We’re talking about the most common ghosts and ghouls we’ll see at this time of the year. Think witches, werewolves, vampires, goblins, mummies, Frankenstein and ghosts. I’m going to break them down and tell you a bit about their history and how to write them in literature today. Next week we’ll be continuing with these guys, but they’re not going to the traditional monsters that we all know and love.
In 1731, the Austrian government ordered an investigation into a mass hysteria that gripped the village of Medvegja. Local citizen Arnold Paole had died in 1726 after falling off a hay wagon. Prior to his death, Paole had intimated that he’d been bitten by a vampire when he lived near Gossawa, in Turkish Serbia. To reverse the curse, Paole said he’d smeared himself with mud from the vampire’s grave and with the vampire’s blood.
About a month after Paole’s death, villagers said that the deceased man had risen from his grave and killed four people. Believing Paole to be a vampire, they’d disinterred his body forty days after his death. His body hadn’t decayed very much, lending further “credibility” to their theory. They drove a stake through the heart of Paole’s corpse and burned it. His four supposed victims’ bodies were treated the same way. Despite these precautions, ten more people died of mysterious circumstances in 1731, and the village blamed Paole. (Read more about this fascinating case from the Wellcome Library.)
Johannes Fluckinger made the report, corroborating the villagers’ claims. The story quickly gained attention throughout Europe. The tale made its way into both international journals and the imaginations of the fashionable set. Even scientists and philosophers were fascinated.
This is the report that sparked our obsession with the creatures of the night.
Another person to keep in mind when thinking about vampires is Romania’s Vlad the Impaler or Vlad the third or the Prince of Wallachia. He was born sometime between 1428-1431 and died somewhere between December 1476 and January 1477. He lived in what is now known as Transylvania, a region in Romania. Some historians believe, that he was never in this district at all and that the castle everyone believes is his, well, isn’t his. Vlad the III was known for impaling his enemies on spikes and then displaying them outside his castle as a warning to everyone. He was pretty cruel.
(If you want to know more about Vlad’s history please visit Live Science to find an excellent article and even more sources about Dracula and Vlad the Impaler.)
So, how does Vlad fit into the vampire narrative? It comes down to Bram Stoker and his novel Dracula in 1897. Stoker while researching, like any good writer, came across the name of Dracul and noted that it meant devil and that’s why Vlad gets associated with the book (according to some historians and literature experts). Stoker’s Count Dracula is what most of our vampire archetypes come from. He’s the one we keep coming back to in a lot of ways.
However, authors such as, Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire (1976) and Stephanie Myers Twilight (2005) have changed the way we view vampires in literature. While their contributions may be good and very, very bad, they still create new ways to scare their readers.
Witches and Warlocks
Witches within literature, started after 1235 when the Vatican ordered an Inquisition to reestablish faith in the Church. As the Vatican made its way through Europe, there were a lot of allegations and hearsay about men and women witches being brought to the church’s attention. These witchcraft allegations and persecutions last well into the 17th century. In 1486, Inquisitors Henry Kramer and Jakob Sprenger published Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches). The book, which codified a belief in witchcraft and contributed to the witch craze.
I just want to say that this is something that has happened in every country in the world. Predominately, we tend to focus on what happened in Salem, Massachusetts in the USA and what happened in Europe. As much as I joke about witchcraft in the above Monty Python video clip, it would be good to keep in mind the millions of people who have been persecuted for their beliefs and for those who died innocently based on inaccurate accusations. I would like to point out that most witches were considered to be female, during this time period, as they had a more “delicate disposition” and were “more susceptible to the devil’s machinations”; however, men were also accused of being witches.
So the next video gives a history of the witch hunts in Europe and also covers the Salem Witch Trails. It’s a little long but it’s full of information.
Also check out this article by History Extra that goes over the witch hunts in Europe. Great information and some good videos are on that site as well.
Within the novels and the literature witches and warlocks are seen as the bad guy. They’re making sure that bad things happen to good people and they generally keep making bad things happen. However, stories such as Harry Potter, have turned witches into being an awesome being with both the good and the bad among them.
Witchcraft stems from a time before monotheism (belief in only one god). Those who didn’t subscribe to monotheism got lumped under the term pagan.
Pagan: A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions. (dated, derogatory) A non-Christian. A member of a modern religious movement which seeks to incorporate beliefs or practices from outside the main world religions, especially nature worship.
Once the church established itself and you didn’t subscribe to its teachings you got lumped under this term. In recent times, there has been a reclaiming of this word to bring together the Wicca, voodoo based and other pagan groups. There are, like all things, different extremes within these groups. (I.e.: occult and satanic practices vs. voodoo practices, vs. nature -based or healing practices)
Here is a link to a website I found on witches, witchcraft that goes really in depth about everything to do with witchcraft and its practices.
Werewolves have their basis in Greek Mythology.
This is the story:
— According to Encyclopedia Britannica
As we head into the medieval times, the werewolf became a bit more likable. They were known to help out knights on their quests and they were cursed by the wicked witches and demons of the time, but this was mostly in the romantic novels. Otherwise, they were known for being sexual beasts with insatiable need to consume human flesh.
Most of those tropes haven’t changed since they were inducted into the literature.
Ghosts and Demons
Ghosts and demons have been around in our literature since forever. There has probably always been someone wondering about life after death and if their deceased have come back to them. Demons have been around as long as the church and religion have been around. These are often lumped together because they’re things that we generally cannot see ourselves. Ghosts or demons often only reveal themselves when they want to and make our lives hell.
Ghost: an apparition of a dead person that is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image.
Demon: an evil spirit or devil, especially one thought to possess a person or act as a tormentor in hell.
Ghosts are there to generally make things go bump in the night and to scare people into wetting themselves. These ghosts may also be wanting you out of their house or to influence you into doing horrible things – for their own amusement or to carry out their deeds.
Demons, on the other hand, are there to carry out acts of evil. They want to kill and/or possess you. They feed off of your fear, anger, and anguish. They mimic ghosts or people/animals/things that you love to gain your trust and then turn your life upside down.
Here are some famous ghosts:
- Hamlet’s Dad in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
- The headless horseman in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
- The heart in Edgar Allen Poe’s A Tell-tale Heart
- The ghosts in Stephen King’s The Shining
Here are some famous demons:
- Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
- Inferno by Dante
- Paradise Lost by John Milton
- Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Ah, Frankenstein, how misunderstood are thee.
Frankenstein, rose to the fore when Mary Shelley published her book Frankenstein, in 1818. While, being a tame horror book by today’s standards, at the time, it represented a lot of very real fears society had at the time. With the emergence of the Enlightenment and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution gearing up, there were new advances in medicine and technology, which gave way to new fantastical ideas. One of the things that English society was concerned with was the medical side of technology. There was a lot of people going into medicine and they needed bodies to practice upon, which lead to a lot of people digging up graves and robbing their occupants.
Seriously, this was a HUGE problem for the police during this time. The police, and concerned family members, would stake out cemeteries to make sure that their deceased loved ones wouldn’t be snatched. If they were victim to this crime, by the grave robbers, the bodies would be taken to med students and then dissected or have experiments done upon them.
Mary Shelley, played upon this fear very well. The monster, he’s not actually called Frankenstein – that’s the scientist’s name, was made up of mixed parts. Frankenstein was grave robbing and then putting these parts together and creating a new life.
I won’t get too much into the rest of the book, you should read it for yourself, the monster only becomes more evil as the novel goes on – not because he is inherently evil, but by what society, and Frankenstein, has done to the monster.
Over the years, the Frankenstein plot has been overshadowed by the mad scientist plot and that the monster isn’t capable of human emotion and sensibilities.
Mummies and Zombies
Obviously, Mummies come from Egypt. It was a cultural thing there and you should do you own research into the practice because it is quite gruesome and cool.
The mummy came into the literary side of things with the publishing of, surprise surprise, Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars, featuring a mummified Egyptian queen, in 1903 and it apparently had a violent and bloody concluding chapter, which made it very controversial for the time period. Then in 1932, we had our first ever Mummy movie made by producer Carl Laemmle Jr. This film gave us our bandaged wrapped, shuffling terror we see portrayed today.
Zombies. I’ll leave this up my good friends at the history channel to explain some things about them: (It is super long -2.5 hrs – but there’s a lot of good information in there)
Anyways, zombies have never really been my thing, but they’re very prevalent with in our literature and film. Zombies are in our literature because they aren’t creatures of opportunity, like vampires or werewolves, they go after everything. They are scary to us because they’re after everything we hold dear and they don’t care about death or failure – they have no feelings.
The History Channel has a good article on the traits associated with zombies that you may want to check out if you’re not willing to watch the entire video.
A goblin is a mythical creature of Germanic and Britishfolklore, often believed to be the evil, or merely mischievous, opposite of the more benevolent faeries and spirits of lore. Like many such creatures, there is no single version of a goblin; the term is more generic for those small creatures that live in dark places and cause trouble, but in more recent years, the term has become more concentrated on green-creatures that live in caves and terrorize children.
You’ll find these guys in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, in the banks in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, and in Christina Rossetti’s narrative poem called “Goblin Market”. You’ll find them up to different things in different European countries. Apparently, there are also different types of goblins which you can read up about here.
When writing for these guys make sure you do your research. They are going to differ depending on the region or country they are in, so get to know them in the folklore or your setting. if you’re going to a new place and world building – look into the background of them to get some ideas.
Writing the Traditional Monsters
Now with all this being said, there are differences on how we treat these types of beings across the pond. the USA and the UK both treat these beings differently in their film and literature. Depending on where your story is place you may want to keep these differences in mind. And here’s a chart depicting those differences for your convenience:
Other things you should be aware of when writing your gruesome creatures:
- RESEARCH! This is crucial, especially if you’re going to be playing on a tradition or you’re setting your story up in a certain area. You don’t want to ignore certain traditions or folklore in the area. It’ll help add to the suspense of your novel and it’s going to be something your readers may expect to happen.
- Read other books portraying your creature. So read books about vampires and their lore. Read Dracula. Understand where your origins are and why they’re popular. Look at the different twists other authors have put on their vampires. I really don’t think Stephanie Meyer’s did this when creating her Twilight series and forever more she will be mocked for making them sparkly….
- Don’t be afraid of experimenting and avoid cliches. It’s alright to experiment with the archetypes and how scary you set your creatures up to be. Like I said just make sure there is a bit of a nod to the people who came before you. A good example of this would be the movie Warm Bodies. The zombies are still fleshing eating monsters, but you’ve got a love plot and humor to it as well. As we all know, I hate cliches, they’re overdone. So instead of having the good witch vs the bad witch, you have a Wicked type plot – where the bad witch isn’t bad at all, but misunderstood.
That’s all that I have for you today! We will be continuing our look at our gruesome creatures next week, with some ones that aren’t necessarily that popular, but have some promise to them.
Until next week!