“In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without devils, sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world. The person who experiences the event must opt for one of two possible solutions: either he is a victim of an illusion of the senses, of a product of the imagination – and the laws of the world remain what they are; or else the event has indeed taken place, it is an integral part of reality – but then this reality is controlled by laws unknown to us… The fantastic occupies the duration of this uncertainty. Once we choose one answer or the other, we leave the fantastic for a neighbouring genre, the uncanny or the marvellous. The fantastic is that hesitation experienced by a person who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event.” (Tzvetan Todorov: The Fantastic, A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, Press of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 1975 p25).
In order for horror and dark fantasy to be remotely compelling to the reader, it should be somewhat believable and a tad inexplicable, enough to make us feel ‘creeped out’ or on the edge of our seats, at any rate. Those who read these genres, particularly vampire stories, are often deeply aware of the significance of the literature, if indeed they have not had an experience of sleep paralysis accompanied by hallucination; if hallucination is what demons are, springing from the mind of the victim. The experience of them is every bit as real as you sitting here reading this blog. Throughout literary history there have always been souls who understood what vampires and demons symbolised, as well as how to defeat them.
Our most disturbing fears, if awakened, will teach us something of our present circumstances. These fantastical events never occur without reason. Like attracts like – negative environments and people very often bring their negative influences to our own psyche. Our beliefs, fears and unconscious mind do the rest. By allowing ourselves to remain in that state of mind we open ourselves up to terrifying experiences (or dark energy is attracted to us, whichever you choose to believe). Either way, writers of dark fantasy and horror are often your guiding light in Hell.
These writers usually have a deep understanding of the Otherworld and reader’s darkest fears. They take you there in order that you may better understand the many possible dangers and demons that can be encountered in life; and they hopefully end the story with a solution of how to defeat these monsters.
One of the most famous horror writers is Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. We’ll come to the Count in a minute, but it is interesting that the subject of the disturbed mind is present in the form of Renfield, who has some very important information for the reader. Note too the eccentric figure of Van Helsing, a slightly mad, but genius doctor, who also has the required knowledge of the fantastic as well as the mundane. In fact, many of Stoker’s characters question their sanity throughout the story.
Blood, as the mad Renfield informs us, is the life. By consuming blood, he says, you gain the vital powers of the person whose blood you are draining. This is proved by his Master – Count Dracula – who becomes younger after drinking the blood of the youthful Lucy. She becomes weaker, eventually dying, as he becomes stronger. Mina drinks his blood in some kind of perverse and unholy communion. Dracula is very clearly placed in opposition to God, and we can assume that he therefore represents the Devil himself. In fact, Dracula is indeed compared to the Devil several times. As for Renfield, he is the unfortunate mad man who speaks the truth: the ‘Cassandra’ of this story.
Of course, blood is symbolic of so many things. On the subject of transubstantiation, in some pagan faiths, such as Sioux, there is a long-held belief that eating the flesh of a certain animal empowers you with that animal’s vital essence and spirit, a superstition that undoubtedly found its way around the world in many other guises. Bram Stoker was probably aware of the legend of Countess Bathory who, regardless of whether she did or not, supposedly bathed in the blood of virgins to retain her youth (See Footnote 1). In our modern world, we are well aware that blood transfusion saves lives. This was only a recent discovery in Stoker’s time, but he does mention, and describe, the procedure in Dracula. Most importantly, blood symbolises the potent life and energy we possess. Without it, we die. That life and energy is required so that the figurative vampire may live. In other words, if we let our fears take us over, or repress our innermost desires, we will be drained, disempowered, possibly depressed and eventually die.
Sleeping and night time are, of course, the places you will encounter vampires and other night demons, and in Dracula it is no different. Disturbed sleep is touched upon with the somnambulistic Lucy, who is easier to control when she is in this state. Sleeping people cannot defend themselves, like the state of sleep paralysis mentioned earlier. It is in this state that people are also very often prone to hallucinations. This is a condition which has been described for centuries by those who have reported incubus and succubus attacks. These creatures are night demons who feed upon our energy or have sex with us, in much the same way as Dracula does with Lucy and Mina. Dracula, therefore, is bound up not only with our fears but also with our repressed sexuality. The vampire’s teeth penetrating the neck of his or her victim, is symbolic of sexual penetration and shows our deep-rooted primal desire to be fucked. Hard. By a sexy, charismatic guy with a castle and pet wolves. Possibly. You get the picture. In the half-asleep world of sleep paralysis we are bound, helpless to our inner desires and fears. It is then that the vampire is free to strike, and the hallucination takes over.
Never fear, there is hope, and Stoker et al give us some clues on how to defeat the darkness in our lives. I suppose it’s up to each of us to take what we will out of that, but you’ll have to take a deep breath, pick up the books and face your fears for yourself….
In Sisterhood of the Wolf there is an appearance of a mysterious stranger. To begin with, he is not identified as a vampire, but there are many tell-tale signs. He is dark, with penetrating eyes, and there is an enticing quality about him. Channing knows she should not be anywhere near him, but she simply cannot help herself. There’s also something strange about Channing which, again, the reader will no doubt suspect long before it happens. She should be able to smell the stranger from across the street. That’s some super-power! Nevertheless, even although she cannot, she still gets a warning, a tingling, before she sees him. He has a magical super-power too! He is able to influence her senses and actions. Channing needs no persuasion to follow his command, even though the impression is of a strong independent woman.
This short opening scene is intended to be sensual, sexual, tense and dangerous. I have deliberately cut off the reader at this point, hoping it will leave you all wanting more! What I can say, for now, is that Channing is not scared for her own wellbeing. She’s a woman well able to take care of herself, and that dark stranger better watch out. He is about to bite off much more than he can chew! This is definitely a book for feminists!
Until next week, your friend… A D.
1. He was certainly aware of some of the history of eastern Europe, as is evident with his lead character, based on real life Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, also known by his patronymic name of Dracula. A name he inherited via his father Vlad II Dracul, a member of the Order of the Dragon. The real Dracula’s cruelty was renowned, and his preferred method of execution was impalement, where Stoker no doubt derived the classical image of the stake – one of the methods used to kill vampires.