Dear Bloodsuckers, please don’t kill the logic!

Whenever I read a piece of fiction, no matter what genre, I get very irritated with writers who don’t apply logic or don’t bother to do even a minimum of research into the professions, locations and circumstances of their characters and plot.  Even in fantasy fiction, logic still applies or a plot loses credibility within the setting of its own world.

Since much of Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts revolves around events of the past, I want to look at creatures of the night living a normal life through the ages. What were their circumstances, how did they survive, what disguise might they have used to get by?

It’s all very well to create romantic Twilight vampire fiction that tells us vampires are immortal and are now living as teenage heart throbs in some American dream town, but how did their ancestors survive the difficult centuries before? How did the bloodsucking inhabitants of True Blood arrive in the American South and why were vampire slayers like Sunnydale’s Buffy the vampire slayer and her helpmate Faith or Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing created at all?

Continuing with my research into vampire life in early Britain I discovered that before the tenth century nearly all people lived in small hamlets or in single dwellings scattered around the rural landscape. A small hamlet consisted of no more than 5 farmsteads with barns and outhouses for animals, while a full scale village would have had just twelve to sixty families living in an enclosure surrounded by a ditch and fence.

People made their living mainly from the land. Professions like shepherd or keeper of swineherds, farmer, blacksmith, dairymaids, ploughmen, woodsman and fishermen were common, but millers less so, as the erection of vertical wheel mills didn’t start until just before 900 AD. Until then, most families would engage women and children to mill by hand. This means the majority of professions would have been carried out during daytime hours, when vampires were fast asleep.

Kings and the nobles lived in larger dwellings, castles that were really city states. They were mainly concerned with hunting, their favourite pastime, and keeping their tenants and slaves hard at work. Landowners had to manage the meagre woods left by the Romans, who’d robbed Britain of most of its primeval forests and woodland, where people’s natural food resources had lived. After the year 850 more laws were introduced to protect deer and boar as well as existing woodland and forests, making hunting and foraging for wood illegal, except for the king and the aristocracy. This means running around in woods looking for human prey would be a waste of time as far as werewolves and vampires are concerned.

Writers of vampire fiction often neglect to explain how vampires had to survive through the ages. Vampires, without enemies like slayers or vampire hunters, have no natural enemies, so they are eternal as long as they can feed on blood. It therefore would have been essential for vampires to move in the circles of nobility, as lords lived with their servants, slaves and members of the church in far larger settlements than any other mortals – otherwise vampires would have had to live as hermits in the woods and fields, foraging for rodents. Hardly romantic or cool for the modern vampire so keen on presenting a marketable image.

And what about traditional friends and animal allies of vampires and witches? Were they plentiful or scarce and where did they live?

By the 11th century bears had already been hunted to extinction in Britain, while in the 12th century beaver numbers had been reduced to a few small family groups living in Wales and Scotland. Vampires would have still had some wolves as their allies, but these wonderful animals had also been hunted to such an extent, they only survived in remote parts of English forests and a few other deserted places in Britain.

Why then are genre writers telling us vampires and werewolves or bloodsuckers and regular wolves are meeting en mass to either fight or conspire? A meeting between werewolves, regular wolves and vampires would have to take place in some remote location in Scotland’s Highlands or some Rocky Mountain reserve…hardly the typical hangout for blood-hungry teenage vampires with a desire to have fabulous hair. I may be a geek and a nerd, but I value logic even in  supernatural writing!

English: Cover of the book Interview With the ...

The afterlife must have been tough during the Middle Ages, making the prospect of joining the crusades in the guise of a noble knight quite a lucrative undertaking. Warfare and local squabbles among lords and kings must have been the main food source for vampires prior to the emergence of cities and towns. Incidentally, I love Anne Rice’s vampire stories because she likes to show us how her protagonists might live their afterlife throughout the centuries.

Another interesting fact I came across was that before slavery virtually died out in 1100 AD, the price of a male slave was £1, eight times the price of an ox. No doubt wealthy vampires would have been able to keep slaves and therefore have their own food source at hand. In Willow the Vampire’s second adventure the accumulation of wealth among vampires is crucial, hence my interest in vampire history and how they might have reached their present day role in society.

Cover of "Medieval Children"

With most of the population being in bed by 9.00 pm there would have been little point for creatures of the night to go out hunting for human blood. Medieval children would often be told by their no doubt exasperated parents trying to persuade them to go to bed that “the bloodless and boneless (were) behind the door”, that witches, elves, hags, furies, satyrs, urchins, spirits, pans, fauns, silens (wood gods) and bull beggers (bogies)* were lurking in the shadows at night. Unlikely then that small people would have ventured outdoors as prey for hungry bloodsuckers.

Naturally, vampires could have broken into homes, but this leads us back to small hamlets and villages, where all families knew each other. A stranger stood out like a sore thumb and more likely than not would have been either driven out before nightfall or confined somewhere in a barn. The main killer of medieval children was hunger and want, not a bite to the neck. All accidental or unusual deaths were examined – children’s and adults’ corpses would be seen by a coroner and a report into their deaths would be compiled, before being presented to a jury. Vampires leaving an obvious trail of corpses wouldn’t have gotten very far – a fact that is often overlooked in vampire fiction. From the poorest peasant to noblemen and lords, every “accidental” death would be examined and reported, starting with the tiniest babies.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the bites from vampires that posed a threat to medieval children, it was pigs wandering through open front doors into people’s houses and taking a chunk out of a baby or upturning their cradles, thus killing its tiny occupant. Some pigs were reported as having eaten a whole baby, so I guess vampires occasionally put the blame on some unfortunate sow (see Chaucer), when their own foul deed had been discovered by an outraged parent.

My next blog post will therefore be about one of my favourite shy creatures of the night (and twilight), the wild boar.

Cover of "Making a Living in the Middle A...

(historical sources: Christopher Dyer, “Making a Living in the Middle Ages” and

*”Medieval Children”, Nicholas Orme, Yale University Press)

animation sourced from heathersanimations.com

Not making the same Mistakes in the Afterlife

It seems that some of us never learn and are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again. Some never learn with regard to money and fall for every conman they meet, others fall in love with the wrong person every time, but won’t hear of changing their ways, when friends tell them to stay clear of cheats and ruthless seducers.

Some people never think of the consequences of their actions and believe they will be forgiven, no matter what they do – their charm and winning smile allows them to get away with murder during their lifetime; in some case, quite literally, but in their afterlife they’ll have to face up to what they did.

Only when we are brought face to face with our demise do some of us realise we cannot go through life without leaving some mark, even if we believe ourselves to be a fairly unassuming nobody, who wouldn’t hurt a fly or invisible, because we are of no interest to society at large. Words can often cut more than we realise, hurt even more than an actual blow. Yet rarely do we go back and say sorry or try to make amends to relative strangers or those we do not deem that important to our happiness.

In Willow the Vampire’s adventures I love to play with the notion that humans rarely get a chance to put things right, while vampires do, since they have their eternal afterlife to seek redemption. Meeting a large number of ghosts in her next adventure, Willow will for the first time understand the value of being a vampire, of not being mortal.

Ghosts are troubled spirits. Some seek revenge for the wrongs done to them during their lives, others cannot find peace, because they did someone a wrong they never had the chance to put right. Others again had an unhappy life, sometimes because of their own making. There are those men and woman who only ever date the brainless, but pretty and never find true happiness as a result. Others like to subdue and conquer in their relationships and are only content when they can humiliate those they call their friends. There are bullies and sadists, eternal victims and martyrs and those who are too arrogant to care much about anything.

A vampire’s afterlife is quite different from that of a ghost. The Egyptians depicted their dead looking very much like they did in life. The Book of the Dead shows people wearing the same style of clothes, eating the same type of food and doing similar things to those they did in life. Some ghosts reappear as animals, mostly as birds, in some cultures, while vampires have the option how they want to return and can change their appearance almost at will – at least with some practice and with the help of ancient magic. Vampires will retain some of their human characteristics, some will even be enhanced, but on the whole they will turn into quite a different creature to the one they were when blood still pulsed through their veins.

While our bodies might be cremated or buried in some grave, many people believe our souls or spirits remain, either floating to some paradisiacal land called heaven or tumble straight into hell for our “sins”. Traditional Romanian folklore puts vampires far more into the same category as ghosts than modern fiction has done since Bram Stoker wrote his Dracula. Modern vampires spend their afterlife chasing teenage lovers, fighting for justice or simply battling against werewolves for the sheer fun of it.

I’d like to believe that someone, no matter what they were like in their first life, would use their afterlife to contemplate about the mistakes they made the first time round and try to put things right. The afterlife will last an awfully long time – a whole eternity in fact – so trying to atone for the things we did wrong and gaining redemption from those we wronged during our lifetime seems one of the few things truly worthwhile doing when we’re dead.

(animation source: heathersanimation.com)