F A C T O I D S O N T H E HO L I D A Y A N D A L L Y O U R F A V O R I T E M O N S T E R S
The ancient root of Halloween is in the Celtic festival of Samhain. The ancient Celts recorded days from sunset to sunset. Appropriately, Samhain lasts from sunset on October 31st
to sunset on November 1st
and did not simply end the previous night. Likewise, Halloween's traditional roots are found in All Hollows Eve or the night preceeding All Hollows (All Saints Day). Technically, holy days are to be observed in accordance to Biblical teaching. However, the Bible likewise records days from sunset to sunset.
“Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” author Washington Irving noted in his story that the headless horseman is but only the “dominant spirit” that haunts the hollow. In the opening paragraphs Irving briefly elaborated on other unexplained occurrences in the area. He goes on to state that the hollow “abounds” with haunted areas and that voices and music can be often be heard despite no one present. Additionally, according to Irving, shooting-stars can be observed more often in Sleepy Hollow than elsewhere in the country.
While there are many variations on the werewolf myth, the vast majority hold that such a transformation can occur at will and need not be under any peculiar circumstances. However, certain periods of the year have frequently been regarded as more prone to werewolf activity. The full moon notwithstanding, several traditional stories actually suggest that it is the Yuletide Christmas season where one should exercise the most caution from the savagery of werewolves.
The Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
is surely one of the most famous witches to step on the silver screen. Despite sporting a high-flying broomstick in her most famous cinematic adaption her literary debut differed considerably. Not only did she in little way resemble actress Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal, but she neither flew nor possess a broom. W.W. Denslow, who illustrated the first Oz books, created a villainess complete with eye patch, colorful garb and a single old umbrella. While an umbrella might seem like an unlikely choice for a would-be conqueror, it was actually an allusion to the witch’s mortal weakness. The witch meets the same end in literature as in film. After getting splash with water she melts into a shapeless mass on the floor.
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula
is arranged in a journal-esque format. It follows Jonathan Harker in his travels through Transylvania, meeting with Count Dracula and events that befell shortly after. Curiously enough, it is actually Harker’s May 5th entry that first records his fateful, first meeting with the Count. The height of spring, coinciding with Mexico's victory at the Battle of Puebla, would appear to be an odd setting for a gothic novel. However, Bram Stoker may have left some clues behind his choice in his posthumously-published short, “Dracula’s Guest.” “Dracula’s Guest,” is widely speculated to have been the omitted, first chapter of the completed novel. The events of “Dracula’s Guest” take place in Munich, Germany on Walpurgis Night. Walpurgis Night is also known as Witches’ Night due to the superstitions associated with the day. Stoker describes the occasion thusly--
“Walpurgis Night was when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad--when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.
begins on May the 3rd and Walpurgisnacht
occurs on either April 30th or May 1st. Chronologically sound, it becomes easy to see how this setting fits into one of the most acclaimed horror masterpieces.
In addition to inventing the lightbulb, Thomas Edison was also one of the earliest producers of motion pictures. Edison's films ranged from productions featuring dancers to even electrocuting an elephant. Among Edison's "kinetographs," as they were known, was the very first film adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
. For over half a century Edison's Frankenstein was regarded as just another lost film of the silent era until a copy resurfaced in the early seventies.
Admittedly a, "liberal adaptation," Edison's Frankenstein differs in many aspects from both Boris Karloff's portrayal and Mary Shelley's novel.
Perhaps not to offend the viewers, the monster is not assembled from robbed corpses. Rather, the monster in this film starts out as a misshapen, chemical mass that musters itself into a disfigured human form in a fiery chamber. Additionally, the creature resembles a raggedy, humpback figure with long fingers and head. The full twelve-minute film is freely available from the Internet Archive: Edison's Frakenstein (1910)
While desert mummies, by far, feature the most prominently in popular culture, truth be told not all mummies are dried-up cadavers nor come from Egypt. In fact, just about every continent has its own mummies. In Europe for example mummified corpses are routinely found in northern wetlands. This has earned them the moniker, "bog bodies." In Siberia mummies have been uncovered freeze-dried under layers of permafrost. However, neither of these represent intentional mummification. But like the ancient Egyptians, early Incan, Guanchen, Aztec and certain Oceanic cultures also developed sophisticated mummification techniques.
Hollywood has frequently taken extreme liberties when it comes to traditional folklore. But perhaps the furthest divergence from classic traditions occurs with one of the latest additions to the monster movie genre. Zombies have become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to series like the Walking Dead
and films such as World War Z
. But little do people know exactly how distant these modern myths compare with their supposed source material.
Opinions on the attributes of the traditional zombi
differ from region to region, from person to person. Generally, the zombi is but a reanimated corpse, a slave under the direct control of one who practices black magic. In zombi traditions on the Island of Martinique they are habitually referred to as, "those who make noises at night none can understand." Local lore regards zombis as nocturnal and have supernatural properties. For example, red-colored Jequirity beans, native to the island, are said to obtain their distinct black spot due to the touch of the zombi.
But it is not just folklore, even early literature did not depict zombies as out-of-control, mindless flesh-eaters. In fact, in the 1906 short story, "The Slave of Murillo," by Col. Clarke Irvine, there is strong suggestion that zombis might even be capable of noble pursuits. In Irvine's tale Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and his slave Sebastian Gomez, based on real-life artists, are seemingly preplexed by the appearance of added touches to the paintings in Murillo's art studio. Apparently, a vistor frequents the gallery under the cover of darkness and completes unfinished paintings with a skill that could rival the greatest artists. The story ends with the emanicipation of Sebastian Gomez and an unexpected twist. Likewise, in S.R. Crockett's The Isle of the Winds
neither must zombis take on a definitive form. In this adventurous romance zombis are described as, "the spirits of the dead" and have possessed a devilfish (giant ray or squid). Summoned by magic, the novel's narrater describes such, "spirits" in rather curious terms: "... there seemed to rise strange shapes that floated upward and hovered and vanished. Bat-like they were, and yet curiously human in suggestion.
So how did the idea of flesh-eating zombies originate?
It seems that some where along the line the physical characteristics of the Caribbean zombi were mixed with the behavioral traits of an equally infamous monster the ghoul. The ghoul of Arabian folklore goes as far back as to the thirteenth-century One Thousand and One Nights
. In "The Story of Sidi-Nouman" ghouls are explicity describe as demons who
"... wander about the country making their lairs in deserted buildings and springing out upon unwary travellers whose flesh they eat. If no live being goes their way, they then betake themselves to the cemeteries, and feed upon the dead bodies."
Numerous movies, comics and popular adaptations have reworked folklore so much it becomes difficult to tell where one myth ends and another begins. But writing and filmmaking often isn't about sticking to tradition, but rather creating what bests appeals to a certain audience. Consider for a second the modern zombie picture in its depiction of gore, and think for a second how such lavish illustrations of violence would appear if the zombie were replaced by a more human-seeming nemesis. It becomes easy to see how less indulgent, in carnage, audiences would become if a saw-blade went through something humanistic rather than an inhuman thing. The trend to make movie villians less empathetic is not a new one and has been going on for a long time. But the problem becomes how do you get substance into a story when the central characters become more and more depthless. What we have been seeming is the gradual move to make human protagonists in zombie fiction to be increasingly and increasingly more multi-dimensional. In a zombie flick it is not so much the monsters who really captivate the audience, but rather very human heroes. In old-school monster movies audiences didn't really care who died. But now we learn about our protagonists and the more we learn and understand about a group of people the more we are able to feel for them.
Essentially, it is no longer about humans in a monster story, but rather monsters in a human story.
Fig 1. "The Soldier Fired at the Apparation,"
Rosebud County News (Forsyth, Mont.)
, March 05, 1903, 8.
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
Fig 2. Anon, "Werewolf of Anarchy," Punch
, December 23, 1893.
Fig 3. "Fear Cunnings Insanity,"
Salt Lake Herald
, April 15, 1915, 4.
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
Fig 4. "Ever at His Post of Duty,"
Evening Star (Washington, D.C.)
, October 06, 1912, 5.
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
Created 10/08/2015, Last updated on 10/20/2015