Archive for January, 2013

VAMPIRES, PART II: The Logic of Superstition and Vampire Watermelons. Yes, I said ‘Watermelons.’

Millet

PART I: In Which You Learn All Drunk People are Secretly Undead Monsters

There is a lot of weird logic associated with vampires. Today we’re going to explore a few examples. Consider this not just as a microcosm of vampire beliefs, but folklore and myth in general. It’s often bizarre, and founded in ignorance, but if you look closely you can see the reasoning of the people who came up with it.

For starters, vampire folklore has a great deal of diversity in terms of how vampires can be created. If you’re born with a caul, you’ll become a vampire after death. If you’re a drunk, or a suicide, or a criminal, you’ll become a vampire after death. It’s not just as simple as “vampire bites you = you become a vampire.” Of these many weird variations, my favorite is that a vampire could be created if a cat jumped over the corpse before burial. A bit odd, right? Well, apparently there’s a widespread Slavic belief that the human soul sometimes appears as a tiny silver mouse with blue eyes. As such, the cat is an evil spirit attempting to eat the human soul and replace it, thereby animating the corpse. The logic is obviously based on superstition but it’s still a reasoned out cause-and-effect.

Continue reading ‘VAMPIRES, PART II: The Logic of Superstition and Vampire Watermelons. Yes, I said ‘Watermelons.’’

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VAMPIRES, PART I: In Which You Learn All Drunk People Are Secretly Undead Monsters

Smile at Night (Sukanto Debnath)

Vampires are everywhere in fiction these days, and if you pay attention you may have noticed most representations of them fall into two broad camps. One is the idealized vampire, the sexy, cool, romantic figure. He’s full of tortured angst and/or witty quips, has stunningly good looks, and probably wears a long black coat. The other kind of vampire is created by people who hate the first type. It’s a monster, part bat/rat/other hideous thing, blood spattered, possibly rotting. Neither one of them much resembles the vampire of Slavic folklore, which is where all this started, and it is the Slavic vampire we’re going to explore.

Continue reading ‘VAMPIRES, PART I: In Which You Learn All Drunk People Are Secretly Undead Monsters’

On Mummies (Apologies to Mightygodking)

Me: I wonder how you’d remake the Mummy as a horror film. Not so much a rollicking action adventure. I mean, in the old Mummy movies, he’s basically a bandaged zombie that strangles people. Not really gonna cut it in this day and age. I mean, either you make him an evil sorcerer (but a SCARY evil sorcerer) or you make him a zombie. That’s really the only way to do it. And in that case, why not just make a movie about a zombie or an evil sorcerer who isn’t an Egyptian guy in bandages? I don’t know why I suddenly started thinking about mummies

My Friend: There are stories with fast mummies, including one by Conan Doyle. And the Karloff Mummy wasn’t bandaged. So, the slowness issues are purely a modern phenomenon (but, even the recent films had fast mummies)

Me: It’s been a while since I saw the movie. Okay, so, fast mummies. That’s still just a step down from fast zombies. At least the fast zombies will rip you apart and eat you. Fast mummies do what, exactly, that zombies can’t do better?

Friend: The difference is mummies are sapient. They have personalities, desires, and inhuman patience. They’re actually closer to D&D liches than zombies.

Me: But see, that’s the issue right there. A lich is basically an evil sorcerer. He just happens to be dead. Depending on the sort of mummy you use, you could make essentially the same movie with A) an evil sorcerer or B) a zombie. What about mummies is inherently appealing?

Friend: In general a lich deliberately becomes undead in search of greater power, whereas a mummy expects to be waking up in paradise and what is all this shit I’m wrapped in? Mummies are tragic.

Me: Some mummies are tragic, I will grant that. Others are just dicks

Friend: A mummy is cursed.

Me: Wait, I thought mummies did the cursing. Sleeping in your tomb, some asshole steals your stuff, you wake up and get your curse on. Isn’t that how it goes?

Friend: The originals tend to be confused on this. Generally, though, mummies don’t want to be up and about.

Me: Okay, but can’t you make a zombie or an evil sorcerer tragic as well? I’m still missing the inherent mummyness that makes this all go around

Friend: Mummies just want you to put their stuff back where you found it. They’re not evil.

Me: And if you don’t they’ll curse you. Okay, so, the crux, the real crux of a mummy story is the curse then, right? What makes a mummy’s curse any more unique then Joe Faust’s curses?

Friend: Most films combine this with a sense of ennui etc.

Me: Well, yes, they would. I mean, at least with vampires we have the whole drinking blood thing. And crosses. And garlic. Point is, lots of stuff unique to vampires

Friend: Motivation is an important part of any nontrivial film

Me: Okay, sure, motivation is important. But my point is the motivations attributed to mummies are not unique to mummies

Friend: What ‘give my stuff back’? No, because, unlike other monsters, mummies aren’t intrinsically inhuman or evil.

Me: Neither are vampires.

Friend: Vampires think you’re prey, as do zombies.

Me: Or Frankenstein

Friend: Frankenstein’s monster has a lot in common with mummies, true. He wants people to leave him alone.

Me: But he’s got some unique stuff of his own. He’s all by himself, he’s stitched together from bodies, and sometimes he has LIGHTNING POWERS. …I digress.

Friend: So does the mummy. He’s even more alone, he’s actually dead, and he just wants his stuff back.

Me: Mummies sometimes show up in groups

Friend: Not in the originals, interestingly.

Me: Let’s say I want to make a movie. I want to make it a supernatural horror story with lots of pathos

Friend: Right.

Me: I could use an evil sorcerer or Satanist or whatever. He longs after his lost love or something. And he curses people. Or I could go with the mummy. Why should I go with the mummy?

Friend: See, none of that screams evil sorcerer to me. Motivation’s wrong.

Me: Not all evil sorcerers are obsessed with immortality or more power. And I note, in that case, to be a mummy in the first place you ALSO have to be obsessed with immortality

Friend: The mummy thing happens to protect your stuff. Meantime, your ka is off in Egyptian heaven.

Me: But your stuff follows you to heaven. That’s why you buried yourself with it in the first place

Some Jackass: The next mummy horror movie should be someone’s mum wrapped up as a mummy

Me: Duly noted

OGRES, PART IV: OGRES VS GIANTS

Saturn Devouring his Children (Francisco de Goya)

PART I: THE ROMANS ARE THIEVING BASTARDS

PART II: THE ORCO, SHAPESHIFTERS, AND BEASTMEN

PART III: YOU MIGHT THINK I’D RUN OUT OF THINGS TO SAY ABOUT OGRES, BUT YOU’D BE WRONG

I could have just as easily named the blog this, as giants and ogres have a similar problem to ogres and trolls, and both have driven me just as mad trying to differentiate them in my own writing over the years. They can be very similar to each other, not just in their appearance but also their role in a given story. There are a few key differences that set them apart, however. One is an issue of origin. Giants can be creatures of fairy tales just like ogres can, but giants can also be found in true mythology. They warred with the gods in both Greco-Roman and Nordic traditions, for example. The second difference is an issue of scale. Giants can vary widely in size, and in many stories their size doesn’t seem that fixed. Consider the Welsh giant-hero Bran, who was big enough to wade the Irish Sea yet short enough to fit inside a chieftain’s hall, with no mention of his size ever actually changing. Finally, there is the simple matter of achievement. Ogres sometimes have a strange and enchanted castle, but giants can build mountains, jump across oceans, and fight Olympus to a draw. Giants are, in almost every sense of the word, grander. It’s enough to give your regular Joe ogre an inferiority complex.

The common ground tends to be on the ogres’ home turf. Giants in fairy tales, while they sometimes retain their more fantastic capabilities, (reshaping the landscape, for example) are often stupid, brutish, and short compared to their mythic counterparts. In other words, more like ogres. Many an Arthurian knight cut his teeth in battle with this sort of giant, so close to ogres that it’d be hard to tell the difference. It’s a goddamned nuisance for a storyteller.

Continue reading ‘OGRES, PART IV: OGRES VS GIANTS’