If you were writing or reading your best horror story, what do you need? Before the setting, before the conflict or the hero, you need the monster. That’s what turns a horror story into a cult classic. Someone to be scared of, but to celebrate at the same time. Looking at the classic villains and the scariest monsters, we can see that we’re obsessed with our supernatural creatures. There can be a human element to the creature, or a bestial attraction to give them a sexual excitement. So what makes these people or creatures so exciting and scary, to the point that we obsess about them enough to make them the real stars of our writing. Below is an analysis of two of the most prolific creatures in horror writing. On both the screen and on the page, vampires and werewolves have always been compared to each other. Stories have always been mixed together, the fiction and the folklore, the religious superstition and the supernatural powers. In the end it might come down to a personal preference. Which scares you the most? Which excites you the most? If you were looking to cast a monster at the forefront of your next horror story, which would you have? The wolf, or the undead?
Both creatures were once thought to be real in Europe (assuming they’re not) in the middle ages, and in some parts of the world, both appear in today’s folklore. Sightings of werewolves exist in parts of northern and southern America. Accusations of vampirism have turned up in the courts in the last few years, and not in far outback corners of the world but in the United States, China, England and Russia. Both supernatural animals are found in stories all over the world. Both are in our popular culture in TV shows and films and our games.
So which came first? It’s very hard to say. It is true that Vampires certainly have a lot more documented history in folklore. Firstly and most obviously there is Vlade Tepps, the prince Dracula that Bram Stoker brought to life. Also there is a rich history of vampire folklore that has been well documented within historical cases (we’ll look at these in detail in another blog)-what interested me more when writing Godless, were historical references to a creature that can be defined as the ‘vampire’.
Ancient Egypt had a culture that thrived on monsters and half breeds, this influenced the Greek and Roman cultures that followed. They had their version of the vampire that went back to a supernatural spider like creature which had a spiders body and a human head, it was said to be able to float above the bed or cot of a sleeping baby and “suck” the life out of the infant. While this might clearly be seen today as an explanation for cot-death syndrome you can see where the notion and the superstition comes from.
While discussing the ancient Egyptian culture we can’t avoid noting the cults and worship of beings and deities that hold some Vampiric like status. For the purpose of this study we are looking more at the superstition of creatures rather than the worship of cults. That’s not to dismiss the cults of Ka and Sekhmet, or say they have no relevance to the vampire we write about today. They are simply more of a God, not a creature and so are less relevant to this topic ( I’d like to research them in more detail before I write about them too).
Going further back than Egypt (or further than ancient Egypt is supposed to be), the Mesopotamian culture and it’s belief in the undead, that features in Godless left us with texts and stories like the Egyptians. They tell us about their beliefs in life and death, rituals and the worship of deities. This is the oldest record we can find, that references a being with supernatural powers, that drinks human blood to sustain itself. Not only do we see a form of cult or worship that evolves around certain named Gods that needed to be appeased, we also see more of the demonic and evil form of supernatural creatures, that are directly related to what we would see today as a vampire.
As an example,there are references to a multitude of supernatural creatures the people of Mesopotamia were fearful of. In brief there was the Ekimmu, which was a form of ‘banished spirit’ .It was dead, hunted the living, but fed off a ‘life force’ rather than physically drinking human blood. However, it did have Vampiric qualities, such as turning it’s victims into Ekimmu after death. There was the belief in the Uruku, a demon which haunted grave yards and burial places and could kill humans by looking into their eyes. Finally there was the belief in the Seven Demons, although they sound like a creature form Dr Who, these were perhaps the most alike a modern vampire. A physical creature, which couldn’t enter a temple or holy ground, but could attack you like an animal and on drinking your blood, turn you into one of them.
In contrast to this, one may think that werewolves, were simply the creation of medieval superstition. Therefore creating a way of explaining either human or animal attacks on livestock, and people that were deemed too graphic to be caused by a natural man or beast. But the werewolves as a creature is as old as writing itself, along with the vampire.
Again, the ancient lands of Mesopotamia and Egypt, hold the first records of animal-man half breeds. However, these were not what we would call a werewolf by strict definition,as almost all accounts of these were creatures that were half man, half beast. We had men with the faces of crocodiles, dogs, birds and wolves, all with specific powers and purposes, to judge the innocence of a man or to act out revenge and punishment on the guilty. These creatures however, remain in the constant form of half man and half beast. A man who is possessed with some supernatural power or curse to change either by their own will, or more commonly the presence of a full moon, from the form of a man to the form of a wolf. Typically in this instance his personality will change into that of a beast,and in this state they would attack and feed on anything in their path. Once reverting back, they may have no or full memory of their actions. This allows the writer to create a perfect torn hero , a hero with an unwitting flaw. It also gives a character an excuse for any violent actions. Looking at this supernatural understanding of the creature, where does he originate?
We have an amazingly clear and cut ,text book definition of a true werewolf story, that is dated at circa 1AD. This is from the port Ovid and tells the story of King Lycaon. King Lycaon, was king of Arcadia, he offended Jupiter by serving him an offering of human flesh at a feast. Some say this was an attempt to trick Jupiter into eating humans. As punishment his kingdom was flooded (another biblical flood reference), and he was cursed to transform into a wolf and devour the flesh of humans. This account provides good grounding for a potential horror story. In fact, I was rather surprised to find a story that gives an account of a specific human, cursed to transform into a wolf for punishment, or as a curse for his crimes.
In fact, this would put King Lycaon up there as a lesser known equivalent to Count Dracula himself. In further blogs, I intend to study this in more detail and try to pull together a more detailed account of Ovid’s poem and the story of King Lycaon.
References and interesting websites for further reading: