A Glossary Of Vampire Words

Jules Adler - Transfusion of Goat Blood 1892
40 daysSome vampires only live for 40 days. Others are immortal.
AristocracyVampires tend to be of the aristocracy, though every now and then you’ll find one from an uncouth/peasant background e.g. the vampire in “The Vampire” by Basil Tozer (1902).
BatsBats are the only mammals that can fly, but vampire bats are the only mammals that feed entirely on blood. sleep during the day in total darkness, suspended upside down from the roofs of caves. They typically gather in colonies of about 100 animals, but sometimes live in groups of 1,000 or more. The supernatural horror character clearly takes details from this animal. In some cases, vampire bats feature in the stories as bats e.g. “The Vampire Nemesis” by someone called Dolly (1905) is about a suicide victim reincarnated as a vampire bat. (It’s not a good story.)   Vampire bats are indirectly terrifying to human communities because they suck the blood out of precious horses and livestock.
Baudelaire, Charles-PierreA French poet who wrote a notorious book of poems called Flowers of Evil. These poems inspired many literary works for years after. They were flamboyant and depraved. He was ordered to remove six of the most offensive poems from his book. Two of these were about vampires: “The Vampire” and “Metamorphoses of the Vampire”.
BloodlustAn obsessive desire for blood (probably human). Blood drinking is not just a vampire thing. In classic chivalric romance, when the young man in the woods is captured by a fairy queen and taken away to a dangerous fairy land, the fairies may drink blood. Blood drinking is connected historically to ancestors as well as to fairies — it has been believed in the past that if ancestors are not fed carefully they will take revenge by drinking the blood of living members of the family.
Body partsSevered body parts are a horror trope, used equally in vampire horror. “The Blood Fetish” by Morley Roberts (1909) features a severed hand which takes on a life of its own, absorbing blood. “A Dead Finger” by S. Baring Gould is about a man haunted by an animated finger. He is attacked vampirically after the rest of the finger’s body materialises.
Body snatchingBody snatching is the secret removal of corpses from burial sites, though bodies usually weren’t dug up out of graves. In Britain, bodies used to be kept in mort houses until the ground warmed up and could be more easily dug up. (They had no back hoes back then.)   A common purpose of body snatching, especially in the 19th century, was to sell the corpses to medical schools. This crime fed vampire mythology of the day and was clearly on everyone’s mind. People worried about their bodies being dug up could order an iron structure in the shape of a coffin. This was called a mortsafe. The family might also hire guards, though guards could be bribed.
Bram StokerStoker wrote Dracula as well as several other crappier stories. He was stage manager for famous Shakespearean actor Henry Irving in the 1870s.
Byronic vampireHe is tall and gaunt, bordering on emaciated. He has a pale, spectral face. His demoniac eyes show he understands sin and passion. Those eyes seem to penetrate into the heart of his victim. He can read her thoughts. He has a wide mouth with thin, cruel lips. The lips are a brilliant red because he’s been sucking blood. They curl back in anger to reveal long, sharp teeth. He wears funereal black. His long black coat flaps about him like bat wings. In other words, he is irresistible. He has a magnetic personality and is sexually fascinating. He approaches his victims as a lover rather than as a predator. He lulls her into a false sense of security.
CampSome vampires are camp, which basically means a preference for reversal and a preference for artifice over nature.
CannibalismVampires (and also zombies) are supernatural creatures with cannibalistic tendencies, though as Anne Rice’s vampire points out, at least vampires only take your blood (and, okay, maybe your ‘vitality’). They don’t butcher you dead for your meat and leather.
CarmillaConsidered the greatest vampire story prior to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This novella was written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, published 1871. Carmilla revolves around a beautiful female vampire’s attempts to seduce a frail young girl. It’s a lesbian love story. The vampire part only comes in at the end. Psychologically, the story was ahead of its time. (Historically there are very few gay vampire stories featuring two male characters.)
ChupacabraSpanish for ‘goat sucker’, a mythological creature which kills livestock. The legend went viral in the 1990s after hundreds of dead farm animals were found in Puerto Rico, drained of their blood. Chupacabra tales soon spread around the world. People think they’ve seen the chupacabra but they’re probably seeing mangy dogs or coyotes.
CloakModern vampires often wear normal clothes but last century vampires were associated with a cloak. That cloak with the high collar was a workaround by playwright Hamilton Dean whose stage adaptation of Dracula meant he had to create some way of making it looked like the count vanished into thin air in front of a live audience.
CryptobotanyLong before Day of the Triffids, carnivorous plants existed in
Gothic horror, including in vampire stories. This subgenre was pioneered by Phil Robinson who wrote “The Man Eating Tree” (1881). In “The Story of the Grey House” guests stay at a secluded country mansion but are strangled and drained of blood by a demoniacal creeper growing among the shrubbery. Another is “The Purple Terror” (1899) by Fred M. White.
CurseSome vampires became this way because of a supernatural curse. Others became vampires via a disease route, perhaps inherited. Sometimes they become a vampire because they’ve been bitten by another vampire (similar to an infectious disease).
DawnSome vampires must return to their graves at dawn. This is why the Twilight series makes use of times of day.
DaylightNoserferatu was the first vampire to be killed by daylight.
Dead wizardsDead wizards are vampires.
Decadent MovementThis movement was an influential force in European literature in the late 1850s. Its heyday was the 1880s. Vampire stories escaped straight Gothicism but became more sadist. Horror stories of this movement are obsessed with death and corruption and exploring abnormalities of sexuality. If Victorian society considered something taboo, you could probably read all about it in Decadent horror. The Decadents were morally influenced by Sade. They were thematically influenced by Poe.
DiseaseIn some vampire stories they spread disease. Vampire mythology is itself sometimes an allegory for the spread of disease. Diseases spread by blood are especially prone to this treatment.
DraculaA classic novel by Bram Stoker, epitomal vampire story and a best seller since it was first published in 1897. Associates an undead lord with a harem of female vampires. Count Dracula is a homicidal lunatic and human bloodsucker. This is the story that systematised the rules for vampire stories. This book is out of copyright and can be read freely online.
EmbraceSometimes this verb is used to mean the process of transformation into a vampire.
Erotic symbolismIn the repressive Victorian era censorship and strict moral codes prevented authors from writing erotic vampires (as the Romantics had done previously) so writers had to rely on a complex set of symbols to convey the same ideas.
FangsBlood-sucking vampires need to somehow puncture the skin so often have fangs. Fangs are the sexiest kind of teeth. Sometimes those are retractable or extend when feeding. Less attractive vampires might have shark or rodent teeth, or teeth like the inside of a leech’s mouth. The vampires in Twilight don’t have fangs but their teeth are sharp and coated in venom.
Fatal ManThe Fatal Man is a male anti-hero archetype created by the founders of the Romantic school of literature.
Fatal WomanThe Fatal Woman is a female antihero archetype created by the founders of the Romantic school of literature. She is more of a stock character than her male counterpart, because she’s the female equivalent of the Byronic vampire. She is an insatiable nymphomaniac even after she’s dead. She can be described in absolutes: absolutely beautiful, absolutely perverse, absolutely seductive. She is the quintessence of glamour.   Like the male Byronic vampire her mouth is slightly too large. She loves the smell of rot. She inhales it like it’s an expensive perfume. She’ll have long red hair, either groomed in an irredescent coiffure or worn loose, in curls like snakes. When she drops her mask she is revealed to have the hungry visage of a praying mantis. Of all the Fatal Woman characters, the female vampire is the most deadly. After Baudelaire wrote his infamous vampire poems, the Fatal Woman dominated the scene. In one of the poems, the narrator imagines himself surrendering masochistically to the kisses of a fierce female vampire. The Fatal Woman dominated vampire stories until Bram Stoker came along.
Female vampiresAt first, female vampires were rare. But as vampires became sexualised female vampires became popular. (All female monsters are at some point sexualised because sexualising a female monster is one way to subdue her. It happened to sirens, witches and so on.)
Femme fataleThe female Byronic vampire is your classic femme fatale, but femmes fatales go back way further than that. Cruel, sensuous women who like to destroy their lovers can be found in the literature of Antiquity and the Renaissance. But it was the Decadents (and later the Symbolists) who made her into an established archetype. By 1900, the ‘vamp’ had become a cliche.
Fledglinga newly spawned vampire (a word from Anne Rice novels)
Free willUnlike zombies, modern vampires have free will. They get to choose whether they are good or evil, depending on their individual choices. Some vampires are able to achieve a mutually symbiotic relationship with regular humans.
Ghoulin vampire subculture, a ghoul is a servant under a vampire’s supernatural influence or control
GlamourThe female Byronic vampire is the quintessence of glamour.
Golden Age of Supernatural FictionBy the start of the 1910s the golden age of supernatural fiction was drawing to a close. This subgenre of fantasy had been going strong since 1887.   During this period: the first volumes of M. R. James’s ghost stories, Algernon Blackwood masterpieces like “The Wendigo”, Stoker’s Dracula, Arthur Machen’s “White People” and Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw. This period has been hugely influential on later cosmic horror e.g. Lovecraft said he was influenced by James, Machen and Blackwood.
GothicAgainst what we might think, the vampire was almost entirely absent from fiction written in the high Gothic style. An exception is “Wake Not the Dead” by Johann Ludwig Tieck (c. 1800).
Grave robbingThe crime of stealing valuables which have been buried with the dead. This fed vampire mythology. Grave robbery is far more common than we might expect. Archeologists have been regularly disappointed to find historically significant graves which have been previously done over by robbers.
KnotsVampires are supposed to be able to unravel any knot they come across.
Horla, The“The Horla” is a short story by Guy de Maupassant about an invisible vampire (1887).
IncarnateEmbodied in human form, especially when it refers to a deity or spirit.
InsectsVampires aren’t always human. “The Feather Pillow” by Horacio Quiroga (1907) is about a young woman whose blood is gradually sucked out of her body by a monstrous insect hiding in her pillow. “The Electric Vampire” by H. Power (1910) is about a mad scientist who creates a giant electrically charged insect who feeds vampirically on human blood.
JiangshiA Chinese vampire, also known as a Chinese hopping vampire or hopping zombie. It is a stiff corpse dressed in traditional clothing. It moves by hopping about with its arms outstretched. Unlike Dracula inspired vampires they can see their own reflections but are terrified of them.
La Morte AmoureuseThe most famous vampire tale of its era (published 1836) written by Theophile Gautier.
LeechMore animals than you think might suck on your blood, though the leech is one of the best known. And like vampires leeches have a ‘dual nature’ in relation to humans — enough leeches could kills us, but they’ve also been used medically. Today they are still used in many parts of the world to help heal wounds and restore circulation in blocked blood veins. Fleas, female mosquitoes, ticks and lice also consume blood from living beings — less commonly known is a bird known as the vampire finch. There’s also a vampire squid. Mosquitoes kill the most people worldwide but the candirú is perhaps the scariest. It swims up your urethra. Then there’s the lamprey. Lampreys latch onto a host with hook-like teeth and gulp down its blood as it swims. Fish don’t have arms and have no way of getting a lamprey off.
Life forceIn some stories, vampires drain life-force. Commonly this is by drinking blood, but they might take some other bodily fluid or by frightening victims to death.
Lord RuthvenThe prototypal vampire, based on a real-life nobleman Lord Byron, created by Dr. John William Polidori, 1819, in a story called The Vampyre. Polidori was Lord Byron’s secretary and traveling companion. Lord Byron was flamboyant. The fictional creation Lord Ruthven was considered shocking in its day because writers didn’t normally write noblemen as monsters.
Mental vampirismThis is a type of vampirism where the villain gets into a victim’s head and steals their ideas e.g. The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck (1907). This novel is probably a satirical dig at Oscar Wilde.
NaturalistIn the 1700 and 1800s vampire stories got the high Gothic treatment. But in the early 1900s, on the European Continent, Gothic stories were looking outdated. Vampire stories were getting a more naturalistic treatment. A good example of this shift is “A Vampire” by Luigi Capuana (Italy, 1907). This story doesn’t feel at all like a tale of terror — it is more like a case study.
NosferatuA 1922 German silent film, which first brought Count Dracula to the big screen. (It was followed in 1931 by another Dracula film, this time starring Béla Lugosi.
PallorVampires are often portrayed as pale in an unhealthy kind of way. But in European folktales vampires had dark or ruddy skin. Parodies of vampires can be any colour (lavender if you’re on Sesame Street, green if you’re Count Duckula). Ordinary to pale skin is more common. Stephenie Meyer came up with the invention of skin that sparkles under sunlight.
PlotA traditional Gothic thriller vampire plot goes like this: Guests stay overnight at an abbey, formerly the bedchamber of notorious X (e.g. a knight). They wake in the morning exhausted with red marks on their skin. The hero discovers a secret entrance to an underground burial vault containing the coffin of the undead X. “The Stone Chamber” (1899) is a good example of this.
PoeEdgar Allen Poe explored the darker side of the human psyche with his subtle vampire tales. Meanwhile, other vampire writers were relying heavily on Gothic effects which were becoming outdated (thanks to Poe).
PregnancyAs if pregnant people don’t have enough rules to worry about, if a vampire looks at you in your sixth month, the baby inside will turn into one as well.
Psychic vampirePsychic characters are common in vampire stories — either the vampires themselves or the detectives might have psychic abilities.
Psycho sexual vampirePsycho sexual stories are about the psychological aspects of sex. A Nazi sympathiser was one of the first writers to create the vampire as a symbol of the psycho sexual impulse (Hanns Heinz Ewers). Partly for this reason, his work isn’t very popular today. Check out Alraune (1911) if you’d like to go there. For a less confronting insight into this archetype, check out the character of Raoul Duquette from “Je ne parle pas francais” by Katherine Mansfield.
ReflectionIn many older stories, e.g. Dracula, vampires have no reflection (nor cast any shadow). This trait is still sometimes used by modern storytellers e.g. Being Human, The Lost Boys, Van Helsing, but perhaps more often in vampire parodies e.g. Sesame Street, Count Duckula. Traditionally, vampires are transparent. Light passes through them. (They’re related to the concept of a ghost.) Vampires can magically make themselves visible to humans, but this ability doesn’t extend to reflections.   In modern stories, the ancient trait can be modified for modern technology — the vampire does not appear on film.
RomanticsThe Romantics were interested in the connection between love and death, and the way pain is sometimes linked with pleasure. They portrayed the vampire as an irresistible seducer. The vampire personified darkness and forbidden pleasures. He was a man and chose innocent young women as victims. He takes delight in corrupting them. He robbed them of their blood and their virtue.
Seed scatteringIf your vampire has to return to their grave before dawn, you can trap them above ground by scattering seeds. The vampire will feel compelled to count them and forget that the sun is coming up. This trait dropped out of fashion when vampires became sexy. This is not a very sexy thing to do.
SekhmetBlood sucking creatures exist in ancient myth. Sekhmet from Egyptian myth might one of earliest known vampires. She is a god with the face of a cat/lion who drank a lot of blood. In most depictions she is colored red. She was also a sun deity and had a dual nature — both good and bad. Apart from drinking blood she was also the goddess of healing. This is in line with much more modern vampiric creation in which a man doesn’t know if a femme fatale is going to seduce him or kill him.
Seventh sonSeventh sons are vampires.
ShapeshifterThe vampire is the ultimate shapeshifter. Versions of vampires are found in folklore from all over the world, making the vampire ‘the monster with 1000 faces’.
SilverSilver was traditionally seen as a ‘pure’ metal. Purity is abhorrent to supernatural creatures. Originally mirrors were made by laying a sheet of glass over silver. This perhaps accounts for why vampires are unable to magically make themselves visible in mirrors, even though they do have the magical ability to appear to humans ‘in person’, despite the fact that light passes right through them.
SireIn common vampire usage, the sire is the the vampire who transforms another person into one of the undead.
SoulVampires are members of the undead so they have no souls. Back in the day, it was thought that mirrors reflected souls. Creatures without souls can’t be reflected in a mirror, which accounts for why vampires can’t see themselves in a mirror.
SubmissionDecadent vampire novels are full of effeminate, submissive male heroes who enjoy being the plaything of a cruel, dominant woman.
ToleranceChildren’s authors tend to use vampires in stories to promote tolerance towards people from other cultures, or anyone different from the norm.
Topographical vampireWhen the setting behaves like a human-shaped vampire, sucking the life out of the human characters in some way e.g. the “Forbidden Corner” in “The Transfer” (1912) or the nature spirit of a snow-clad mountain/river/forest e.g. “A Descent Into Egypt” (1914), both by Algernon Blackwood.
TransubstantiationTransubstantiation is a Christian concept. Eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ while keeping only the appearances of bread and wine. Vampire lore uses this symbolism.
TransgressionVampire stories are transgressive. They are about pushing boundaries.
TransylvaniaVampires became associated with Transylvania because of Count Dracula. Vlad the Impaler (Stoker’s inspiration) was born in Sighisoara, a Transylvanian town. Today the region makes use of this association in its tourism. Visitors can visit Bran Castle, which is kind of ‘Dracular-y’ but doesn’t have any direct connection to the book.
TwilightTwilight is a young adult series of novels by Stephenie Meyer, later adapted for film. This series was the beginning of a new resurgence in vampire enthusiasts in the early 2000s. Commentators draw parallels between Twilight and Pride and Prejudice.
VampireThe word ‘vampire’ has French, Hungarian and Turkish origins, perhaps starting with Turkish ‘uber’, meaning ‘witch’. These days we associate the look and feel of a vampire with Count Dracula. Bram Stoker cemented the vampire’s details with his super popular book. But in earlier times, ‘vampire’ meant pretty much any form of non-ethereal (corporeal) undead. For instance, Balkan werewolves were considered a subcategory of vampire.
Vampire animeJapanese vampire animation as developed a large fan base among English speaking audiences. e.g. Vampire Hunter D (1985).
Vampire poetryThe first vampire literature was poetry e.g. A Vampyre of the Fens (beginning of the 1000s) then Le Morte D’Arthur in the 1400s. (A lot of literature got lost in between)
Vampire romanceA subgenre of romance which is about intimacy rather than a disconnection between human and nonhuman. Obsession by Lori Herter in 1991 was the first vampire novel to be marketed as a romance rather than shelved with horror or fantasy.
VitalityIf you go to the doctor today she’s unlikely to ask you about your vitality, though medicine does talk about ‘vital statistics’ and so on. ‘Vitality’ once meant ‘life spirit’, ‘energy’, ‘general health levels’. Vitality is the mysterious life force that separated the living from the dead. Vitality could be sucked out of you by a supernatural creature.   A malevolent elemental might become palpable after absorbing an invalid’s ‘vitality’ e.g. “The Story of the Moor Road“. The Light of the Eye (1897) by H. Chaytor is about a man whose eyes have the power to suck out other people’s vitality, so the magic isn’t necessarily blood related..
Vlad the ImpalerCinema vampires tend towards good-looking these days but ‘good-looking’ wasn’t always the aim. Here is Stoker’s original description of Count Dracula, which is based on the story of Vlad the Impaler: ‘His face was a strong—a very strong—aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.’
VrykolakasThis is the undead vampire equivalent from Greek mythology. Drinking blood isn’t one of its main features. They don’t decay after death. If you ate the meat of a werewolf you might become a vampire. You wouldn’t have wanted to have red hair and grey eyes at this point in history either, because people would’ve assumed you were a vrykolakas. (In the West, red hair was more associated with witches.)
Weird Tales: The unique magazineWeird Tales was an American pulp magazine with higher than usual production values. The publication lasted 30 years from 1923. It was hugely influential and pioneered the development of the weird-fantasy story as a specialised form of popular fiction. It was the first all-fantasy magazine in the world. Vampires were a popular theme. The author most closely associated with Weird Tales was H. P. Lovecraft.

Header painting: Jules Adler – Transfusion of Goat Blood 1892

Stephen King’s IT Storytelling Techniques

IT 2017 movie poster

IT is a 1986 horror novel by Stephen King, first adapted for screen in 1990, and most recently in 2017. This blog post is about the storytelling of the 2017 film.

THE TERRIBLE MONSTER OF IT

I liked what one reviewer had to say about IT: The monster in this film is whatever the story requires him to be for the scene. Indeed, this monster is the ultimate shapeshifter, sometimes calm, sometimes unleashed. This monster is a writer’s dream — he seems to have no rules. Why doesn’t every horror writer create a monster like this? He’s awesome.

He’s also one-dimensional.

Here’s the golden rule about movie-length (or novel-length) stories about unpredictable monster villains with no redeeming features: Villain versus hero cannot, in itself, sustain a story. The character web is simply not interesting enough. Alongside the monstrous villain the writer must create a very human web of opposition. We see this time and time again in popular storytelling:

  • In Twister we have man versus tornado, but the human opposition comes from a couple of professional storm-chasers on the brink of divorce as well as an entire band of rival storm-chasers who aim to beat our heroes in their storm-chasing game.
  • In Jaws we have man versus shark, but the interest comes once again from the human opposition. Sheriff Martin Brody wants to close the beach, but this is opposed by local businessmen. Then there’s the most subtle, macho opposition between manly-man Quint and the others on his boat.
  • In Jurassic Park we have man versus velociraptor, but a park employee attempts to steal Hammond’s dinosaur embryos, among other interpersonal opposition.

And in IT, we have the evil outside villain (the shapeshifting clown), but there is a very strong human gang of bullies who are just as scary. The gang of bully kids is a common way to flesh out a web of opposition, especially in stories about children. Suzie Templeton used the bully opposition web for her short film adaptation of Peter and the Wolf.

IT: MODERN MONSTER

IT is very explicit about the symbolism of the clown, and why it is a shapeshifter. But this is the typical modern horror monster. I have written previously: What is the horror genre for? IT is a modern horror, having moved away from Christian symbolism and into psychological symbolism. The monster is a representation of whatever terrible thing happens to be in your own life.

SETTING OF IT

Realism interpretation of the IT setting: There is no clown. Georgie Denbrough drowns while trying to retrieve his paper boat from a drain. The body is never found. Bill bonds with the others in his vicinity who each have their own significant trauma: incest, Munchausen syndrome by proxy and so on. The monster is different depending on who sees him. This is like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter. Whoever looks into it sees their own unfulfilled desire. The Mirror of Erised is a descendent of an old fairy tale device, such as the mirror in stories such as Snow White.

Horror is one of the three most symbolic genres in existence. (The other two are science fiction and Western.) Much has already been said about the symbolism and, frankly, if you’ve seen a lot of horror, it doesn’t need saying.

A Fixer Upper 1946 illustration by John Falter. This house looks like the old house visited by the children of IT.
A Fixer Upper 1946 illustration by John Falter. This house looks like the old house visited by the children of IT.

CHILDHOOD REALISTICALLY DEPICTED IN A STORY FOR ADULTS

One thing that struck me while watching IT: The smart aleck dialogue, especially the crass sexual jokes in the dialogue of Richie Tozier, felt realistic. The irony is that this dialogue would never be acceptable in books for children of that age. These kids are meant to be 13, which upper middle grade, lower young adult. In children’s literature you never read dialogue such as:

Richie Tozier : You punched me, made me walk through shitty water, dragged me through a crackhouse… and now I’m gonna have to kill this fucking clown.

Richie Tozier : I hear the list is longer than my wang.
Stanley Uris : That’s not saying much.

Richie Tozier : Hey Eddie, are these your birth control pills?
Eddie Kaspbrak : Yeah, I’m saving them for your sister!

I have known adolescent boys who talk very much like this. Another difference between stories for adults and stories for children: Children in stories for children must function, to some extent, as role models. Child characters in children’s stories are more naive and wholesome than many real-life counterparts.

It’s not just the horror elements of this film which keep this movie out of children’s hands. The clown, all told, isn’t that scary for many kids. The clown is clearly a monster. But the stone throwing, the chase, the fat shaming, the mutilation on a boy’s belly — those elements all feel uncomfortably real.

CHILDHOOD SONGS SECONDED FOR ADULT HORROR

Listen to the IT soundtrack (composed and arranged by Benjamin Wallfisch) and you’ll hear a very creepy, echoey version of Oranges and Lemons, music box inspired atmospheric tunes and children singing, slowly and without instrumental accompaniment.

This technique is common across horror and thriller films. Quentin Tarantino understood the creepiness of Shivaree’s 2000 song entitled ‘Goodnight Moon‘ when he chose for the soundtrack of Kill Bill Vol. 2.

There’s a nail in the door
And there’s glass on the lawn
Tacks on the floor
And the TV is on
And I always sleep with my guns
When you’re gone

There’s a blade by the bed
And a phone in my hand
A dog on the floor
And some cash on the nightstand
When I’m all alone the dreaming stops
And I just can’t stand

On it goes. Fans of child literature, however, are more likely to think of the eponymous but innocent story by Margaret Wise Brown.

That link to the well-known picture book is part of what makes for the creepiness of the song. There’s something about the admixture of horror and childhood familiarities such as songs, clowns, circuses and picture books which intensifies the creepiness of the creepy bit. This is how the folk at TV Tropes put it:

If a program or film wants to add fear to a scene one of the most creepy ways is to have a Creepy Child, or a whole creepy choir, singing somewhere in the distance or background, usually the tune is a mournful nursery rhyme. Sometimes it will seem like the characters can hear it and they may even call out, asking if anyone is there.

Creepy Children Singing

The Wire is a TV series for adults, creepy because of its uncomfortable realism. The character Omar Comin is particularly interesting, due to his role as sometime-comic relief, for his incongruous same-sex attraction in an overwhelmingly macho environment, and for his sociopathic ability to kill. Regular viewers of the show will soon learn that when Omar Comin starts to whistle Farmer In The Dell, bad stuff is going to happen. In this clip, bystanders realise from the whistle that Omar is up to very bad business.

Why Farmer In The Dell? Because viewers familiar with the tune will associate it with innocence, childlike naivete and comfort. The tune works well in the story because Omar is probably using one of his own childhood favourites for dual purpose: To set up a nonchalant persona for himself in the eyes of others, and also to steady his own nerves. The words themselves may also have thematic significance, though The Wire is not known for its ham-handed metaphors in the manner of Mad Men, so this may be an overanalysis.

The tinkle of bells, the fast-to-slow tune of a music box, the call of the ice-cream van — all make for excellent horror soundtracks and IT makes use of it too.

RELATED

10 Things You Might Not Know About Stephen King’s IT from Mental Floss

How IT handles the book’s most controversial scene from Entertainment Weekly

Beauty And The Beast by Carter and Schroeder

Beauty and the Beast front cover_600x709

Beauty and the Beast is a strongly mythic tale: A girl goes on a journey and ultimately finds her true self.

PARATEXT

Beauty and the Beast back cover

Beauty and the Beast is a tale featuring multiple levels of misogyny and much has already been said about that. For example, Was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Re-Tooled Because Belle Wasn’t Enough Of A Feminist? Angela Carter has rewritten the tale in a way that feminists may find cathartic. It’s called “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” and can be found in Carter’s collection of feminist fairytales retold: The Bloody Chamber.

The Bloody Chamber Angela Carter includes Beauty and the Beast revisioning

In this picture book version, intelligently illustrated by German artist Binette Schroeder in the mid 1980s, the coincidentally similarly named Anne Carter retells a tale which — I was surprised to learn — dates only so far back as the mid 1700s. This is a ‘literary fairy tale’, meaning that unlike a ‘true’ fairy tale, it did not originate from any oral tradition (unlike a tale such as Little Red Cap, for instance). It was written by a French governess who had the most erudite sounding name it almost sounds fictional in its own right: Mme Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.

That said, Anne Carter explains in the afterword that this tale is quite similar to a Greek myth about Cupid and Psyche called The Golden Ass. This dates from the second century A.D. Both stories feature:

  • the palace
  • nasty sisters
  • the return home

The main differences:

  • In versions of the Greek myth the monster turns out to be merely invisible
  • Psyche’s is a journey towards intellectual/spiritual love; Beauty’s is a journey towards understanding the difference between the superficial and the real.

The main differences between the original tale by Mme LePrince de Beaumont and many modern retellings is that the original author

  1. Wrote the tale for adults, not children
  2. Emphasised that what makes for a good partnership is respect, understanding and the ability to see past your partner’s superficial charm and into their deeper soul. Modern retellings tend to sensationalise the romance.

Anne Carter’s retelling is not in any way subversive, but the afterword is definitely worth a read because it puts the story in historical context.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST”

SHORTCOMING

With a modern reading, Beauty is indeed a flawed character. She is far too willing to please. But to a contemporary audience, Beauty was perfection itself. A model of feminine virtue, sacrificing herself to the needs of the men around her and acquiescing to her older sisters in the family hierarchy.

It’s possible that Beauty’s mother died in childbirth. I think that because she is the youngest in a large family and because women often died in childbirth in the 1700s. Perhaps Beauty’s ‘ghost’ or backstory, is that she feels guilt for bringing this misfortune upon the family, and why she feels she needs to be her father’s stand-in female companion in his old age.

DESIRE

Beauty wants to stay with her father and be his loyal companion.

OPPONENT

Beauty’s opponents are her older sisters.

Below, we see how psychologically separate the sisters are from the heroine. There are not one but two frames (doorways) between them; the sisters are from another world entirely.

beauty sewing with dog
Notice how the dog — its eyes, its colouring and its open mouth — look very much like the Beast when we meet him in the night garden. If this dog can love Beauty, so can the similar-looking Beast, apparently. Note also the bird, depicted in the same pink and greys as Beauty — who chooses not to fly away even though the cage is open.

The Beast appears to be an opponent but we find out he is a false-enemy ally. (Or he’s meant to be. I code him as a coercively controlling menace.)

Here's the Beast, looking very much like Beauty's little dog. He is depicted in this story as a chimera. Even more terrifyingly, his castle is full of chimeras — most startlingly, the table with leopard legs.
Here’s the Beast, looking very much like Beauty’s little dog. He is depicted in this story as a chimera. Even more terrifyingly, his castle is full of chimeras — most startlingly, the table with leopard legs.
table chimera

PLAN

When Father returns with the news that one of his daughters must marry a terrifying Beast, Beauty offers herself as sacrifice, feeling that the rose incident, too, is her fault.

It’s worth remembering that Christianity in the 1700s looked a bit more like modern-day fundamentalist Islam in the respect that the devout really, truly believed that if they lived their lives according to the word of God, they would find themselves in a Heavenly paradise. When Beauty sacrifices herself to the Beast it is clear that she believes she is going there to die. But she also believes she will end up in celestial Heaven due to having been good all her life.

The Hans Christian Andersen tales are based on the same belief. That’s why the ending of The Little Match Girl, who dies from hypothermia and goes to meet her grandmother in Heaven, was written to be a ‘happy ending’, and the evolution of Christian belief is why modern young readers usually fail to find it so.

The atrium with its glass ceiling gives the characters a direct view of the Heavens. The stairway symbolises Beauty's ascent to Heaven. That's where she thinks she's going, after all.
The atrium with its glass ceiling gives the characters a direct view of the Heavens. The stairway symbolises Beauty’s ascent to Heaven. That’s where she thinks she’s going, after all.

BIG STRUGGLE

The Battle is a Christian-like test. The Beast (in god-like fashion) is testing Beauty when he allows her to go home to visit her natal family. Will she come back or not?

It is the Beast who goes to the edge of death rather than the beautiful and noble Beauty.

ANAGNORISIS

As Anne Carter says in the afterword: ‘for Beauty the challenge is to move from the superficial to the real, to see through the loathsome outward appearance to the goodness within. Only then, when Beauty knows and loves the virtue of her Beast, can the transformation take place.

Dreams and revelations are prominent in this tale. Anagnorisis is delivered via dream.
Dreams and revelations are prominent in this tale. Anagnorisis is delivered via dream.

NEW SITUATION

Beauty and the prince were married in great state and lived together throughout the length of their lives in the most perfect and deserved happiness.

See Also

My own revisioning of Beauty and the Beast is called Winter Rose.

Even going by the most generous estimates, Mrs. Potts, the Beast’s faithful housekeeper, is clearly way too goddamn old to have given birth to her “son,” Chip. […] 

A Theory That Will Change How You See Beauty And The Beast

Honest Movie Trailer for the Emma Watson adaptation

The Beauty and the Beast. Illustrator – Margaret Evans Price

Beauty and the Beast taught me that I can be just an awful shitmongrel and still expect a beautiful woman to find and save me if I accidentally start doing the least. Am I doing this right

Studio Glibly

Stockholm syndrome is often mentioned in relation to Beauty of Beauty and the Beast, but Pop Culture Detective makes an argument in favour of avoiding that term, because it heaps undue blame on the female victim, assuming she has been brainwashed. In fact, these characters show great resilience in the face of extreme abuse.

Warwick Goble (1862-1943), English children's book illustrator. Beauty and the Beast 1913
Warwick Goble (1862-1943), English children’s book illustrator. Beauty and the Beast 1913
Beauty and the Beast as illustrated by Angela Barrett is also wonderful.
Beauty and the Beast as illustrated by Angela Barrett is also wonderful.