My Gothic Horror Pet Peeves

I’m a huge fan of Gothic literature, movies, aesthetics, etc., and even though I’ve just missed Halloween, it felt like a good time to talk about spooky things! Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a bit of a snob about the things I’m passionate about. Gothic horror is one of those things, and I feel like since I’ve done a course on it, I’ve got some credibility to back me up! There are a few old tropes and new takes that are perfectly fine, but I want to address why they bother me and why they’re not necessarily the best opinions out there.

The first thing I want to talk about is vampires and their reflections. I love vampires. I had a book called ‘How to be a Vampire’ that was a guide to the history, the fashion sense, and the lifestyle of my favourite undead creatures. I wrote an essay in my Gothic Literature class comparing Dracula to Twilight regarding the appeal of vampires in the modern day. Vampires have existed in many iterations throughout different cultures and times, so of course there are going to be some disputes over the supposed ‘facts’. The most recognisable vampire is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and most of the agreed-upon vampire lore comes from him. One of the traits we associate with vampires, besides drinking blood, is not having a reflection.

You might have heard that the reason for this is that ‘back in the day’, mirrors used to be backed with silver. More recently, people have taken that to mean that since mirrors are now backed with aluminium, a vampire’s reflection would be visible. The problem with this is that Stoker never attributed Dracula’s lack of a reflection to silver. Silver was never linked to the vampires in Dracula in a major way, despite it being a weakness for other monsters like werewolves, so there’s no reason to believe that modern mirrors would grant vampires any more of a reflection than silvered ones would. So why does this vampiric trait exist? I’ve seen a few interesting speculations; classic vampires were seen to represent the aristocracy, so their lack of a reflection could represent the elite’s inability to reflect on themselves. Others see it in a more sympathetic light, as the figure of the monster is unable to identify itself amongst its peers. More take it as simply a sign that the person is not quite human.

My second pet peeve is also related to vampires, and it’s also an attempt to ‘science away’ vampire lore. We all know that vampires don’t handle the sun too well (though this is another thing not mentioned by Stoker), but they have a connection with the moon and all things to do with the night. Something that I’ve seen brought up recently is that what we call ‘moonlight’ is actually a reflection of the sun’s light, so shouldn’t that also burn vampires? This one really bugs me, because 1) way to take the fun out of being a creature of the night, and 2) the amount of sunlight that is reflected by the moon is so minute that in the worst-case scenario, it would like burning your tongue on a slight-too-hot cup of tea. Yes, it hurts a little, but not for long, and it’s not going to ruin your day.

Moving on from vampires, I want to talk about Frankenstein, or more specifically, Frankenstein’s monster. Pop culture really took the story of reanimated life and ran with it, with Hollywood, in particular, sensationalizing quite a bit of it. The most recognizable images we have of Frankenstein’s monster are the bolts in his neck, and the lightning crackling over a Gothic mansion while a mad scientist yells, ‘it’s alive’! The thing is, none of that happened in Mary Shelley’s book. In fact, very little is mentioned about Victor Frankenstein’s method for bringing the creature to life. This plays into Shelley’s theme of the perils of playing god, and the absence of a scientific process really highlights that humans are not supposed to have this knowledge.

Another thing that Hollywood took away from Frankenstein‘s core themes is the creature’s intelligence. Frankenstein’s Monster in film is a stilted mass of flesh, unable to form coherent sentences and predisposed to violence. That is far from the case in the novel, where the creature teaches himself to speak and read by observing others from a distance, only resorting to violence after he had been shunned by humanity over and over. The creature is as much a protagonist of the story as Victor himself is, and his arc revolves around the questions of what makes someone human, and what makes someone conscious. Victor and the creature are narrative foils; Victor sees himself in his creature, and vice-versa. All of the creature’s violent actions are not impulses, but carefully planned steps to make Victor confront himself and pay for his mistakes. Having the monster not be able to recite the philosophical monologues that he does in the novel takes away a major part of the story, and does the character a disservice.

There are probably a lot of pet peeves that I could think of, but I think I’ll leave it here for now. There are so many parts of gothic horror and so many new twists on old ideas that I absolutely love, so one day I’ll take the chance to write about those!

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