questions. Maybe it will turn out that you were a vampire all along, and if so you should probably pick up a copy of The Vampire’s Guide to Dining. After all, you have to eat sometime, right?

Universal’s Dark Universe

Monster fans rejoice! Following the recent remake of The Mummy, Universal Pictures has plans to release remakes of its most famous classic horror films. They will be released over the next few years, and will include The Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man among others.

We already know about The Bride of Frankenstein being next at bat on February 14, 2019 with Beauty and the Beast’s Bill Condon directing from a screenplay by Jurassic Park’s David Koepp. Angelina Jolie and Javier Bardem are expected to star. And Johnny Depp has officially inked a deal to headline The Invisible Man and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is rumored to transform himself into The Wolfman.

Now Universal has announced the next round of reboots to be interwoven into the family fold with plans to produce updated versions of Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you paid close attention to some of The Mummy trailers you can see what appears to be Dracula’s skull in a jar inside Dr. Jekyll’s Prodigium, and what seems to be a fin from The Creature From The Black Lagoon so at least one of these titles was anticipated, but the other pair is a pleasant surprise.

Dark Universe creative chief Alex Kurtzman confirmed the news during an interview with Fandom during The Mummy’s press tour:

“We know we’re going to do Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Invisible Man. There are characters within those films that can grow and expand and maybe even spin off,” he told the site. “I think that digging into deep mythologies about monsters around the world is fair game for us, as well and connecting the monsters that we know to some surprising monsters could also be really interesting. I’d love to bring Michael Fassbender in, I’d love to bring Jennifer Lawrence in, I’d love to see Charlize Theron in there, Angelina Jolie…”

Phantom (1925) and Hunchback (1923) were two of the first horror movies Carl Laemmle ever produced for Universal, both starring “The Man Of A Thousand Faces,” the legendary Lon Chaney. They will join the previous mention films in this expanded lineup all under the Dark Universe umbrella. Whether or not Universal’s Dracula reboot or spin-off will be based on the 2014 Luke Evans film, Dracula Untold, is yet to be determined.

It sounds like Universal has taken a cue from the success of the Marvel Universe films and plans to do something similar with its horror catalog. So assuming that all these remakes are well-done, monster fans have a lot to look forward to. The Bride of Frankenstein is scheduled to open next February. There’s no word yet on release dates for any of the others, but we’ll keep you all posted as soon as they are announced.