Blood and vampires go together like October and, well, vampires. Although I don’t understand manga, I do know it’s extremely popular, and a friend has been lending me the volumes of Hellsing by Kouta Hirano. In the past couple of weeks I’ve read numbers 4 and 5. Hellsing sets up a world where the Catholic church destroys vampires, as does the English, Protestant organization Hellsing Organization. The latter, however, has as its secret weapon the vampire Alucard who, in nearly every number, gets dismembered in some bloody way before pulling himself back together to overcome the enemy. In the latest issues I’ve read the Catholics and Protestants have to cooperate against the threat of neo-Nazis (and this was before Trump was elected), who also employ werewolves. (It’s October, remember.)
Having been pondering the vampires of Maine, I decided to read the next in my own generation’s vampire hero, Barnabas Collins. I’ve been reading the Dark Shadows series by Marilyn Ross to try to find a lost piece of my childhood. There was a scene in one of these poorly written Gothic novels that made a strong impression on me that I finally re-encountered in Barnabas, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin. Interestingly, in this installment Barnabas, the gentleman vampire, is cured of his curse while traveling back in time with Carolyn Stoddard. The story doesn’t explain how some of the characters from the twentieth century appear a hundred years earlier, but it does bring an early encounter of the vampire against the werewolf—an idea monster fans know from its many iterations such as Hellsing or, famously, Underworld.
You might think vampires and werewolves would get along. In both the Dark Shadows and Hellsing universes the personalities of both come through clearly. Both monsters have deep origins in folklore and people have believed in them since ancient times. Just because they’re not human, however, is no reason to suppose they’ll get along with each other. As soon as Universal discovered that monsters translated well to film the idea began to develop that monster versus monster would be a great spectacle. We had vampires and werewolves clashing on cheap budgets with fog machines. A new orthodoxy was created that the undead just don’t get along. It’s a idea that continued into the relatively bloodless Dark Shadows series, and on into the violent and gleefully bespattered Hellsing. And since it’s October nobody should be surprised.
Posted in Books, Current Events, Literature, Monsters, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged Barnabas, Dark Shadows, Hellsing, Kouta Hirano, Marilyn Ross, October, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin, Underworld, vampires
It was a guilty pleasure read. We’d just moved and I needed a new novel for bed-time reading. Most of our undamaged books were still boxed up and, well, enough excuses: I like Dark Shadows novels. Hardly well written, these pulp potboilers are like extended, Gothic Scooby-Doo episodes. I first started finding them used at Goodwill when I was a kid and I’ve re-collected a number of them as an adult. Although they feature a vampire, and sometimes a werewolf and witch, the crisis of the story generally devolves to a hoax at Collinwood. So it was with Barnabas, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost. I hadn’t thought to write a blog post about it until I came across a passage mentioning Rocain. In context, one of the characters explains how Rocain, the son of Seth, shows that sorcery goes all the way back to Genesis.
Genesis was one of my lines of research during my academic career, although I never published anything I was working on. I didn’t, however, recall having read about Rocain. The internet quickly pointed me to Legends of Old Testament Characters by Sabine Baring-Gould, chapter 8. Clearly this was where Marilyn Ross, or his source, got his information. Baring-Gould sits on my shelf as the author of The Book of Were-Wolves. He also wrote the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” There was an era, overlapping with Baring-Gould’s lifetime, when a minister could be an independent scholar of repute. Although much that’s found in his many publications is now disputed, his was a lively and lifelong curiosity that led to several books.
Upon reflection, Sabine Baring-Gould, who was a priest fascinated by occult topics, would have fit quite well into the Dark Shadows diegesis. Although set in the late 1960s into the mod ‘70s when the television show aired, these were Victorian vignettes of a conflicted vampire and his strange, wealthy, and somewhat clueless family. All kinds of guests, some of them quite Lovecraftian, drop into the Maine mansion and its grounds. The writing of the novels is tepid at best, but the series was surprisingly literate. Dark Shadows is nevertheless undergoing a kind of revival these days, and friends sometimes tell me they’ve just discovered this oddly compelling world. I invite them in. I’ve unpacked a few more boxes since selecting this pulp novel, and one of them, I note, holds books by Sabine Baring-Gould. The guilty pleasure read?
Posted in Bible, Books, Genesis, Just for Fun, Monsters, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged Barnabas, Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows, Legends of Old Testament Characters, Marilyn Ross, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost, Rocain, Sabine Baring-Gould, The Book of Were-Wolves
It’s not often that I can claim to be ahead of the curve. A “late bloomer,” I was a timid child whose reaction to most of the world was a species of phobia. It probably didn’t help that I watched monster movies and was an early fan of the original Dark Shadows. As I learned to relate to others and take consolation in religion, these more macabre interests became latent rather than obvious, only to come out into the open when working at a Gothic seminary in the woods of Wisconsin and then being fired from said seminary, casting me into the outer darkness. I found myself being interested in horror again although I’d put it aside from bachelor’s to doctorate. Now it started to feel therapeutic.
My wife sent me an NPR story by Ruthanna Emrys titled “Reading Horror Can Arm Us Against A Horrifying World.” The premise is one I’d read before—we find horror compelling because it gives us skills that we need to survive. It teaches us how to separate evil from mere shadow and how to (or not to) fight such evil. In other words, horror can be heuristic. Those who know me as a generally calm, quiet—shy even—individual express surprise when I confess to my secret fascination. One of the most common responses is the question of “why?” Why would anyone want to watch such stuff? My observation is that those who ask haven’t tried. Horror is not often what it seems. Or perhaps they have better coping mechanisms than I have already in place.
The names of many writers of what might be considered horror have gained mainstream respectability. Stephen King’s name alone is enough to assure the success of a novel. These days you can mention the name Lovecraft and a fair number of people will have at least heard of it (him) before. Jorge Luis Borges has respectability for having been Argentine. Joyce Carol Oates for being both an academic and a woman. If you’ve read their works, however, there’s no doubt that something scary is going on here. As Emrys points out, with our world becoming a more polarized and frightened place, horror may be ready to hang out its shingle saying “the mad doctor is in.” In fact, it may become even more popular than it is already. We human beings set ourselves up for horror constantly and repeatedly. I’m seldom ahead of the curve. I hang back to see what might happen to those out in front. Call it a survival technique.
Posted in Current Events, Literature, Memoirs, Monsters, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged Dark Shadows, H P Lovecraft, horror, Jorge Luis Borges, Joyce Carol Oates, monster movies, NPR, Ruthanna Emrys, Stephen King
The fiction author who had the most influence over my formative years was Ray Bradbury. Wait—let me qualify that a bit. I read of number of series aimed at juvenile, male interest (Doc Savage, Dark Shadows, and such) but these weren’t really intended as “literature.” I also read quite a bit of Poe, and his influence may certainly have rivaled Bradbury. The thing was the latter was still alive and producing books, mostly of short stories that tickled my imagination. Despite my reluctance to let books go, there have been several periods in my life where I’ve had to sell off my collection (this is the mindset of the non-affluent) and all of these childhood collections went, except for Poe. Now that I’m a more reflective adult, so I’m told, I have found a renewed interest in some childhood classics, and Ray Bradbury books are seldom expensive. When I found From the Dust Returned in a used book shop for a steal, I said “why not?”
This particular book came from long after I’d sold my Bradbury collection. I had never seen nor heard of it before. As an adult, interestingly, Bradbury doesn’t seem scary at all. From the Dust Returned, like many other Bradbury collections, is a somewhat novelized set of stories. This one is set in a haunted house where, in his usual descriptive style the storyteller offers artful prose and painterly writing, but no real scares. As we are coming upon Banned Book Week, however, I did note one of Bradbury’s common themes—the lack of belief leads to the death of characters. I’d read some of his stories where this took place before. Still, this time he goes a bit further. Tapping into things just ahead of the rest of us, as he had a talent for doing, one of his characters laments the loss of belief in religion as well as creepy, Addams-esque characters. People are no longer believing and it causes ghosts pain.
Part of Bradbury’s appeal is clearly to the young imagination. I’ve promiscuously read hundreds of authors since my last Bradbury book. My tastes have evolved. I find the same is true when I go back to the Dark Shadows books that were so cheaply had at my neighborhood Goodwill. I still go back to these early writers, however, and there is a kind of innocence about them. These were stories I’d read before I’d learned that Poe was certainly not as macabre as real life could be. “Marilyn Ross,” “Kenneth Robeson,” Edgar Allan Poe, and Ray Bradbury may not feature of lists of banned authors. Some of them aren’t even whom they seem to be. They did instill a childlike belief in reading, in my case. Even if they’re now on the bargain shelf they will still receive my admiration for starting a lifetime of reading.
Posted in Books, Literature, Memoirs, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged Banned Book Week, Dark Shadows, Doc Savage, Edgar Allan Poe, From the Dust Returned, Kenneth Robeson, Marilyn Ross, Ray Bradbury
The first vampire novel I ever read, I remember correctly, was one of the Dark Shadows series written by Marilyn Ross. I don’t recall which one, since I had to buy my books from Goodwill or some such vender utilized by the poor. Now, I’m really a squeamish guy and the sight of blood bothers me. Barnabas Collins, however, was a compelling character—deeply conflicted and a reluctant vampire. The combination of his sadness and the setting in coastal Maine kept me looking for Dark Shadows books every time we went shopping. It surprised me, given all that, that I had such difficulty getting into Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. I started reading it years ago (it was also a second-hand copy, and, interestingly, the color scheme of the cover nearly matched Dark Shadows novels) and some eighty pages in put it down only to forget about it. Starting from the beginning a few weeks ago, I gave it another try. Although Louis is a conflicted vampire, the pace is languid and it was almost as if the self-pity was overdone. I was determined this time, however, to see it through.
One of the recurring themes of the book, and I presume the Vampire Chronicles series, is that vampires are not evil because of the Devil. In fact, there is nothing Satanic about them. Blame tends to fall on God for their state. The more I thought about it, the more the theodicy of the vampire began to resemble that of Job. Like Job, death for a vampire takes a long time. There is much suffering along the way. Louis can love, in a measure, and can loath himself. He never really understands what it is to be a vampire. The other undead he meets help to define him, but he can’t get too close. His life is a kind of Hell without Satan.
Rice’s vampires don’t fear crucifixes or shun churches. In fact, Louis takes a priest as one of his victims, sacramentally near an altar in a church. Religious imagery and discussion abound in the book. It truly is a vampire theodicy. Perhaps, for its day, it was the next step in vampire evolution. Bram Stoker, while the most famous contributor to the modern vampire myth, didn’t corner the market on defining the undead. When Louis meets vampires of the old world, they are mindless, plodding killing machines that even other vampires avoid. Rice’s vampires feel, think, and yes, theologize. I feel strangely satisfied now that I’ve finally finished the Interview. It was a vampire at my bedside for so long that it feels like an accomplishment to have finally laid it to rest.
Posted in Bible, Books, Literature, Memoirs, Monsters, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged Anne Rice, Barnabas Collins, Bram Stoker, Dark Shadows, Devil, Interview with the Vampire, Job, Marilyn Ross, theodicy, vampires