Sunday, December 15, 2013

Honourable mentions: The Castle of the Carpathians

The Blurb: The descriptions of the quaint villagers of Werst, their costumes, manner of living, and belief in the supernatural world would in themselves prove an interesting narrative, but when coupled with the exciting adventures of Nic Deck, the two Counts, the cowardly Doctor, and the beautiful La Stilla, the story is undoubtedly one of the most enchanting ever offered.

This mysterious tale takes place in the area which in just a few years would become known as Dracula’s homeland. Jules Verne has the knack of it. He knows how to make the scientifically romantic story. You might not know what a “nyctalop” was, but if you saw one flapping his wings around the dark fortress in the Carpathians, you would run for it, as did Nic Deck… Orfanik is head conjurer, and in his trial he explains how he brought into play, for a wicked purpose, a variety of ingenious inventions. (Blurb from the undated Fredonia Books' facsimilie of the 1903 edition)

The Mention: Blurbs, as we know, lie or at the very least distort and this story by Jules Verne, published in 1893, is not necessarily “one of the most enchanting ever offered” though it does contain an interesting mix of superstition, unrequited love and science/sci-fi.

We, however, are looking at the vampire aspects and, to be fair, they are brief and little more than a passing mention. In fact I looked at the book as I had read that there was a belief in vampires underpinning the story. Not true, though both vampires and a belief in vampiric birds are mentioned briefly.

The story hinges around a supposedly deserted Castle known as the Castle of the Carpathians, which overlooks the Transylvanian village of Werst. The shepherd from the village, Frik, buys a telescope and notices smoke coming from a chimney. It is to Frik we look for our first mention of vampires. This is to do with the supernatural powers ascribed to him because he is a shepherd, “According to him the vampires and the stryges obeyed him.” What is interesting is the fact that here Verne separates vampires and stryges.

I say that because later, describing the superstitions of the region, Verne says “that vampires known as stryges, because they shrieked like stryges, quenched their thirst on human blood”. Bane lists a Strige (I assume this is what Verne referred to, with an alternate spelling) in her Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology and says: “In Romania and Macedonia there is a vampiric bird called a strige. It is created when a witch’s soul returns to plague the living. Using its long sharp beak that can easily cut the skin of a person so it can drink his blood, it will attack alone or in a flock.” Presumably this comes from the Roman Stryx. It is notable that in the same paragraph Verne mentions were-wolves separately and thus there is no conflation of the two.

When Nic Deck (a young forester) and the village doctor, Patak, go to the castle to investigate they find themselves on a plateau near the castle as night falls. Unable to sleep the nervous Doctor hears, “nyctalops fanning the rocks with frenzied wing, the striges in their nocturnal flight, and two or three pair of funereal owls whose hooting echoed like a cry of pain.” There is an assumption here that he believes he hears the vampiric bird, the stryge, rather than vampires, though the bird and the vampire have been conflated earlier. You will recall that the blurb mentioned that a modern reader might not know what a nyctalop is. In modern terms a nyctalop refers to someone suffering from nyctalopia, or night blindness. However a nineteenth century meaning also referred to the exact opposite, ie one who sees best at night. So Verne here is referring to something nocturnal that flies, of which there could be a couple of candidates (though my mind strays towards bats).

And that, as they say, is that. An interesting story and a fantastic (almost Scooby-Doo in inventiveness) scientific explanation at the end.

Bonus Mention: The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians

The 1981 Czech film Tajemství hradu v Karpatech, directed by Oldrich Lipský, was based on Verne’s novel. A quirky comedy it was somewhat more sci-fi (in a steampunk sort of way) than Verne’s novel. In this, as well as setting up hidden telephony and capturing voices on playable media, Orfanik (Rudolf Hrusínský) is sending rockets to the moon and preserving cadavers in an incorrupt way (though they have to stay in a vacuum).

The film plays around with the characters somewhat – making a betrothal where there was unrequited love, for instance, and removes the references made about vampires (and stryges) that the book carried. However there are some definite references – hence the mention. Firstly the film is set in 1897, which of course is when Dracula was published.

You might suppose that the date is coincidental but I believe it to be a direct reference as later in the film the Count Teleke of Tölökö (Michal Docolomanský) and vilja (Jan Hartl) – who is the Nic Deck character – share a bottle of wine produced by Chateau Dracula. The only other mention of vampires is when Teleke first sees the Castle (known in the film as the Devil’s Castle) and declares it magnificent and the ideal setting for “The Vampire’s Curse” (presumably an opera). Incidentally the name of the village of Werst is changed to Werewolfsville.

The imdb page is here.


Kuudere-Kun said...

Perhaps Ghostbusters 2 is worthy of an Honurable mention simply because Dracula was one of the inspirations for Vigo the Carpathian.

GB2 is one of the sequels sometimes hated on, but I love it as does my Brother.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

A connection with vampires does lead to the potential of an honourable mention. This got one as the characters professed a belief in vampires and might have been a Vamp or Not due to the article I read saying that belief in vampires wasa a main plank behind the story (it isn't)

The question on Ghostbusters 2 would be, did they base the character on Count Dracula or on Prince Vlad III. If the former, then maybe so, if the latter then possibly not - though I do look at non-vampire Vlad related products given how tied in to the vampire myth he is in the Western mind. I'll give it some thoughts.

I like GB2 as well, btw

Kuudere-Kun said...

I think they had both in mind, the historical figure alone would justify the reference to Carpathia.