Saturday, October 24, 2009

Walpurgisnacht approaches


Dracula, First Edition 1897

Actually Walpurgisnacht is in the spring, but in is the same spirit as our All Hallows.

And in celebration of All Hallows I've been thinking about some of my favorites.

Dracula is one of my favorite novels not matter what genre. 
There is an interesting short story that gives a chilling bit of back story. The short story Dracula's Guest was posthumously published. It was, according to most contemporary critics, the deleted first (or second) chapter from the original manuscript. Here is a great excerpt:

"As I looked there came a cold shiver in the air and the snow began to fall. I thought of the miles and miles of bleak country I had passed and then hurried on to seek the shelter of the wood in front. Darker and darker grew the sky and faster and heavier fell the snow, till the earth before and around me was a glistening white carpet, the farther edge of which was lost in misty vagueness. The road was here but crude and when on the level its boundaries were not so marked, as when it passed through the cuttings; and in a little while I found that I must have strayed from it, for I missed underfoot the hard surface and my feet sank deeper in the grass and moss. Then the wind grew strong and blew with ever increasing force, till I was fain to run before it. The air became icy cold and in spite of my exercise I began to suffer. The snow was now falling so thickly and whirling around me in such rapid eddies that I could hardly keep my eyes open. Every now and then the heavens were torn asunder by vivid lightning, and in the flashes I could see ahead of me a great mass of trees, chiefly yew and cypress, all heavily coated with snow.
I was soon amongst the shelter of the trees, and there, in comparative silence, I could hear the rush of the wind high overhead. Presently the blackness of the storm had become merged in the darkness of the night. By and by the storm seemed to be passing away: it now only came in fierce puffs or blasts. At such moments the weird sound of the wolf appeared to be echoed by many similar sounds around me.
Now and again, through the black mass of drifting cloud, came a straggling ray of moonlight, which lit up the expanse and showed me that I was at the edge of a dense mass of cypress and yew trees. As the snow had ceased to fall, I walked out from the shelter and began to investigate more closely. It appeared to me that, amongst so many old foundations as I had passed, there might be still standing a house in which, though in ruins, I could find some sort of shelter for a while. As I skirted the edge of the copse I found that a low wall encircled it, and following it I presently found an opening. Here the cypresses formed an alley leading up to a square mass of some kind of building. Just as I caught sight of this, however, the drifting clouds obscured the moon and I passed up the path in darkness. The wind must have grown colder, for I felt myself shiver as I walked; but there was hope of shelter and I groped my way blindly on.
I stopped, for there was a sudden stillness. The storm had passed and, perhaps in sympathy with nature's silence, my heart seemed to cease to beat. But this was only momentarily, for suddenly the moonlight broke through the clouds, showing me that I was in a graveyard and that the square object before me was a massive tomb of marble, as white as the snow that lay on and all around it. With the moonlight there came a fierce sigh of the storm, which appeared to resume its course with a long, low howl, as of many dogs or wolves. I was awed and shocked and felt the cold perceptibly grow upon me till it seemed to grip me by the heart. Then, while the flood of moonlight still fell on the marble tomb, the storm gave further evidence of renewing, as though it was returning on its track. Impelled by some sort of fascination I approached the sepulchre to see what it was and why such a thing stood alone in such a place. I walked around it and read, over the Doric door, in German:

COUNTESS DOLINGEN OF GRATZ
IN STYRIA
SOUGHT AND FOUND DEATH
1801
On the top of the tomb, seemingly driven through the solid marble — for the structure was composed of a few vast blocks of stone — was a great iron spike or stake. On going to the back I saw, graven in great Russian letters:

THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST.

There was something so weird and uncanny about the whole thing that it gave me a turn and made me feel quite faint. I began to wish, for the first time, that I had taken Johann's advice. Here a thought struck me, which came under almost mysterious circumstances and with a terrible shock. This was Walpurgis Night!"  —Bram Stoker

Read the whole short story here.





Walpurgisnacht
Walpurgisnacht is derived from various pagan spring customs. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then.

Walpurgisnacht gets its name from Saint Walburga (or Walpurga), a woman born in what is now England in 710. Saint Walpurga traveled to Germany and became a nun at the convent of Heidenheim in W├╝rttemberg. She was made a saint following her death in 778 (or 779), and May 1 is her saint day.

In Germany the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, is considered the focal point of Walpurgisnacht. Witches (Hexen) and devils (Teufel) allegedly gather on the mountain (also called the Blocksberg), which is often shrouded in mist and clouds, lending it a mysterious atmosphere that has contributed to its legendary status. The tradition of the witches gathering on the Brocken was immortalized in Goethe’s Faust: “To the Brocken the witches ride…” (”Die Hexen zu dem Brocken ziehn…“)

In its Christian version, the former pagan festival in May became Walpurgis, a time to drive out evil spirits—usually with loud noises. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then. The bonfires reflect the holiday’s pagan origins and the human desire to drive away the winter cold and welcome spring. This is followed by the return of light and the sun as celebrated during May Day.






A new sequel to Dracula has been written by his great grandnephew Dacre Stoker and screenwriter Ian Holt titled The Un-Dead. The Un-Dead was Bram Stoker's original intended title for Dracula.

The book is already receiving mixed to negative reviews.

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