Thursday, June 14, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Vampire of the Mists I

When I'm not blogging about my spooky elfgames, I teach courses on Gothic literature at a university. I'll be honest with you, the Gothic is often not the most literary of modes; it has never been a particularly respected literary form and its constituting novels were written by amateurs looking to capitalize on the mania for Gothic horror. As such, traditional Gothic literature was, in most cases, the disposable escapist, pot-boiler, mass market fiction of its day. I've slogged through a lot of it in my studies, and it has frequently been rough going.

So, I should be well-prepared to slog through the Ravenloft novels, right? Welcome to an ongoing series in which I attempt to fight my way through the official fiction of the Domain of Dread. Oh god what have I done. First up, Christie Golden's Vampire of the Mists.

The biggest hurtle in this story will likely be the protagonist, an elf vampire called Jander Sunstar. (What a name!) Jander is the Forgotten Realm's answer to Twilight's Edward: he feeds off of animals until the hunger gets to be too much for which point he then feeds on the helpless inmates of an insane asylum (!!!). And that's not even the most problematic thing he does at the asylum; not content to merely take his sustenance from the disturbed, he actually falls in love with a woman who is clearly mentally handicapped. (But she's handicapped because of magic, so I guess that's okay?) Seriously, he visits her every night for ten years and eventually things get a bit physical. Physical, in an insane asylum where she is incarcerated for being mentally ill. Shades of Edward watching Bella sleep here. Also, while he doesn't sparkle, he's some sort of shining “gold elf” and his gaseous form is described as Joseph's Technicolor Dream Fart.

Of course, eventually Jander's lunatic gal-pal gets a fever and seems to be on the edge of death. Even clerical healing will not avail her. As a last-ditch attempt to keep his madwoman madame with him he tries to make her his vampire bride—but she refuses the curse of undeath. Enraged, Jander...flips out, turns into a wolfman, and kills every motherfucker in the place; seriously, he slays the madwomen and jailers, the innocent and the guilty alike. Which, obviously, leads him to be sucked into Ravenloft.

The sexual descriptions in the novel continue to be just fucking awful. Petya, our rogue-ish gypsy youth, has apparently made a career of professing his love to virginal girls so he can get up their skirts before skipping town—as he does with the burgomaster's daughter. “I like her, but I don't like-her-like-her,” is a faithful paraphrase of his rationale. And, if we had any doubt that women who are otherwise on-the-ball and clear-headed would become instantly wet at the sight of Jander, the young gypsy seer Marushka's clothes start falling off as she trades coy flirtations with our proto-Edward: “Marushka sat down beside him on the wooden bench and shrugged, her blouse slipping off one dark shoulder.” 

Also, let's not forget that Jander is a bag of dicks in vampire form. In what is the squickiest scene yet, Strahd sends Jander a young woman to feed from: “I am to tell you that I am untouched here – she placed a finger to her throat – and here – she cupped her hands about the mound between her legs.” Jander makes a big deal of telling the girl that he doesn't plan on hurting her, then uses his hypnotism power to take away her free will anyway because he's basically a self-justifying rapist.

By far the oddest psycho-sexual scene yet, however, occurs when Jander and Strahd bust out their flutes and pipe organs to have a vamp-bro jam: “A sweet, pure sound issued forth, a bird's call to the rumbling waterfall of Strahd's organ. The count looked up, and something like delight mingled with surprise on his pale face. Together, the vampires created spontaneous music. The clear tones of the flute danced and skittered like light over the organ's deep chords." I defy you to not read that as gay pr0n. At least they come away mutually satisfied: "Simultaneously they finished their songs..." If you know what I mean.