Monday, July 27, 2009

Interesting Shorts: Count Magnus

Count Magnus was a short story by M R James that was first published in 1904. On reading it (found online here) you’d be pushed to wonder, at the very least, about its vampiric heritage but there are aspects that seem vampiric in this story about a Swedish Count.

The story is written as though pulling the papers together of one Mr Wraxall, an Englishman who was himself compiling a travel book about Scandanavia. As part of this he was examining the papers of a manor house near Vestergothland that was built originally by one Count Magnus de la Gardie. He sees a portrait of the man and is struck by the power his visage exuded – rather than his looks as he “was an almost phenomenally ugly man.”

We hear of a so called black pilgrimage that he took and also discover that the Count had been an alchemist and wrote “if any man desires to obtain a long life, if he would obtain a faithful messenger and see the blood of his enemies, it is necessary that he first go into the city of Chorazin, and there salute the prince…” Chorazin was the accursed place where Middle Ages scholars felt the antichrist would be born.

We hear tales of hunters entering his woods, after his death, having been warned that they would “meet with persons walking who should not be walking. They should be resting, not walking.” Whatever they saw out there left one insane and sucked the flesh from the face of the other. The locals clearly blamed Magnus.

His coffin, in an octagonal mausoleum, is covered with garish engravings and is locked with three great padlocks – though Wraxall notices that one has come off the first time he visits the tomb and, subsequently the others come away on further visits and the coffin opens. Wraxall flees but feels he is pursued…

Whilst there are vampire overtones, and certainly a hint of the undead in the wider sense, this might seem a stretch. However we note that this has had an influence on the vampire genre. Of the influences that spring immediately to mind there is the name of the vampire in the first feature length Vampire Hunter D. Count Magnus Lee is an amalgam of Christopher Lee and Count Magnus. More so Count Magnus is mentioned within the Colin Wilson book the Space Vampires and is directly called vampire. The book went on to inspire the sci-fi vampire movie Lifeforce - though mention of Count Magnus is expunged.

So, a little bit of vampiric overtone and a small but definite impact on the genre.


Unknown said...

There is indication too that Anne Rice uses this story as inspiration for her character of Lestat's sire in "The Vampire Lestat" as well, as the character in her novel is also an alchemist and cloaked figure as per this story.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

That would be a very nice connection, Margaret, good to hear from you btw