Inspiration for Van Helsing and Vampire Hunters

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Featured Horror Books
Van Helsing
Van Helsing by BagoGames

This week, for the third installment of our Dead Author Dedication in honor of Bram Stoker. We’re going to be discussing one of his characters who doesn’t get quite as much attention as the vampire king Dracula, but is still a character that blossomed beyond the original story by Stoker. The mysteriously knowledgeable and most famous vampire hunter, Dracula’s nemesis, Abraham Van Helsing.

Polish journalist Adam Węgłowski has claimed he has finally solved the mystery of our favorite good guy and that the Stoker character is actually based on the real-life of a historically documented vampire hunter. While it has been understood that Stoker may have originally modeled Van Helsing after a real individual, it wasn’t until Węgłowski’s research that a name could actually be attributed as the main source of inspiration.

Who Was the Inspiration for Van Helsing?

Born December 14, 1666, in Angerburg (known as Węgorzewo today)–Georg Andreas Helwing (or Helwig in some places), was a part of the Duchy of Prussia–a fief of the Crown of Poland. Helwing was an incredibly learned man of letters and a reportedly brilliant scientist. In Koenigsberg, Helwing studied philosophy and theology and pursued his education while traveling; eventually, Helwing ended up in Venice and Leida where he collaborated very closely with Herman Boerhaave, a Dutch Botanist.

Georg Andreas Helwing
Georg Andreas Helwing

It wasn’t until 1691 that he returned to his hometown; shortly following his father’s death, Helwing took up employment as a Lutheran pastor. Aside from his religious line of work, he was also a physician who took a great deal of interest in studying botany and other natural sciences while doing his duty as a clergyman. What is really interesting about Helwing though, is that despite his fairly mundane line of work, he was also a student of the paranormal and supernatural. This, of course, led him to study vampires and werewolves in particular and even went so far as to talk about how the inhabitants of Masuria fought supposed vampires by decapitating them during the bubonic plague epidemic. Węgłowski’s research shows that peasants of the time also had a “habit of stabbing the corpses with stakes.”

From Helwing to Van Helsing

So with what we now know about Georg Andreas Helwing and the little we know of the mythology of Van Helsing, are the two really connected in a meaningful way? Well, within the books and papers that Helwing wrote, many of those had to do with vampires; Węgłowski makes the link not only with the similarity of surnames but also with the kinds of education that both Helwing and Van Helsing pursued. Scholars believe that Stoker also had the fortune to find out about Vlad the Impaler–his inspiration for Dracula–from his friend Ármin Vámbéry, so it is speculated that he found out about Helwing from the same source.

While Helwing may have not hunted vampires in the sense that we might think today–he didn’t actually believe in vampires–he did hunt the folklore which led people to believe in them and therefore display the practices they did. In Helwing’s homeland, the bubonic plague (1708-1711) brought the height of vampire hysteria, where he was able to describe an incident where the people of the village found a monster; he reported that “after singing a song for the dead, the head was chopped off with a spade and thrown back into the tomb together with a live dog.” This was due to the widespread belief that the dead could rise from their graves as vampires and further spread the disease which was exterminating the population. Like Van Helsing though, Helwing risked his life to save those in danger, according to Węgłowski. The only difference is that Van Helsing attempted to kill monsters, and Helwing attempted to eradicate disease.

Dracula (1931)
Dracula (1931)

Abraham Van Helsing

Interestingly enough, Van Helsing has gone through a transformation in his appearance in television and cinema; in Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) with Anthony Hopkins, Van Helsing makes his appearance as a man who is more advanced in age. Television and cinema of the modern age are more likely to have Van Helsing be portrayed as a younger, rogueish looking, strong but not violent man in an effort to capture the hearts of women and spark a fan base. There are of course pros and cons to both portrayals of this character, an older Van Helsing while knowledgable seems frail, where a younger Van Helsing seems physically capable, but perhaps a bit less wise.

Popular Vampire Hunter Culture

Van Helsing is not the only vampire hunting character we have seen throughout vampire movies, because it seems that with every horror and adventure story involving vampires we get another hunter or slayer to rely on to save us from the monsters. Van Helsing’s status as a vampire hunter inspired such characters as Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003), Angel (1999 – 2004), the Blade franchise where we see the vampire-human hybrid Blade try to eradicate the vampire threat. Then we also have the underdog heroes, like the Frog Brothers in Lost Boys (1987) who represent those of us who don’t have super powers, but still have a powerful need to protect people from evil.

Interview with Female Horror Author Kat Howard

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Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Indie horror writers Women in Horror
End of the Sentence Cover
The End of the Sentence

How would you feel if you suddenly started receiving letters from someone you didn’t know? Personal letters, from someone who seemed to know more about you than you ever wanted to admit to yourself? The End of the Sentence (2014) delivers–it’s not only difficult to put down, (or stop listening to, if you opt to experience it as an audiobook) but it is also easily digestible and instantly gives the reader that desirable feeling of unease and fear.

With every turn of the page, we find ourselves more and more deeply immersed in the life of Malcolm Mays, a man whose life is falling apart as he moves into a foreclosed home in Ione, Oregon–what he doesn’t realize is that the original owner never left and doesn’t intend to. The end of his 117-year sentence is almost over…

Interview with Kat Howard

We found out that you’re not just a horror writer, but you have also explored the science fiction and fantasy genres, so what initially drew you to horror fiction?

I’ve always loved horror. Some of the first “grown up” books I read were by Stephen King, but even before that I loved stories that scared me. I like to write horror because sometimes that’s the genre that works best for what I have to say. Plus, it’s fun writing stories that might give people the shivers.

Can you tell me about how you and Maria Dahvana Headley decided to come together to co-write The End of the Sentence?

Maria’s a dear friend. We were guests at an annual convention (ConFusion) and made a comment about wanting to write something together in front of Bill Schafer, the head of Subterranean Press. He said he’d buy it, and we wrote a contract on his arm. (There was a much more official contract later.) It was honestly a joy of a project to write with her.

How did you come up with the idea of The End of the Sentence?

Maria had recently moved, and had been getting mistaken letters delivered to her address. Things kind of went from there.

Kat, we understand that this was your debut novella, how did it feel being named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014?

I literally fell out of my chair when I found out. I’m really proud of the work we did on this novella. It remains one of my favorite things that I’ve written, and so I’m always extremely happy to see it find readers. Seeing it recognized like that meant so much.

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

Is there anything new that you’ve published or are working on that you’d like to talk to us about?

As this is a horror venue, I have to say I was extremely pleased when my recent collection, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, was long-listed for the [Bram Stoker Award]. It didn’t make the final ballot, but just to see it recognized was a delight. I’m currently working on A Sleight of Shadows, the sequel to my novel An Unkindness of Magicians.

A lot of our fans are actually aspiring writers and artists, do you have any advice for them?

I always feel a little weird about giving advice, because I feel like I’m still figuring things out myself. But I think that one of the great (and yes, sometimes terrifying!) things about writing or art is that there are so many ways to come into the field. Don’t cut yourself off because you think you’re too old, or you should have gone to a different school, or that people have already done what you’re interested in. No one else can make what you will.

Investigating the Origins of the Necronomicon

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

You’ve come across an ancient book, not just some dust-covered antique that you found at your local bookstore; no, this was gifted to you with the confidence that you would heed the warning on the attached note and stash the book in a lock-box far away from prying eyes that may fall upon the archaic and mysterious pages of this increasingly enticing tome. Its pages call out to you, begging you to gaze upon them and to unleash the horrors that reside within. What would you do? Well, if you’ve seen any horror movie ever, you’d know that the ancient and creepy compendium of nightmares you’re holding is, in fact, what you can single-handedly bring about the apocalypse with–however, just like every horror movie you’ve ever seen, you’re probably going to open that damn book.

Stop it, Pandora. Don’t you dare open that goddamn book.

Necronomicon Prop
Photography by Staffan Vilcans

You opened the book, didn’t you? This is why we can’t have nice things.

Don’t worry, you’re not the first one. That’s part of what makes movies like Evil Dead (1981) so much fun, the horny group of teenagers fall victim to curiosity and another one–or three, or four–bite the collective dust. The curiosity may be unbearable but when it comes to the Necronomicon, a mythical book of demonic power, you should probably leave well enough alone.

What exactly is the Necronomicon?

Depending on where you know the Necronomicon from there may be different lore attached, but legend tells us that the original Necronomicon was written by the mad Arabian poet Abdul Alhazred. After spending a decade roaming the ruined cities of Babylon and Memphis he completed his tome before he descended further into madness and by A.D. 738 was devoured by an invisible monster according to Lovecraft. The actual name Necronomicon is, according to Lovecraft translated to, “the book of the customs (or laws) of the dead,” but other translations include, “the book of dead names.”

It is said that his manuscript was translated into Greek by scholars in the 10th century then burned in the middle ages, which only a few copies were said to survive; which of course allows us all to enjoy the delightfully awful antics that follow the contents being read aloud. Despite being a product of H.P. Lovecraft’s strange and mystifying imagination, it was inspired by real historic texts such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It has been said in certain sources that Lovecraft confessed the original idea for the Necronomicon came to him in a dream and he first showcased his idea in the short story The Hound (1924).

What’s Actually in the Book?

In the first appearance of the Necronomicon, it is referred to in passing as two grave robbers steal a jade amulet, which was, “the thing hinted of in the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.” While Lovecraft may not have been happy with The Hound, it along with The Nameless City (1921) began the universe that would become the center of the Cthulhu mythos.

What else is really in the book though? From what Lovecraft divulges within his stories, Alhazred spoke mostly of the Old Ones and it makes sense that a book like the Necronomicon could only exist in a universe where ancient, god-like beings would bring their wrath by those who sought to wake them. In fact, the book was even said to contain the very passages that would wake the Old Ones and inspire madness just from viewing its pages. In Dunwich Horror, Lovecraft gives us a quite lengthy excerpt from the Necronomicon, speaking specifically about Yog-Sothoth. A much more popular creature, Cthulhu, is also mentioned as a monster who lies at the bottom of the ocean.

In fact, many fans tend to think about the Necronomicon as a sort of bible for Lovecraft’s pantheon of the immensely powerful extraterrestrial beings. The book appears within eighteen of his own stories, more often than any other real or fictional ancient tome that he was known to reference. Later on, with the adaptations of other authors, the book gained more of a reputation as a book of spells and rituals, but Lovecraft’s original intention for the book lay mostly in mythology and origin stories for the creatures that were the foundation of his universe.

Within the context of horror Lovecraft’s portrayal of the history of our world, in the times before man, as a universe controlled by beings so terrifying that just reading about them had to potential to drive a person completely insane. This was the birth of cosmic horror, as many of the stories Lovecraft developed ended with at least one of the characters descending into the depths of madness after flipping through the Necronomicon because these creatures were so beyond human comprehension that even thinking about them could be mentally devastating. It would be interesting to see how Lovecraft might feel to know that eighty-two years later there would actually be people convinced that his Necronomicon was an authentic and evil book of spells.

Is the Necronomicon Real?

The short answer is no, the Necronomicon is a purely fictional book that was brought to life through the creative genius of H.P. Lovecraft. To be fair though, Lovecraft did a pretty great job creating a comprehensive universe with its own history, deities, and forbidden lore, which added the element of cosmic horror to his tales. While in reality, the Necronomicon doesn’t exist, there are more than half a dozen books with the same title that you can find at bookstores–these books are all works inspired by, or containing Lovecraft’s book.

The practice of developing such a rich background in fictional literature would inspire other writers to do the same; renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien would follow suit when he brought Middle Earth to life. Lovecraft’s immersive method caught fire with other writers, such as August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith, who regularly had exchanges with him and even expanded upon the universe by using the Necronomicon and all of the related Chtulhu mythos in their own work. Lovecraft also included his peer’s creations in his own tales as well, as an example, Smith came up with the idea of The Book of Eibon, which was mentioned within his own body of work. Lovecraft even included Robert Bloch’s De Vermis Mysteriis, a book which was said to have the power to summon demons from alternate dimensions, in his stories The Haunter of the Dark and The Shadow Out of Time.

As an avid letter-writer, Lovecraft quite frequently mentioned the Necronomicon in his correspondences to his colleagues where he suggested that his inspiration was also derived from Gothic writing; Gothic writing often made use of the idea of ancient texts and forbidden literature. There was a tendency among authors of the time to do their best to blur the lines between fiction and reality. An author that Lovecraft quite openly admired, Edgard Allan Poe, would go to extremes in an attempt to convince his audience that his stories were true–he even published his 1844 story The Balloon-Hoax as a legitimate article in the New York’s The Sun. As can be seen, by radio performances likeWar of the Worlds by H.G. Wells in 1938, as well as found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project (1999), the V/H/S series, and the [REC], it is something that modern horror culture still strives to do.