The Indiana Jones Moment and Dracula by James Lyon
Greetings from Sarajevo in the heart of the Balkans.
Whether you like them or not, you just can’t seem to avoid vampires these days. There are comic vampires (Johnny Depp, George Hamilton, Leslie Nielsen), classic vampires (Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee), sparkly vampires (You-Know-Who), and Gothic romance vampires (Anne Rice, True Blood, romance novels). We lack only tap-dancing vampires with top hats, tuxedos and canes. I wanted to put tap-dancing vampires in my new novel, “Kiss of the Butterfly”, but they refused to attend dance lessons. J
Here in the Balkans, vampires have an entirely different context than they do in the outside world. The reason is simple: this is where the creatures known as vampires originated. The word “vampire” entered western languages in the 1720s from what is today Serbia, from the Serbo-Croatian word “vampir”. Today, throughout the lands of the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia), one finds that vampire lore is still present, and that in the villages in particular, many people still fear or believe in vampires.
I am an historian, and I had an “Indiana Jones Moment” many years back. That is the point in the movie where Harrison Ford is thumbing through some dusty old book and he comes across an interesting tidbit of information that sends him scurrying off on an epic quest. Well, my “Indiana Jones Moment” occurred in an archive decades ago, where I found a dusty old book with a reference to Dracula’s last military crusade in 1476, when he carried out a horrific massacre in the Bosnian mining town of Srebrenica. Then in 1995, Europe’s worst massacre since World Ware II took place in Srebrenica, with the murder of 8,000 men and boys. I began to wonder if there was a metaphysical connection to Dracula.
My “Indiana Jones Moment” prompted me to do two things: 1) start studying local Balkan folklore about vampires; and 2) buy an Indiana Jones hat. My wife drew the line when I asked if I could buy a bullwhip. But now that she’s read “50 Shades of Grey”, perhaps she’ll reconsider. But I digress.
Balkan folklore and history hold numerous mentions of vampires. Did you know there was a famous law passed in 1349 by the Serbian Emperor Tsar Dushan that forbade digging up graves and impaling the body? The penalty was the blood price in gold for killing a live person, and any priest who participated would be defrocked for 7 years. In the 1660s there was a Buffy the Vampire Slayer wannabee running around the Dalmatian coast in armor with a stake. In the 1730s, twelve people were put on trial for vampire related charges in the Adriatic coastal city of Dubrovnik – shades of the Salem Witch Trials!! Also in the 1730s, an Austrian army surgeon conducted autopsies of suspected vampires in Serbia. Even today, you will find reports of suspected vampires in Balkan media.
I tried to base the vampires in “Kiss of the Butterfly” entirely on characteristics
found in Balkan folklore and history. This means that they may be different from any of the vampires you have encountered up until now.
So to give you an idea of how they differ, I have put together a short 12 question quiz.
1) What shape and color are a vampire’s eyes?
2) What are a vampire’s teeth made of?
3) Where does a vampire’s power reside?
4) Which side of the body do vampires feed from?
5) How does someone become a vampire?
6) How do you kill a vampire?
7) What time of year are vampires most active?
8) Where do vampires like to hang out? (not the blood bank)
9) Where can you always find vampires on Good Friday?
10) What are the most common professions for vampires? (telemarketers do not count)
11) Can vampires have sex?
12) What is the relationship between a vampire and a butterfly?
The answers to all of these questions (and more) are in “Kiss of the Butterfly”. Although it would be unfair to give away all the answers (spoiler alert), let me note that vampires must always return to sleep in their graves on Good Friday. Therefore, if you must visit the grave of a loved one at Easter, make sure you take a sharpened Hawthorne wood stake (other types won’t work), a hacksaw, as well as matches and copious quantities of lighter fluid. And avoid any butterflies you see hovering around the graves. Just in case.
Now, where I can find a bull whip for sale?
About the Author
James Lyon is an accidental Balkanologist, having spent the better part of 32 years studying and working with the lands of the former Yugoslavia. He has a Ph.D. in Modern Balkan History from UCLA and a B.A. in Russian from BYU. He has lived in Germany, Russia, England, Massachusetts, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Utah, and California, and spent the better part of 18 years living in the lands of the former Yugoslavia, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia, and has worked in Macedonia and Kosovo.
He has traveled widely, from Africa to Latin America to the Middle East, and all over Europe. He currently works in Sarajevo and bounces back and forth to Belgrade. In his spare time he likes sailing through the Dalmatian islands and eating Sachertorte in Vienna at the old Habsburg Imperial Court’s Confectionary Bakery, Demel. He lost his cat in the forests of Bosnia and can’t find it. If you see a black and white cat that ignores you when you call the name “Cile II”, a reward is being offered…provided the cat hasn’t turned into a vampire.
Kiss of the Butterfly is available for purchase at Amazon