Yes, I’m a Pedant

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (1992 film) It was very useful for the Lone Hunter’s story, and is a bit different from most Dracula movie scores. However, it had been a while since I’d seen the film, and I didn’t remember all the details, so I went on-line. And remembered why I never finished watching the movie.

I’d hit a wall of disbelief very early on, and had quit. The film depends on a massive theological error in order to make the plot work, and I couldn’t get past that. Now, I re-read the plot, shake my head, and my writer brain kicks in. How could that error become a legit plot point, without making the huge blunders?

OK, I realize that asking Hollywood to get medieval Catholic or Orthodox theology correct is . . . a stretch. However, it could be done. To summarize, in the film Vlad III Tepes is told by a priest that his wife is damned past any hope of salvation because she committed suicide to avoid being captured by the Ottomans*. Vlad loses his temper, to put it mildly, trashes the chapel, and stabs a cross with his sword, swearing that he’ll avenge his wife’s death if he has to draw on the powers of H-ll to do it.

Here’s where I hit the wall. The priest was wrong, at least if you read the Summa Theologica. Suicide was indeed considered one of the fast-tracks to damnation, with a very few exceptions. One of those exceptions was if the person committed suicide to avoid rape. I’m not as conversant with Orthodox theology of the time, but I’ve read that they too had a similar exception. This isn’t the place to argue over theology, but that movie bit was such a blatant error that . . . Yeah. That and that it was Vlad desecrating a painting and the cross*, NOT desecrating a consecrated Host, that damned him as well.

So, here’s where the writer brain kicked in. What if . . . the priest had deliberately lied to Dracula? Why would a priest do that? What if he was in the pay of one of Vlad’s many enemies, and they wanted Vlad out of the picture? What if there was some sort of magical protection tied to being in good standing with the Church, and the priest (who was forsworn, or being blackmailed, or . . .) took the opportunity to push Vlad to the breaking point? Vlad is excommunicate, he loses the shield of faith, and his enemies swoop in. Except he’s a better magic worker than they realize, and he casts a desperation revenge spell that . . . leads to the rest of the movie. And the priest gets what’s coming to him later on, but repents before he dies.

See, that would work, it wouldn’t make me throw things at the screen, and you only add a few elements to the film. But that’s my writer brain, and my having read parts of the Summa and other things. And it would move farther away from Bram Stoker’s book, so Hollywood wouldn’t really be interested.

Edited to add: OK, gang, now I’ve got a mental image of Deborah being all sweet and asking her slightly long-toothed grandfather, “Bunicot, where do Hunters come from?” And Arthur looking thoughtful and saying, “Well, Little One, the tale as it was told to me begins a very long time ago . . . “

*Or out of love when she is told in error that Dracula is dead. Which could still work – again, the corrupted priest or another traitor setting up the situation where Dracula renounces the church and . . .

**OK, I can sort of see the director’s choice here, because Bram Stoker said that using Hosts to deny a vampire access to his resting place was OK, and Van Helsing would have been in as big of a religious mess as Dracula if the director had been consistent. Personally, a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with silver and a few other things would be higher on my list of “things I need to get rid of a vampire.”


32 thoughts on “Yes, I’m a Pedant

  1. This Dracula movie, awkward and weird as it is (that hair!), is actually the most faithful to the original novel. But the novel is so much better than this movie. I’ll stick to Bela Lugosi, thanks.

  2. That movie departed considerably from the novel, since the action begins with Mr. Harker journeying east to meet the nobleman. That damnation backstory was created from whole medium-brown shroud, spun from the writer’s … pardon me, … I meant hatred of Christianity. About a day’s research would find most of the theological underpinnings, and a quick overview of eastern Carpathian/Balkan politics (“Love thy neighbor, do unto him first, that he may enjoy eternal rest.”) – but that requires time and discipline. So much easier to blindly project.

    Your addition becomes more plausible as the nonexistent backstory, with the revenge spell driven by blind rage (and maybe an unwelcome assist) to shove his being and soul into a negative energy range. Unable to die, and a soul-deep thirst only eased temporarily by fresh blood … hmmm, this takes on a tone I’d expect for the clan and its Hunters. Well, take a broken setup; fix, clean, and polish; and use the shiny.

  3. Chuckle Chuckle

    David Weber has a character (who turns out to be the historical Vlad III Tepes) laugh at the movies and the book because of their lack of historical knowledge.

    Oh, the character isn’t a true vampire but something else. 😉

  4. Oh, solution/kludge I found to fix the Host issue.
    It’s unconsecrated hosts, any contradicting information is a translation problem.

    Which basically makes it like a super-power crucifix.

    • *Shakes paw at Old NFO* Look, it’s bad enough with my muse adding two female characters into the Lone Hunter’s story, one named Mina, the other Lucy, who might compete for his attentions. Arrrrrghhhhhh! Don’t poke the muse, please?

  5. If I were to be pendant about Vampire Stories, I’d want to know “which vampire legends are you working from” and “why aren’t the other vampire legends true”.

    There are several versions on the basic “blood drinking monsters” all over the world. Why is your (the author) version accurate and the others aren’t?

    Barbara Hambly touched on this when her main character learns that vampires are real (because one is “blackmailing” him in order to get his assistance) and he searches for common elements of the legends in order to protect himself. Note, that her vampires don’t have a weakness associated with Christian religious symbols but do have problems with silver.

    On the other hand, in the Anno Dracula series by Kim Newman, it is established that there are several “lines” of vampires with different abilities (although they have a common weakness to silver).

    • I’d probably have my Mr. Exposition character blink, eyeball the questioner, and demand if they also thought that there being many theories of what causes illness means that germs and cancer are only as valid as miasma or crossing a fox’s trail, since both have been proposed.

      • LOL 😆

        A character in a Vampire Story saying “But what about those Vampires” would deserve that (or worse). 😀

        Of course, critics who “whine” that such-and-such author “violates” accepted Vampire Lore (ie the critic’s favorite vampire book/film) are silly.

        Not only are there different versions of vampires in folklore, there are plenty of different vampires in books/movies.

      • Humorous line from one Vampire Novel.

        The Vampire is asked about “Vampires needing permission to enter a residence”.

        His reply was “Stoker was an optimist”. [Grin]

        Note, it was somewhat humorous because in this story universe, vampires could be nice people. 😉

        • The more I think on it, the more I believe it’s a perfect scene to put in any flavor of Hidden World story– it gives you a chance to tell the readers what the setting is like, including any conflicts in theory and what is generally believed, what your Hunter culture is like, etc.

          • Nod.

            Seriously if a writer is working with character types that other writers have used, the writer needs “moments” where he/she establishes How His/Her Character Types differ from the character types that other writers have used.

            IE if “your” were-wolves can be killed by regular bullets, there could be a scene where a were-wolf is looking at silver bullets and comments that is a waste of silver and comments that regular bullets are just as lethal to him. 😉

        • Seriously underrated 80’s movie – “My Best Friend is a Vampire”. Sure, it’s an allegory about homosexuality and AIDS, but it’s hilarious, and has Fannie Flagg, David Warner and Rene Auberjonois. “Try pig’s blood. B negative.”

    • If you were to become a pendant about vampire stories, would you be a silver cross necklace?

  6. Well, that’s when you know that a story/character has really gripped you, in spite of the bloopers … when you start rewriting to fix all those bloopers…

  7. Paul makes a good point. Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula novels identified the twist: Harker and company hadn’t taken him out, but another vampire, in Wallachia. He remained in London, enjoying the season, until being (wooden) clubbed into amnesia by vagabonds. Dire circumstances in the heart of the Empire lead to an unusual and uneasy alliance of geniuses, in a lethal game against evildoers. First story narrated by the Count and by Dr. Watson (“The Holmes-Dracula Files”). The remainder of the series view him appearing when most needed, as a old friend of the family. As one character noted, in a choice of offending *him* or trouble with the Chicago police and DA – the family could afford very good lawyers. The books made a nice, self-supporting branch of Dracula lore.

    • Actually, in the First Saberhagen Dracula novel, they correctly saw that they caught up with Dracula but as far as Dracula was concerned “sunset had happen” (sun blocked by a large mountain) and they thought a steel knife could kill him. Thus when the steel knife “killed Dracula” he had just turned into mist.

      Note, Stoker’s vampires could be killed by a steel blade but Saberhagen had it that only wood could harm/kill a vampire.

  8. Returning to the original post: is it possible that the priest didn’t know about the exception to the “suicide = damnation” rule? Or is the Summa Theologica one of those things that every priest of the time was taught?

    As for poking the muse … seems to me that that would be only slightly less dangerous than poking a cranky porcupine.

    • poking a cranky porcupine

      Now I’m wondering if some mage got a cranky porcupine as a Familiar. [Crazy Grin]

    • It is possible, but given the time and place, the rape-avoidance exception would have been well known, even to a priest who was not a hard-core theological scholar. Aquinas more or less formalized what had been discussed for centuries. The Summa was completed in the late 1200s (let’s say 1260s, although some polishing went on), and Vlad III was around from 1431 to 1476 (more or less. Maybe 1477).

      • Probably more likely to be familiar with it if he *wasn’t* a big scholar– with how war-like the time was, and how nasty the enemies?

        The contrast between actions you know would result in your death, and desiring death, would be REALLY immediate.

        (Which runs into the issue that Vlad would’ve known it… but when someone is in mourning that bad, it’d be relatively easy to lie to him.)

  9. Ah, the problem of spotting unrealistic details in fantasy stories!
    My current bedtime reading is It Came From the Trailer Park, which is all good fun, but I keep stumbling over details that either don’t sound right (water moccasins in Watts Bar Lake?) or clearly aren’t right (detonating ANFO with a shoelace fuse?), which makes it hard to go along with the main story (zombies, space invaders, giant carnivorous woodchucks, or what have you).

    • Yes, it’s interesting what kinds of seemingly minor inconsistencies can shatter the suspension of disbelief. Sometimes kind of depressing too, when one small inconsistency ruins my enjoyment of an otherwise pretty good story.

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