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Thoughtful Research

Dracula V. Arabus: The battle of the Undead

Published in May 1897, Bram Stoker's Dracula became a success after his death and has never been out of print since. How many of us authors fear this? Sure we do, not living to see our own success. I often say, since Arabus Drake was created in 1983, that I'll be dead before anyone pays him any attention. Sure, he was published once, but in lousy form by a lousy publisher (though they sounded good at the time). Now just try to get another publisher to pay attention to one that's been published before and DIDN'T sell a million that first year. At the same time, I am determined not to self-publish any more books than the copper artifact ones.


Fortuntely for me, but not for Stoker, mine is a trilogy.  That makes three books that could make me famous after I die! Well, considering I don't have a lot of time, and I just keep editing and researching, researching and editing…


But let's see what other comparisons I can make to Stoker and whether mine will ever have the chance of success, dead, undead or otherwise.


Bram Stoker chose Transylvania because it was, to them at the time, a faraway "Never-never land," to use the words of authors Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu. A word about their book, In Search of Dracula, from which this research is taken (p. 133-155), they wrote first about all the history and folklore of Vlad Tepes Dracul, before getting to how Brom Stoker used research and myth to create Dracula, and finally into famous books and films of vampires. Anyway, Stoker did his research, and the authors proceed to give us a blow by blow of this famous book.


Here Dracula lives with "a harem of female vampires," and here I part company with Stoker and many other vampire writers. If you have even one extra vampire in your book, how do you retain that element of reality? You have to keep vampires fed on human blood, you see, and creating more vampires just creates more until … well, you know the rest. Zombie vampires rule the world. Dracula is enamored of women, apparently, as likely Stoker was as well. I try to downplay that effect a vampire has on women. Arabus will repel as well as attract, depending on his mood. But he does want to be accepted by other mortals as one of them.


That doesn't seem to be the case with Dracula, this desire to be accepted. Of course Dracula is also more easily destroyed, unless he has mortal help to get other mortals away from his coffin while he sleeps. Arabus has no such weakness, although I do need to give him a weakness. Otherwise Arabus does seem impossible to kill. I thought that was one of the appeals of Arabus, but maybe a weakness will add a little more of a chill to the storyline. I thought maybe that the bite of a cat could kill him. But that's too easy. And yet, he is terrified of them. What else can kill Arabus? Sunlight can, but he can go out in the daytime if he stays covered from the sun. His undead skin cannot heal from sunburns. Of course the stake in the heart, that would kill anyone, and cutting off his head. Not easy to do. I'm open to suggestions!


Dracula also needs sacred earth for his coffin. There's a great deal of Christian references here, likely indicative of the times, but also of the Rumanian legends that Stoker researches. I use Greek legend, and though there are Christian ways recounted in which one can become vampiric, there is no fear of holy water or crosses in Arabus's story. Yet if you are buried in a shallow unhallowed ground, and buried in rage because of an unjust death, it's easy to come back vampiric, which is what happened to Arabus. There's also a Christian reason Arabus got his name, as a derivative of Barrabus, the one released from the cross instead of Jesus.


Stoker was born in November 1847 and was a sickly child. He was Irish Christian. I was born May 1953, Belgian Catholic, and not at all sickly, that I can remember, although I do remember getting the nickname Mono Monnie. No idea why. People blaming me for passing germs, I guess. Things like that, even once, can stick and hurt.


He was favored by his mother, who didn't care a whit for her daughters. My mother was much the same. He was more interested in drama than in athletics, though he got over being sickly and excelled in sports. I became enamored of drama at age 11. Stoker became a drama critic, seeking ways to get closer to a famous actor of the time, of who he was enamored. He also became friends with George Bernard Shaw. I simply sought my love of the theater from the stage, rather than the audience.


Stoker wasn't the first to write vampiric material. There was a short story called Carmilla written by Joseph Sehridan Le Fanu, considered one of the greatest vampire stories of all time. So of course I had to order a copy. Le Fanu uses some of the same vampiric myths you'll find in my work.  And Stoker wrote other horror material before Dracula.


Stoker finally got to meet his actor idol in 1873 and began to work for him in a part-time capacity as private secretary and confidante. If I gave the impression Stoker was gay, I didn't mean to; he married in 1878 and they had a son. But his relationship with Irving was as close as any two men could be. The authors believed that part of his relationship to Irving was developed in his Dracula book.


Arabus had a similar arrival; he came in a dream but he developed as part Armand Assante and part Adam Cartwright. He has very high morals but he was, as mortal, a bit of a coward. It's as a vampire that his similarities to my heroes emerge. Because of that I have a bit of a harder time make this a true horror.


Stoker was a better writer at making the moods needed for horrific settings. My settings just don't get there. I have to fall back on the tried and true, while he's pushing his victim into a dark corner. Oh, I get a little better than that, but no "eyes as inflexible as Fate" kind of thing. I just wrote this: "as every shriveled vein screamed inside him for Corny's blood." Well, you had to be there.


There's no clear indication why Stoker got obsessed with vampires. But he was and continued to investigate the writing of gothic novels. Before Stoker, supernatural elements all tended to have some natural or rational explanation (I'm anxious to see what they use in Carmilla). They were all highly charged with emotive language, the kind we don't really get away with using today.


Mary Shelley wrote the first one where a realistic supernaturalism was introduced, with science to explain the very real horror of bringing the dead to life. John Polidori, who was at a party with Shelly and others in 1816, responded to a challenge to write a horror (ghost) story, and came up with The Vampyre. This one is a take on the Greek legend. But it never caught on and its author committed suicide with poison two years later. The authors mention several other attempts at vampiric writings, including Varney the Vampire in 1847. We can imagine that Stoker read most, if not all of these. What's fun about Varney is that he is a good person who hates being forced to do evil and finally jumps into a volcano. I'll have to see if I have a copy. This sounds suspiciously like Arabus.


Stoker makes no attempt to explain the vampire. Dracula just is. I start Arabus with an origin story, and in fact, I go a little deeper because I also created a movie based on his origin story, which helped the novel become more descriptive, and, dare I say it? Moodier. Unfortunately, you may never know in my lifetime because no one will re-publish it and I would rather become undead than put any more of my fiction at Amazon myself.


Stoker made Dracula contemporary to his time. The last of the Arabus trilogy is contemporary, set in Sauk City, Wisconsin, and with the timing of the pandemic, will become historic if it's not published in my lifetime. Stoker's imagination was stimulated by tales of Jack the Ripper in his day, too, the way mine have been by the pandemic. Stoker did his research, including the British Museum. I traveled to Crete to create the new cover for Journal of an Undead: Love Stories. I got my history degree because of Arabus. I was researching myth and legend long before I went back to get my BA in history. In fact, I got a publisher interested in Journal of an Undead and because I'd come that close to a good publisher, I decided to go back to college to become a better writer, but was talked into changing to history instead. I also got going on the Civil War & Indian wars history of a great-uncle, which took a lot of time away from Arabus.


But Arabus was agented, during a time that I was playing with turning him into first person. That was another element that added more style to my fiction, because it made him feel more real than ever. But then I turned him back to third person again.


Stoker's first book was called The Snake's Pass, which almost sounds archaeological in its approach. I got a copy of that too, as a Kindle, because it was cheap.


His work on Dracula took seven years of research and writing, certainly deserving of bringing him a measure of success in his lifetime. The authors feel he related himself to Van Helsing, as the true hero of the book, because he's the one with knowledge of how to defeat the vampire. The description of Van Helsing reflected that of Stoker himself. It sounds as though he had some nice moody places in which to write his chapters. Always a bonus. I tried to take advantage of my two weeks in Crete to do a lot of editing, but the places I stayed at were not conducive to the imagination. If only I could have written on the 7th floor of that British castle, in the room that slanted, back in 2000.


In all his writing, Stoker still sought something real to give his Dracula that air of authenticity. The very realness of what could be vampiric is what we have most in common. We have to assume that he came upon Vlad Dracula in his research. The name of his monster could hardly be a coincidence. I use quite a bit of Vlad Dracula's real history as a bloodthirsty Wallacian king in my Arabus book, and it could be the reason my story starts in 1483, only 30 years or so after Dracula died.


My first book was titled Journal of an Undead. But my agent couldn't get it placed. I felt it was because the word sounded too zombie-ish. So I changed it a number of times. It was finally published as Adventures in Death & Romance: Vyrkolakas Tales. Stoker, too, first called his work The Un-Dead. In Romanian legend, garlic can protect people against vampires; he also used Slavic legend that said they had no reflection and were repelled by a cross. You'll find in my book only Greek legend is used, although I do make reference to how myths could be blended back in the Dark Ages.


Stoker's vampire can turn into a bat. Arabus uses the black void to travel quickly, and escape danger.


Stoker was fascinated by Freud's discoveries about the human psyche. I love Jung's work and imbue human psychology in everything I write. Stoker wrote that we can defeat him if we all work together. In Arabus, I create a legend that he can be destroyed with four working together. Stoker's book was published in 1897, although according to the authors, that's when he signed the contract. He died in 1912, waiting 15 miserable years for readers to respond, and died in poverty.


I'd have to publish mine this year and live to be 84 to understand that kind of misery.


"Stoker's Dracula is based on the notion that certain beings do not die but instead undergo a transformation into another form of life." I'd tell you what happens to Arabus in the contemporary novel but that would spoil things -- even if you never get to read it in this lifetime.

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Vampires -- Reality behind the Myth

The most famous vampire is, of course, Bram Stoker's Dracula, though those looking for a historical "real" Dracula often cite Romanian prince Vlad Tepes Dracula (1431-1476). The characterization of Tepes as a vampire is a distinctly Western one; in Romania, he is viewed as a national hero who defended his empire from the Ottoman Turks. His name means "Son of Dracul, who was his father. Dracul means Dragon.


I give some background information on King Vlad in Journal of an Undead: Love Stories (formerly Adventures in Death & Romance), now being edited with more history from a Great Courses I got on the Ottoman Empire. Turning him vampiric was for good reason, as you'd see in studying about him.


The vampires most people are familiar with are human corpses that return from the grave to harm the living; these have Slavic origins only a few hundred years old.


One of the earliest accounts of vampires is found in an ancient Sumerian and Babylonian myth dating to 4,000 B.C. which describes ekimmu or edimmu (one who is snatched away). The ekimmu is a type of a spirit or demon who was not buried properly and has returned as a vengeful spirit to suck the life out of the living.


Folklore vampires became vampires not only through a bite, but also if they were once a werewolf, practiced sorcery, were an illegitimate child of parents who were illegitimate, died before baptism, ate the flesh of a sheep killed by a wolf, child of a pregnant woman who was looked upon by a vampire, a nun who stepped over an unburied body, had teeth when they were born or had a cat jump on their corpse before being buried (England and Japan); a stillborn; a bat flying over a corpse (Romania); being excommunicated by the Orthodox Church (Greece); being the seventh son of the seventh son; a dead body that has been reflected in a mirror; red heads (Greece); people who die by suicide or sudden, violent deaths; and people who were improperly buried.


There are suggestions that the vampire was born out of sorcery in ancient Egypt, a demon summoned into this world from some other. There are Asian vampires, such as the Chinese jiangshi (chong-shee), evil spirits that attack people and drain their life energy; and the blood-drinking Wrathful Deities that appear in the "Tibetan Book of the Dead." Another who teaches on the subject calls the Eastern Europe "upir" the first recognized vampire.  An Old Russian term, it was thought to appear at festivals of the dead around 1054.


Female vampires were also often blamed for spreading the bubonic plague or Black Death throughout Europe in the 1300s. I suppose this led to a fear of female witches in general, but why did they blame women?  Women and cats have long been associated, but it was the lack of cats to kill rats that led to the outbreak of that disease, or so legend goes.


Vampire legend today says they can turn into bats or wolves. Some don't cast a reflection. Holy water, garlic and sunlight are said to repel them. All drink blood. Vampires are successful because of their rich history. Writers play with the "rules" while adding, subtracting or changing them to fit whatever story they have in mind. Many don't follow some of these rules, like sleeping in a coffin. You'll see Arabus Drake breaking all of them, by sticking more closely to what was real myth in history.


The first recorded accounts of vampires follow a consistent pattern: Some unexplained misfortune would befall a person, family or town — perhaps a drought dried up crops, or an infectious disease struck. Vampires were one answer to the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people. They were responsible for disease, especially those where no explanation or cure could be found. Rabies was one, causing all sorts of odd behavior such as fear of water and foaming at the mouth that was at first attributed to a bite from a vampire. Pellegra was another, making you extra sensitive to sunlight.


Villagers combined their belief that something had cursed them with fear of the dead, and concluded that perhaps the recently deceased might be responsible, having come back from the graves with evil intent. Graves were unearthed, and surprised villagers often mistook ordinary decomposition for supernatural phenomenon. Laypeople assumed that a body would decompose immediately, but if the coffin is well sealed and buried in winter, putrefaction might be delayed by weeks or months. Intestinal decomposition creates bloating which can force blood up into the mouth, making it look like a dead body has recently sucked blood.


Because the vampire craze had such a profound effect on European culture, religion provided one of the solutions to how we can fight against vampires. In the original myth of Count Dracula, he was cursed by the god for twisting his faith and slaughtering thousands in god's name. This religious aspect of the story caused vampires to be repelled by holy ground, holy water, crosses or any other religious objects.


Then there's Judas Iscariot, thought to be a red head. There are many beliefs as to how exactly Judas becomes a vampire, the first belief and most common is that god cursed Judas and his family to walk the earth until the second coming of Jesus, and until that time he would thirst for the blood of Jesus, which of course he could only receive through Christians. The second belief is not as common, but goes along with the Last Supper, in that during the last supper Jesus was being quite literal when he said to drink of his blood and eat of his flesh. There are people who believe Jesus himself was a vampire. In reality, most vampire beliefs were created by the Church to keep people from robbing graves, roaming the streets at night, and to generally instill fear in a relatively ignorant people.


Another myth is of Cain and Adam's first wife, Lilith. She supposedly showed Cain the power of blood—also thought to be the tree of life. It is said that this is why the Jewish people drain all blood from their meat before cooking and eating it. From this union between Cain and Lilith came forth a host of demons and vampires in myths across the globe.


Before Christianity, methods of repelling vampires included garlic, hawthorn branches, rowan trees (later used to make crosses), scattering of seeds, fire, decapitation with a gravedigger's spade, salt (associated with preservation and purity), iron, bells, a rooster's crow, peppermint, running water, and burying a suspected vampire at a crossroads. It was also not unusual for a corpse to be buried face down so it would dig down the wrong way and become lost in the earth. Garlic has been used as a form of protection for over 2,000 years. The ancient Egyptians believed garlic was a gift from God, Roman soldiers thought it gave them courage, sailors believed it protected them from shipwreck, and German miners believed it protected them from evil spirits when they went underground.

Stake through the heart comes from the medieval times when medical knowledge did not account for the presence of gasses in the decomposing corpses. After driving a stake in a corpse's heart, people could witness the moans coming from the corpse's mouth and deflation of body, all providing proof that something unnatural was present.


In folklore, the vampire's first victim would often be his wife. In some cultures, when a husband died, the wife changed her appearance; she would cut her hair and wear black for the entire period of mourning. These things were done to deceive the vampire, should he return. A vampire may engage in sex with his former wife, which often led to pregnancy. This belief provided a convenient explanation as to why a widow, who was supposed to be celibate, became pregnant. The resulting child was called a gloglave (pl. glog) in Bulgarian or vampirdzii in Turkish. The child was considered a hero who had powers to slay a vampire.


Modern literature often states that vampires have many powers, from telepathy and mind control to the ability to communicate with and/or transform into animals. There is no historical lore that corroborate these concepts and seem to be recent developments in vampire mythology. Modern writers have literally pushed the coffin aside.


How I formed the Character of Arabus Drake

Vrykolakas is Greek for an undead or unnatural spirit. It was believed that a person could become a vrykolakas by living an immoral life, being excommunicated, die a violent death, buried without proper church rites, or being buried in unconsecrated ground. It was also thought that if you ate sheep that had been previously wounded by a werewolf, you would become a vampire.


Early accounts of these beings described those who arose from the dead to attend unfinished business, usually with a relative or close associate. There also were stories of those who stayed with family for long periods of time, and even one who went off and got married, and fathered children.


The word vrykolakas is derived from the Slavic word vǎrkolak, and can be found in other languages such as Lithuanian vilkolakis and Romanian vârcolac. The term is a compound word meaning "wolf" and (strand of) hair" and originally meant "werewolf." In the mid 17th century story Vrykolokas by Pitton de Tournefort, he refers to the revenant as a "werewolf" which may have also been translated as bug-bears, a strange word that has nothing to do with bugs nor bears, but is related to the word bogey, which means spook, spirit, hobgoblin. Pitton wrote about his experience witnessing the exhumation and slaying of a deceased individual suspected to be a vrykolakas.


Some archaeological excavations in Mytilene have uncovered what have been called "vrykolakas" burials, though the 20cm spikes placed through the ankles, groin, and neck of each body is reminiscent of Balkan folkloric burial processes used to prevent vampirism.


The word in the form vukodlak has been used in the sense of "vampire" in the folklore of Western Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Apparently, the two concepts have become mixed. Even in Bulgaria, original folklore generally describes the vârkolak as a sub-species of the vampire without any wolf-like features.


The first "typical" vampire that might be traced to Greek mythology is the story of a young Italian man named Ambrogio and love of his life, Selena. According to the myth, Ambrogio fell in love with Selena after visiting the legendary Oracle in the temple of Apollo, the sun god. He asked her to marry him, but little did he know the jealous Apollo wanted her for his own. Apollo cursed Ambrogio by causing his skin to burn whenever it was exposed to sunlight.


In desperation, Ambrogio turned to Hades, the god of the underworld, and then Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, for help. After stealing Artemis's silver bow to fulfill a deal made with Hades, Artemis cursed Ambrogio so silver would burn his skin. She later took pity on him, though, and gave him super strength, immortality, and fangs to kill beasts to use their blood to write love poems to Selena.


Eventually, the mortal Selena escaped Apollo's grasp and reunited with the immortal Ambrogio. Artemis told Ambrogio he could make Selena immortal by drinking her blood which would kill her body but make her spirit live on. Their combined blood could then turn anyone who drank it into a vampire.


The Island of Santorini became especially fertile ground for vampire beliefs, considered the home of the vrykolakas, because the volcanic soil preserves bodies, slowing decomposition, in case you're ever up for a vampire vacation.


Originally, when the dead came back, they weren't really malicious. There's a story of a shoemaker who came back and helped his family out by making shoes. Other dead people who were thought to have returned from the grave were seen out in the fields eating beans. But those are ancient-vintage legends, before the evil Slavic vampire overwrote them. But they demonstrate the legend of how a vrykolakas longs to be with family again after coming back to life.


Their bodies have the same distinctive characteristics as the bodies of vampires in Balkan folklore. They do not decay; they have a ruddy complexion when they are, according to one account, "fresh and gorged with new blood".   

One myth says that the creature is believed to knock on the doors of houses and call out the name of the residents. If it gets no reply the first time, it will pass on without causing any harm. If someone does answer the door, he or she will die a few days later and become another vrykolakas. For this reason, there is a superstition present in certain Greek villages that one should not answer a door until the second knock.


Since the vrykolakas becomes more and more powerful if left to roam free, legends state that one should destroy its body. According to some accounts, this can only be done on Saturday, which is the only day when the vrykolakas rests in its grave. This may be done in various ways, such as exorcising, impaling, beheading, cutting into pieces, and especially cremating the suspected corpse, so that it may be freed from living death and its victims saved.


END OF PART ONE: See part two coming October 30th.


Sources for both parts:

Vampires, Burial, and Death-Folklore and Reality by Paul Barber (1988) Vali-Ballou Press, Birmingham, NY

Matthew Beresford, "From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth" (Reaktion, 2008).











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