Thursday 12 April 2012

"RE" THIS!: Episode 1 - The Great Tradition

Contrary to things I may have said or are yet to say I'm not totally against reboots, relaunches and re-imaginings. It is a thing that happens. Not sometimes either. It is a constant thing happening and moving and changing and trending. Some people get traumatically bent out of shape about this. There little fanboy rage gets all up in their nasty little fists and they start screaming about how someone (original creator) or another (IP holder) has just jossed their entire fanfic catalogue. To such folk I shout, "Welcome to the history of storytelling". It is part of the Great Tradition.

I don't think that there is a single myth that hasn't been reworked, transposed, recast, updated, exaggerated, expanded, combined, retconned, appropriated, romanised, stolen, assimilated, reinterpreted or misinterpreted. This is just how we roll as a species. Everyone agrees that Heracles got him some labours that numbered twelve, but if you get your research on (not Wikipedia) there is a much longer list of labours apparently accomplished under the "Twelve Labours" (c)(TM) brand. This is because everyone town wanted a piece of the action. They wanted to point at a rusting '89 Magna and say "Heracles pushed that car to the side of the road when it ran out of petrol by himself, and Iolas had all his kids in it. Including the three fat ones."

This isn't a behaviour that has been confined to the ancient world either. Let's do an easy one.

Once upon a time there was a man named Vlad Tepes who was Prince of Wallachia. He earned a bit of a reputation for being an impaler. Same say this made him a horrible tyrant, others suggest he just liked knowing that people he didn't trust stayed where he left them.

During his lifetime he had a disagreement with some folk (mainly of the Ottoman Empire). Folk to whom he later lost. It was also these folk who we rely on for our account of his cruelty. Considering that the tales of hiss cruelty continued to grow for nearly a century after his death from these same sources is it fair to suppose that they were not entirely accurate? I think so. It is also important to note that during his lifetime and in the centuries that followed the people of his own country saw him as a hero.

A couple of centuries roll on and we get to the closing years of the 19th C. when an Irishman knocks out a novel about the vampire count of Transylvania, Dracula. This book combines the figures of Vlad Tepes (Vlad III) and Vlad Dracul (Vlad II) into a single character, who is actually a vampire hell bent on becoming a London real-estate mogul.

Twenty-five years later Team Germany bust out the classic Nosferatu starring Max Schrek. Dracula is called Orlok and he travels to Germany instead of England. The Author's estate tried to have all prints of the film destroyed, but their lack of thoroughness is our boon. As the twentieth century continued Dracula would be retold and the character reused hundreds of times, amounting to dozens of reinterpretations of both the historical figures and fictional characters.

That's not all folks. If you call now Bram Stoker's Dracula is a hydra of the Great Tradition. He adopted a traditional European mythological creature, and changed its "rules" just enough to suit his tale, thus creating the basis for the modern vampire.

Popular culture over the next one-hundred plus years would jump in to adjust and reconfigure the concept of a vampire to suit trends and limitations in special effects. Enter Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire (not the film, the book) that recasts vampires as lonely lovelorn creatures of the night. Then Buffy comes along and they start dating teenagers. By the time Stephanie Meyer throws her hat into the ring what is there left to do, but make them sparkle in the sunshine.

I've been guilty in the past of complaining about the "death of the classical vampire", but in all fairness Anne Rice, Joss Whedon and Stephanie Meyer are only participating in the Great Tradition. My definition was an arbitrary line drawn by myself (and others), where a better term would be 'pre-Varney vampires'. I do think it is important to make distinctions, because although they are all vampires, Edward Cullen (MeyerPire or Glampire) is a very different creature to Angel, or Lestat, or Orlok, or Dracula, or Varney. I think there is room for all.

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