Thursday, January 23, 2014

But in the "real" myths...

To be perfectly frank, there is something of a fuzzy line between when something goes from being a story to being a myth, but I'm not going to go into that line of discussion.  My intent here is to discuss the tendency of some people to hold up the "real myths" as a criticism of various pieces of fiction that have come out in the last couple of decades.  Admittedly, I'm no stranger to making this argument, but I do at least try to make sure I'm referring to myths that actually developed organically within a culture as adverse to stuff that came out of more recent fictions, as in within a century or two.

To start with, and since it's on Halloween that I'm writing this, we'll go with one of the favorites for "but in the real myths" arguments: vampires.


Something that is becoming a common trope in vampire stories is the idea of a vampire that can *gasp* walk in the daylight.  Whenever a story comes out that features vampires that can walk around in the daylight, usually as a special power, there will be several naysayers who will rave about how wrong it is for vampires to be able to walk around during the daylight.

The daylight thing is a largely an invention of Hollywood.  There are some myths that involve daylight banishing the walking dead or other spirits, but this is rarely a final death.  Usually, it's only a reprieve until the next night when the spirit walks again.  Hamlet's ghost being one example of such an effect.

To further push the point, let's look at some of the classic vampire fiction.

I have not read The Vampyre or Varney the Vampire, but in both the vampires in those works, published 1819 and 1845 respectively, walk about in the daylight with no problem.

In Carmilla, published 1872, the vampiress within that story preferred the night and slept in a coffin, but she could walk around in the daylight fine.

In Dracula, 1897, the titular and most well-recognized vampire name of modern times also walked around during the day.  There were consequences, while the sun was in the sky, Dracula was essentially a normal person, even vulnerable to a mortal death.

Which brings us to another myth around another monster:

Silver to kill a werewolf

This is complete Hollywood hogwash.  The Wolfman from the 30s is pretty much the first time this comes up whatsoever.  Some vampire stories require specific materials in order to destroy the vampire, but in the oldest werewolf stories anything that would kill a normal person or wolf will also kill a werewolf.  They become very dangerous wolves, being much larger than the average wolf and having a mental capacity, but they are still just wolves.

Despite this, people will still complain when normal weapons will kill a werewolf.

Curse of the werewolf

This is another Hollywood thing.  Werewolves do not pass on their curse, indeed, in many cases werewolves aren't cursed in the oldest stories, but have used some sort of power.  There is a rather famous story of a father and son who used a wolf-belt to fight a guerrilla war against invaders until one of them went out with his belt and the other mistook him for a normal wolf.

The werewolf bite thing started around the 30s with Werewolf of London, I believe, but may be wrong.  However, it is certainly a movie trope, not from the authentic beliefs of most stories.  Werewolves came into their power via bloodline, blessing or secret arts.  Rarely, they were cursed into becoming a werewolf.

Charming vampires and brutish werewolves

Both groups are full of examples of both brutes and charmers.  Actually, werewolves have a slightly higher ratio of charmers by virtue of the fact that a large variety of vampires from the old world myths are visibly rotting corpses while most werecreatures very fervently alive and vibrant.

While we're on the topic of the walking dead:


The authentic zombie myth is basically a statement of slavery.  The myth is the story of a person risen from the dead to be a willing slave for the person that resurrected them.  They were not generally used for combat, but rather manual labor.  They were rarely violent.  However, the myth sort of indicated the only way to kill them would be to do something to remind them of what life is, like the taste of salt.  The myth was a cover for the real practice of poisoning people with puffer-fish venom and waking them up in a highly suggestive and zombie-like state.

The infectious zombies you see in George Romero's classics and their modern derivatives are more akin to the sort of vampire myths that arose during the black plague during which time deaths of the disease were blamed on a large number of things.  The assumption being that so many people died because new vampires were being made.

Not that I'm opposed to a transformative plague, though I tend to save that for my sillier stories which mostly get unpublished and it tends to involve more sexiness and less gruesomeness.

Overpowered Monsters

It happens in myth, especially when dealing with demigods from the ancient stories or other such heroes like Beowulf, Heracles and the like.  However, a lot of the movie monsters descend from more recent tales, which themselves are derivations of older ones.  Still, the heroes of those dark ages tales were rather more normal (though still belong more to the ranks filled by Rambo and John McClane than the average real life person).  Looking at Dracula, the titular vampire was winning up until his enemies had conclusive proof of what they were dealing with.  As soon as Dracula's nature was revealed, he lost badly.  The latter half of the book is only a race against time because of the fact that Mina, having been poisoned by his blood, has a limited time before she becomes a vampire.  Really, Dracula is no match for five men and one woman once they know their enemy.

There are numerous others, but I'll stop here for now.

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