Odds and Dead Ends : New Slains Castle / Dracula’s Scottish Home

You always find stuff that you didn’t know when preparing these articles, and this little nugget it happens is my find of the week. It’s been well reported that Stoker got part of his inspiration for Count Dracula from Vlad Dracula III (Vlad the Impaler), though retro-actively working the figure into his idea, rather than being originally inspired by him. I was also aware that one of Stoker’s colleagues, actor Henry Irving, who worked at the Stoker-owned Lyceum Theatre, was widely considered another inspiration for the character. However, I was not aware that one of the largest inspirations may have come from New Slains Castle, up in Aberdeenshire, in Scotland.

Admittedly, my Stoker knowledge is, depressingly, severely lacking. The extent of it goes to lots of Dracula and its various adaptations, my undying devotion to The Jewel of Seven Stars (which people who read my section here a lot will know I bang on about constantly, but damn you, it’s an incredibly bleak and unnerving novel), and Lair of the White Worm on my phone which I’ve sadly never gotten around to. So it surprised me to discover that this castle, which is mentioned in The Watters’ Mou and The Mystery of the Sea (more well-read readers can confirm this for me), may not only have inspired the castle in Seven Stars, but also Dracula’s castle, particularly a specific octagonal room mentioned in the novel. It turns out that Stoker frequently went on trips to the area on holiday, and so would not only have known the area very well, but most likely been very familiar with the castle, both its location and grounds, and its interiors.

A brief history lesson first. The old castle was built in the early 14th century by John Comyn, part of the Comyns family who held it for many years. In 1594, it was attacked by King James VI of Scotland (who was also James I of England, successor of Elizabeth I, final ruler of the Tudor family) as the then-owner, Francis Hay, 9th Earl of Erroll, was leading a rebellion against him. The old castle was mostly destroyed with gunpowder and cannon-fire, though remnants of it remain to this day. It remains a ‘scheduled monument’, a title given to architecturally important monuments in the UK and as such protected against change and modification.

The new Slains Castle (The one we’re interested in) was built by Hay upon his return from exile (the uprising hadn’t gone too well) a little ways up the coast. Originally a tower house and courtyard, it was expanded and changed over the years, with wings and towers built up as the centuries went past. In the mid 1800s, a complete redesign was ordered, turning what was there into a more contemporary, Baronial-style castle, giving it granite facing update. Large gardens were designed and laid out only a few years before Stoker visited for the first time. The whole thing was eventually unroofed not long after WWI, and has remained derelict ever since.

The history lesson over, this brings us back to Dracula, and the octagonal room in question. The novel has a small passage which reads as follows: ‘The Count halted, putting down my bags, closed the door, and crossing the room, opened another door, which led into a small octagonal room lit by a single lamp, and seemingly without a window of any sort.’ (my copy, p 21). It turns out that New Slains Castle has a similar room, specifically octagonal in design, and considering Stoker knew the castle well, the very unusual design seems to be a big red flag alerting us to the fact that New Slains is indeed where he got it from. Coupled with the fact that Stoker is rumoured to have been staying in, or near, the castle at the time he was beginning to plan, or even write, Dracula, it’s not too far a stretch to say that, even if parts of the castle weren’t intentionally lifted and transported to the rugged hills of Transylvania, there was more than likely a subconscious application.

Obviously, the location in the novel is nothing like the coastal views of the Scottish ruins, and there doesn’t seem to be any reports or rumours of ghouls, ghosts, or sunlight-fearing vampires lurking in Slains Castle. I would assume it’s now in the ownership of the National Trust, or some other organisation, so I’m not sure if you could just rock up and have a look around, but if you are ever in the area, might be a fun time to go and check out the real Castle Dracula.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

Postscript: People interested in following up on this topic might want to check out When Brave Men Shudder: The Scottish Origins of Dracula, by Mike Shepherd. I haven’t read it, but it’s got an introduction by Dacre Stoker, great-grand-nephew of Bram, and plenty of 5 star reviews on Amazon. Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Brave-Men-Shudder-Scottish/dp/1907954694

Odds and Dead Ends: Hyde and Seek

Why Stevenson’s classic still haunts us

It’s hard to think that Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, could be anything like a surprise today, with the story so deeply ingrained in the popular conscious, at least at a basic level. But when the story was unleashed in 1886, it changed the face not only of gothic fiction but everyday thought. It altered how we look at ourselves. Its names are used so frequently as short-hands that we don’t even realise we use them. Its story is so potent because, at some instinctual level, we’ve known it all along.

That both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are two halves of the same person is so obvious to us now, that it is hard to remember that this was the novella’s major twist. Although the concept of the doppelganger had been used before; never quite like this. In an age of scientists beginning to look at the mind, Stevenson kick-started the psychoanalytic influence of popular culture. That later Freudian theories of the ‘id’ and the ‘ego’ would so closely mirror Henry Jekyll splitting his consciousness into its good and evil sides, is only to be expected. Studies into schizophrenia, insanity, and other levels of mental illness,  still the property of the scientist in the asylum, just beginning. That this madness could spill into the streets of London was unthinkable.

What I think captivates us most is that the moral dilemma proposed in the story is so deeply personal and human. After a single transformation, Jekyll gets a taste of his new, unrefined freedom. The dark activities that Hyde participates in thrill him, excite him so much that he voluntarily changes over and over again. When he realises that it’s getting harder to remain as his good side, something seems to change in Jekyll’s narrative. This is something much older, instinctual, a kind of self-possession. And when he thinks he is rid of Hyde for good, temptation strikes again, leading to the downward spiral that spells out his doom.

Therefore, we ask ourselves questions. Is evil inherent in all of us, and is it only a matter of time until temptation unleashes it? Once a single crack appears, have we set up an inevitable chain of events that will lead to our final demise? Though Jekyll’s potion may have rattled the initial cages, eventually Hyde possesses the key to his own lock. What about those of us who are perhaps weaker than he? Will one day our darker sides discover that the cell door, if rattled hard enough, will break on its own?

By now, the doubling trope is so old and worn down that it is hard to see it as new and refreshing. And yet, just like most of our movie monsters, time and time again it crops up. The reveal in Fight Club is one of the most well known in cinematic history, and even The Usual Suspects has a trace of it. Primal Fear (another Ed Norton movie, and another movie from the 90’s; perhaps there’s a follow-up article on the prevalence of doppelgangers in that particular decade?) also follows through on this concept. Psycho is perhaps one of the most influential examples of this theme being carried across, and Stephen King has used it several times in his various writings. Any ‘evil inside’ story is dubbed ‘a modern-day Jekyll-and-Hyde’. How many stories can you think of that receive this kind of treatment?

One of the best doppelganger movies of recent times is Jordan Peele’s Us. If you haven’t yet seen it, I highly recommend you do so immediately. Peele takes the concept and fills it with additional meaning. It isn’t just evil inside, but all of our lost hopes and griefs, all of the unfilled desires. The Untethered are our lost childhoods let loose and raging at the world. Life has crushed its dreams into the cookie-cutter pattern of capitalist aspirations that never manage to satisfy.

Never before have we been so aware as a people that, sometimes, we’re just as bad as the monster’s we have dreamed up to take our place. When before we created entities to embody our fears, we now project them as altered versions of ourselves as an attempt to come to grips with the evil inside. We don’t create avatars and fill them with our darkness anymore, because the avatar staring back at us is every bit ourselves as we are right in the beginning.

Even in The Exorcist, Karras must eliminate all doubt that the disturbances in the McNeill household are not being caused by Regan herself, before he can convince the Church that an exorcism is needed. He must go into the investigation with the initial belief that Regan, as a result of the breakup of her parents, the overworking of her mother, and her journey through puberty into adulthood, has unleashed a subconscious identity with parapsychological powers. In this story, demons are less readily-believed by the Church than Regan unknowingly having a ghostly Mr Hyde.

And so the legacy of Stevenson’s story lives on. Through its dozens of adaptations, its thousands of reworkings, and the endless imaginations his characters have inspired, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has touched us all because, very simply, it gets us to ask ourselves a very potent, and disturbing, question. “Am I evil?” I don’t think there’s a person in the world that hasn’t at some point thought they had a bad side waiting to destroy the world, and perhaps this little novella is the reason we all started looking at others, and ourselves, with a little more trepidation than we did before.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

Bibliography

Fight Club. 1999. [Film] Directed by David Fincher. USA: Fox 2000 Pictures.

Primal Fear. 1998. [Film] Directed by Gregory Hoblit. USA: Rysher Entertainment.

Psycho. 1960. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. United States of America: Shamley Productions.

Stevenson, R. L., 2006. Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In: R. Luckhurst, ed. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Tales. New York: Oxford, pp. 1 – 66.

The Exorcist. 1973. [Film] Directed by William Friedkin. USA: Hoya Productions.

The Usual Suspects. 1995. [Film] Directed by Bryan Singer. USA: Blue Parrot.

Us. 2019. [Film] Directed by Jordan Peele. USA: Monkeypaw Productions.

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor : The Field Guide to Evil

Plotline:

A feature-length anthology film. They are known as myths, lore, and folktales. Created to give logic to mankind’s darkest fears, these stories laid the foundation for what we now know as the horror genre.

Who would like it: People who love horror anthologies, foreign films, the dark side of folklore and horror shorts  

High Points: Diverse collection of stories from different parts of the world

Complaints: N/A

Overall: It’s really good, over all I am going to give it 4 ½ Stars!

Stars: By Segment…

DIE TRUD: A terrifying monster, known as the ‘Trud’, visits sinners in medieval Austria. In this female centric story, the sinner not only surrenders to (perceived) sin, but embraces the Trud.⠀3 Stars

AL KARISI: The shape-shifting demon mentioned in Armenian, Kurdish & Semitic folktales that appears in the form of an ugly old woman stealing newborn babies and haunting pregnant women in their nightmares. Specifically, women without a man by their side at night.⠀5 Stars

THE KINDLER AND THE VIRGIN: In the forest of Poland a kindler meets a ghost-like virgin. To thank him for the fact that he carried her to the village on his back she shares a secret on how to avoid the law. He must dig out 3 freshly buried bodies and eat their hearts and he will never be guilty. 3 ½ Stars

MELON HEADS: A Midwestern legend. Melon Heads is the name given to legendary beings and urban legends in parts of Michigan, Ohio, and Connecticut generally described as small humanoids with bulbous heads, theorized in the 1970s, who occasionally emerge from hiding places to attack people. 2.8 Stars

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO PANAGAS THE PAGAN: The kallikantzaros is a malevolent goblin that dwells underground sawing the world tree all year so that it will collapse, along with the Earth. According to Greek folklore, when they are about to saw the final part, Christmas dawns and they are able to come to the surface to bring trouble to mortals. On January 6th, when the sun ceases its seasonal movement, they must return underground to continue sawing for the world tree has since healed itself. 4 Stars

PALACE OF HORRORS: A circus agent is lead to the depths of the jungles of Bengal to the ruins of an old palace where human curiosities were once kept. They try to convince the caretaker to sell them the malformed people.⠀2 ½ Stars

A NOCTURNAL BREATH: A brother and sister live in a remote area of Germany. Their livestock is infected with the plague, which is spread by a rat-like ‘drude’ that swaps between human hosts. 5 Stars

THE COBBLERS’ LOT: Loosely based on Hungarian folklore. It is originally known as ‘The Princess’ Curse’ and told here as the tale of fraternal shoemakers competing for the hand of the king’s daughter from a neighboring kingdom amid fetishism and the perils of the libido. 5 Stars (My personal favorite!)

Where I watched it: VOD

***

Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: The Matriarch

Plotline: After getting into a car crash, pregnant woman Rachel and her husband Matt seek help at a remote Scottish farmhouse. While staying the night with the farmer and his wife, the stranded couple realize the family’s daughter is actually a girl who’d been abducted years ago. Before they can escape, the farmers capture Rachel in order to steal her child.

Who would like it: People who are fans of Lifetime Movie Drama’s and beginner horror fans

High Points: Great premise, lots of potential 

Complaints: Lots of plot holes, and subplots that lead to nowhere

Overall: I thought it was almost ok.

Stars: 2 Stars

Where I watched it: VOD

***

Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it is so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after

Roses Of Winter by Murdo Morrison

Tom Brokaw called the people that lived through the Great Depression and then went on to fight in World War 2 The Greatest Generation. In his 1998 book called The Greatest Generation he recounted stories of how soldiers and families in America were effected by the war. Life in the 30’s and 40’s wasn’t easy and some families were torn apart by the financial struggles of the Great Depression in the 30’s and young men having to go off to war in the 40’s.

Overtime, I’ve read quite a few accounts of American families during the war years, so I was happy to find a fictional novel that centered around two families in Scotland during World War 2. The book is called Roses of Winter by Murdo Morrison. Roses Of Winter was originally a podiobook and was released in print in July 2011. The two families in the story are working class families who are greatly effected by the war.

The first family is the Burns who live in Maryhill. In September of 1939, Mary and Charlie sat in their home reading the paper and wondering when the Germans would attack Scotland. The Burns have three kids, Alastair, Elspeth and their teenage daughter Ellen. In the evening, they go to church where the Reverend announces that the country is now at war.  The congregation is in shock. They had hoped the Great War that ended in 1917 would be the last, but things didn’t work out that way.

Things get worse for the Burns. Ellen is not getting along with her mother Mary while Charlie who is in the Merchant Navy has to sail away on a ship called The Jasper to deliver petroleum to the British army in France. The ship gets bombed by the Germans en route, causing the crew to abandon ship and head for land where things aren’t any better. Back in Maryhill, Mary has to leave her family to attend the funeral of her mother in Glasgow. On her return she finds Ellen is dating a man who is headed off to fight in the war.

The second family is the McIntyers. Bessie and Murdo have two sons, Donald and Alec, who are off fighting in the war. The couple lives in Scotstoun where Bessie dreams of a better life. Bessie has no friends and her life was turned upside down when she was a teenager when her family lost all their money in the Great Depression.  Bessie has had to work hard ever since and her life gets worse when one of her sons is killed in the war. One of her neighbors: Ella reaches out to her, giving Bessie the opportunity to talk about her sad life.

Ella has a daughter that lives near by Clydesbank. One night in March of 1941, Scotland’s worse fears come true when Clydesbank is bombed by German forces. Fearing for her daughter, Ella leaves the safety of her apartment and takes the tramcar to find her daughter. As she gets to town there are explosions and people screaming all around. There is no safe place to turn but she can’t leave the war-torn town until she finds her daughter.

Roses Of Winter has vivid descriptions of naval battles along with cities getting bombed into rubble, but its more then just a war story. What really makes Roses Of Winter a great novel is how the characters in the story react to the chaos around them. The characters change during the course of the story and you feel for them. When I read a book, I like to bookmark parts that I really enjoy. I bookmarked 20 different scenes in Roses Of Winter that I felt were examples of great writing.

For example, I liked when Mary is at her mother’s funeral and while grieving makes the realization that someday her kids will have to attend her funeral and feel the same way she feels. I also liked when the ship Charlie is on is under attack and as he sees the bombs dropping, he imagines being on a picnic with his wife. Other things I liked in this book was how Bessie and Ellen changed throughout the story. There is also a good scene where Andy finds the people he works with are more then they seem and there is a good commentary on how its the working class that really pays the price in a time of crisis.

Murdo Morrison put a lot of work into the research of Roses Of Winter and should be commended for it.  He read several accounts of people in Scotland who lived through that period; also the ships in the story we’re based on real ships from the era. The tenaments that many of the characters lived in were based on the place where the author’s mother grew up and was very similar to where the author used to live in.

Roses of Winter is kind of like a journey through World War 2, where you will find a little bit of everything. The book has a couple of love stories, there is loss, suspense, a suicide and some good battle scenes. At its core, the story is about how families and friends pull together to survive in the face of disaster. Roses Of Winter is a great human drama and an excellent read.