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Wednesday Writerly Stuff: Do the Vampires Fear the Sun?

Vampire kitty doesn't fear the sun.
Vampire kitty doesn’t fear the sun.

The idea of vampires burning in the sun, turning into ashes, or maybe even exploding, is so common that many people take it for granted. However, if you look into folklore, or into Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, you will see something else. Not exactly vampires enjoying the sun, but not exploding as soon as the sunlight touches their skin, either.

In the Serbian folklore (which is where the word vampire comes from), vampires are usually nocturnal, but the sunlight doesn’t harm them. In some stories, vampires spend the days in their graves, rise at night, strangle people and suck their blood. Or visit their wives (who are officially widows) and make some babies, especially if the wife is still young and pretty. There’s a theory stating that the idea of vampires visiting their wives was invented to explain how a woman whose husband died in a war got pregnant. Whatever they choose to do at night, it’s not because the sun would kill them. They’re chthonic creatures by nature and prefer nighttime because that’s when they’re strongest, but they won’t die in the sun.

In other stories, vampires might leave the area where they lived while they were alive, become butchers or blacksmiths (or choose another occupation traditionally associated with chthonic and otherworldly) somewhere, and start new families. It is perfectly logical to ask, since butchers or blacksmiths would normally work during daytime (unless we’re talking about the village of the butchers), how does it fit with their nighttime preference. The answer is: folklore isn’t consistent. According to the folklore, vampires are supposed to fear sharp objects and tools because they could pierce their skin so that the liquids their bodies mostly consist of leak out — and yet, they works as butchers and blacksmiths, constantly in contact with the very tools they should fear more than anything else. There are many such examples. Some aspects may be consistent, like the idea that vampires won’t die just because the sun is shining upon them, but others will be contradictory.

When it comes to the Bram Stoker’s Dracula, if you’ve read the book, you’ll remember that it wasn’t the sun that killed him, it was a chest wound (which coincided with the sunrise). Dracula didn’t have his superhuman strength during daytime, but he could freely walk around in the sun, and nothing happened to him because of it.

So, where does the sun-kills-a-vampire idea come from? The Hollywood movies, or, more specifically, Murnau’s Nosferatu (do watch the movie if you get a chance and if you like truly creepy movies), a silent classic from 1922. And it became a canon so much that people might laugh at you if you write about vampires who freely walk in the sun, and tell you that’s not what the “real vampires” are like. Of course, you’re then free to laugh at them, both for their ignorance and the “real imaginary creatures” part. Or you could try to educate them, if they’re willing to learn.

What does all of this mean to a writer? The usual: create your world well, give good explanations, and you can do whatever you like. It’s your world, after all. You’re the one who knows best what works there, what doesn’t, how and why.

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Good News, Not So Good News

In the spirit of the Friday the 13th

At the end of the last week, I applied for a job as a writer for an online magazine for women. A couple of days ago, I found out they didn’t accept me. Too bad.

On the other hand, yesterday I found out that my story was accepted for a vampire-themed anthology in Serbian; it should come out in September. Yay!

For the end, something that’s not writing-related: on Monday, I made a pizza for the first time in I don’t remember how many years, and it turned out good. Another Yay!

Have a nice weekend, everyone! And remember to be nice to cats!

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Forty Days — Protect Yourself From Vampires!

The vampires from the Serbian folklore don’t look like this.

Last night I watched a short documentary in Serbian called Forty Days. It was a fascinating insight into Serbian folklore.

According to the old custom, after a person dies, the soul stays around for forty days — it’s normal. The soul revisits the favorite places and watches over the family (often coming into the dreams of the oldest members) and, if it was a good person while alive, makes no trouble and peacefully leaves after 40 days, to unite with the older ancestors so all of them watch over the family.

However, if the person was bad — a thief, or, the worst, a murderer, those 40 days don’t go quietly, the soul gives the trouble all the time, and the deceased might raise as a vampire.

The vampire of the Serbian folklore is neither sparkly nor a creature of the Anne Rice novels. They’re not pale, either — they’re very red, from all the blood they’ve taken, and swollen from it, too (swollen like a tick). If the wife of the vampire is still alive, he might keep visiting her, even getting her pregnant (that was one of the explanations as to how a widow could become pregnant and have a baby). The vampires are prone to revisiting their old homes, but also other homes, looking for food and/or women. They also pester people, cause them trouble, blood-drinking being only one of them.

If the trouble starts in the village the vampire is from, people figure out what’s happening and start looking for the vampire’s grave, to dig him out and to destroy the body. However, the vampire of the Serbian folklore doesn’t mind the sun (they usually appear between the midnight and the dawn, but sunlight does them no harm), so they can travel far enough — which is, to some other village, where nobody knew them while alive so nobody knows they’ve died. There they start new lives, it is possible for them to marry again and to have children. The jobs they usually take are that of a butcher or a blacksmith — the things associated with the unclean or the underworld.

If you listen to the old, old stories, those telling them know a lot which is unfamiliar to you; for example, you can listen to a story about a hero solving many problems in order to achieve whatever, and then the last trouble comes, the hardest one — he gets into a village full of butchers. And if you don’t know this part about the vampires, you have no idea why would a village full of butchers, other than being a bit unusual and not very logical, be a problem, let alone the most difficult part.

Those old stories can be quite contradictory; the neighboring villages can tell different, even contradictory stories, and even the stories themselves can be self-contradictory. An example: a vampire can leave his old village and become a butcher, a blacksmith or the like. On the other side, one of the best defenses against a vampire is a sharp object (not necessarily a stake and not necessarily made of wood), they are afraid of them and tend to avoid them. A butcher or a blacksmith who stays away from sharp objects, tools included? And there’s no solving this; too many of the old stories are lost, not much is written (there’s more than enough for a life-time study, but not enough to fill in the holes), and the villages are dying. Pretty soon, there will be nobody left to tell those stories, nobody who remembers them. A pity, really.

We heard all that, and more, in that 20-minutes documentary. It was fascinating, really — and there’s so, so much more.