Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sometimes the Writhing Fiend

I happened to be preparing to teach the vampire story "Carmilla" by Sheridan Le Fanu in my "scary story class" while Megan Abbott was here, so we ended up talking about that, too. Megan was mesmerized by a movie version of the story, heavily edited, that was on TV all the time when she was a little girl. It gave her "wiggly stomach sensations," a turn of phrase I trust she will not mind me showcasing here, as she has already used it publicly on the twitter. Her experience of the film was all the more dream-like, she said, because back then "They would cut to a commercial whenever they felt like it, in the middle of a scene." (Above, a frame from an Italian movie version of "Carmilla," almost certainly not the one Megan used to watch, though we're still figuring out which one she did.) I love the story "Carmilla." The last paragraph is great, and I should quote some of it to you, though if you haven't read the story it might not make sense, but will definitely spoil the pleasure of discovering it for yourself, but really, who cares? You're not even reading this anymore. "... and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations - sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing-room door." Checking out the footnotes in my copy of Le Fanu, I noticed that he relied for background research on an 18th-century treatise on vampirism by the French priest Augustin Calmet. And I happen to have a copy! So I dug it out. Calmet goes around collecting these "true" stories of vampires and spirits and such, and one thing I like about the book is the understatement. "That same night [the vampire] got up again, and by his presence alarmed several persons." Ha ha! I'll bet! Well, to be fair, they were alarmed because they had dug him up and put a stake through his heart, and he didn't even care: "This man when in that condition derided them for what they made him suffer, and told them they were very good to give him thus a stick to defend himself from dogs." Wow! When you stop and break that down, it's like an awesome bad-a** one-liner from a modern action movie. Way to go, vampire!