Expanded Universe: An Undead History by Kathryn Troy

Today we welcome Kathryn Troy, an historian turned novelist. She has taught college courses on Horror Cinema and presented her research on the weird, unnatural, and horrific to academic conferences across the country Her nonfiction book, The Specter of the Indian: Race, Gender and Ghosts in American Séances, 1848-1890, is forthcoming from SUNY Press. Her historical expertise in the supernatural and the Gothic informs her fiction at every turn. Her genres of choice include dark fantasy, romance, horror, and historical fiction. She lives in New York with her husband and two darling children. Connect with Kathryn Troy at Bathory’s ClosetFacebookInstagramGoodreads, and Amazon.

One random commenter will win a Kindle copy of A Vision in Crimson.


AN UNDEAD HISTORY  by Kathryn Troy

Vampire: (def): a revenant; a human for whom by curse or other design death is not final. Imbued with abilities beyond those of ordinary men, exhibiting heightened cunning, strength, speed, and sensory perception. May acquire the ability to control weather conditions or influence the human mind. Separated from heavenly grace, such creatures feed on human blood to sustain their unholy existence. This condemnation is a condition reversible only though beheading, fire, or complete destruction of the engorged heart.

Bram Stoker was certainly not the first person to craft a vampire story. Serialized tales like Varney the Vampire and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla were written decades before Stoker published his novel in 1897. Polidori’s The Vampyre was published in 1819, almost a century before. As serials and penny-dreadfuls, vampire stories had gained a modicum of popularity, which created a climate that was ready to accept Dracula. But it was Stoker who propelled and solidified the genre into the veritable beast it has become.

Part of his success was his approach to the titular character. He conducted enormous amounts of research into beliefs of vampirism, which are as old as time itself in the rural regions of Eastern and Southern Europe. His choice to bind the Wallachian prince Vlad Tepesh to the vampire Count was a result both of the man’s bloody history, this woodcut in particular fueling rumors of his gruesome appetites, and of the folk beliefs in the areas in which Tepesh operated. Stoker combed the annals not just of history, but of folklore, pulling on deeply entrenched local customs, using fascinating but true facts to ground his story. His clever pairing of old superstitions with the burgeoning studies of the blood imbues his plot with an inherent tension: the old world and its phantoms encroaching upon the new and the scientific. And all this, in Stoker’s superior grimness of style, his almost supernatural ability to create an eerie, ominous, foreboding mood.

A Vision in Crimson (Frostbite Book 1) Kindle Edition by Kathryn Troy (Author)Stoker’s hand is a heavy influence in my own fiction, especially works that contain vampires. A Vision in Crimson, the first title in my new romantic fantasy series, draws heavily on Stoker. The fantasy world I’ve crafted is one in which Stoker did not simply research vampires; he recorded them. I’ve taken folkloric images of vampirism and injected them into a high-fantasy setting, exploring how the themes, moods, and supernatural elements associated with the genre would interact with elemental magic and enchanted forests. Stoker’s influence on my fiction is seen not just in his approach to vampires, but in his style and his approach to the creatures he endeared to the world. The lore which gave Dracula his foundations lend Stoker’s tale a heady dose of authenticity, with most of what came after him largely derivative of his work. As a historian of such things, I deeply appreciate such a carefully wrought concept, and have taken my ideas of vampires one step further with contemporary researches on vampirism the world over that, if not for Stoker, would most likely not be available to me.

Twentieth-century studies into vampire beliefs around the globe highlights some fascinating aspects of such beliefs, as old as garlic and crosses, but just never thrown into the limelight. A great collection for those interested parties is The Vampire: A Casebook, which is a collection of anthropological accounts of vampire beliefs and the records of people whose bodies were disinterred, then staked, beheaded, or burned before being ­re-interred. One example is the perception of vampirism as a condition afflicted within the first few days of death, and the absolute necessity that the body not be crossed. Birds flying overhead, or animals crossing over the body are in some regions believed to be the roots of such an unholy existence, barring the soul from transcending and therefore trapping them in a body that is dead, but yet not. This kind of unwanted activity is provided as the rationale behind a wake, to watch over the body and soul in this vulnerable state This particular iteration of the vampire came crashing down on me years after I’d read the book, in my own living room. My father, born on a small Greek island, was laying prone across the floor, watching a movie. I got up to get a drink, and stepped over him into the kitchen. He audibly gasped like I’d pulled a shotgun out of my pocket, sat up straight as a rod, and insisted, pleaded with me to cross back over him. I’ve never seen my father so visibly frightened of anything in all my life. My mind was blown.

Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality Hardcover – September 10, 1988 by Paul BarberAnother eye-opening work is Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality by Paul Barber. He describes in excruciating detail the body’s natural processes of decay, breaking down in forensic fashion the gruesome sounds, engorgements, and otherwise horrific changes to the human body upon death that would, when viewed by village folk, have marked their late loved ones as revenants — things that have come back from the dead, the carriers of death and disease. Those strains of vampirism have been played up from time to time in the literature as well as cinema. Max Schreck’s performance in Nosferatu is not sensual by anyone’s standards. I’ve taken up the torch of the dead side of the undead in one of my works in progress, Notes from the Undead. In that tale, Roderick Chastel, an author of vampire stories, struggles to impress upon the world the necrophilic nature of their love affair with vampires. He gets his wish, but only after becoming a vampire himself — or, so he thinks. On top of that are layers of lore that are not often seen in fiction or film — the longing for home soil. It made sense for the urban setting, a context which has a long history of displacement and longing.

Whether you come to a vampire story hoping for sexuality, immortality, the excitement of otherness, or inhuman power, the well of material for outstanding, ground-breaking vampire fiction has not run dry, and will not run dry for many generations to come. Stoker may have broken the ice, but he only scratched the surface.

Few creatures of the night have captured our imagination like vampires. What explains our enduring fascination with vampires?…Is it the overtone of sexual lust, power, control? Or is it a fascination with the immorality of the undead?…The legends of the undead will continue to fascinate the living.
~Godsmack, Vampires


Kathryn Troy’s book A Vision in Crimson is on sale at Amazon for 99ȼ June 3 thru 10!

Book Description: Katelyn knows her magic is risky, but Icaryan light is fading fast and she is desperate. Returning to Earth, she crosses paths with Luca, a vampire hybrid living on the outskirts of humanity. Passion sparks their weary hearts. The rogue hunter follows Katelyn into a world teeming with wonder and danger, forsaking his own quest to root out his father. But his father has not forgotten him. A Vision in Crimson is the first installment of a new epic fantasy blistering with romance and Gothicism.

One random commenter will win a Kindle copy of A Vision in Crimson.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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11 comments

  1. Thanks for this interesting look and for the great resources. I didn’t know or didn’t recall that Stoker did so much actual research (yay for research!), but absolutely agree that his mood creation was what separated him from so many of those earlier vampire tales. While the other two classic great monsters–Frankenstein’s creature and the Wolfman–seem to require full presence to scare us (it’s how they look that is scary), Dracula is often an absence or partial presence (as when he is mist), and that requires strong manipulation of atmosphere and mood. Great essay!

  2. I wonder if the prohibition of “crossing a body” led in any way to the saying “someone just walked over my grave” when you suddenly shudder for no reason.

    Kathryn,your novel sounds great, but I’m interested in spiritualism and I have to say your nonfiction book sounds great too!

    • Marion, Yes I believe that phrase of “walking over graves” is connected to this idea of a spiritual crossing. I’m glad to have sparked your interest in my fiction (and nonfiction) inclinations!

  3. I completely agree that “Max Schreck’s performance in Nosferatu is not sensual by anyone’s standards,” and would add that Willem Dafoe’s performance as Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire provides new insight into a brilliant performance (and removes even more sensuality, which I didn’t think was possible).

    Thank you for placing an emphasis on history and research in your fiction! I always appreciate when authors do that, since so much of our everyday lives is affected by what came before.

  4. mary henaghen /

    This was an amazing article, and the series sounds like a great read. I loved learning all the info about Stoker.

  5. Sandyg265 /

    This sounds like a good book. I like the different take on Stoker.

  6. Thanks so much to Fantasy Literature for hosting me today, I really enjoyed writing this article (and those books,) and being among like minds is its own reward.

  7. Mary Henaghen, you win a Kindle copy of A VISION IN CRIMSON!
    Please contact me (Marion). Happy reading!

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