Carmilla: A Good Old-Fashioned Monster

downloadI just finished my next audiobook adventure: Carmilla, the classic by Joseph Le Fanu, about a mysterious female vampire who preys on the young daughter of an Austrian nobleman. Given that this follows on the heels on Frankenstein, I’m thinking you can probably sense a theme here: monsters of yore. I am a fan of the Gothic horror genre. Forget the blood, gore and guts of modern horror tales, I’ll take an intelligent tale of things that go bump in the night, moral heroes and most importantly, monstrous monsters.

Yes, I said monstrous monsters. As of lately, monsters have gotten … conflicted. They have ‘reasons’ for doing what they do. They justify their actions. They lack the original mystery that made us scared of them. We’ve become so familiar with these monsters that we’ve had to add blood and gore to their stories to find any kind of fright in them. And in that familiarity, we’ve humanized them.

What do I mean? Dracula, in Dracula Untold, was forced to become a monster by an enemy who was more monstrous than him (again, using Ms. Shelley’s argument that man is the real monster). Damien, in the short-lived series reboot of the original story of the anti-Christ’s early years, was described as a millennial in therapy, conflicted about whether he should take over the world or not. The vampires in Stephanie Meyer’s books sparkle and marry and have children – a inside joke that made it into Hotel Transylvania, which went further to humanize and endear the monsters more than any other film I can think of (I actually liked the series).

I think this is what irked me most this time. I did what I usually do when I complete a book I know has a film adaptation and I googled Carmilla. I found sequels and reimaginings that focused on the lesbian love part (if only to titillate their audience, no different than Mr. Le Fanu), but dismissed the part where she was undead and preying on young women. And I know that authors and writers can create their own worlds and visions for stories, but there are some rules that don’t really change. Undead is undead. No matter how ‘romantic’ the notion, vampires can’t have kids, they can’t feel emotions, and no, they don’t sparkle in the sunlight – they burn. Plus, drinking blood is gross and unhygienic, not sexy.

And while we’re on it, silver kills werewolves, not vampires.

So yeah, I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to this. Give me a good old-fashioned monster any day. Their backstories might be tragic, and their tales meant to shed light on the unexplained, but in the end, they are evil and worthy only of vanquishing. When lines like that are drawn, life goes back to being simple. Black is black and white is white; and we find our purpose in the evil we battle.

Frankenstein: My Observations

Image result for frankensteinI recently discovered the joy of audio books. While they are convenient and perfect for my daily three-hour commute, they are also a great way to get through books that I started, but didn’t finish, but wanted to finish (yeah, I’m one of those people).

I am currently working my way through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It’s been years since I started reading it (okay, more like decades, but who’s counting?) and I’ve noticed some things since I last picked up the book:

First of all, Mary Shelley is VERY wordy. Oh my goodness. The woman had an amazing command of the English language and took great measures to make sure you understood what she was talking about, down to the minutest detail. I had to look up some of the words she used, as I was unfamiliar with them. Which wasn’t a bad thing as it has expanded my vocabulary. Sometimes less is better though.

Secondly, she tended to go off on rabbit trails, talking about places and people (again, in great detail) that had no bearing on the story. When the monster told his story to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, he went into a lengthy, LENGTHY discourse about the backgrounds of the family that he was staying near. At one point, he said, ‘this will prove that what I’m saying is true.’ It really didn’t, but I went with it. And so he continued his story, or rather their stories, for the rest of the day (and he got started early). I’m sure Victor was thinking, ‘OMG, just get to the point.’ I know I was.

Some of Ms. Shelley’s tale required you to suspend your belief. Especially with the monster, who sprang into being and then within two years, had an expansive understanding of the language (written and spoken), philosophy, government, religion and people. The last one is not too hard (they were the true monsters, after all); still, within the span of his education, he was reading Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Sorrows of Werter, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. I still haven’t read those books.

All that aside, the most challenging thing about reading Frankenstein this time around is seeing an eighteenth century experiment through twenty-first century eyes. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t detract from the story, because I started questioning it. If it took months for Victor to create the monster and its mate, how did the parts not rot? Wasn’t the lightning which brought the monster to life (alluded to, though not specifically mentioned as the tool of reanimation) just a crude defibrillator? Would not a being created from human body parts be human? Was it truly another race, which it was constantly called? Would it require re-introduction and re-education if it had the a human brain to start with? Or would death have wiped away all of that?

Those questions may be valid, but they are also moot, because Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein was never about the monster. It was about the ethics of Frankenstein’s experiment and his responsibility to the being he created. It was about the beauty of life and the need for companionship and love. And lastly, it was about innocence lost and made bloodthirsty in the mistreatment at the hands of our fellow man.

I’ve been told I ask too many questions sometimes; that I delve too much into a story, instead of enjoying it. And truth be told, if I wasn’t enjoying Frankenstein, I wouldn’t be reading it again. I love the genre, I love the story. It’s just interesting to me how age and time have changed my perception and understanding of it. Maybe that’s what Ms. Shelley truly had in mind when she wrote the book — to get her audience thinking. Shouldn’t that be the goal of any good author?