Monday, September 21, 2009

Interesting Shorts – The Tomb of Sarah

still from film

The Tomb of Sarah by F.G. Loring was originally published, in the Pall Mall Magazine, in 1900 and has been made into a film at least once. The film I refer to was Young Hannah, Queen of the Vampires and despite changing the vampire’s name and relocating the story from the West Country in the 19th Century to the modern day (when the film was made) and a Mediterranean island the story was fairly accurate.

Okay the film put in a back story about the King of France’s mistress, the death count was higher, Satanists wandered around and there was a love interest thrown in and… well the more I type the less alike they sound except within lore and the fact that you can clearly recognise the Tomb of Sarah within the film.

This is about the short, however, and begins with a brief introduction from the son of the protagonist – whose notes he is presenting. Harry is a church restorer asked to attend the church of an old friend, Peter Grant, to enlarge the chancel of his church. One large tomb needs moving despite the ominous warning about being left undisturbed. It is the tomb of the Countess Sarah Kenyon and is adorned, as Harry describes, “On the slab is a magnificent group of figures. A young and handsome woman reclines upon a couch; round her neck is a piece of rope, the end of which she holds in her hand. At her side is a gigantic dog with bared fangs and lolling tongue. The face of the reclining figure is a cruel one: the corners of the mouth are curiously lifted, showing the sharp points of long canine or dog teeth.”

As for Sarah herself she is described as a witch woman who used a familiar in the shape of a huge Asiatic wolf. In her day she was thought to suck her victims blood but was very much alive, rather than undead. She met her demise by being strangled by a distraught peasant mother. Harry, however, does liken her to the Eastern European vampires. The tomb has to be moved to parts and, when they remove the lid, she looked shrunk and ghastly pale and yet still fresh – as though just died. That night, at sunset, the local dogs began to howl, a mist arose around the church and Harry sees a giant wolf prowling.

He realises quickly it is the familiar of Sarah (the story is a little unclear on this point and there is some suggestion that it is Sarah in wolf form – at one point it is described thus: “the beast I have seen is the Vampire of that evil thing in the tomb”) and she is using it to gain the blood of animals to regain her strength. Harry must convince Grant of the truth and they have to confront the vampires.

Harry uses dog-roses and garlic to make a barrier to her tomb and to make a circle in which he can stand safely – though she, when she emerges in human form, attempts to use her vampiric powers to entice the men to go to her. Daybreak is enough to make her cross the barrier, however. There is no suggestion that sunlight will kill her but she does have to return to her tomb and she is only active at night. The vampire is killed by having the burial service read and then being staked through the heart – this leads to her fading to dust.

Interestingly Loring makes it clear that any bitten (and by the time they get to despatching her, Sarah has fed on a human) are perfectly safe because it “is only those who die of the Vampire's embrace that become Vampires at death in their turn.”

This is a great little short story, with wonderful vampire elements that, given when it was published, clearly comes hot on the heels of Stoker. The film was poor and the story could stand a good remake, preferably set in England and in the 19th century. 

1 comment:

Zahir Blue said...

Totally agree (although the vampire in the movie was more than a little lovely as I recall). The story is good, the movie trashy but fun, a genuine remake could conceivably be a mini-classic.