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Talismans

11 Jan

I’m considering re-reading a hefty piece of fiction–hefty in size, scope of story, and theme–The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

The Historian might be described as a story that tells a story about a story. It’s about the historical Dracula, beyond Hollywood or Stoker or any of the modern vampire tales, and Kostova deftly handles the intertwined stories.

Remember the film Sliding Doors? The alternating storylines could easily have become tangled and difficult to keep separate, but the filmmakers handled them very well. The same with The Historian and its layers of stories that are centuries deep. It’s the kind of tale that I’d like to write–not that I want to write about Dracula, but I want to write absorbing, tangled stories that are as well handled as this one.

But, all that aside, one thing strikes me about the whole spectrum of Dracula/vampire myths: the use of a variety of talismans used to ward off Ol’ Vlad or other evils. What makes a silver bullet through the heart any more effective than the average bullet through, say, the head? Why is garlic such a big deal? Or a sharp wooden stake? Why are crucifixes, holy water, or other holy symbols from other religions, such powerful weapons?

They are, after all, only things. What power do they have over what is, essentially, spirit? And what happens if a vampire’s victim is non-religious? What’s a poor neck-bitten atheist to do?

The topic is addressed in The Historian, but even then the atheists resort to religious talismans to protect themselves from an evil so far beyond understanding or human power to overcome that they don’t know what else to do. One person carries a silver knife, another a gun loaded with silver bullets, and another an ancient vampire-killer kit. Garlic in their pockets, silver crucifixes around their necks. Again, just things.

I’m not a ghoulish person, nor do I revel in gore or evil, but there’s something about the various vampire legends that have captured my imagination since I first saw a version of Dracula on TV when I was about six years old. It gave me nightmares for years, but–and this is odd, perhaps–it strengthened my faith in God. In my worst terrors, I prayed for peace. No teddy bear or talisman worked the same.

Where did all those traditional talismans originate? Why did/do people think they possess any power? Guess this means I’ll be cruising Wikipedia.

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