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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, November 21, 2008

EARTH SHATTERING CHANGES AT THE LAST MINUTE

About a month ago, Dick Hyacinth wrote a blogpiece about the current trend at the Big Two comics-companies for indulging in "earth shattering events" at the expense of story values, and another blogger, Todd C. Murray wrote this in response:


"I think Marvel is also handling these EARTH SHATTERING EVENTS in a way that invites a kind of pseudo-interactive excitement. The books themselves are not so much story as little Lego blocks of main ideas that have been well executed conceptually (even though, as story, many of the blocks are poorly executed). It’s like D&D when I was eight… you’d buy a module because of all the cool stuff in it and to imagine playing it, and talking with your friends about how exciting this or that design or trap was, more than actually playing it, which often we never got around to. In fact, I think you could enjoy Secret Invasion quite a bit without reading any of it (maybe more than if you did)."


I agree with Murray more than with Hyacinth, but I'd take it somewhat further, in the direction of asking two questions:


(1) Is the preoccupation with "earth shattering events" as new as some think it is,


(2) Is there something fundamental to human nature that causes the human species to invest in games that have no real narrative to them-- something more fundamental than the modern example of D&D games?


Taking the second question first, I would say that there's no way to make any useful correlation between a modern form of literature/paraliterature and a modern game without whether or not the same relationship inheres in some or all forms of literature and game-playing. I don't have space here to go into critical approachs to literature in terms of game theory, but suffice to say that the most telling resemblance between literary works and games lies in their essential purposelessness. One can certainly impute some indirect purpose to both activities, and many theorists have done so, but in terms of what fruits the activities themselves directly yield, well, Oscar Wilde could have been speaking of games as well when he asserted, "All art is perfectly useless."


The best-known indirect product of both actitives is what we loosely term "recreation," though one will immediately get different theoretical answers as to why humans need, or think they need, such recreation. Between games and literature, however, looms the shadow of didacticism, for while games are difficult to structure (honestly) in order to deliver a message, it can be done with varying degrees of subtlety in literature. This lends to literature the appearance, if not the actuality, of having a "useful purpose" in culture and/or society, and the most "useful" forms of literature are usually those which have or are thought to be works of *thematic realism* insofar as they comment with the same varying degrees of subtlety on man's real-world situation.


And yet, despite the greater acclaim of the thematically-realistic works which make up most of what we deem "canonical literature," few of these are popular with a wide audience in any given time-period. The works that seem far more perenially popular in any given time-period are the ones that seem steeped in *thematic escapism,* and are therefore closer in structure to the irrational rationale of games.


Anthropologist Lee Drummond took an approach somewhat akin to my notion of *thematic escapism* in this excerpt from his book AMERICAN DREAMTIME, which attempts to deal with modern movies (STAR WARS in particular) as expressions of cultural myths:


"...the figures of myth do not live solely by virtue of the operation of a collection of sentences woven into a 'plot'... The critical thing about the doings of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, R2D2, C3PO, and the rest is the elemental level of crisis-- identity crisis-- that lies right at or just beneath the surface of their actions: Will the Force or its Dark Side triumph? Will R2D2 survive? Will Luke discover the awful truth of his paternity?"


Aside from Drummond's coincidental but felicitous employment of the term "identity crisis"-- which term became associated with one of comics' "earth-shattering events"-- the important thing he's emphasizing here is the independence of so-called mythic figures from the strictures of plot as such. I'm a little more in line with structuralism than I think Drummond is, but I recognize that what he's talking about might be well compared with Joyce's notion of the *kinetic,* that aspect of literary elements that causes extreme sympathy or antipathy. I would not say that the plot of STAR WARS is as unimportant as Drummond does, nor is it unimportant for the "event serials" in comics to have the appearance of some vast Pynchonesque plotline. But Drummond is right in saying that the type of works he's talking about-- which *I* have termed "thematically escapist" works-- the fine points of the plots are not as vital as the story's ability to engender "the elemental level of crisis" through whatever characters the reader recognizes as important, particularly in terms of their sufferings.


And to answer the first question, now: no, all that's new about this method of compelling quick identification through making travesties of the fictional characters' lives is the aforementioned attempt at Pyncheonism. Here's how Mort Weisinger, the first true master of the soap-opera appeal in comics-- not quite eclipsed even by his "pupil" Stan Lee-- handled it:



I chose this Superman "death-scene" because it too shows a "crisis" of elemental proportions, though one that will be undermined in order to bring the Superman mythos back to square one-- just as every game, when finished, is still survived by the rules OF the game, which make possible yet another game with different parameters played by the same rules.

None of this analysis necessarily states that the various "event serials" out there now are especially good even judged by the criteria of the best escapist works. However, I do find it interesting that while many comics-critics celebrate the works of Grant Morrison, not many seem to have twigged to the fact that his work shares this sort of near-plotless aesthetic common to many lesser escapist works, but given an overlay of symbolic complexity.

In other words, Morrison may be the only one in comics who understands the full meaning of the rules of the game-- but he's still playing by them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

COMICS-THEORY FOR CATHOLICS

Symbolic Catholics, that is, as contrasted with Protestants in Alan Sinfeld's book LITERATURE IN PROTESTANT ENGLAND:

"Polarisation of good and evil is characteristic of protestantism. Catholics and humanists posited a sequence of careful gradations between the extremes of good and evil, with mediatory agents and the continuous opportunity to repent. Protestants replaced this complicated structure with a dichotomy, all or nothing: a person either has grace or has not."

This inflexible attitude can be found in great abundance in the world of comics-criticism. I recall an early encounter with some Journalista writer in the 1980s who claimed that a writer "selling out" was all-or-nothing; that one could no more be partially an artist than a woman could be "a little bit pregnant." I asked him if he thought the ranks of artists included William Faulkner, who went to Hollywood to write things like LAND OF THE PHARAOHS. As I recall, said Journalista didn't get back to me on that.

And here's a more recent exemplar of exceptionalism, whose POV I trashed in the accompanying piece.

So I guess I must be a "Catholic" comics-theorist, inasmuch as I do believe that there are many fine gradations of quality in the continuum of literature and even "paraliterature," as I argued in the aforesaid "Exceptionalism" piece. I have no belief that something like the Archie Goodwin IRON MAN or (to take a more recent example) the Gail Simone BIRDS OF PREY will last the ages, or even signify all that much to future students of popular fiction, if any. But in the here and now, it ought to be important for any good (or at least "Catholic") theorist to be able to formulate a theory of "the good in art" that does not throw out items of fair quality to make more room for the works of supposed greatness.

Protestants, though, see only good and evil, great and not-great, which would make the dominant attitude of THE COMICS JOURNAL a "Protestant" one. That had me wondering whether or not Gary Groth should be regarded as a comic-book avatar of Henry VIII, but given that Groth never had quite the level of power that Old Henery did, I think a better fit would be...
This guy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

ADDAMS AND EVIL

As I found myself worrying the niggling question of Charles Addams' pre-eminence in the annals of crossover-madness (a notion that would probably amuse Addams no end), I checked out a book to see if I could learn more about the first cartoon to introduce the Addams Family. The book, Stephen Cox's THE ADDAMS CHRONICLES, didn't reproduce the first cartoon with the Addamses but it did describe it thusly:


"[Addams'] pop masterpiece and longest-running characters were the Addams Family, who first say the dark of night 'around 1937' he recalls, in a cartoon of yet unnamed Morticia, Lurch, and visiting vacuum salesman (Lurch stated out with a beard)."


So that means that CA's first cartoon with his eponymous family was indeed a "monster mash," if, as I assume, both characters were drawn essentially as they've come to be known: as a slinky vampiress out of 1935's MARK OF THE VAMPIRE and a big (albeit bearded) galoot reminiscent of the Frankenstein Monster.


Although, now that I read about the beard, I wonder if there wasn't another monster-- one who normally sported a beard, and who actually may've had some experience "butling" before-- that might have been a more primary inspiration for proto-Lurch than the creation of Mary Shelley.




Someone like, oh, this guy:



This is "Morgan the butler," Boris Karloff's mute villain from THE OLD DARK HOUSE. I'm not sure just how much Karloff's casting in this role was affected by his tremendous popularity as the Monster in 1931's FRANKENSTEIN, but I seem to remember reading that once FRANKENSTEIN was a success, Universal Studios began trying to mold Karloff as a successor to the late (and very profitable) Lon Chaney, emphasizing horrific roles as a matter of course.

So which Karloff character was Addams referencing: Morgan or the Monster? I imagine that Lurch probably assumed his Frankensteinian qualities pretty early, for after all, the Monster certainly was a more iconic figure than the mute butler. Cox's book mentions that Karloff himself recognized the tribute CA had given him, for Karloff said in a foreword to a 1942 collection of Addams' cartoons: "I publicly thank Mr. Addams for immortalizing me in the person of the witch's butler."

Cox doesn't enlarge on the "witch" comment-- presumably Karloff's referring to Morticia-- but Cox does also make the same comparison between ADDAMS FAMILY and OLD DARK HOUSE that I made in my earlier essay HEROES AND HORRORS. Two minds thinking alike on devious subjects, and all that.

So, whether the first cartoon was in '37 or '38, it does seem that Charles Addams holds pride of place in the annals of monster mashery.



Thursday, November 13, 2008

X MARKS THE CROSSOVER

To talk about the nature of either "monster rallies" or their villainous parallels, one has to ask first, "Is there any validity to the crossing-over of characters not explicitly created to occupy the same mythos/universe?"

There's certainly a long-standing critical opinion that finds that any crossovers, particularly those not initiated by the original author(s), vitiate the original concept. And most authors would agree that their original versions are the best. If you could somehow arrange to let both Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley view ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, it's likely neither author would recognize Universal's versions of Dracula and the Monster as having anything in common with the original creations.

However, that's not quite the truth, for no fictional work-- novel, short story, film-- is a seamless whole, born as it were from the author's pure inspiration as Athena from the skull of Zeus. Every fiction is parented not only by its living author but also by other fictions which the author has absorbed. And, by the same token, every fiction is capable of birthing new "children," even if none of the parents want to acknowledge the offspring.

Take the relationship of the Shelley "Frankenstein Monster" to the creature brought forth by James Whale's 1932 film FRANKENSTEIN. Many critics have commented that the monster of the film is totally unlike that of the Shelley novel, for the latter has a Romantic locquaciousness while the former merely grunts and growls. And yet, this isn't the whole truth, for Shelley's creature doesn't start out as articulate. Indeed, Mary Shelley asserted that the whole concept of the novel flowed from a single nightmare in which she envisaged the creator of some horror awakened from sleep by his mute creation standing beside his bed-- a scene which Shelley does indeed work into the novel.

Now, James Whale may have had any number of practical reasons for making his version of the Monster mute aside from some animalistic growls. But the point is that his incoherent monster does mirror one stage of the character's development within the Shelley novel. Moreover, in both works that stage of development is symbolically comparable to an aspect of experiential reality. The Monster, though created from the charnel-house rather than by human concupiscence, is in both works an uncomprehending child in a giant's body. Thus with this story-element, which I might term a "mythologem" since it enhances the mythicity of the narrative, Whale proves that he is in essence faithful to one of Mary Shelley's most important concepts, even if he diverges from others.

This sort of divergence, which Harold Bloom calls "misprison," is clearly inevitable. No later creator ever makes an entirely faithful rendering of another author's work, for the later author always changes some things for his own satisfaction or for the satisfaction of his audience (or both). In some cases, we don't know all the details of the original's work-- like how Shakespeare would have staged his own play HAMLET-- but we can be fairly sure that it would not be identical in all respects to a staging by Kenneth Branagh, even if both used all of the exact same lines in the text.

Now, given that misprison is inevitable, the sins of the children may seem no greater than those of the fathers, who were, in their time, children also.

Now, Whale's FRANKENSTEIN is not a crossover, but an adaptation. But it should go without saying that every crossover is in some sense an adaptation, even when said crossover is engineered by the author of two creations who did not originally plan to associate the two but later decided to "adapt" them into a common universe (see my earlier examples of Haggard and Burroughs). And even if one agrees with the view of some critics that the original Shelley novel is superior to the Whale adaptation, it should be a foregone critical conclusion that this assertion does take from Whale's work of all claim to quality. One should be able to make this logical conclusion even without knowing the critical consensus on the work, which, in the case of the 1932 FRANKENSTEIN, is that it's generally considered a classic (though sometimes only a minor one, depending on the critic).

Now, keeping to the notion that the Shelley novel is superior to the Whale adaptation, it might seem logical to some critics that a "monster rally" type of film is going to be inherently inferior to both. But that isn't necessarily the case. Crossover concepts may, as much as the Whale film, borrow mythologems-- or "tropes," if one prefers a more theory-neutral term-- from the original work, and may yield interesting formulations by comparing and contrasting the mythos of one concept with that of another.

The 1944 film HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a "monster rally" film which does this, for all that no critical consensus is ever likely to rate it up there with either the Shelley or Whale works. But it does do exactly what the Whale film does: abstract aspects of the Frankenstein Monster concept and then crossbreed them with those of another concept. The concept I reference is that of the Wolf Man, cinematic creation of Curt Siodmak, who provided the story for the film but did not write the script, credited to an Edward T. Lowe, Jr. As for a scene that best shows one of those interesting formulations, this takes place at a point in the film when the film's mad scientist Dr. Niemann has revived both the Monster and the lycanthropic Larry Talbot from a frozen tomb. The Monster comes off worse for wear than Talbot, and seems on the verge of perishing, so that Talbot, still full of guilt for the Wolf Man's killings, comments:

"[The Monster] wanted only life and strength-- and I wanted only death. And now look at us--"

Now, some may find this line melodramatic, and I make no claims that it will last the centuries. But on its own terms it's a very good line that sums up the irony inherent in pairing two such different monsters-- one representing "too much life," in the sense of a monster that ruthlessly slays anyone it sees for the sheer love of killing, and one representing "too much death," in the form of a creature assembled from dead body parts.

It may be fairly stated that the rest of the film does not follow up on this insight, and I agree. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is meant to be a thrill-ride, with lots of absurd furniture-moving going on in order to justify lumping together the Monster, the Wolf Man, Dracula, a mad scientist and a hunchback. But even a small nugget of gold is still gold, and so HOF is appropriate for my purposes to show how even a work aimed more or less at an audience in search of simple thrills is still able to deliver a worthwhile insight, given birth specifically from the association of two character-concepts not originally meant to be played off of one another. This life/death mythologem is not radically different from the sort of conceptual insights one gets in greater profusion from, say, the Moore/O'Neill LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN graphic novel-- but there are a lot of other pleasing qualities in LOEG that are not purely about the pleasure of the crossover-text. HOF, then, fares much better to show how that specific pleasure works by virtue of being a much simpler text-- and I think makes a better proof than the more complex work does, as to how worthwhile the pleasure is in itself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

HEROES (the TV show); ALL OVER THE MAP

As my already-moderate interest in HEROES begins to sink slowly beneath the horizon during the show's third (and final?) season, I have to admit it may be unique in one way. I can't remember a show with this many characters that was literally "all over the map," and in which there was no "home base" or "headquarters" to which the characters returned.

In the show's first season, much was made of the need to assemble all the resident quasi-superheroes in one place, New York, in order to "save the cheerleader-- save the world." This was, to be sure, a nice narrative approach that had me interested just from sheer strategic considerations, since the show started with the notion that the heroes were scattered hither and yon but would have to be brought together somehow.

However, once the New York arc was done, the heroes all split apart like so many Dragonballs, and the show hasn't had a coherent storyline since then.

I'm not saying that the characters should have formed their own Justice League or the like. That would probably have been much worse than the plotlines that did develop. But something should have been done in order to give the majority of characters-- except maybe time-hopping Hiro-- some stable location around which to foregather.

Television is, after all, a domestic medium. Weekly and even daily serials work better in that medium because of the expectation that you can always get the new episode "at home" and don't have to go anywhere for it. TV even dethroned its closest rival, the newspaper comic strip, which by about the 1970s had lost all steam as a medium for promoting serial adventures.

Now, adventure-series do sometimes feature characters who hop all about the globe and possess no "home base" whatsoever. In all the seasons of the 60s series I SPY, I don't think I ever saw the protagonists check in at a headquarters or report to a boss. But that's not a problem when your regular cast is small. It's also possible to do a ensemble series when the "home base" is the protagonists' mode of transporation, as the Enterprise was for the cast of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.

With a show like HEROES, possessing about eight or nine regulars whose stories are supposed to get frequently updated soap-opera style-- rather than being neatly rounded off in short arcs as with later TREK shows-- it's madness.

Moreover, in HEROES' first season, the producers made some attempt to be realistic about the exigencies of characters crossing huge distances for their meetings. But in the second and third seasons, that's all been thrown out the window. Characters come and go willy-nilly and I for one can't keep track where anyone is or where they've been in the last few days.

That's a good reason most soaps are built around particular towns or cities, so that it's not illogical for various characters to interact.

HEROES' debt to the ABC show LOST has been asserted by many, but here the bigger debt may be to ALIAS (also a show worked on by J.J. Abrams), which frequently had its main character bopping off to two or three exotic locations per episode. But even the ALIAS spy had a home base and a regular support-cast to balance all that waywardness.

Lack of location-stability is certainly not the only problem with the HEROES show. But I consider it to be a major reason why a tolerably-entertaining show went totally down the crapper.

ADDENDA TO "HEROES VS. HORRORS"

After I posted in "H vs. H" that the earliest "villain rally" known to me was in STAR-SPANGLED COMICS #7 (1942), I had the nagging feeling that I had indeed seen mention of an earlier team-up of comics-criminals.

A dim memory led me to reread Mike Conroy's 500 COMICBOOK VILLAINS, and sure enough, there was an earlier story-- sort of. It was a "Mr. Scarlet" tale appearing in Fawcett Publications' AMERICA'S GREATEST COMICS #1, dated 1941. That would beat the Needle/Doctor Weerd tale from SSC (though not the Joker/Catwoman crossover in BATMAN)-- except that, according to what Internet evidence I could find, none of the villains appearing in AGC #1 had appeared before. These villains were apparently created for this one appearance, as a team called "the Death Batallion," and so I'd hesitate to consider their teamup as a true "villain rally."

Incidentally, the Wikipedia writeup for "Mr. Mind and the Monster Society of Evil" rates that group as "the first supervillain team in comics to contain villains that a hero had fought previously," which is obviously incorrect given the SSC example. So, even though Fawcett can probably lay claim to the first BIG "villain rally," I'm rather glad that Jerry Siegel, founder of the whole damned ball of superheroic wax, can lay claim to the "villain rally" idea (so far as I can tell at this time, anyway).

Also incidentally: though in BATMAN #2 the Catwoman isn't costumed and doesn't seem to function as anything more than one of Milt Caniff's "shady ladies," in her very next appearance in BATMAN #3, she does join the rank of the costumed, wearing a gaudy orange dress and a big cat's-head mask. Still, not until 1946, in a tale titled "Nine Lives Has the Catwoman," does she get refitted into her familiar (and un-catlike) purple-and-green garments, and starts committing "cat-crimes" with various catlike devices.

Friday, November 7, 2008

HEROES VS. HORRORS: THE FINAL CONFLICT!

Over at The Groovy Age of Horror Curt Purcell just finished the third of three posts on the concept of "monster rallies" in horror movies (for the most part beginning with 1943's FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN) and horror comics. By coincidence I'd already been getting interested in this general concept of "interrelated monsters" through the webforum Classic Horror Films, where a thread asked the question as to when the concept of "ghoulish families" like the Addams Family got started.

Now, it so happens that the Addams Family's first cartoon was in 1938, which puts that particular cartoon before the aforementioned 1943 film. However, not being a Charles Addams expert, I've no idea as to what that first cartoon contained, and when Addams started putting in characters that drew on monsters from the movies and elsewhere-- the Frankensteinian butler eventually named "Lurch," or that "crawling hand" Thing. For all that I know at this time, the first Addams cartoons may've presented nothing more than a family of weirdos, of the sort one sees in the 1932 film THE OLD DARK HOUSE (itself based on an earlier novel). These kind of weirdos, like the Addams character eventually named "Gomez," had no explicit connection to movie monsters. The one exception, I assume, would be the black-clad lady of the Addams house, later named "Morticia" for the 60s TV series, as her character looks pretty strongly modeled after the Carol Borland vampiress from 1935's MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. In any case, though, the "ghoulish family" of the Addams probably didn't begin as a "monster mash" composed purely of spoofy versions of famous monsters of filmland, as with that other 60s series, THE MUNSTERS. It's interesting, though, that 1938, the year of the first Addams Family cartoon, also saw a re-release of the two most famous terror-tales of the early 30s, DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN.

But still and all, it does look like FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN is the first time the cinema ever put together two monsters whose respective origins had nothing to do with one another.

But whether cinema was the first medium to do so may depend on your definition of the word "monster." Structurally speaking, "villains" do pretty much the same things that "monsters" do. The most crucial difference is that in horror-tales the monsters, not their usually-ordinary opponents, are the "stars" of the show. But villains, more often than not, are basically foils to the (super)hero whose name is, or is above, the title.

Crossovers were not new to popular media before either comic books or horror movies came along: one thinks of stories where authors crossed over characters and/or concepts that had appeared separately (Haggard's 1921 SHE AND ALLEN, Burroughs' 1930 TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE). But I'm not aware of any prose ancestor to a conceit that preceded the "monster rally"-- i.e, the "villain rally," which seems to have made its biggest showing in the comic book medium.

Now, by "villain rally" I mean the same sort of phenomenon we saw in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN: two larger-than-life characters explicitly brought together so that an audience could see how they "meet" with one another.

I doubt-- though I can't be sure-- that there were any crossovers in most of the early pulps, comic strips, or "pre-Superman" comic books, though I've heard rumor of a couple of "villain rallies" in pulps whose dates I haven't yet ascertained. I'd say that even if such exist before the first ones in comic books, the comics-versions still took off with the concept as no medium had before.

The earliest "villain rally" I've pegged is in 1940, in BATMAN #2. One issue after BATMAN #1 gave fans both the Joker and the (not yet costume-wearing) Catwoman, both criminals overlap in one of the stories in issue #2. However, it's not that great a crossover, partly because Catwoman isn't yet a larger-than-life figure. Indeed, she spends a sizeable portion of the adventure protecting Robin against the Joker until Batman can arrive. So this tale in issue #2 both is, and is not, a real "villain rally."

I have a better candidate for "first rally" in STAR-SPANGLED COMICS #7, a 1942 tale written by Jerry Siegel and featuring Siegel's heroes, a "Batman and Robin in reverse," where the lead hero is the teenaged Star-Spangled Kid and the sidekick is an adult with the risible name of "Stripesy." In earlier issues they had encountered separately the menaces of "the Needle," a criminal who killed victims with-- guess what, and a hulking "Mr. Hyde" sort of villain named "Doctor Weerd." One could almost call this something of a "monster rally" as well in that both villains are overtly grotesque-- but in any case, it predates FMTWM in terms of simply bringing together two unrelated agents of chaos, albeit as foils to a goodguy hero.

Finally, during the same year FMTWM came out, CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #22 launched the first chapter of its multi-part tale, "the Monster Society of Evil," in which new villain Mister Mind bosses around an assemblage composed of both new antagonists and villains who had been created for previous stories, such as Nippo, Ibac, and the irrepressible Doctor Sivana.

So for what it's worth, one might say comic books got a little ahead of horror films in terms of giving audiences a new cosmos of interrelated monsters. As to what this means, if anything-- stay tuned.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A MOVEABLE FEASTER, PART 2

Back in my essay "Archetypal Library" I was groping for a basic example that "could distinguish the mythopoeic literary function from other functions in literary works." I had thought of comparing figures from WATCHMEN and SQUADRON SUPREME since I'd just done a compare/contrast on both of them, but I lost interest in that particular opposition. But as I started doing my Halloween post on the "sacred earth" element in Stoker's DRACULA., it occured to me that this might serve as a better example of the mythopoeic function I'm talking about. After all, what's more "basic" than the earth beneath our feet?

It should be said that just because an element has mythopoeic associations does not mean it's something airy-fairy in its complex symbolism; that it's divorced from any function within the narrative. On the contrary, the more complex it is, the more integrally the story-element works within the narrative, both to communicate plot-events and symbolic discourse.

For instance, at base Stoker's idea of "sacred earth" is a device that liberates Dracula from his burial earth but also gives him a weakness that the vampire hunters can exploit. Both of those are functions integral to the plot, and as base functions they're no different from a similar element in Polidori's "The Vampire," where Lord Ruthven, apparently struck dead, is revived by moonlight. Polidori's moonlight and Stoker's sacred earth both function to advance the plot. However, though Polidori's moonlight may carry some potential symbolic associations, the author doesn't do anything to enlarge upon those associations, and so that element remains what I call a "null-myth."

In contrast, Stoker takes this particular element-- which is, of course, just one isolated element in his elaborate vampiric cosmology-- and invests it with a wide variety of symbolic values that go beyond ONLY fulfilling what the plot requires.

For instance, one should give a little extra thought to this odd turn of Van Helsing phraseology:

"There have been from the loins of this very one [Dracula] great men and good women, and their graves make sacred the earth where alone this foulness can dwell"

Prior to this Dracula only spoke of the earth being saturated with the blood and memories of the heroic dead, which includes even women and children. He doesn't speak as explicitly as Van Helsing does later of his need for sanctified soil but he does comment to Harker that he wants an old house in England because "to live in a new house would kill me." But Van Helsing puts an extra twist on Dracula's celebration of his heroic ancestors, for the professor speaks as if the sacredness from the soil comes from the very "great men and good women" who have sprung from Dracula's own "loins," which is to say, not his ancestors, but his children.

The novel is ambivalent about Dracula's specific past. To Harker the vampire naturally disassociates himself from the historical figure we now call Vlad Tepes, since that ruler would have been long dead by the time of the novel, but Stoker clearly counts on the reader not to believe Dracula, who rages bitterly against a "brother" of that long-dead ruler who betrayed his people to the Turks. So Dracula is Tepes, perhaps raised to undead life by a bargain with Satan himself, or maybe from some strange electrochemical phenomenon (Van Helsing seriously proposes both origins at different sections of the novel). But for all his talk of the glory of the Sekely family, Dracula makes no allusions to either mother nor father. He seems the embodiment of a domineering paternal principle that owes nothing to earlier forbears, though this would of course be impossible if he were indeed a historical figure. Still, though Van Helsing sees him as vampirizing the "holy memories" of the soil where his children lie, it's certainly possible to see the reverse as well. If the soil also holds the sanctity of all those who preceded the historicized Dracula, then he is drawing vitality from both his ancestors and his descendents. It's possible to see in him an incest-happy myth-figure like Zeus, pretty much "vamping" any old relative-- mother, sister, daughter-- though in DRACULA only the figurative "daughters" matter to the story, since they're the only ones among the living.

Side-note: Stoker gives us few clues about the origins of two of his three vampire brides, who unlike the third one are said to resemble the king-vampire with his "aquiline nose." They could be daughters, one supposes, if one takes as gospel Van Helsing's assertion that many "great men and good women" have sprung from the vampire's loins at some time in the past, but it's broadly implied that Dracula no longer has the power to spawn as living things do, and can only create symbolic offspring through vampirism. Like Dracula, all three vampire brides apparently have existed in the undead state for centuries, since all of them dissolve into dust once staked-- a fate which is in marked contrast to Lucy, who, getting staked after having been a vampire for only a few weeks, returns to being a not-long-dead corpse. Thus, for neatness of timing if nothing else, I would think that the two brides with the physical resemblances are more likely sisters than daughters, though the identity of one with the mother of Dracula is not impossible, since Stoker's vamps can temporarily turn younger with the imbibing of stolen blood.

Again I feel compelled to harp upon how much complexity of association Stoker has imbued into what *could* have been treated as a simple weakness for the vampire hunters to exploit, along the level of such comic-book analogues as the Martian Manhunter (weakness to fire) and Green Lantern (weakness to the color yellow). I don't include the better-known example of Superman and his radioactive rock-nemesis here, for kryptonite did accrue a fair amount of mythicity over the years-- though Stoker's treatment of the associations of "sacred earth" is on the whole more complex.

In fact, I'm moved to reflect that only recently have academics begun to appreciate the deep symbolic discourse in DRACULA. When I was growing up in the 1960s, there were no scholarly treatises on DRACULA, though there were quite a few on that other half of horror's "diabolical duo," FRANKENSTEIN. I believe that this was because Shelley's work, despite all of the novel's flaws and despite the popular iterations of the story, carried the associations of "high art" because it seemed to be "about something important"-- a hallmark attitude one encounters with works that follow the pattern of thematic realism. In contrast, DRACULA must have looked more like a pure thrill-ride, which is the hallmark of works that follow the pattern of thematic escapism. Yet though both the Shelley novel and the Stoker work possess considerable mythicity, I tend to favor the discourse of DRACULA a bit more. Intellectually, FRANKENSTEIN is easier to take more seriously, with its guilt-haunted protagonist unconsciously using his doppleganger to slaughter just about everyone he ever loves or even knows, while DRACULA's theme, such as it is, doesn't bear a lot of close analysis. Yet it may be that the very absence of a "serious theme" allowed Stoker's imagination greater free play, and allowed him, a la William Blake, "to see heaven in a grain of sand--"

Or memories of ancient blood-sheddings in a handful of earth.