Thursday, February 13, 2020

"Wake Not the Dead" (1823)

This vampire story is so old and presumably so disreputable that there is some question of its provenance. It's often given on the internet and also in the odd Vampire Tales collection (a quickie but well-stocked kindle product) as written by Johann Ludwig Tieck and published in 1800, but more credible internet sources have it as by Ernst Raupach and published in 1823, noting the error. It's my final guess. The kindle collection is odd partly because its sourcing is so sketchy. While I'm not particularly invested in the vampire mythos, I like how old some of its stories are and yet so fresh (so to speak) with details we know unto the final parodies of breakfast cereal, Sesame Street, and George Hamilton. Walter here is bereft at the untimely death of his young and beautiful wife Brunhilda, slender, haughty, and possessing raven tresses. Even after he remarries (a blonde named Swanhilda) he spends a lot of time mewling around Brunhilda's grave. Finally a sorcerer shows up and asks whether he wants her restored to life. Perhaps his grievous caterwauling has been creating a din in the spiritual realm. Of course Walter wants her restored to life. When the sorcerer expresses caution, basically in the form of the title, Walter starts calling him names ("Dotard!"). It doesn't seem the way to win friends and influence sorcerers, but Walter obviously has an urgent need. So it is done. But she's not the same, in echoes that reverberate forward at least to Stephen King's Pet Sematary—colder, less interested in sex, and with a thirst she finally realizes is for ... human blood. Yes, you heard me. I'm not sure who translated this story or when—more of the sketchy sourcing—but the language is arcane, with lots of thee, thou, thy, and tho forth. Yet the narrative clips along with clarity and it's fairly entertaining. The rebooted Brunhilda has the power to cloud men's minds, perhaps my favorite vampire feature, as it's so unclear itself, in this case apparently putting her victims into sound sleep with fascinating dreams. This reminds me that one of my problems with vampire stories is all the rules and continuity issues. Brunhilda does not care for direct sunlight, for example, at once a variation and a checkbox. She is also a one-woman wrecking crew as she gradually sucks the village dry, children first (she craves youthful blood most of all, plus kids are probably easier to handle, I'm sorry to have to point out). She basically goes after everyone except Walter, including his two children by Swanhilda, who is run off soon after Brunhilda 2.0. Walter finally senses trouble when no one else is alive and he becomes Brunhilda's target. Then he mans up and does what he must (in this case, dagger to the heart plus curse), remarries again, and then there is a surprise ending. The object lesson: I think you know.

Vampire Tales: The Big Collection, pub. Dark Chaos
Read story online.

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