Thursday, October 30, 2014

On Dracula and Vlad the Impaler

Last week, io9 ran an article titled “No, Bram Stoker Did Not Model Dracula On Vlad The Impaler,” which debunks the belief that Stoker’s legendary vampire was based on the notorious Wallachian prince. In fact, in early drafts of the novel, Stoker’s antagonist was apparently named “Count Wampyr.” You can’t make this up.

The historical Dracula
I found the io9 article fascinating, and you can read the whole piece here. Below is an excerpt of the part I found most interesting.
The truth is, there's no evidence that Bram Stoker was even aware of the name Vlad III—much less that he was called "Vlad the Impaler." Miller warns that we can't assume that Stoker's notes are the end-all, be-all of the creation of Dracula, but they do provide the only factual information we currently have about Stoker's research. And the notes tell us exactly where Stoker got the name "Dracula."
While in Whitby in the summer of 1890 (after, it should be noted, his much-discussed dinner with Vambery), Stoker came across a copy of William Wilkinson's book An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. We know that, because he copied sections of the book into his notes. Wilkinson's book contains references to multiple voivodes named Dracula, and some of the sparse details on one such Voivode Dracula make it into Stoker's text: that he crossed the Danube to attack Turkish troops and had some success. That's it. There is no reference to a "Vlad," no mention of a nickname Tepes or "the Impaler," no detailing of his legendary atrocities.
So why did Stoker choose that name, Dracula? Well, we can infer that from his own notes. He copied information from a footnote from Wilkinson's book that read in his own notes, "DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL," with those capital letters. The footnote explained that Wallachians gave the name "Dracula" to people who were especially courageous, cruel, or cunning. Stoker chose the name, it appears, because of its devilish associations, not because of the history and legends attached to its owner.
After reading the article, I tend to agree with its conclusion. There are no explicit references to Vlad III in Stoker’s Dracula, and his novel contains no historical details about the violent conflict with the Ottoman Turks that dominated the story of the historical “Dracula.” That said, I believe storytellers since Stoker have improved on Dracula by making a more direct connection between him and Vlad III.

History and Dracula combined
For one, linking Dracula to the historical Vlad the Impaler helps transform the story into historical fantasy, a genre I prefer to horror or modern day vampire tales. Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is a perfect example. In her novel, Dracula and Vlad Tepes are one in the same. The quest for Dracula’s tomb drives the story, which takes the reader to communist Romania and Istanbul in an attempt to find evidence in ancient texts, all grounded in the history of Vlad the Impaler and his enmity with the Ottoman Turks. As I wrote in my review of The Historian, “[t]hese types of historical mysteries, steeped in religion and legend, are my cup of tea, and despite the novel’s considerable length (my paperback is 676 pages), it captivated me until the end.”

Coppola improved on the original
Another good example is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Despite its titular reference to Stoker’s novel and general faithfulness to Stoker’s plot, Coppola clearly portrays Dracula as Vald Tepes, a member of the Order of the Dragon (“Draco” is translated to “Dracula”). Vald renounces God and succumbs to darkness when he returns from a battle with the Ottoman Turks only to discover his beloved wife has committed suicide after being tricked into believing he was slain on the battlefield. This sets up tremendous motivation for Dracula, who becomes convinced that Mina Harker is the reincarnation of his lost wife. The desire to be reunited with his beloved lends far greater purpose to Dracula’s actions than in the book, where Dracula is simply a monster to be reckoned with. I much preferred the complexity of Coppola’s Dracula, whom I almost felt sympathy for at times. And let’s face it, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of the vampire was damn near perfect. In short, I thought Coppola’s take far surpassed its source material, and his link to the historical Dracula was one of the major reasons why.

But that’s just my view – let me know what you think about the io9 article or whether others have improved on Bram Stoker’s original. And most of all, have a happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Devil’s Bridge

Today I’m guest blogging at Heroines of Fantasy, a site devoted to fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and especially women in genre fiction. As part of their month-long “Fright Fest,” I’ve written a work of flash fiction (i.e., a story under 1,000 words) titled “The Devil’s Bridge.” It’s based on an old Welsh legend about an old woman and her deal with the devil. Please visit Heroines of Fantasy and check out my new story, as well as all the other great posts for Fright Fest!

An ancient dolmen what evil lies there?*
And special thanks to author Karin Rita Gastreicht for the invite to post on her blog!

* Creative Commons Attribution - photo courtesy of Steve Ford Elliot 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fishing and a Flash!

I’m off to my annual fishing trip, and though I doubt I’ll catch the Midgard Serpent this year, I leave with fond memories of last night’s TV experience with my nine-year-old.

I’ve endeavored to find good TV shows we can watch as a family. In years’ past, it’s been Once Upon A Time, and while we still watch it, the Frozen plotline has become a bit silly to me. Fortunately, we decided to start watching CW’s new series The Flash. I must say, the adventures of Barry Allen have provided more family entertainment than I would have expected. We’re having a ball with this show, and if you have any fondness for superhero tales, I highly recommend it.

Next week is Halloween, so stay tuned for some spooky story news on the blog!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

“Thieves’ Quarry”: Another Tale of Murder, Magic, and Mystery in Colonial Boston

Yesterday, I finished Thieves’ Quarry by D. B. Jackson and found it a worthy sequel to the first book in the series, which I reviewed here. My review of Thieves’ Quarry follows this image of the book’s amazing cover.

D. B. Jackson has crafted another fun historical fantasy with Thieves’ Quarry, the sequel to his first novel in the series, Thieftaker. The series takes the reader to colonial Boston and a world where conjurers, called “spellers,” live secretly among the population. Among them is Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker who retrieves stolen goods for a price. And like the first book, Kaille once again finds himself investigating a mysterious murder committed by a new and deadly conjurer.

The murder involves the strange and sudden death of the crew of the Graystone, one of many British warships that have arrived in Boston Harbor for the Crown’s occupation of the city. Agents of the Crown hire Kaille to find the killer, and he must do so quickly, before the colony’s lieutenant governor has every speller in Boston put to death for the crime.

The novel’s mystery is well crafted, with plenty of twists that kept me guessing until the end. Just as intriguing is the series’ magic system, which plays a key role in the tale. When casting, spellers need the aid of a ghost-like familiar (in Kaille’s case, an old medieval warrior he calls Uncle Reg), and every spellers’ magic and ghost has a unique color to its glow. Once Kaille discovers the color of the magic used on the crewmen, he just needs to find the conjurer to whom the color belongs to identify the killer. Jackson has been revealing clues about the magic system in each book, but he has left much of it unexplained, keeping the mystery behind the ghosts and their origins alive for a future tale. Yet he’s explained enough here to make it “believable,” and in many ways the magic system is one of the reasons this series work so well.

The rest of the books’ appeal lies with the characters who populate this fictional Boston, from Kaille’s rival, Sephira Pryce, to his friends at a tavern called the Dowsing Rod, and even historical figures like Samuel Adams. (Honestly, between the tavern and Adams, I always feel like having an ale while reading these books!) Also, the series is inching closer to the Boston Tea Party, and Kaille is beginning to question his allegiance to the Crown. All of this creates a unique world to which I am eager to return. And fortunately, the next book in the series, A Plunder of Souls, is waiting on my shelf.

Friday, October 10, 2014

More Images From The Upcoming Sequel To “Enoch’s Device”

Earlier this year I wrote about how I’m using Pinterest to stockpile images of the places and people featured in my novel, Enoch’s Device, and its upcoming sequel. Ten months later, the sequel board has grown considerably. Here’s a link if you’d care to take a look.

Who is that man in black?
And speaking of the sequel, it’s coming along, though not as quickly as I’d hoped. Setting much of the novel in medieval Rome led to a ton of time-consuming research. By 998 A.D., Rome had more than a thousand years of significant history behind it, and nearly every place in the city has its own story. Also, the pope at the time, Gregory V, features prominently in the book, so I’ve had to brush up on my papal history. Then, of course, there has been the requisite research on obscure, ancient, and mystical texts that any sequel to Enoch’s Device must certainly involve.

Yes, there will be a sequel . . .
So fear not, the adventures of Ciarán and Alais will continue. My sincere hope is that the wait will be much shorter than that between George R.R. Martin novels. Maybe I’ll even beat out The Winds of Winter . . . but only time will tell!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A New Take On A Legendary Antihero

I have long preferred novels (the written kind) to novels of the graphic kind, and I haven’t collected a comic book in more than twenty-five years. But last week, I learned of a new graphic adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s fantasy classic Elric of Melniboné – and, according to one source, Moorcock thinks this adaptation may be superior to his original stories.

Before the Iron Throne, there was the Ruby Throne.
The news came from io9, which publishes very cool tidbits from the SF&F world. The graphic adaptation by Julien Blondel and Robin Recht is titled Elric: The Ruby Throne, and volume 1(published by Titan) is available now. For those unfamiliar with the story, Elric is the sorcerer king of Melniboné, an Atlantis-like island surrounded by the Young Kingdoms. He is also a sickly albino who takes potions to maintain his health – until he discovers the enchanted sword Stormbringer, which can steal souls to give him strength. But the sword is sentient and evil, and it threatens Elric’s soul most of all.

The original classic!
As I’ve written before, Elric of Melniboné is one of the greatest antiheros in vintage fantasy fiction. And if this graphic adaptation is as good as Michael Moorcock thinks about his famous creation, I’ll have to check it out. Here’s a snippet from io9’s interview with author about the latest take on his classic tale.
io9: What makes this your favorite comic adaptation of Elric?
Michael Moorcock: It has all the romance and decadence of the old Gothics brought into modern times just as I brought the angst and self-questioning of the revolutionary 1960s to the character, without losing what I hope is a sense of myth. I have loved a lot of Elrics and particularly enjoyed working with Walter Simonson on two successful Elric projects (as well as Hawkmoon). But this takes Elric in many ways back to his roots in European folklore and fiction.
You can read the rest of io9’s interview here – it’s well worth it!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

“Dubh-Linn” – Another Viking Adventure in Medieval Ireland!

This week, I’m pleased to feature another book review by guest reviewer Bill Brockman, this time of Dubh-Linn by James L. Nelson, Book II of the Norsemen Saga. As many readers of this blog know, Bill is an avid reader of historical fiction, but he’s also devoted his life to public service as a Battalion Chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and a 31-year part-time airman in the Air National Guard. Bill’s review of Dubh-Linn follows this image of the book’s cover.

When we left the Viking crew of the longship Red Dragon, led in theory by Jarl Ornolf Hrafnsson but in reality by his son-in-law Thorgrim Ulfsson, also called Thorgrim Night Wolf, they had lost nearly everything but their lives, including the Red Dragon.

I had the opportunity to visit modern day Dublin between reading the first and second books. We even took a boat cruise down the River Liffey and around the headland to the north of Dublin Bay. Needless to say, this vibrant modern city built on a medieval street grid bears little resemblance to Dubh-linn, but still gave me a sense of place. In the Irish country side one really can feel the weight of the centuries.

In this highly entertaining sequel, Nelson develops the characters we met in the first book more fully. We find Jarl Ornolf happily ensconced in the mead hall in Dubh-linn, the rapidly growing Norse trading port on Ireland’s east coast. Norwegians, or “Fin-gall” having taken it from the Danish “Dubh-gall”, Olaf the White rules, and Ornolf is more than happy to preside over the drunken revelries of the mead hall. Thorgrim, however, is anxious to get back to his homestead in Vik. His problem is that he is now penniless; having lost his ship and crew; but no Viking with a longship seems in any hurry to sail back to Norway.

In an effort to change his fortune, Thorgrim has signed onto the crew of Jarl Arinbjorn, a suspiciously ingratiating character whom Thorgrim doesn’t quite trust. Thorgrim’s beloved younger son Harald is also on Arinbjorn’s longship Black Raven as a Viking fleet launches a raid on the southern coast town of Cloyne and its monastery. Adding a wild card factor to the crew of Black Raven are a loose gaggle of berserkers, “led” by Starri the Deathless. Berserkers are a fascinating sub-set of the Norse raiders; working themselves into a frenzy of blood-lust, they disdain helmets and armor, often going shirtless. Used as disposable shock troops by the more “normal” Norsemen, the berserkers care not whether they live or die. Starri openly weeps after surviving the battle for Cloyne, having been once again denied Valhalla, the reward for Norsemen who die in battle with sword in hand. Starri will play a large role in the story that unfolds.

In this volume we will also become reacquainted with two remarkable Irish women from Fin-gall, Morrigan and Brigit. Brigit’s father, King Mael Sechnaill mac Ruanaid of Brega, was killed in that book and we find her marrying an empty headed young kinglet, Conlaed. Brigit hopes to rule through him while at the same time providing a legitimate father for the baby already growing inside her – in truth the child of Harald the Norseman. Morrigan has her own plans to acquire power through her brother Flann. Behind all the scheming lies the Crown of the Three Kingdoms that would – in theory – unite the entire island against the Norse invaders. The monk Father Finnian becomes a major and instrumental character and perhaps the most admirable in the story.

In Fin-gall we learned that Thorgrim is called Night Wolf because it is said he can become a wolf and roam the land during the dark hours. The truth of this was left vague, but in Dubh-linn Thorgrim’s ability is pretty clear cut – he can really do it. In fact, his supernatural ability leads to triumph in the taking of Cloyne when he discovers a secret of the walled town. What else will the Night Wolf learn and do? Read to find out.

I found Dubh-linn a worthy sequel to Fin-gall with greater character development, more involvement of the Irish, and a good sense of the swirling tensions around the island during this period. The various Irish kingdoms and minor kingdoms had never been united and were always at war with one another in various alliances or convenience. A movement to unite the island – led by the church – featured the Crown of the Three Kingdoms. The lure of its perceived power was highly seductive. Into this mix had come the Danes and later the Norse, bringing warrior skills far above the average of the locals. The Norse had also created the first real city in the form of Dubh-linn, creating a major trading port and source of both wealth and danger. The clash of religions between the “pagans” and the Christians added yet another source of tension and hatred. Nelson has done an admirable job of stirring this mix together to create an entertaining story with characters you will come to care about.