Posted in Other

evermore – Taylor Swift Multi-Song Theory

Yesterday I posted my reactions to all the songs on Taylor Swift’s new evermore album. While putting my thoughts together and reading through all the lyrics to pick out my favourites to include in that post, I started to see repeated metaphors and themes between songs led me a rabbit hole… and it was a good time. So, I’m probably way, way off with this but here is a potential narrative theory that connects half of the songs on evermore. Buckle up and here we go.

Ok, let’s start off with cowboy like me, a love story about two con artists. What if one of the “cowboys” is also the speaker in willow? The lyrics seem to suggest that their lover disrupted their life plans (“wreck my plans”) and there is conning imagery in the song too (“bait-and-switch”, “one prize I’d cheat to win”). If cowboy like me is about how they fell in love in the first place, willow could be one of them describing their love for the other. Whereas their partner, who is a bit more reluctant to totally give into their feelings recounts their different experience of falling in love in gold rush.

However, as time goes on, things don’t go so well. Maybe one of them rejects the other’s marriage proposal, leading to champagne problems or maybe one of them ends up not really feeling the same as the other anymore and starts just tolerating their love. Both of these songs could even fit into the same storyline if the speaker in tolerate it decides to attempt proposing to their partner in order to see once and for all if they really are in love and the speaker in champagne problems describes rejecting this proposal and the guilt that comes with it. I think this is unlikely though, I don’t think these two songs are part of the same narrative but, they could be potentially and honestly, none of this theory is probably right, it’s just for fun!

Then, the rejected proposal and/or one of them feeling as though their love is merely tolerated leads to the breakup where happiness and evermore come in. Each of the partners is represented in these two songs. I know this is a lot but stay with me because I have lyrical evidence!

In willow there’s a reference to a “head on the pillow” and in happiness there’s a “pillow where you used to lay your head”. Also in willow, the speaker refers to themselves as “the water when your ship rolled in that night” but in evermore, the speaker is “shipwrecked” and “unmoored”, suggesting that water actually led them to a painful place i.e. the relationship broke down. Also, the water/ship imagery is explored in gold rush too. Both willow and gold rush feature references to ships on water at the beginning of the songs but in willow, the speaker is comparing themselves to the water whereas in gold rush, the speaker describes their partner being like the water (“Eyes like sinking ships on waters/ So inviting, I almost jump in”). The speaker in willow is more certain of the relationship and the speaker in gold rush is more hesitant, perhaps leading to them not showing their partner how much they care for them. This could make them reject the other’s proposal or make their partner misconstrue their hesitancy for lack of appreciation and lead to them thinking their love is only tolerated.

Hope you’re saying with me on this because believe it or not, I’m not done. So, one of these speakers, the one who ignored their lover in tolerate it, probably the same speaker as evermore, sits alone on a bench in Coney Island, wishing they had treated their ex-lover better. The evidence here is more conning imagery popping up in coney island. Example lyrics for this include: “do you miss the rogue?”, “coaxed you into paradise” and the romanticising of a simple suburban life that two longtime con artists would likely be unfamiliar with: “the mischief, the gift-wrapped suburban dreams/ Sorry for not winning you an arcade ring”. Again, the apology over a ring could tie us back into champagne problems.

So, the speaker of gold rush, possibly champagne problems and coney island is then also the person behind evermore. They are “writing letters” for their ex to apologise and get a sense of closure. However, the speaker of willow and possibly tolerate it and cowboy like me doesn’t want to accept this closure. There’s a direct parallel between lyrics in tolerate it and closure here, in tolerate it, the speaker says “I made you my temple, my mural, my sky/ Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life” and in closure they say “I know I’m just a wrinkle in your new life”. The sense of prolonged hurt and not being ready to forgive is echoed in happiness, “All you want from me now is the green light of forgiveness”.

However, I think both evermore and happiness, although very sad songs, end with hopefulness. The pain the speakers are experiencing won’t last forever and they’ll find happiness again, just not with each other.

Finally, to put it all together. I think, and this is just one great big highly unlikely theory (especially as I’m not even getting into the fact that some of these are duets and so possibly have two speakers in them already) that the speakers of these songs are as follows:

willow: speaker 1, likely a young female con artist

gold rush: speaker 2, a slightly older male con artist who is a bit insecure about his lover’s beauty

’tis the damn season: Dorothea in a completely separate storyline

tolerate it: speaker 1 when she realises her partner isn’t treating her with as much love and appreciation as they used to

no body, no crime: completely separate storyline

happiness: speaker 1, post-breakup

dorothea: Dorothea’s home-town lover in a completely separate storyline with ’tis the damn season

coney island: speaker 2 when realises where he went wrong, harking back to how his ex was feeling in tolerate it

ivy: I have no idea, probably completely separate storyline

cowboy like me: speaker 1 but it’s the origin story of speaker 1 and 2’s relationship

long story short: completely separate, personal TS song

marjorie: completely separate, personal TS song

closure: Could be either of the speakers but in my version of events, I’m saying speaker 1

evermore: speaker 2

There we go, that’s my potential theory and dissection of some of Taylor Swift’s beautiful imagery. Let me know what you think about the album in the comments.

Posted in Other

evermore – Taylor Swift Song Reactions

Was anyone as stunned as I was that Taylor Swift dropped her second surprise album of the year this month?! I’m certainly not complaining but wow, I’m still not over the Heavenly blessing that is folklore and now we have a whole new album of stories and characters to devour! Here I’ve put my thoughts on each tracks and my favourite lyric but I have a theory that ties together over half the songs in the album into one continuous narrative so stay tuned tomorrow for that blog post as well!

Track 1) willow

Argh this has such gorgeous imagery and somehow it’s both beautifully indie-sounding and a catchy love song. Also, the music video for this song is one of my favourite Taylor Swift videos, it almost looks like a fantasy movie and it’s a great tribute to folklore with the gold string and Taylor picking up where she left off in the same room from the cardigan video.

“Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind/ But I come back stronger than a 90s trend”

Track 2) champagne problems

I didn’t get the storyline of this song when I first listened to it but on second listen while reading the lyrics, this song really made me feel some things. This song is sang from the point of view of someone who has turned down a proposal and they are clearly feeling guilty about it. It explores the emotional turmoil of the speaker and their fragile mental state.

“She would have made such a lovely bride/ What a shame she’s fucked in the head, they said/ But you’ll find the real thing instead/ She’ll patch up the tapestry that I shred”

Track 3) gold rush

GOLD GOLD GOLD. We can probably assume this mystical-sounding ditty is about her lover because by now we know gold and blue are the symbolic colours for her love. I’m interpreting this song as being about the anxiety that comes with being with in love with someone who is well… gorgeous (see what I did there?) and dreams about a simplistic, homely life with that person but not being able to go for it.

“My mind turns your life into folklore”

Track 4) ’tis the damn season

I don’t know why but this song has strong exile vibes to me. Maybe because there’s a muted sense of longing and lost love that feels buried beneath other complicated feelings. One song it is nothing like is Taylor’s other holiday hit, Christmas Tree Farm… it feels like we’re quite far away from the Lover era now! I adore this song honestly, it contrasts the speaker’s successful but vapid lifestyle in LA with that of their past love from their small hometown, a place very much now in the rear-view mirror of her life. I wonder if the speaker is Dorothea and the “you” in the song is an ex-lover of Dorothea’s maybe? More on her soon.

“The road not taken looks real good now/ And it always leads to you and my hometown”

Track 5) tolerate it

Ow. A lot of the songs on this album are truly sad listens but there’s something so much more intensely painful about this one. The storyline seems to be about someone who is in love with their partner but their partner has fallen out of love with them. The speaker knows this but can’t let them go so they keep the relationship going, knowing their “love should be celebrated” and coming to the difficult conclusion that they need to accept the situation and move on for their own sake.

“I made you my temple, my mural, my sky/ Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life”

Track 6) no body, no crime

This might just be my first favourite (I’ll probably go through a few favourites the more I listen). The storytelling in this song is so damn smart. It’s only three and a half minutes long and you get an entire crime thriller! The tone of this one is so sleek, suspicious and dark, I just love it.

“Good thing my daddy made me get a boating licence when I was 15/ And I’ve cleaned enough houses to know how to cover up a scene/ Good thing Este’s sister going to swear she was with me/ Good thing his mistress took out a big life insurance policy”

Track 7) happiness

At the moment this one isn’t as up there for me with the rest but it will definitely grow on me. The speaker is just at the moment of a difficult breakup, she can’t be mad at the person she was with or even at herself because they equally hurt each other and she knows she’ll find happiness down the road but right now, it hurts.

“You haven’t met the new me yet”

Track 8) dorothea

Let’s ask the question that we’re all wandering, does Dorothea know Betty, James and co? Maybe. But, I don’t see Dorothea as being a part of their story necessarily, as I said before, I think her story might be shared with the speaker of ’tis the damn season. However, dorothea has a much more upbeat sound. It seems a big life on the “small screen” and “shiny friends” is a much more painful and lonely experience for Dorothea than her old hometown lover who reflects happily on their younger years without a sense of resentment or self-pity. Generally, this song is just much more hopeful and maybe advocates for the small town simple life over big dreams and Hollywood scenes.

“You got shiny friends since you left town/ A tiny screen’s the only place I see you now/ But I got nothing but well-wishes for ya”

Track 9) coney island

This is definitely a song I need to listen to more but my overall opinion is that this is an enchantingly sad song. I do have a theory on this one though, there seems to be a sense of regret and letting someone down with lyrics like “I forgot to say your name”, “Sorry for not making you my centerfold” and “Did I leave you hanging every single day?” that makes me wonder if the speaker from tolerate it perhaps did leave their partner and now it’s their partner’s turn to realise where they went wrong and to express an apology for their neglectfulness and lack of appreciation for their ex. Or, you know… maybe not.

“If I can’t relate to you/ Then who am I related to?

Track 10) ivy

Wow, this song has such pretty lyrics! For me, this song has similarities to the lakes, only in the strong nature imagery though, not so much the sentiment. The story itself seems to be a classic woman is unhappily married but someone else catches her eye, she falls in love but their romance is doomed because… well, because of the whole being married thing. That imagery that I mentioned is what makes this song so sad, there is a fantastical feel to this song, with the speaker referring to her “dreamland” and the object of her affection being “magnificently cursed”.

“My pain fits into the palm of your freezing hand”

Track 11) cowboy like me

I like this song, it’s weirdly cute compared to all the other so very sad songs on this album. The story is about two con artists who fall for each other. They have usual targets, mostly older people, that they swindle money from but everything changes when they find a fellow “cowboy”. There’s definitely an exploration of people and situations being grey in this album and folklore. By which I mean, in the folklore/evermore cycle, she presents the stories of people who are flawed and not black and white. But, there’s no comment or sense of needing to justify giving their stories airtime, it’s just a study of humanity.

“The old men really did believe that I was the one/ And the ladies lunching have their stories about/ When you passed through town/ But that was all before I locked it down”

Track 12) long story short

This is a very personal song about overcoming the things you’ve been through and looking back on all that pain and sadness knowing what you didn’t know then: that, ultimately, you’d be ok. The song is also a tribute to Taylor and one of her favourite songwriting subjects, her lover, who came into her life at just the right time. I’d say this was perhaps the most poppy song on the album, perhaps because it’s reflective, looking back on when she was writing upbeat pop songs but struggling the most as opposed to now when she writes sad, indie songs but is much more happy and settled in life. Swiftie irony.

“Long story short, it was a bad time/ Long story short, I survived”

Track 13) marjorie

I really appreciate what Taylor did with this song, track 13 on folklore, epiphany, makes reference to her grandfather so track 13 on evermore is a tribute to her grandmother. As someone who has lost three grandparents during pretty formative years and deeply regretting not listening to their stories and advice better, this song speaks to me on a pretty personal level. Also, the fact that Taylor’s grandmother’s voice is included at the end of the song is just absolutely beautiful.

“I should’ve asked you questions/ I should’ve asked you how to be/ Asked you to write it down for me”

Track 14) closure

This is a simple song about feeling like someone is trying to bring up old wounds to give themselves closure when you’re not in the same place. It’s bitter and presents the idea that it’s ok to not have to get over something that hurt you. It’s a real feeling that can be applied to be so many situations and I think it’s one of the most relatable songs Taylor has written. It’s not as deep in imagery and literary allusion as many of the other folklore/evermore songs but it wouldn’t make sense to be super eloquent over that raw feeling so there is strength in its simplicity. This one also gives me subtle Reputation vibes.

“Yes, I got your letter/ Yes, I’m doing better/ I know that it’s over/ I don’t need your closure”

Track 15) evermore

This one isn’t my favourite, it doesn’t really make me feel quite as emotional as some of the others on the track list. You could perhaps place it next to happiness as evermore feels to be the pessimistic cousin of happiness. It is a nice song and I know it will grow on me but it’s not my absolute favourite right now.

“Writing letters, addressed to the fire”

So, there you have it, my initial thoughts on all the evermore songs. What’s your favourite song on the album and do you think we’ll have anymore surprise album drops soon? Let me know in the comments.

Posted in Blogtober, History

Blogtober Day 27: It’s All in the Origins: Familiars

This is a bit of unusual edition of my It’s All in the Origins series but I was doing some research into the concept of familiars and thought it was all too interesting not to dedicate a whole post just to familiar folklore and fiction. If you are unfamiliar (pun intended lol), familiars are most often said to be demons that took the form of a creature, whether an animal or some kind of monster, to assist a witch with their evil dealings.

During the European witch craze, the presence of familiars was used as a means of identifying witches in England and Scotland. This was mostly because James I had mentioned familiars in his book on witchcraft, Daemonologie, and Matthew Hopkins, the self-titled ‘Witchfinder General’ of England, ran with the idea in his investigations. As it was believed that familiars were gifts from the Devil and would suckle from those they served, Hopkins would examine the bodies of suspected witches for a “witch’s teat”, a form of witch’s mark that the familiar would drink their blood from.

However, not all familiars, or those they lived alongside, were thought to be evil. Some cunning folk of the time were also known to keep familiars that aided them in their good magic. There is a suggestion that in the case of cunning folk, the familiars were fairies rather than demons.

Boy: A Real-Life Familiar?

Onto one of the most famous cases of a familiar now. Boy was the white hunting poodle of Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Prince Rupert is best known for fighting on the side of the Royalists in the English Civil War and, apparently, so did Boy. The dog was said to accompany Rupert during battles and he soon became a mascot for the Royalist cause. This led to Parliamentarian propaganda claiming that Rupert dabbled in witchcraft and Boy was his familiar. Some even claimed that Boy was the Devil in disguise. A much more bizarre suggestion was that Boy was a “Lapland Lady” reincarnate. However, the strange stories about Boy don’t stop there as he was said to have magical abilities. These ranged from shapeshifting to being able to locate hidden treasure to being able to catch a bullet in his mouth. Ultimately, Boy was to die in battle but his story certainly takes the idea of “man’s best friend” to a spooky new level.

Modern Familiars

Familiars still pop up in fantasy fiction all the time today. From Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s cat Salem to Lyra’s Daemon in His Dark Materials, the familiars are usually presented in a much cuter light, perhaps owing to the fact that so many own pets these days. I’ve had quite a few pets in life, including several dogs, and I have to say there is something about the bond between human and pet that is so unique and quite special. Even though you don’t speak the same language, you develop a weird understanding that allows you to communicate and it’s not hard to see why those unfamiliar with this bond themselves could see it as almost magical, and, just maybe it is in a way. I know I wouldn’t trade my familiar, Rebel the labradoodle, for the world!

Rebel, the world’s best labradoodle
Posted in Blogtober

Blogtober Day 26: Top 5 Urban Legends

Nothing says Halloween like sinister stories that have pervaded our cultural psyche, and there are few that have captured the minds of the masses as much as these five urban legends. Are they just old wives’ tales or is there truly something spooky going on?

1. Killer in the Backseat

This classic urban legend goes a little something like this, imagine you’re driving alone at night on a quiet road when a truck comes flying up behind you, flashing their full beam and indicating for you to pull over. You think there’s no way you’re stopping until you’re safely home but the driver keeps on following you. It’s only when you make it home that you discover the other driver was trying to get your attention because a murderer had snuck onto your backseat. I’ll be honest, this is actually the one on this list that does make me shudder. I have no idea where I first heard this story but it’s clearly got in my head as I genuinely do check my backseat every time I drive anywhere on my own.

2. Bloody Mary

Who hasn’t heard of Bloody Mary?! If you’re not familiar with this particular urban legend, the gist is you go into your bathroom, light some candles and say “Bloody Mary” thirteen times (I think sometimes you have to spin around when you say it but why that would help, I don’t know) and then she is said to appear in your bathroom mirror. What happens then really varies according to different sources on the internet, some versions of the Bloody Mary legend are really brutal, some surprisingly tame.

3. Black-eyed Children

This one is pretty bizarre. Throughout the world there have reports of children with black eyes knocking on people’s doors and asking to go inside their home or car. The key thing here is that no matter what reason they give, you shouldn’t let them instead otherwise something bad will happen. It’s certainly a spooky story and if you want to find out more about them, there are countless tales of allegedly true accounts of Black-eyed Children online.

4. Men in Black

It’s more than a Will Smith movie, the urban legend of the Men in Black goes back several decades. Conspiracy theorists and urban legend fans claim that the Men in Black are either agents from a top-secret strand of the FBI or some kind of alien race. They are said to be men in suits and dark glasses who silence anyone who claims to have seen aliens or UFOs.

5. Phantom Hitchhiker

I feel like this one is more of an odd phenomenon than a full-blown urban legend but I find it intriguing so I wanted to include it in this list. It’s a pretty straight forward myth, a driver picks up a hitchhiker who ends up disappearing at some point along the journey. In the UK, there is a road called the A229 where a fatal road collision occurred in 1965 near the Lower Bell Pub on Blue Bell Hill. Since then, there have been numerous claims of a woman in a white dress hitchhiking along the road only to disappear before she reaches her destination. It’s this classic phantom hitchhiker case that has led to the A229 being named one of the UK’s most haunted roads.

Spooky stuff but what do you make of it? Are you an urban legend fan or are you a total skeptic? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Blogtober, History

Blogtober Day 18: It’s All in the Origins: Zombies

After previously exploring the history and origins of vampires and werewolves, I thought it was time to give zombies their moment in the spotlight…

Haiti, Vodou and Slavery

Zombie folklore dates way back to the 1600s in Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue and part of the French colonies. Black slaves were brought into Haiti from West Africa to work on the sugar and coffee plantations. Soon enough, Haiti came to be biggest moneymaker of the French colonies and the slave population grew exponentially. This was despite many slaves dying only a few years after being brought to the island from the back-breaking work and brutal treatment.

The sheer number of Africans brought into Haiti meant that African religions and cultures could be sustained in the slave populations even when some French Catholic elements were adopted into their belief system. It is thought that through a combination of traditional African Vodou beliefs and the harsh oppression faced by the slaves, the idea of the zombie was born. The Africans believed that in death their souls would be released back to Guinea and freed from slavery. However, the souls that didn’t make it to Africa would remain where they were, trapped on the plantations even in death. One of the biggest reasons souls were said to become zombies was if the death was caused by suicide. Slave drivers themselves used this idea to frighten slaves into not attempting suicide as many saw it as the only means of freedom from slavery.

The idea evolved over time and with the successful Haitian Revolution of 1804 abolishing slavery in the region, the concept of the zombie changed. Today, witches practicing black magic in Haitian Vodou, known as bokors, are said to be able to kill a person then reanimate them as a zombie and make them do their bidding.

There is just one thing I want to touch on here before we move on to what I’m going to call the ‘Anglo-American Zombie’ (to distinguish from the Haitian version). Firstly, although zombification is a real belief in Haitian Vodou, it is an aspect of the religion that has been highly sensationalised and is only one of many different beliefs and facets of the religion. I mention it here because it is relevant to the origin story of the zombie as a monster of fiction we know and recognise so often today, not to reduce what is already an often misunderstood and misrepresented religion to its most sensationalised qualities.

The ‘Anglo-American Zombie’

One of the first real zombies of Anglo-American literature could, arguably, be the creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The creature has many traits we associate with zombies today, he’s a reanimated corpse and he goes on a killing spree like most zombies in modern horror movies. Although, some would say the creature has more in common with vampire lore than zombie lore and he is presented as much more intelligent and empathetic than his future counterparts.

Jumping forward over a hundred years, we get to the first feature-length zombie movie, White Zombie, released in 1932. The storyline concerns a young woman who goes to Haiti to marry her fiancee but a Vodou master plots to turn her into a zombie instead. The film, though now only really known and watched in film critic circles, saw many other filmmakers do their own take on a zombie movie over the next few decades. None have had as much of an enduring impact on zombie fiction as Night of the Living Dead in 1968. It’s important to note though that the film doesn’t include the word ‘zombie’ in its script and the director and writer, George A. Rumero, has said that he believes the undead in the movie have enough differences to distinguish them from the Haitian Zombie, though he may have been unconsciously influenced by it. Despite this, Rumero is credited with creating the idea of the Anglo-American Zombie as an undead cannibal that we know today.

Since then, zombies have cropped up in many works of fiction, most notably on-screen in the likes of Shaun of the Dead, The Walking Dead and Warm Bodies. I personally think that zombies are one of the most flexible and ever-evolving supernatural figures. Vampire lore has barely changed since Dracula and our modern understanding of werewolves is pretty much as what it was in folklore from centuries ago. Zombies, in their most recognisable form for us today, only really go back as far as 1968. Even then, they have crossed over from horror to comedy, apocalyptic, action and even romance genres far easier than the other creatures I’ve written about so far. They may not always be portrayed as the smartest but they’re certainly the most durable and even if there’s a lull in zombie fiction every now and then, they really don’t seem to stay dead for long.

Posted in Blogtober, History

Blogtober Day 11: It’s All in the Origins: Vampires

This is the second in my It’s All in the Origins series where I examine the history and origins of a famous being associated with Halloween. First up was werewolves and now we’re sinking our teeth into vampire lore.

What is a Vampire?

Here’s the problem with exploring the origins of vampire lore, defining what a vampire is can be surprisingly complicated. Vampire characteristics vary greatly depending on who you ask. A lot of traits we see repeated in vampire fiction today e.g. having an aversion to sunlight, not having a reflection, needing to be invited into a property, turning into bats, not liking garlic and so on come from various pieces of modern fiction. Most notably of all for several of these would be Bram Stoker’s Dracula which we’ll revisit a bit later on.

In European folklore, the general consensus is that a vampire is a usually undead being that preys on the living by consuming their blood (or some other type of life force). That’s a very simple definition though, let’s venture into the history of vampire folklore and fiction.

Folklore and Famous Cases

Perhaps because of the vague and ever-changing definition of what a vampire is, it’s not surprising there is some kind of vampiric creature in nearly every culture around the world. And, much like werewolves, vampire lore dates way back to the ancient times.

In some strands of Judaism there is a possible interpretation that Lilith, the first wife of Adam, is the original vampire. She is often depicted in art as the snake that tempts Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and is sometimes thought to be a kind of demon. There is even one strand of belief that she would steal children and suck their blood, however this is a story that is more commonly attributed to Lamia of ancient Greek mythology.

It could be these figures of religion and mythology that bled into hysteria over vampire attacks. Archaeologists have discovered skeletons of individuals given a vampire’s burial (i.e. with a stake through the heart or a stone in the mouth) across Europe and from several different centuries. But, there are two particular bouts of vampire mass hysteria that I want to mention here:

  • The 18th Century Vampire Controversy

Despite the dawn of the Age of the Enlightenment, mass hysteria gripped Europe after reports began in Prussia of a string of vampire attacks in the early 1720s. Bodies were dug up across the continent and stakes were driven through the hearts of these supposed vampires to ensure the dead would never leave their final resting places.

  • The New England Vampire Panic

In the 1700s and 1800s, tuberculosis, known then as “consumption”, was spreading quickly amongst families in New England. Making sense of the illness and how it was infecting whole families in the days before science had a full understanding of TB led to the sufferers looking to folklore for answers. Some believed that consumption was spread by one infected family member draining the life forms of those around them, even beyond the grave. In order to cure consumption, families would dig up their dead relatives and examine them for decomposition. If the bodies looked fresh and were found to have still blood in their hearts, they would remove and burn several organs and the ashes would be fed to any remaining living sick relatives. Of the multiple New England “vampire” cases, Mercy Brown is the best-known. She died in January 1892 and her body was exhumed two months later after her father suspected she was causing her brother’s consumption. He died not long after drinking a tonic of her ashes. This case is thought be one of the inspirations for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published just five years later.

From Dracula to Lestat

Although Dracula is thought to be the definitive work of vampire fiction, it wasn’t the first. There are several precursors to Stoker’s classic novel. These include Varney the Vampire (1840s), a long-standing penny dreadful, Carmilla (1872), Sheridan Le Fou’s novella which began the lesbian vampire trope and The Vampyre (1819), a short story by John William Polidori which features vampire Lord Ruthven, often thought to be inspired by Polidori’s friend Lord Byron and the closest of these three in similarity to Dracula himself.

This brings us to Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. The antagonist is thought to be inspired by Vlad the Impaler, also known as Vlad Dracula, the ruler of Wallachia in the 1400s. He has become a historical figure both feared for his cruelty and revered for his status as a national hero in Romania. What he has to do with vampirism is, on the surface, very little. Modern scholars now believe that Stoker didn’t actually know a whole lot about Vlad the Impaler and what he did know came from one biased history book. However, one key aspect of the former ruler’s life has become synonymous with our contemporary understanding of what a vampire is.

Nowadays, there is a belief that Vlad Dracula might have had a condition call porphyria, this causes the body to not produce enough haem, a substance found in haemoglobin. Porphyria can cause paleness, an aversion to sunlight, pronounced fangs and even avoidance of garlic as it can worsen the symptoms. All of these vampiric qualities are found in Dracula and reoccur countless times in vampire fiction, from Lestat to Edward Cullen.

There are various theories as to why Dracula made such a mark on literature and how vampire myth has managed to endure for so long. One thing is for certain though, interest in these bloodsuckers is truly immortal.

Posted in Blogtober, History

Blogtober Day 4: It’s All in the Origins: Werewolves

It’s a series within a series. Throughout Blogtober, I’m going to be sharing the origin stories of some of the spookiest supernatural figures. Today, I’m kicking this off with werewolves.

From An American Werewolf in London to a bare-chested Taylor Lautner, werewolves have really ranged in their ferocity. Sometimes, they’re terrifying creatures of nightmare and other times, they’re cuddly-looking pups. Where then did the idea of these iconic shapeshifters come from and why have they stood the test of time?

The First Mentions

The very first potential reference to werewolves is found in one of the oldest texts in the world. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem dating possibly as far back as the eighteenth century BC, there is a woman who transformed an ex-lover into a wolf.

Wolves have also played a huge part in myths and legends. From the formidable Fenrir of Norse mythology to the ancient Scythian Neuri tribe who were said to turn themselves into wolves for a portion of the year, there are countless references to wolves and werewolves to be found. One particularly well-known story in the development of werewolf lore comes from ancient Greece and concerns Lycaon of Arcadia. As the myth goes, Lycaon wanted to test whether Zeus truly was all-knowing so he invited the great god for dinner and roasted one of his sons for the feast. Zeus saw through this test and turned Lycaon into a wolf as punishment for his infanticide and cannibalism.

As Western Christianity spread across Europe, stories of humans transforming into wolves continued to terrify believers in the occult. Stories and beliefs about werewolves vary across Europe through the Middle Ages, sometimes werewolfery was even thought to be caused by witches or having some relation to vampire legends circulating at the same time.

Why Wolves?

There are a lot of possible reasons as to why there was a widespread fear of werewolves across Medieval Europe. The main theory as to why it was wolves people were the most scared of simply comes from the fact that wolves were the biggest predators. Wolves were much more common in Europe then than they are now and considering most people wouldn’t ever travel much further than their home village, the threat of a wolf attacks on livestock (one of their few sources of food and income!) was just as scary as an attack on a human.

People believed in the strange and the mystical a lot more back then and most people didn’t have the means to fact-check anything they were told. If a priest told his congregation they were to obey the teachings of the Bible and avoid witches otherwise they might cross paths with a werewolf, the fear is then placed in the heads’ of all the people in that church.

There’s also the idea that any crime that seems too horrific for a human to have committed could be given a supernatural explanation to make it easier to swallow. Or, perhaps that as it wasn’t always easy to capture and punish wild animals for the havoc wrought upon a village, it was preferable to blame someone. This led to a lot of mass hysteria and wild accusations. An infamous example of this would the case of alleged serial killer, cannibal and werewolf, Peter Stumpp. Under torture, Stumpp confessed to a variety of hideous crimes that he claimed he could carry out by wearing a magical belt, gifted to him by the Devil, which transformed him a wolf. I’m going to spare you the details but Stumpp, his daughter and mistress were tortured and executed in particularly brutal fashion.

More Recent Beasts

Moving on from horrible facts to fiction, let’s look at how we got from then to now. As I’ve said already, werewolves have been popping up in literature and mythology for a long long time but it’s 1933’s The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore that is considered to be the seminal work of modern werewolf fiction. This book came along as Hollywood movies were really starting to take off and it’s on the silver screen (silver… lol) that werewolves really howled their way into the hearts and nightmares of contemporary horror fans.

Are you a werewolf fan? Are you just as surprised as I was to discover how far back werewolf legends go? Let me know in the comments.