Carmilla – A prequel to Dracula
For the uninitiated, which I was, Carmilla is a Gotchic (read saucy) novella that was originally published in 1872 and is believed by many to be the foundation upon which Bram Stoker wrote Dracula. It certainly has all the elements such as shape shifting, neck biting, seduction, rising from the grave, a vampire slayer and of course the hunting of the vampire to drive a stake through the heart.
In this story, we have a female vampire that is seducing and then taking the life of female victims. Considering the time period this book was written in that alone makes this quite a risqué story. Carmilla is the mysterious stranger who has to be rescued after her horse and cart meet with an accident. Her mother has urgent business and can’t spare the time to stop and take care of her child so she leaves her in the care of Laura and her father. (Apparently babysitting was much different back in the late 1800’s). To add to the mystery Carmilla’s mother has forbidden her from speaking of their past or their destination. She even tells Laura’s father not to ask about them right before she rides off.
As you may expect, once Carmilla is around all sorts of strange things begin to happen. First off, Laura recognizes Carmilla from dreams she had over a decade ago. Additionally, Carmilla begins to seduce Laura, lavishing her with praise and stirring up odd feelings in her. When some old restored photos show up at the house they’re amazed to find that one of the pictures looks exactly like Carmilla. Of course, the portrait was done over a hundred years ago. (You always know that’s a bad sign. There is also the other subtle sign of Carmilla sleeping all day and disappearing at night.)
Ironically there is a malady going around the village where young girls are becoming sick and dying. In some cases the young girls only live a couple of days. It’s not too far of a leap to guess that Laura gets this same malady and becomes increasingly pale and lethargic. Doctors are brought in but they fear something more supernatural is going on. This leads to an investigation, a hunt and stories of more girls suffering in the same way as Laura. Pretty soon it’s obvious Carmilla isn’t who she claims to be nor is she anywhere near as young as anyone thinks.
If anything, this is a condensed version of Dracula and is really quite good. It has the same first person narrative style told by the victim (although Dracula brings in a lot more characters and many different forms of telling the story) and has many of the same elements; which it should considering it was written first. There is a lot of interesting lore to gather from this story, and clearly sets up the vampire legend. If you have a chance and want to get to the origins of the vampire, this is worth reading.