In the year and a half I’ve had the privilege to be your blog mod (how time flies!), a few of you have asked me where I come from, since I live in England but I’m not British or a native English speaker.
Transylvania, Ultrasylvania, or Überwald (if you’re of the Pratchett persuasion). Siebenbürgen, the 7 Citadels, if you’re fancy. The Land beyond the Forest.
Nestled in the Romanian Carpathians, it’s an old and odd place. There are seashells on top of mountains and prehistoric bear skeletons in the caves. And you can’t turn a corner without tripping on a legend.
I can hear all of you thinking “Dracula!” right now and I have to rip that bandage in one: that’s actually the one we can’t lay claim to. The putative inspiration of Bram Stoker, Vlad the IInd Draculea, never ruled in Transylvania, was not one of its counts, the Dracula Castle so many tourists flock to has nothing to do with him (at most, historians think he may have been imprisoned there for a couple of days on his way to Budapest). He was born in Transylvania, I’ll grant you, but he left pretty soon.
There’s one vampire theory I like much better. Look at those forests again.
“How do they get mistaken for corpses?”Andrews, Ilona. Clean Sweep, Innkeeper Chronicles 1. NYLA Publishing, 2013. Kindle edition, page 111
“They have thick skin. They don’t blush, their core body temperature is lower than ours, and you saw how pale their lips are. They also tend to put themselves into stasis in coffin-like modules when they know they’re going to be stuck on our planet and they’ll have to wait for a long time to be picked up. Sometimes they bury these modules because they don’t want to be accidentally found.”
If I were a space vampire of the Holy Cosmic Anocracy, stuck on a far away planet for a long time, I know that’s where I would bury my coffin-like stasis module. Mountain peak after mountain peak, covered in snow for most of the year, with forests corners so dense that no human sets foot in them for decades. What could go wrong?
It’s not like the locals could find my stasis pod and start legends which would spiral out of control until they inspired a best-selling Gothic novel that could turn into a planet-wide known franchise. That’s just silly.
The Pied Piper:
“And I must not omit to sayBrowning, Robert. The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Dramatic Lyrics, 1842
That in Transylvania there’s a tribe
Of alien people who ascribe
The outlandish ways and dress
On which their neighbours lay such stress
To their fathers and mothers having risen
Out of some subterraneous prison
Into which they were trepanned
Long time ago in a mighty band
Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land,
But how or why, they don’t understand.”
We all know the story. The town of Hamelin in Germany was plagued by rats. A piper, dressed in patched clothing, lures the rats into the river with his song, and they all drown.
Despite the piper’s success, the town officials renege on the payment owed, so he starts playing again. And this time his song mesmerises 130 of the town’s children who follow him out of town into a cave, after which they are never seen again. There’s an inscription on the gate of the German city “In the year 1556, 272 years after the magician stole 130 children from the city, this gate was founded”.
Some versions of the story end here, but others say the children emerged at the end of the same night, through a magic cave portal, right in Transylvania. Here, they fortified some of the settlements in the manner familiar to them. The 7 citadels that gave the province one of its names. More importantly, Cornelius and his beasties would feel right at home!
“Our real last name isn’t Harrison. It’s Hamelin.”Andrews, Ilona. White Hot, Hidden Legacy volume 2. Avon HarperCollins, 2015. Kindle edition, page 383
A low sound like the noise of a waterfall came from behind us, insistent and oddly disturbing.
“We’re not named for the place where we were born. We’re named for the place where years before Osiris serum was discovered our ancestor became infamous for his magic.”
One historical theory is that the Pied Piper was actually an imperial recruiter and the “children of the town” were the young generation which emigrated to Eastern Europe to guard the frontiers of the empire, in exchange for land. This process gave Transylvania its beloved German community, which still remembers the exodus. The portal story is, of course, much cooler.
And that’s not the only portal we have.
“I may as well here mention the Scholomance, or school supposed to exist somewhere in the heart of the mountains, and where all the secrets of nature, the language of animals, and all imaginable magic spells and charms are taught by the devil in person. […] A small lake, immeasurably deep, lying high up among the mountains to the south of Hermanstadt, is supposed to be the cauldron where is brewed the thunder, and in fair weather the dragon sleeps beneath the waters.”Gerard, E. Emily, Transylvanian Superstitions. The Nineteenth Century (Vol. 18), London, July-December 1885, pp. 130-150, accessed on Project Guttenberg
Transylvanian myth describes an underground school of black magic, founded by the devil himself, where initiates can learn his magic and how to ride dragons (the closest translation for the Romanian Zmeu kaiju the scholars came up with). The entrance to the school is through a portal that opens every 10 years under Lake Hermanstadt, and only 10 students are admitted at a time, 9 who graduate as full Solomonari (weather controlling wizards) after 7 years spent in the darkness of the mountains. The 10th student is never allowed to leave and becomes the Devil’s PA, brewing thunder with his master.
I know what you’re going to ask, and the answer is yes. I did swim in the bottomless lake, god knows I’ve had to talk to some absolute animals, and I’ve ridden a few Zmei in my day ::wiggles eyebrows::. My PA skills, however, weren’t up to par.
Am I always happy with the way Western creators have dealt with the culture of Eastern Europe, and my homeland in particular? You’d think after all of the depictions of Transylvanian brutish villagers in Dracula movies, I would be immune. Sometimes, the local myths are copy/pasted and straight up transported to Western countries, with no mention of their place of origin, and then everyone congratulates themselves on their brilliant original idea. Other times, even when credit and context is given, descriptions are based on hearsay and stereotypes and paint us all as Neanderthal-browed thieves barely capable of intelligent speech. Eh.
It’s been worse. It could be better. It helps that when we feel sad about it, we can just portal to magic school.