Category Archives: Contemporary Gothic Novels

Sarah Perry’s Melmoth: A Modern Spin-Off of Maturin’s Classic Gothic Novel Melmoth the Wanderer

Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin is one of the greatest of the Gothic novels of its time although it is largely forgotten today, so I was very surprised when I learned that someone had decided to use Maturin’s character to create a new Gothic novel.

Sarah Perry’s Melmoth is a reimagining of a female version of Maturin’s famous character.

I had never read anything by Sarah Perry before, although she has previously published two novels After Me Comes the Flood (2014) and The Essex Serpent (2017), the latter of which has received critical acclaim, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from her new novel Melmoth (2018). I found it a mix of classic Gothic elements without being either a rehashing or sequel to Maturin’s novel. Rather, Perry largely makes Melmoth her own, primarily by making her female. Maturin’s Melmoth lived in the seventeenth century and has a prolonged life of about 170 years before meeting his end at the end of the novel. Perry’s Melmoth has lived since the time of Christ. While Maturin obviously drew on the Wandering Jew theme, he did not as explicitly use it as Perry. Perry never refers to the Wandering Jew, but that legend typically concerns a shoemaker named Ahasuerus who refused to let Christ rest outside his shop on his way to Calvary. Christ then curses him to wander until the Second Coming. (There are numerous other versions of the story and other people, including Judas and Pontius Pilate, who are candidates for being the Wandering Jew, but Ahasuerus’s version is the best known.) Perry’s title character is one of the women who saw Christ rise from the dead at the tomb, but later she denied he had risen, a lie that has resulted in her being cursed to wander the earth.

Gothic wanderer figures like the Wandering Jew are often wracked with guilt over their sins and seeking to end their existence and free themselves from their curse. Because Perry’s Melmoth never really gets a voice and is usually off-stage, we do not know much about her existence over the centuries or whether she feels any guilt. All we know is that she is constantly lonely and therefore seeks to entice others to join her in her wandering, something she never succeeds at, although the novel is filled with documents from people who have seen her or whom she has tried to seduce. She watches those who are lonely or have committed crimes and therefore will be easy targets for her and she follows them, although she never succeeds in winning them over.

I have to admit I was disappointed in the overall story, although Maturin’s own storyline is not all that fabulous either. Like Maturin and other Gothic novelists, Perry uses the story-within-a-story technique, and she also uses various manuscripts and documents that the characters find to move the story along and shed light on Melmoth’s character and to serve as individual testimonials to her existence. Some of these documents and their stories are more effective than others, in my opinion, but they typically reveal truths about the people who saw Melmoth—people who committed crimes or transgressions for which they feel guilt.

One of the better stories is the document by Hoffman about his experiences during the Holocaust. Since the novel primarily takes place in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the inclusion of the Holocaust is not surprising since Maturin used the Inquisition which was equally horrifying to its contemporaries.

The main character in the novel is Helen, an Englishwoman living in Prague and translating works into English. She befriends Thea and her husband. Before long, Thea is dying and Helen is there to help her after her husband abandons her, although it’s believed maybe Melmoth got him. Helen becomes paranoid about Melmoth after she learns more about her. Helen also has a guilty secret of her own that makes her susceptible to Melmoth’s seduction.

The book is divided into three parts, and I have to admit by the third part I kind of wondered if it was really going anywhere. The second part is the most entertaining, ending with an interesting scene where the main characters go to see the opera Rusulka, the story of a water sprite who asks a sea witch for help so she can become human and love a prince. In exchange, she gives up her voice. The storyline is very similar to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” although it uses slavic folklore as its origin. Thea comments in the novel that her husband always thought the opera’s main character a fool to give up immortality for love. After this scene is a rather drawn out and tedious new story to begin Part 3 before the novel gets wrapped up.

Despite the Rusulka comment that implies immortality is something to treasure, none of the characters embraces immortality in the end, so Melmoth is left to wander on, ultimately trying to seduce the reader to join her in the final pages.

Overall, Melmoth is an interesting take on its title character. I appreciated Perry’s tie-in to Wandering Jew figures, her mention of Maturin’s novel, which Helen remarks that no one reads, and also how she provides different spellings for Melmoth’s name, including Melmotte (likely a reference to Anthony Trollope’s character in The Way We Live Now (1875) who is believed to have been inspired by Maturin’s Melmoth). However, there are several sections that are just boring or documents that while referring to Melmoth do not really connect to the other parts of the novel or the characters. The story-within-a-story pattern is not as tightly woven as in Maturin’s novel. That said, Melmoth is only about a third as long as Melmoth the Wanderer, which itself is probably twice as long as it needs to be because of its overall wordiness and overly long paragraphs.

I also would have preferred a more guilt-ridden Melmoth. Instead, Perry’s character is less of a true Gothic wanderer character than a needy, codependent creature who is repulsive because of her neediness. There is nothing attractive about this Melmoth, who is unable to seduce anyone, unlike Maturin’s more glamorous Melmoth who seduces the beautiful Immalee.

That Maturin’s novel is still being read and appreciated despite its faults and that it has inspired Perry’s reimagining shows it still has the power to capture our imaginations. I don’t think Perry’s novel will ultimately be remembered, however, any more than is Balzac’s sequel Melmoth Reconciled (1835). Nevertheless, fans of the Gothic will enjoy some of its allusions and plays on the Gothic tradition.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City and numerous other books. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

 

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, The Wandering Jew

Melmoth the Wanderer: Grandfather to Gothic and Irish Literature

Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer will be celebrating its two hundredth anniversary next year, and it deserves to be celebrated since it is one of the most important Gothic novels of all time, yet few people who are not students of the Gothic have ever heard of it. Published in 1820, the novel was the most popular of the several novels Maturin, an Anglo-Irish and Anglican clergyman, published. It is also one of the last works from the Golden Age of Gothic Literature, ranging from roughly 1790 to 1820 when Radcliffe, Lewis, Shelley, and many other writers published notable Gothic novels. Most importantly, it had a huge influence on many other Irish and Gothic novels that followed it.

Charles Maturin (1780-1824) wrote several novels including historical fiction that predated Sir Walter Scott, whom he was friends with, and a popular tragedy, “Bertram.”

In this article, I will discuss a little about why Melmoth the Wanderer is an important Gothic novel, especially for its title Gothic wanderer figure and its anti-Catholicism, and then I will look at some of the other works it influenced.

Contribution to the Gothic Wanderer Figure and Anti-Catholicism

A good summary of Melmoth the Wanderer can be found at Wikipedia for those not familiar with the novel although I would encourage you to read it. Its stories-within-a-story technique, a common element of the Gothic, makes the reader wonder how all the stories will come together, but in the tale of Immalee, the full extent of Melmoth’s Gothic wanderer role is apparent. Melmoth is a member of an Irish family who in the seventeenth century was cursed and now wanders about Europe causing terror and tempting the innocent. He is not immortal, but he does have an extended life of about 170 years before he meets his fate at the end of the novel. Although he does try to tempt people, at times Melmoth feels torn with guilt, especially when he attempts to convince the innocent Immalee to marry him. Immalee was lost in childhood and has grown up alone in nature, innocent and childlike, but eventually, she is found and returned to her family in Spain. However, before Immalee is found, Melmoth visits her on the island and educates her in religion and other problems and hypocrisies of human society—or rather he miseducates her. After Immalee returns to Spain, Melmoth convinces her to marry him in a dark ceremony, and then she conceives his child. When her brother accosts Melmoth, Melmoth slays him and Immalee nearly dies from grief. She is then taken to the prisons of the Inquisition where she gives birth to a daughter. Because of her sin for loving a minion of Satan, she is condemned to lifetime imprisonment in the Inquisition’s prison, and her child is to be taken from her and raised in a convent. However, the child dies before it can be taken from its mother and Immalee dies soon after.

Although the novel was written by an Irishman, it’s important to note that Maturin had a low opinion of Catholics and was himself Anglican. The novel is the most extreme example of anti-Catholicism of all the Gothic novels I have read. Much of the novel is the story of Moncada, who is forced by his family members—themselves manipulated by the clergy—to enter a seminary and become a priest. Because he resists, Moncada is beaten, tortured, and locked up in a cell without light. The depiction of the Inquisition is overall very derogatory. Not that the Inquisition was not a horrible institution, but Maturin has no problem with depicting it in the most derogatory way possible, likely without any real knowledge of the institution.

A Sequel by Honoré de Balzac

This edition of Melmoth the Wanderer includes Balzac’s sequel, and an introduction by Julian Hawthorne, the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who referenced Melmoth in his 1828 novel “Fanshawe.”

At the novel’s conclusion, Melmoth’s prolonged life appears to end. However, because no one witnesses Melmoth’s death and there is no final body, the possibility exists that he lives on. Melmoth may not have died since it is believed that Maturin intended a never-written sequel in which Melmoth would return. Honoré de Balzac did write a sequel, Melmoth Reconciled (1835), in which Melmoth is able to find someone to take his place and thereby rest from his wanderings. This short sequel is lacking in Gothic atmosphere and effectiveness, but Balzac does retain the concentration upon Melmoth’s eyes which create a “piercing glance that read men’s inmost thoughts.” The French work is also progressive compared to British Gothic in that it allows the Gothic wanderer to rest, which would be denied to Gothic wanderers in British fiction until the Victorian period.

Influence of Melmoth the Wanderer on J. S. Le Fanu and James Joyce

In rereading Melmoth the Wanderer, I noticed many aspects and possible influences it may have had on literature that I had failed to notice previously when I wrote about it in The Gothic Wanderer. First is the opening scenes where John Melmoth comes to his uncle’s deathbed. This scene is written in a tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted, and comical manner, despite the gravity of the situation. The manuscript John Melmoth reads that depicts life at the court of Charles II is also of this style. What surprised me was that these pages seem like they could have come straight out of J. S. Le Fanu’s The House by the Churchyard (1863). I’ve always thought that particular novel of Le Fanu’s to be almost unreadable, but the comical tone is very similar, suggesting that Le Fanu must have read Maturin. Notably, James Joyce is said to have been inspired by Le Fanu’s novel in writing Finnegan’s Wake (1939).

However, the influence of Maturin on Joyce is even more specific. In Chapter 14 of Ulysses (1922), titled “Oxen of the Sun,” Joyce uses a variety of literary styles that basically trace the history of the English language. One section of the chapter, lines 1010-1037, is written as a parody of Gothic novels, as scholars have long noted. Don Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated even notes that this parody owes a debt to Le Fanu’s The House by the Churchyard.

Note the similarity between this passage from “Oxen of the Sun” and the following one from Melmoth the Wanderer:

“The secret panel beside the chimney slid back and in the recess appeared…Haines! Which of us did not feel his flesh creep? He had a portfolio full of Celtic literature in one hand, in the other a phial marked Poison. Surprise, horror, loathing were depicted on all faces while he eyed them with a ghastly grin.”

In the penultimate paragraph of Chapter 1 of Melmoth the Wanderer, John Melmoth first sees Melmoth the Wanderer as follows:

“At this moment, John saw the door open, and a figure appear at it, who looked round the room, and then quietly and deliberately retired, but not before John had discovered in his face the living original of the portrait. His first impulse was to utter an exclamation of terror, but his breath felt stopped.”

John is shocked because he has already heard that Melmoth the Wanderer has lived well over a century and seen the portrait of this relative. The two passages are not obviously the same, but the entrance of a figure who causes shock occurs in both, and I suspect Joyce borrowed it from Maturin, whether consciously or not. Since Maturin was an Irish writer, Joyce was likely familiar with his work, though I am not aware of any scholars discussing Maturin’s influence on him, something that should be explored further.

Influence on George W. M. Reynolds

This painting by Eugene Delacroix is titled “Melmoth or Interior of a Dominican Convent.” It depicts Moncada being mistreated by the other monks for wanting to renounce his vows.

George W. M. Reynolds was the bestselling author of Victorian England and a key player in the Gothic renaissance that occurred in the 1840s and 1850s with the rise of the penny dreadful. One of Reynolds’ novels, The Necromancer (1851-2), tells the story of a man who has a bargain with the devil to marry seven women over the course of a couple of centuries so that they sell their souls to Satan; if he fails, his own soul will be lost. The plot of Reynolds’ novel recalls Melmoth’s effort to deceive Immalee into marrying him and agreeing to follow his God (Satan), although she never completely understands his purposes. That she ends up dead, and in the final scene of the novel, Melmoth is taken by the devil suggests that perhaps Melmoth had a similar pact with Satan. Maturin does not say this overtly, but Reynolds might well have read the novel, read between the lines, and expanded on the idea in his own book. Since so little is known about Reynolds, we do not know if he read Maturin’s novel or not, but it seems plausible given that he was obviously well-versed in the Gothic tradition.

Influence on Anthony Trollope

Scholars have not failed to note that the villain in one of Anthony Trollope’s greatest novels, The Way We Live Now (1875) is named Melmotte, a name that may owe a debt to Maturin’s Melmoth. Besides the name similarity, there is much confusion and many rumors about exactly who Melmotte is in Trollope’s novel. He is suspected of being Jewish because he is in finance, but beyond this, he is known for having lived in various locations—a type of wandering that makes him akin to the Wandering Jew, whose legend was a major influence on the creation of Melmoth the Wanderer. Among the possible backgrounds of Melmotte is also that he is Irish—his father believed to be an Irish coiner in New York named Melmody (Chapter 98), from whom Melmotte may have learned forgery. Melmotte, of course, claims he is English, wanting to rise in English society.

Since Trollope spent considerable time in Ireland, it is not surprising that he was likely familiar with this Irish novel, which would have been quite popular in his childhood. Coincidentally, Trollope worked for the Post Office in Ireland and Maturin’s father was a Post Office official.

Influence on Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Charles Dickens

Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Zanoni (1842) is noteworthy for how it reversed the Gothic tradition by creating positive depictions of Rosicrucian characters with extended lives. (For a full discussion of Zanoni and Rosicrucianism in the Gothic tradition see my book The Gothic Wanderer.) Notably, Rosicrucians were known for life-extension and so Melmoth the Wanderer may have been influenced by the Rosicrucian tradition, which had already influenced other earlier novels such as Percy Shelley’s St. Irvyne (1811). (Notably, George W. M. Reynolds’ novel Wagner the Wehr-Wolf (1846-7) features the Rosicrucian founder, Christian Rosencrux, as a character.) Bulwer-Lytton may have been influenced specifically by the end scenes of Melmoth the Wanderer when Immalee is imprisoned by the Inquisition and gives birth to a child who dies. In Zanoni, Bulwer-Lytton’s title character is a Rosicrucian who has lived a long life. He and his lover, Viola, are caught up in the chaos of the French Revolution, resulting in Viola giving birth to their child in prison. Melmoth dies long after Immalee when Satan comes to take him, but Zanoni ends up dying at the guillotine. However, hope remains in the image of the child born to Viola, who survives.

Notably, Zanoni was a major influence on Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859), particularly Sidney Carton’s sacrifice at the end of the novel, but also because of its many Rosicrucian elements, as discussed in my book The Gothic Wanderer. Therefore, Melmoth the Wanderer may be said to be the grandfather of Dickens’ novel.

Influence on Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was Charles Maturin’s great-nephew by marriage and adopted the name Sebastian Melmoth to protect his privacy and comment upon his state as an outcast following his famous trial and prison term.

It is well-known, but worth repeating, that Maturin was the uncle by marriage to Oscar Wilde’s mother. After Wilde was released from prison after serving a sentence for homosexuality, Oscar Wilde adopted the name of Sebastian Melmoth while he wandered about Europe. The name Melmoth implied he was cursed and a wanderer, and the name Sebastian referenced St. Sebastian, considered the first gay icon of the nineteenth century.

Numerous Other Influences

Melmoth the Wanderer influenced many other literary works in direct and indirect ways and has even influenced the creation of characters in movies and TV. The following list comes from Wikipedia, which includes a few of the works I have already mentioned:

  • In Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas (the basis for Roman Polanski’s film The Ninth Gate), Corso bumps into the mystery girl following him as she is reading Melmoth the Wanderer in the lobby of the hotel after seeing Fargas to review his copy of The Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows.
  • In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Fanshawe, one of the major characters is named “Doctor Melmoth.”
  • In Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Professor Humbert Humbert calls his automobile “Melmoth.”
  • In John Banville’s 1989 novel The Book of Evidence, the narrator steals an automobile from a garage called “Melmoth’s”; the make of the car is a Humber, an allusion to both Wilde and Nabokov.
  • “Melmoth” is mentioned in Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
  • In Dave Sim’s Cerebus comic book (issues 139–150), there’s a writer named Oscar (homage to Oscar Wilde), who’s registered under the name “Melmoth” at his hotel.
  • In Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers metaseries, Melmoth is an antagonist of Frankenstein.
  • In Leonie Swann’s Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story, the mysterious sheep who has wandered the world and comes home to teach the flock what he has learned is named Melmoth.
  • The mysterious financier Augustus Melmotte in Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now resembles Melmoth in more than name.
  • In an 1842 review of Stanley Thorn, Edgar Allan Poe refers to “the devil in Melmoth” as an ineffectual seducer of souls.
  • In letters P. Lovecraft addresses Donald Wandrei as Melmoth the Wandrei.
  • A British magazine about surrealism was named Melmoth after the book. Melmoth was published from 1979-1981 and its contributors included George Melly and Ithell Colquhoun.
  • In the British TV murder mystery series Midsomer Murders the episode “Murder By Magic” (2015) included a mysterious country manor called Melmouth House, the home of an infamous rake-hell and paganist, Sir Henry Melmouth, who died, apparently, in a ritual pagan fire, hoping to be reborn from the ashes like the mythical phoenix.
  • In Marty Feldman’s movie In God We Tru$t (1980), Peter Boyle plays a con man and crooked street preacher named Dr. Sebastian Melmoth.
  • Peter Garrison named the aircraft Garrison Melmoth after himself and Melmoth the Wanderer.
  • Sarah Perry’s third novel Melmoth (2018) centers on a female variation of Maturin’s character, damned (like Richard Wagner’s Kundry in Parsifal) for denying the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The reason I recently decided to reread Melmoth the Wanderer was because I had heard about Sarah Perry’s new novel Melmoth. I will be reviewing that novel in my next article.

Even though Melmoth the Wanderer’s life appears to end at the conclusion of Maturin’s novel, it is clear his influence wanders on and likely will continue to do so for many years to come.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City and numerous other books. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Anne Rice’s “Blood Communion” Ties Up Loose Ends and Ultimately Defines Lestat’s Role

Blood Communion is the fifteenth book in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series. By this point in the series, Lestat has been proclaimed prince of the vampires and established a court in his father’s chateau in France. Most of the vampires are delighted by this situation and they come to pay him homage and even to live at court, but there are still a few renegade vampires who want nothing to do with the court.

Blood Communion – a fitting end to the Vampire Chronicles, if it is the end.

The book begins with Lestat saying he is writing to the Blood Communion—the communion of blood drinkers. He reminds us that he wrote his previous books to document his and the other vampires’ stories, and also he writes again now because many vampire fledglings were not even born when he wrote his first books. As I read this, I thought how this book might be called The Gospel of Lestat because he is writing down his life story of how he has basically saved the vampires, all the years that he preserved Amel being included in them, Amel being the life source creature that allowed the blood drinkers to exist and which was present in Lestat for a while until it received its own body.

Blood Communion continually repeats what has happened in previous books to remind the reader of past events, but frankly, by this point, so many vampires are in the storyline that many of them I couldn’t remember at all. The number of characters and references to past events has become overwhelming, and I feel like the book needs a character list. Maybe an entire Who’s Who in the Vampire Chronicles volume is needed now.

The book is only 256 pages, and there are even a few pictures that take up some of that space. It is perhaps the shortest of the Vampire Chronicles, and not a lot happens in it, especially if one were to weed out all the flowery descriptive language Rice uses.

The only real plot is that the vampire Roshamandes is threatening the Court and the vampires want Lestat to destroy him. Before Lestat can act, Roshamandes attacks and kidnaps three vampires whom it is believed he kills. To make peace, Lestat agrees to be captured by Roshamandes (Spoiler Alert here). Lestat goes with Roshamandes, but before Roshamandes can hurt him, Lestat manages to fight him, eats his eyes, and destroys him with fire. The book goes on for another hundred pages after this, but that is the only moment of real action in it.

The remainder of the book is about preparing for a great ball that takes place in which the vampires come to pay Lestat homage, kissing his ring which depicts Medusa’s head on it. (Why a Medusa ring I don’t know. The symbolism, if any, was lost on me.)

At the end, the main purpose is summed up in Marius praising Lestat for giving his life for the Court by sacrificing himself in his battle with Roshamandes. The sense here is that Lestat is a type of Christ figure, willing to give his life for his friends. Now that the threats to the Court have been destroyed, Lestat has allowed his tribe to put aside hate and embrace each other. This reads like Lestat has conquered sin and allowed love to come into the world. Consequently, it is not surprising that Lestat is writing this book—it is his gospel about how all vampires can live in harmony—his preaching of love just as Christ preached love.

I admit the book falls a bit flat in its lack of any real storyline, but the depiction of Lestat as a Christ figure (Rice never comes right out and says Lestat is the Christ figure of the vampires, although it’s implied) is in keeping with Rice’s previous books. Its emphasis makes one feel like the story has finally come to a conclusion with peace and harmony among all the vampires. That said, Rice has not officially said this will be the last book, and knowing her, she will come up with more, but Blood Communion would work as a good finale to the series, which has, frankly, gone on long enough.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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New Dracula Prequel Builds on Stoker’s Unpublished Manuscripts

Dracul, the recently published prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written by his great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker, is a treat for both Dracula enthusiasts and Dracula scholars. The novel tells a fictional story about Bram Stoker’s childhood and early life from the 1850s through 1868, including his encounters with Dracula. Although the story is obviously fictional, the authors drew upon Stoker’s early versions of Dracula, including his handwritten notes, to create this spellbinding tale.

Dracul, a prequel to Dracula, allows Bram Stoker to meet Dracula face to face.

When the novel opens, Bram is a sickly child growing up in Ireland during the potato famine. He nearly dies at birth, but his nurse Ellen Crone saves him, although no one is quite sure how. She continues to care for him during his illnesses and the family notices that afterwards, as he grows stronger, she becomes weaker. Over time, Bram and his sister Matilda continue to notice strange things about Ellen. At one point, Bram sees her naked limbs, which have the appearance of those of a wrinkled old woman, although she seems fairly young. They investigate her room and find the floor dirty and dusty with no sign of footprints. Ellen realizes they are curious about her, so she taunts Bram for going out at night to investigate her wanderings, all the while climbing the walls and ceiling like a spider. Many other strange incidents occur that make it obvious Ellen is not human, but then she disappears from the children’s lives for many years.

I don’t want to give away the whole plot beyond that, but it’s sufficient to say that Ellen has had dealings with Dracula, and as a result, Bram also encounters the great vampire. I found the book entertaining, although some readers might find the novel far-fetched and not like it’s lack of being accurate to Stoker’s biography—I am not aware that Stoker ever had a nurse named Ellen and could not find evidence of her in the recent Stoker biography by David J. Skal, Something in the Blood, or that he ever traveled to Munich to fight vampires. Regardless, the authors raise some interesting questions about Stoker’s writing of Dracula and the possibility that it was based on real events. Consequently, the novel’s afterword alone makes Dracul worth reading.

I won’t go into full details about the afterword, but here are a few points worth mentioning. At the end of Dracul, Dracula warns Stoker that he will be back to claim him when he dies. Of course, this is supposition on the authors’ part, but in the afterword they note that Stoker had himself cremated, which was unusual in 1912. The suggestion is that Stoker may have feared becoming a vampire like the corpse of Lucy Westenra in Dracula. More significantly, in the original manuscript of Dracula, which was titled The Un-Dead, Stoker wrote a preface in which he states that the novel’s events really took place. Of course, this literary trick—the claim that the book was based on true events to make fiction feel real—was around long before Stoker. Such claims were an effort to validate fiction and make it more reputable, as well as more interesting to readers. For example, in the early days of the novel, Daniel Defoe claimed Robinson Crusoe (1719) was a true story and Samuel Richardson claimed Pamela (1740) was a compilation of real letters. Neither claim was true, so there is no reason to believe Stoker’s tale had any truth to it either. Regardless, it’s fun—in a scary way—to think it might be.

For me, the most fascinating thing about Dracul’s afterword is how it builds on the recent scholarship that revealed the version of Dracula published in Iceland, known there as Makt Myrkranna and recently translated into English as Powers of Darkness, with a preface by Dacre Stoker, is not the same version of Dracula we have in English. According to Dracul’s afterword, Stoker’s publisher made him do serious revisions to the novel, including cutting the first 101 pages and changing the title, plus toning down the idea that it was based on true events. The publisher feared the Whitechapel murders of 1888-1891, blamed on Jack the Ripper, were still fresh enough in people’s minds that claims of vampires in England might cause a panic. (This fear may seem far-fetched to us, but let’s not forget the panic stirred up by Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of A War of the Worlds in 1938.)

The most recent biography of Bram Stoker.

Stoker, to get his novel published, went along with his publisher’s desire for changes for his English reading audience, but he did not make the changes to copies of the novel he personally sent to publishers worldwide. As a result, Powers of Darkness is a very different novel from Dracula in many ways, and in the afterword to Dracul, Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker suggest more foreign editions of Dracula need to be translated to see what other changes were made.

Also of importance is that the original manuscript of The Un-Dead still exists, minus its first 101 pages. The authors of Dracul state that it is now owned by Paul Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft. He allowed them to view the manuscript after signing a disclosure agreement not to reveal what was in it. They can only disclose that the short story “Dracula’s Guest” is from the original manuscript and also that the manuscript begins on page 102, the page number of which has been crossed out and renumbered as 1. Stoker apparently cut the first 101 pages of the novel and they have been long missing, which is one reason Powers of Darkness is so interesting since Jonathan Harker’s time in Dracula’s castle is extended in that version.

Of course, the discovery of Powers of Darkness was a field day for Dracula scholars. Hopefully, more foreign editions of Dracula will be translated and published, but more importantly, we can hope that The Un-Dead will eventually be published. Unfortunately, Paul Allen died on October 15, 2018, so the fate of The Un-Dead will remain to be seen.

Powers of Darkness is the new translation into English of the Icelandic translation of Dracula. It reveals many surprising changes between the Dracula we know and the Dracula read in Iceland for over a century.

Finally, what fascinates me most is that anyone who has read Stoker’s other novels will admit that despite a few stirring passages, they largely fall flat beside Dracula. Certainly, as fascinating as Powers of Darkness is from a scholarly perspective, the writing is far from first-rate, and that can be said of most of Stoker’s other novels. I think this difference lies largely in the revision process Stoker went through to get Dracula published in England. According to Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker, Stoker’s editor, Otto Kyllman, worked with him for several months to reshape the novel, the two butting heads over what to cut and what to save. I had never heard of Kyllman before, but he seems to have been very astute as an editor. Surprisingly, he did not die until 1958, which means he must have been extraordinarily young when he was Stoker’s editor at Archibald Constable & Company. Unfortunately, I could find little online about Kyllman. His Wikipedia entry does not even give his birthdate, but it says he was the senior director at Constable & Co. from 1909 to 1950. This is a man whose editing career spanned more than half a century and who worked closely with such authors as George Bernard Shaw and May Sinclair. Surprisingly, Kyllman is not even mentioned in Skal’s biography of Stoker. While I don’t want to downplay Stoker’s genius in creating Dracula, one has to wonder how much credit Kyllman deserves for the Dracula we have today. It is definitely a topic that deserves more exploration.

Dracul is a fun read for those who like novelizations about famous authors, but it’s more than that—in a roundabout way, it helps to add another piece to the mystery of Dracula and how it came to be the incredible novel it is, one that has captivated our imaginations for 121 years and counting.

Thank you to Robert Burke for bringing Dracul to my attention.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula

Interview with Tantra Bensko, Author of “Encore: A Contemporary Love Story of Hypnotic Abduction”

Today, I’m pleased to welcome Tantra Bensko to the Gothic Wanderer blog. She will enlighten us about her latest work, the standalone book, Encore, which is Book III in The Agents of the Nevermind series of Psychological Suspense novels about the heroism of exposing social engineering. The US Review of Books says about Encore: “From the description of Miriam’s post-abduction ride to her captivity in the castle, one is reminded of such Gothic treasures as Rebecca and Wuthering Heights.”

Tantra Bensko, author of ENCORE

Tantra, who has an MA from Florida State and an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, has given her life over to writing and helping others create their stories. She has hundreds of publications in magazines, has taught writing for fourteen years with universities such as UCLA Extension Writing Program, and edits manuscripts with Book Butchers.

Tyler: Welcome, Tantra. Can you give us some background to the series and your approach to writing about social engineering?

Tantra: Thank you, I’m honored to connect with you, Tyler, as you’re one of my heroes that I’ve learned a lot from.

Well, you’ve probably noticed that rarely in a novel is our own president of the United States the president in the book, as that would be quite awkward, particularly in fiction with a strong political awareness. So, in that sense, these kinds of books are always Alternate Reality. In this series, the timeline of reality shifted slightly when President Planda gained office in conjunction with the new intelligence agency, the Nevermind, which took over certain propaganda functions from the CIA, etc. and networked strongly with the UK.

This shift allows me to dramatize methods of media theater, blackmail, movies, and other traditional widespread means of prompting the public to believe in the military agendas that governments are promoting, such as coups and proxy wars to steal resources, run drugs, and keep control of the petrodollar. I’m fascinated by such gaslighting of the public and the brainwashing of key individuals who have the capacity to influence the masses. That topic is a perfect fit for Psychological Suspense and the Gothic, which engendered that genre.

The Nevermind Agents, who are the antagonists of the series, are masters of hypnosis and dubious occult practices, so in Encore, for example, I delve into the history of how our mystical beliefs have been induced and used against us. We see the fallout from Enochian magick, mind control, Theosophy, Thelema, and other intersections of famous intelligence assets with metaphysical secret societies.

While the first two books in the series take place in the United States with focus on other countries which are being targeted militarily, this third book is set in England, which was great fun. I got to study all about portcullises! (Brilliant weapons built into castle entryways.) The book does have a strong international scope, as it references the time around the World Wars when the major powers were trying to manipulate public opinion through appropriating the competing legends of Shambhalla and Atlantis. The East favored Shambhalla and the West favored Atlantis, because each could claim divine heritage from those locations and, thus, the right to rule. The Nevermind keeps the interest in such mythologies alive as much as it was back in the New Age heyday, to continue that kind of political manipulation.

I’ve been gratified by how well readers see the parallels to today’s actual social engineering when they respond to my Agents of the Nevermind novels. I’m passionate about revealing the methods of influencing the minds of the masses through bypassing logic and critical thinking and that’s ideal for Psychological Suspense. When people want to bond with their peers or a significant other, they can be easily led into shared beliefs and they won’t let go of those ideas unless the reality shoots them in the face.

Tyler: Without giving away too much, will you tell us a little about the opening or premise of Encore?

Tantra: Encore begins with a troupe in England performing the history of a gem which features in legends of Shambhalla and Atlantis. The troupe’s hypnotist, Dune, has made them famous, especially his wife Susan, who is the star.

After the star’s disappearance before the show, her standby, Miriam, takes Susan’s place. Dune always hypnotizes the standbys to believe they are the actors they replace: the post-hypnotic suggestion ends when the final curtain lands, and they remember their identity. Before the curtain lands, Dune whisks Miriam to a castle.

Meanwhile, Miriam’s friend, Colin, who just kissed her for the first time, seeks to rescue her.

Tyler: You label Encore: A Hypnotic Abduction as a Contemporary Gothic novel. In what ways does it follow and expand the rich tradition of that genre in a way that is relevant today?

Encore is a modern Gothic novel using elements from classic Gothic literature

Tantra: I appreciate the education you provide on the subject on your website and in your book The Gothic Wanderer—and as you describe in those, the fall of the monarchy with the French Revolution made people worry about the stability and corresponding hierarchy of the family unit. Some of the characters in this novel are British Republicans who would like to see the monarchy abolished. The Agents fund their dubious practices through precarious illicit methods to keep the networked countries of England and the U.S. afloat.

Delving deeply into family history embedded in ancient architecture generally takes Gothic heroines into shocking-secret territory, often related to hidden relatives, improper sex acts, the return of the oppressed to gain vengeance, and strange alliances with unexpected consequences. There is a sense of decay of tradition at the same time and a desperate attempt to hold onto it—for the Agents, for nefarious purposes, and for the hecklers at the Bennu performance at the theater, because their cultural identities are attached to those traditions.

Encore gleefully celebrates all the tropes, such as first person POV of an isolated heroine, ambiguity and dissolution of identity, having to choose between the dark and light hero without knowing which is which, oubliettes, tunnels, cemeteries, grotesque caricatures, incest, paintings that follow the heroines, doppelgangers, curses, the quest for elixirs of immortality, secret societies and cults influencing the world through rituals, and a powerful, charismatic man controlling the mind of a woman. It takes place in present-time with current issues such as insider trading, the kind of “alchemical homeopathic mixtures” that are available for sale now, claims for the rare gem, Moldavite that one can easily find online, the Free Tibet movement.

Since reviews of Encore align it with the core Gothic conventions, I may move ahead in the future with publishing the book I drafted when preparing to write this and my other novels with Gothic elements: How to Write a Gothic Novel. I certainly will cite you in that.

Tyler: Wow. You went all out with inserting Gothic elements into the book. So, tell me, what about the Gothic appeals to you so much, and why do you think readers still want to read about these Gothic themes?

Tantra: Gothic Romance on Amazon is one of the very strongest, most lucrative, and promising genres to publish in these days, with sales continually rising higher, and yet there’s not too much competition. Many books listed there aren’t what I would label Gothic, but I’m a stickler for being literal about genres. They are often really Paranormal Romance, instead, and that’s a fetish for many people. And, of course, Gothic Horror lends itself to being campy, which is a handy quality for books written with an eye toward being adapted to low budget Horror movies.

I think Gothic is extremely relevant today. We’re still worried about the crumbling of the family, still experiencing fearful guilt resulting from living under an improperly behaving government that destroys other countries for profit, creating immigrants who flood in. And for the government to act like destroying those countries is humanitarian and moral, they have to get intelligence agents to create propaganda that gets the public on board with foreign policy. They portray a war hawk like John McCain as the hero to emulate. They create false flags, making it look like the leader of a foreign country gassed his own people, so we should support terrorists to kill more of his people. And the intelligence agents in the news stations create hysteria and peer pressure to rile people up enough that they bypass logic in order to accept such easily disproven claims. That kind of gaslighting seems like the epitome of the Gothic to me.

And Gothic is fun. Who doesn’t like dungeons, tunnels, spooky cemeteries, foggy forests, exaggerated emotions, dangerous secrets? Reading a Gothic story, we vicariously travel further and further toward the dark truth as we travel down into the snaky underground in the primitive darkness, carrying a torch. People are surrounded by deception and when we’re bewildered, catching on that something is not what it seems, we can be gratified by the heroes facing the dreamlike symbolic horrors underneath the surface. We can feel like we’re strong enough to do so to and we may be able to figure everything out and expose the lies.

Will humanity ever move past the typical Gothic relationship of a person being inexorably drawn to a man who is immensely compelling yet secretive and dangerous? Is he dangerous to others enough that he will protect us? Or will he kill us instead? How can we be satisfied with a nice, sweet, open, and honest man like we should be when we’re on fire for the charismatic, powerful man instead? Sometimes we have to move through the process, trying out the intense man and being burned before we can see the charms of the simply kind man.

Tyler: What do you hope readers will feel or think after reading your book?

Tantra: I hope the liberation at the end of the novel makes them feel exhilarated after vicariously living Miriam’s claustrophobic experience of being trapped at the castle and in her own belief that she needs to be someone else to be acceptable.

That belief sounds irrational, but when you look at how people create false personae through social media, for example, it’s obviously common. Narcissists are at the extreme end of the spectrum, presenting themselves as more successful, confident, and charming than they feel inside. But according to statistics, most people lie multiple times every day. Unless they’ve plucked their eyebrows and painted new ones in, many women can be afraid to leave the house to walk among random strangers on the street. And some musicians create fan pages on Facebook, invite all their friends to “like” the pages, then unfriend them so they have room in their allotted 5,000 to make more friends and get them to like their pages. . . I think most people could benefit by learning how to drop some of that desperate need for being put on a pedestal.

I also hope the book improves people’s sense of a pattern: how intelligence agents put one over on unsuspecting people. And I hope readers will feel thoroughly entertained, their hearts full, their stride empowered, and their minds lit up by flickering images of the gorgeous English landscape.

Tyler: What do you hope readers will most appreciate about your writing?

Tantra: I hope they get value from my extensive research into history, such as the famous intelligence assets who went undercover as occultists like John Dee, Madame Blavatsky, Nicholas Roerich and Aleister Crowley, and some sinister elements of Tantric tradition as well as some applicable methods of circulating life force energy with a lover.

I also hope they enjoy the suspense of hope versus the creeping sense of dread. The cinematic, dramatic romance with the highly fetishized friend-to-lover trope should have its appeal, as Colin goes all out for Miriam while living like a wild man on the castle grounds. I have to say, writing the portion of the novel in which Miriam believes she is Susan was no easy task.

Tyler: Thanks for the opportunity to interview you, Tantra. Will you let our readers know about your website and what information they can find there about your books and how to buy them?

Tantra: People who are interested in staying in the loop can sign up for the newsletter at any of my sites and they’ll receive many gifts. All the books can be found at Amazon and Kobo.

Encore website

Insubordinate Books website for the Nevermind novels and others, such as the forthcoming Psychological Suspense book, Floating on Secrets. The links to buy should be easy to navigate from there.

Thank you very much for posting this interview on your excellent site, and very best wishes to you.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Anne Rice’s New Novel Plays Upon Classic Gothic Rosicrucian Themes

Anne Rice and her son Christopher Rice recently published their first collaboration: Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra (2017). This book is a sequel to Anne Rice’s The Mummy: Ramses the Damned (1989), although it can be read as a stand-alone novel. (I read The Mummy so many years ago I scarcely remember it, but I wasn’t lost at all in reading this book.)

Ramses the Damned, sequel to Anne Rice’s The Mummy

Warning that if you haven’t yet read Ramses the Damned, there may be some spoilers in my discussion.

In the previous novel, Ramses II was the mummy who came back to life. Actually, we find out that long ago he had obtained an elixir of immortality from a Hittite priestess and had never died but lived for approximately twelve centuries, from roughly 1200 BC to 1 A.D., spanning the time from his own reign to that of the celebrated Cleopatra. He and Cleopatra had been friends and he had been her advisor, but when she begged him to give the elixir to Marc Antony, Ramses refused, and then when Antony died, she killed herself. She had herself refused the elixir when Ramses had previously offered it to her. In despair over Cleopatra’s death, Ramses then went into a deep sleep for nineteen centuries, only to be woken by an Egyptologist just prior to World War I. Eventually, Ramses gave the gift of immortality to the Egyptologist’s daughter Julia and her father’s friend Elliott. Ramses also spotted an unknown mummy in a Cairo museum and realized it was Cleopatra, so he sprinkled some of the elixir on her, bringing her back to life, although because she had died, she appears to be a sort of monster, manic and only having partial memories of the past.

The plot of the second novel continues this storyline, although I won’t go into the plot’s full details. What is most interesting in the second novel is that Rice introduces Bektaten, an ancient queen who lived about 6000 B.C. Bektaten was the original owner of the elixir of immortality, although I don’t believe we are told exactly how she came into its possession. Bektaten has been wandering the earth for millennia, accompanied by two faithful servants—they are the last survivors of the ancient African land of Shaktanu. The only other survivor of this ancient civilization is Saqnos, who had once served Bektaten and had also become immortal from the elixir. However, he stole the elixir and sprinkled it on his warriors, thinking it would make them fearless in battle since they would be immortal. Saqnos wanted his warriors to overthrow Bektaten, but now that they are immortal, they have lost any desire or need to fight, and Bektaten makes her escape.

Later, Saqnos realizes he didn’t have the proper ingredients for the elixir; as a result, his warriors became “fractals,” only living two hundred years before they die. Over the centuries, Saqnos has given this diluted elixir to his many followers, only to suffer a great deal of grief when they die. During all this time, he has also sought Bektaten to get from her the full recipe for the elixir.

While the other characters—Ramses, Cleopatra, Julia, and Sybil, an American novelist who seems to be a reincarnation of Cleopatra, and consequently, seems to be stealing the resurrected Cleopatra’s memory—are more at the center of the plot, for me Bektaten and Saqnos are the most interesting characters in the novel, and the most sublime Gothic moment in the entire novel is when Bektaten displays that she has the power to take back the gift of immortality and takes it from Saqnos. Saqnos’ terror over this situation is the best in the novel, although it shows he has learned nothing through his long life. Most Gothic Wanderer figures in nineteenth century novels see their immortality ultimately as a curse when they continually must grieve the deaths of all those they love, and they often seek to end their lives unsuccessfully.

I won’t discuss more of the plot, but just briefly mention that Rice is drawing upon old Rosicrucian novel themes through her use of an elixir of immortality, a theme used in countless Gothic novels of the early nineteenth century from Percy Shelley’s St. Irvyne (1811) to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni (1842), probably the greatest of all Rosicrucian novels. The Rosicrucians were a medieval order supposedly founded by Christian Rosencreutz, who had himself discovered the secret of immortality. Although likely fictional himself, Rosencreutz reputedly founded the Rosicrucians, who claimed to be helpers of mankind and possess the secrets of extended life via the elixir and also the philosopher’s stone that can turn lead into gold. The Rosicrucians, in turn, supposedly had occult knowledge from ancient civilizations—civilizations like Rice’s ancient fictional Shaknatu, the kingdom Bektaten once ruled. For more about Rosicrucians in nineteenth century Gothic literature, see my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption.

That Ramses the Damned is a collaboration between mother and son is also worth noting. So how does it rate beside Anne Rice’s other works? I have to admit I thought Christopher Rice’s first two novels, A Density of Souls (2000) and The Snow Garden (2001), were pretty terrible and never would have been published if not for his being Anne Rice’s son. That said, his next novel, Light and Day (2005), was a vast improvement, and he has since come into his own as a novelist. His style is not as lush and decadent as Rice’s so I suspect he wrote more of the novel than she did. Several reviewers have complained about the lack of style. I also will say there is a definite lack of plot and more just simple focus on characterization. Plotwise, it is one of the weakest of Anne Rice’s novels, but stylistically, I found it rather a relief. Some of Rice’s later novels, especially those with Lestat, tend to be so stylistic in terms of the dialogue as to be largely unrealistic, and yet that is part of Lestat’s strange appeal. None of this decadent, flowery language is an issue here. Christopher Rice’s more straightforward style seems to dominate, although the themes are definitely Anne Rice’s. The only part of the novel really rich in Anne Rice’s atmosphere is the last fifty or so pages, where the more flowery language felt very appropriate.

Ultimately, I would not say this is Rice’s best novel, although I think I liked it even more than The Mummy. It is, whatever its flaws, a fascinating book for its treatment of immortal characters who are not vampires. I would welcome another sequel and also to see Bektaten work her way into Rice’s vampire novels farther down the road, just as the Mayfair Witches eventually did. I think any true lover of classic Gothic will find much of interest in these pages.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Balkan Vampire Novel One of the Best: A Review of Kiss of the Butterfly

Kiss of the Butterfly delves into Balkan vampire folklore to create a satisfying and fast-paced vampire tale.

James Lyon’s 2013 novel Kiss of the Butterfly is one of the best vampire novels written in recent years. Its author did impeccable research into vampire folklore, not relying solely on how vampires are depicted in films or even in the novel Dracula and all the vampire fiction that has followed its 1897 publication, but by digging into the true legends of vampires in the Balkans.

Lyon is also the translator of the novel After Ninety Years: The Story of Serbian Vampire Sava Savanovic, which has previously been discussed on this blog. After Ninety Years was first published in 1880, seventeen years before Dracula was published. In his 2015 translation of that novel, Lyon discusses Serbian vampire folklore in detail, and many of the details he discusses he also uses in Kiss of the Butterfly. (Lyon has also written Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914: The Outbreak of World War I, so he is obviously very knowledgeable about the Balkans.) I won’t go into all the vampire lore details in the novel, but a few are worth mentioning here along with a little plot summary (with a few spoilers, but not giving away the ending) to explain why this is such a great vampire novel.

First off, an explanation about the title. You may not associate butterflies with vampires, but as Lyon explains, butterflies have traditionally been associated in Balkan folklore with the soul. Consequently, a vampire can transform itself into a butterfly. When vampires are killed, it’s important not to let the vampire’s soul escape from its mouth in the form of a butterfly. Of course, the kiss part of the title refers to one of the best scenes in the whole novel when a female vampire attacks the main character.

The novel’s plot is well-paced. It’s just over halfway into the novel when vampires show up in the main storyline, but the lead up to their appearance is suspenseful. I never felt bored at all. The main story concerns Professor Marko Slatina, a Serbian professor teaching in California, and his graduate student, Steven Roberts. Slatina helps Steven get connections in Serbia so he can go there to study vampires for the dissertation he is writing. It’s not easy to go to Serbia at this time since it’s the early 1990s when Slobodan Milosevic is waging a war of genocide in the former country of Yugoslavia.

Once in Serbia, Steven begins his studies in earnest, meeting some professors and other students whom he shares his research with. He also meets some girls, one of whom doesn’t like his interest in vampires, but the two find themselves attracted to each other regardless. The novel educates the reader about Balkan vampires without being boring and builds up to Steven discovering an old book about vampires at a library that he wants to read. The librarian tells him the book was forbidden during the communist regime but he can now look at it. The next day he goes back to look at the book again, only to find that the librarian has been dismissed from her job and the book cannot be located. Obviously, someone does not want him to read it.

Lyon keeps the story moving by having short historical interludes at the end of each chapter that are set between the 1730s and 1980s. These interludes tell us about vampires still existing in Serbia and their history during this period. Most notably, there are twelve vampires in the novel, one of whom is the famous Vlad Dracula. In the 1730s, eleven of the vampires were imprisoned in an underground chamber by a man who had been in love with one of them, Natalija, before she became a vampire. Because of his love for her, he is unable to bring himself to kill her and end her vampirism, so instead, he imprisons her and her fellow vampires. Unfortunately, in the 1980s, the vampires escaped.

As the plot thickens, Steven finds himself being hunted by these vampires, who are intent on killing him before he finds out more about them. Professor Slatina also travels to Serbia at this point and reveals the truth to Steven—that he sent him to the Balkans to find out information about the vampires. Slatina also reveals that he is a vampirovic, the child of a vampire who had sex with a human female. The children of such unions grow up to be vampire hunters and they are basically immortal. I loved this fact, which is part of Balkan folklore, because when I wrote my novel Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, which is largely a sequel to Dracula, I depicted Quincey Harker, the son of Mina and Jonathan Harker, as having special powers and an extended life because Quincey’s mother drank Dracula’s blood. I didn’t know at the time that vampire children were part of the vampire tradition, but thought on my own such a child would be special, so I guess I was right.

Slatina also turns out to have been the husband of Natalija, the female vampire. At one point, he confronts her and she begs him to show his love for her by killing her rather than locking her up. At this point, he explains that he didn’t kill her because he has been working on trying to figure out how he can save her by redeeming her. Elsewhere in the novel, Lyon explains that some vampires can feel remorse, try to repent, and achieve redemption. This, of course, fascinated me since I have traced in my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, how Gothic wanderer figures like the vampire go from being damned to redeemed throughout the course of the nineteenth century, the most notable being the title character of Varney the Vampire (1846), who continually tries to end his misery by killing himself and who eventually finds redemption.

One additional interesting use of the vampire theme in the novel comes when the vampires attack Steven and his friends. A male vampire attacks a female, which is perfectly acceptable, since it’s heterosexual, but Natalija attacks a female, which is a lesbian act. Much has been made by critics of homosexuality in vampire novels, although in the nineteenth century novels, authors were always careful never to have vampires attack humans of the same sex. Natalija must have been really thirsty, I suspect, rather than into girls since she is married and later seeks to seduce and have sex with Steven—she literally does want sex with him, not just to drink his blood, or so she says. I suspect Lyon gave no thought to the lesbian possibility of her drinking a female’s blood since the scene is not in any way erotic or really significant ultimately. Oh, and I should mention that the vampires can also become werewolves, another part of Serbian folklore Lyon uses.

I won’t give away all the rest of the plot—needless to say, you can imagine how it ends. I will say I thought the pacing very good; the novel never became insincere or fell into being comical like too many vampire films become. Even when one of the vampires loses its head and remains talking, it did not become comical but rather fit into the vampire lore, as explained in the novel. The scene where a female vampire tries to seduce Steven was especially a page-turner.

I’ve read many vampire novels that were written in the last two hundred years. Of the more modern ones, I would say Kiss of the Butterfly is the best one since Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned. It is far better than cheesy and boring Twilight novels or Elizabeth Kostova’s slow and anticlimactic The Historian. I would even read a sequel if Lyon writes one.

Anyone interested in real vampire lore that predates the success of Dracula should definitely read Kiss of the Butterfly.

(I wish to thank Robert Burke, a regular reader of my blog, who introduced me to this novel and James Lyon’s translation of After Ninety Years.)

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

 

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Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula