A 9 o’clock radio slot is very early for vampire experts to be up and about in fairness –“We should be back in our coffins,” jokes vampirologist Bruce McClelland. At least we think he’s joking. His get-up is no joke, however. Taking his responsibility as an academic representative for the undead very seriously, Bruce has arrived in studio “fully caped up and fanged up”, ready to spill the beans on this year’s Bram Stoker festival. He is joined by the man who literally wrote the book on Stoker, horror writer David Skal, whose book Something in the Blood chronicles the untold story of Stoker. First of all, Ryan wants to know what started David’s obsession with the supernatural.
“I was part of a generation that’s sometimes called the Monster Kids in the early 1960s where the old Universal classics were just being seen on television for the first time. There was a whole subculture of fan clubs and monster magazines and for a while, every ten-year-old kid with an 8mm movie camera was making versions of Dracula and Frankenstein in the backyard… Kids see things in the different monsters. You can understand why adolescents (like) the Wolf Man with all of this sprouting hair and the Frankenstein monster with all of his problems with his girlfriend, or lack of one, they’re kind of out of control. Dracula was in control. I think that spoke to me very especially in the Cold War jitters era… It was exactly during the Cuban missile crisis that I latched onto monsters, I didn’t think about why. Monsters, they were kind of nuclear security blankets. They were things that could not die. I think a whole generation of us found that very comforting.”
An unexpectedly deep response, perhaps, certainly one that makes a lot of sense from a psychoanalytical perspective. Ryan wants to know what would happen if we psychoanalysed the man himself, Count Dracula.
“He controls everything he comes into contact with. What’s not to like about Dracula? He’s rich, he’s well dressed, he has instant hypnotic control over the opposite sex or the same sex. He is kind of a wish fulfilment figure. He’s also transgressive on a sexual level. He gets everything he wants without any resistance so I think Dracula gets away with things we would like to get away with ourselves but basically just fantasize about… Stoker thought of him as a kind of a Darwinian figure, very animalistic. Victorians were concerned about the whole doctrine of evolution, the idea that there could be a blurred boundary between human beings and animals and Dracula is that par excellence.”
Bruce fills us in on the history of the vampire legend.
“Stoker, of course, was aware of vampire stories. They had predated him in English literature for quite some time. The vampire as an entity comes into Europe probably in the early 1700s but the world itself goes back about probably a thousand years. It’s actually a Bulgarian or South Slavic term and when it first came into being it didn’t designate anything supernatural… The word ‘vampire’ had more to do with people who were resistant to the project of converting the Balkans to Christianity… Later it comes to designate excommunication.”
From there, the word became folkloric and eventually made its way into German, French and later British history, and from there it came to Dublin, where Stoker put his own slant on the tradition, heavily influenced by Irish lore and his own upbringing with an Edgar Allan Poe enthusiast as a mother.
“He was probably also bled as a child because doctors didn’t have much in their bag of tricks besides bleeding and giving opium…. I think he was prewired to get interested in strange stories. He had an interest in the occult, and spiritualism was very popular in his time.”
The Bram Stoker Festival offers four days of eerie events and ghoulish gatherings from October 27th. For more information, see the website http://www.bramstokerfestival.com/ and you can click here for the full conversation.
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