Vampires and vampirism in the writings of C. S. Friedman
|One of them, the older-bodied fellow haunting the Carpathians, had even talked himself into a garlic allergy. Daetrin Ungashak To-Alym Haal, a vampire, on his brethren back on Earth (C. S. Friedman, “The Madness Season”)|
It takes just one look on C. S. Friedman’s books to recognize immediately that vampires, vampirism and the significance of blood in general are among constantly recurring themes in her writing. Already in her first novel, “In Conquest Born”, she describes a planet, where a ritual combat and a ceremony of drinking the blood of the fallen is one of the most important traditions. Her second book, “The Madness Season”, has a vampire as the main character and a narrator of the major parts of the novel. But it was “The Coldfire Trilogy” (“Black Sun Rising”, “When True Night Falls”, “Crown of Shadows”) that has established Friedman’s position as probably the most interesting and original contemporary writer dealing with the topic of vampirism. She has proved her interest in this motif by writing a version of the “Book of Nod”, called “The Erciyes Fragments”, for the World of Darkness/Vampire: the Masquerade RPG system. She is also an author of a fascinating poem called “Thanksgiving”, which could be find exclusively on her excellent fan site, http://www.merentha.org. and which is, again, a variation on the theme of the vampire. “The Erciyes Fragments” we will set aside: as a book written for the most important RPG system dealing with the topic of vampirism it requires a separate analysis. We will look carefully, though, on the other ones. The main focus of our interest will be the novels: “The Madness Season” as well as all three volumes of “The Coldfire Trilogy”: “Black Sun Rising”, “When True Night Falls” and “Crown of Shadows”.
Interestingly, even though C. S. Friedman has written a lot about vampires, none of her books belongs to the horror genre sensu stricto. “In Conquest Born” is a classical space opera, dealing mainly with the never ending war between two interstellar empires. “The Madness Season” is a good example of science fiction in the traditional meaning of this term: both main theme of the novel (a contact and war with an alien civilization) and the significance of science and space technology point at that. “The Coldfire Trilogy” is the most complicated case: if one starts reading it from the third volume, like I did, it takes some time to realize that it is not a fantasy novel, but rather a crossover between fantasy and SF, where humans, stranded on a planet that enables the use of some form of magic, are living in the world filled with sorcerers, demons and monsters. In this one there are also some elements of the horror genre. “Thanksgiving” is a long narrative poem, resembling to some point XIX c. horror stories on one hand and ballads on the other. As for “The Erciyes Fragments”, it is a collection of legends, sayings and prophecies.
The first question one may ask concerning the motif of the vampire in C. S. Friedman’s writings is: Is it a pattern in these descriptions? In other words, can one summarize their features, get one consistent view and put a sticker “This is a vampire a la Friedman”, like one can do with the characters of Anne Rice? Do they all belong, so to say, to the same species? It does not take a long and detailed analysis of C. S. Friedman’s novels to find the answer – and the answer is a definite “no”.
Let us take into account her two main vampire characters: Daetrin Ungashak To-Alym Haal from “The Madness Season” and Gerald Tarrant from “The Coldfire Trilogy”. Both are men of the human race, tall and blond-haired, attractive, both can turn themselves into animals and fiercely believe themselves to be human… and that’s more or less where the similarities end. Everything else is different. Perhaps the easiest way to assess these differences would be to take a look at the classical characteristics of a vampire and then compare C. S. Friedman’s characters with it.
But then, the next question arises – what exactly is the classical characteristics of a vampire? Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”? The 1920-1930s Hollywood Dracula? Nosferatu of the excellent movies by F. Murnau and W. Herzog? Anne Rice’s Lestat (or, alas, Louis)? Tom Cruise’s Lestat? And so, are vampires afraid of the holy water? Can sunlight kill them? Do they hate the smell of garlic? Do they turn themselves into bats? Can they love? Can they have sex? Can you become one, when they bite you? Luckily, it is not our task here to write a detailed comparison of the vampires in different works of literature and movies. It is enough, I believe, to state that there are, roughly, two sets of characteristics: the first more “traditional”, from Stoker’s novel and its first screen adaptations, the second rather “modernized” or “romanticized”, as in the novels of Anne Rice and the Dracula movie by Francis Ford Coppola. In the latter version (not necessarily that modern, because its origins may be traced back to F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece), the vampire is not much of a monster, but rather a dramatic, even tragic, figure; also, it often lacks many traditional characteristics (you don’t seriously think Lestat fears the smell of garlic, do you?).
There is one important question to start with – are Daetrin and Tarrant vampires at all? Daetrin isn’t even an undead. He uses the word vampire only once, to describe a Marra, an alien who is feeding on a young woman, pretending to be in love with her. He believes himself to be human and it is preserving this humanity that matters most, that defines the majority of his actions. His companion Kiri at first believes him to be Marra, like herself; later on, she starts to perceive him as an example of parallel evolution, a missing link between the embodied, who die when their bodies die, and the disembodied masschangers able to shapeshift, like herself. Daetrin, by the way, passionately hates old legends about vampires: there are things, like taking the shape of a bat, that he wouldn’t do simply because according to the cliche that’s what a vampire should do. He wouldn’t ever use apply this name to himself or his people for the fear that once you call a demon by name, it has material substance and can harm you , become real and turn you into a non-human monster of the legends. Still, he is a vampire: a nightbound creature, feeding on blood, turning himself at will into a bat, a wolf, a bird, stronger than humans, practically immortal. As for Gerald Tarrant… he isn’t, strictly speaking, a vampire anymore. That’s what his friend Karill reminds him of (you haven’t been a mere vampire for centuries now). Yet that’s how his unlife started: he was a vampire in the beginning and there’s still enough of this identity in him to allow him to feed on blood. He prefers to sustain himself with negative emotions, like anger or, preferably, fear, but when he’s ill, exhausted or hurt, he still needs human blood to heal. In addition to the vampiric traits, in Tarrant’s characteristic there are also satanic elements, in the tradition of Milton’s Lucifer: his immense pride, his rebellion against God’s will and at the same time longing for God, the way he tempts everyone being in his presence. Still, there are enough elements traditionally associated with vampirism in his characteristic that one may consider him a type of vampire.
There’s no such problem with the character of “Thanksgiving”. Here, we have all the traditional elements of a vampire: she is a predator, a night hunter, once human, now undead with unliving, unbeating heart. And, more than obviously, she feeds on blood… human blood.
It seems, then, that both C. S. Friedman’s characters can be rightly described as vampires, yet they differ a lot from the standard picture…as much as they differ from each other. To assess what are those differences and whether there are any deeper similarities between (mostly) Gerald and Daetrin is our task in this essay.
What defines one as a vampire? Everyone who has ever seen at least one of numerous versions of Dracula will tell you that a vampire is a creature that feeds on blood, preferably human. He may or may not hide from sunlight, change himself into a bat, fear the smell of garlic or have pointed teeth, but always – always, if he is a vampire – has to drink blood.
Let us then take a closer look on Daetrin Ungashak To-Alym Haal, as he is called according to the Tyrran census. Does he drink blood? No he doesn’t. He doesn’t if he doesn’t have to. The first period of true happiness in his life started with the XX c., when he came to believe that his need for blood was nothing more than nutritional deficiency. I remember my tears of relief that distant day, when I first came to understand that the mystery which tormented me has painfully simple solution , he says. Daetrin’s long research and experiments finally result in him inventing the pills that will provide him with all the proteins he needs . And so, he starts to forget, or, more correctly, to bury in his memory all the events of the past: hunting wild animals as a wolf with Yolanda … or hunting humans as a human with Bianca. He start dividing his life into two periods: the Time Before, dark and filled with superstitions, and the Time After, when he can finally be sure that he is nothing but human. He forgets it all. Until the Talguth. Daetrin’s situation on the Talguth is dramatic: he has Fever and he is starving. He throws off every kind of human food the Tyr is trying to feed him. Even with an access to the ship labs granted, he is too weak to prepare his pills. The last thing he can do is to find something or someone to feed upon. And so he does, he finds Earth animals being transported to the human colony and kills one of them. The taste of its blood repels him, but also gives him a forbidden pleasure. The animal’s blood triggers numerous changes in Daetrin’s body as well as his shapeshifting abilities, about which we will talk later. Now it is important to say that only when living on his natural diet is Daetrin able to change his shape and his appearance as well as control, to some extend, his environment and senses. It makes him realize, finally, that he cannot deny his nature anymore. Moreover, later on he comes to believe that he wasn’t even supposed to feed on animal blood – it is the blood of humans that he needs. And he gets it, from Kiri, because it will give him strength to fulfill the task that will end the domination of the Tyr. There is an interesting detail here: Kiri offers Daetrin her blood willingly. This kind of sacrifice gives one special power… and we will see that nearly identical idea is expressed in “The Coldfire Trilogy”. In Daetrin’s case, it has a special power indeed: a regular supply of human blood, offered freely, makes him fertile… but about this particular aspect of his nature we will also talk later. Does Daetrin the vampire kill his victims? Sometimes yes. Sometimes – no. His memories of conversation with Bianca, when he mentions a special bond between him and his human victims, prove the point. Does it mean that those who survive would become vampires, like Daetrin himself? Not likely. Yet he is reluctant to hunt humans – Bianca, in the same conversation, mentions his precious moral sense.
Gerald Tarrant, as it was said before, has once been a vampire. His preference for delicate pleasures of psychological manipulation, however, has turned him into a creature much more sinister. He has become a demon, the Hunter feeding on fear and suffering. He chooses his prey carefully: Women, always. Mostly young, inevitably attractive, as Ciani explains to Damien on his first night in Jaggonath. His servants abduct the chosen girls and bring them to the Forest, where the Hunter himself chases them and hunts them like wild animals, before they die for his pleasure. They are, however, given an illusion of chance: he does not use his faeborn skills and if the prey manages to escape him for three days, she may go free. That’s a similar bargain to the one Tarrant has promised Sisa, the slave offered to him by the Undying Prince: if she survives the journey back as his source of nourishment, she will never be a slave or poor again. How difficult could it be? For Sisa, difficult enough to choose death over continuing the nightmare. So, Tarrant feeds on nightmares and fear and suffering… yet he still needs human blood in certain situations: when he is weak, suffering, wounded. The old thing will still sustain me. Human blood will do that if nothing else is available, he says to Damien, explaining to his companion his own nature. And it is Damien who would feed him, offering himself freely. So he will give the Hunter his blood and he will dream nightmares for him… and such a sacrifice has an immense power on Erna; the bond between Damien and Gerald will remain until one of them dies, or even after that. Damien decides for such a desperate move out of his concern for the rest of their group: Ciani and Zen are, in his opinion, too weak to feed their demonic companion. But the bond thus created has become probably the most powerful and important factor in his life: it is him, his human influence and his willing sacrifice for his once despised yet needed ally and later a friend that makes the miracle and gives the soul of the Hunter a chance of salvation. And as for Gerald… When Damien descends to Hell to try and save him, he witnesses the Hunter’s private inferno, filled with his victims. They’re all there to torture him eternally with memories of what he had done. Does it mean that somehow Tarrant’s conscience is guilty and that he feels remorse? It would be too risky to answer positively to such question, but considering Gerald’s behaviour during his travel to Mt. Shaitan, when he carries a container of blood with him and is clearly decided to use only his supplies (he even turns down Damien’s offer), we must seriously ponder such a possibility. A monster feeling guilty? As usual, Tarrant remains a living paradox.
A true and traditional vampire (a female one this time, one may add) appears in C. S. Friedman’s “Thanksgiving”. As for my hunger, that is best unsaid , the nameless speaking person of the poem states, but is it so hard to guess what this hunger is, after all?
According to ethnologists, various cultures know numerous ways to become a vampire. In the literature and movies, however, one is of special notoriety: a person attacked by a vampire becomes a vampire himself. In case of both C. S. Friedman’s characters this proves to be wrong.
One may guess with high probability that none of Daetrin’s human victims has ever become a nosferatu. Daetrin was born a vampire, in a vampire family, probably in Hellenistic Alexandria. Both his father and mother were vampires and so was his sister Yolanda, killed much later by the hunters, when she was in the body of a wolf . He has learnt the skills necessary for survival from his parents, mostly the father, an Alexandrian scholar who has raised Daetrin and Yolanda after their mother has left the house. Daetrin identifies himself with his people, as he calls other vampires living on Earth: he is even ready to face death on exile not to let the Tyr know about their existence. During his journey Daetrin also finds out how to become a father; apparently in his 3000 year long life span on Earth he has never experienced fatherhood. Only when he is offered regular supplies of human blood freely given, surprisingly for himself he turns out to be fertile. A vampire child can thus be born only when the environment is stable and his/her parents are trusted by humans surrounding them. Daetrin also finds out, or rather guesses, what vampires are. They aren’t, as he once feared, undead monsters, predators from the dark legends. Their role among humans is closer to the position of a symbiote, preserving a set of human genes as the essence of the past together with the knowledge of human history. Teachers, Daetrin says. Protectors. Servants. Us.
Daetrin was born a vampire, whereas Tarrant has made himself one. Realizing at the age of 29 that he was about to die soon due to incurable heart disease, he decided to ransom his own soul to the Unnamed and seal his pact with Erna’s Evil One by murdering his two younger children and his wife. Keep me alive and I serve your purpose. I’ll take whatever form that requires, adapt my flesh to suit your will – you may have it all, except for my soul. That lone remains my own. These are the words he had said to the Unnamed, the words that had transformed him into something other than a man (…), a creature whose hungers and instincts served that darker will. Did he die before the change? Damien seems to believe he did and this suspicion may be proved by the fact that Tarrant is very often called undead. Certainly he cannot make any of his victims a vampire… but there is, as we can observe in Damien’s case, a special bond between him and the ones whose blood he drinks. This connection, mentioned before, isn’t, however, the strongest one possible. To complete the bond the Hunter must not only drink the person’s blood, but also offer his own. He did it only twice in his life: for the first time he shared his blood with his trusted servant and later betrayer Amoril, for the second with Damien on their way to Mt. Shaitan. This is a process similar to becoming a vampire in many classical novels, to mention only Bram Stoker and Anne Rice, but in this case it does not turn a person into an undead; instead, it establishes a bond allowing both participants almost to share thoughts and feelings.
A typical vampire, a human turned undead, is a character of “Thanksgiving”. She mentions it a few times in the poem, especially in its last part, when she explains her decision not to kill her victim on Thanksgiving night.
One can also mention the fact that vampires are rather unlikely to die of old age. They can be killed (in case of Tarrant, quite easily), but they don’t die naturally. Longevity is a feature of both characters of C. S. Friedman’s novels: Daetrin, from what we know, is about 2800 (?) years old, when he leaves his home planet. Gerald was born circa 250 years after the landing on Erna; Damien meets him more than nine hundred years after his supposed death. In both cases, also, the significance of memory is stressed. Daetrin clearly remembers only the events from the XX c. onwards (which makes a span of more or less 400 (?) years). Gerald, after his resurrection on Shaitan, decided to risk a journey to his keep to save his notes and books. Much earlier on, while searching for any kind of information on the Iesu, he berates himself: Would that I had begun this work earlier! /../ Would that I had understood, in the arrogance of my youth, just how much memory can be lost after nine hundred years .
A similar theme appears in “Thanksgiving”. The poem’s main character decides not to kill her victim on the Thanksgiving night. Explaining it, she says that the predator remembers mortal days. Even though her memory of human life is blurred, she still remembers that the night of her meeting with an unhappy young man is special .
From the classical characteristics one feature is certainly present in almost all C. S. Friedman’s portrayals of vampires: it is the fear of sunlight. The vampires are bound to darkness and exposure to sunlight can… well, what? Kill them? Probably yes, in case of Gerald Tarrant. He barely escapes death on his way to Mt. Shaitan, when his archenemy, the demon Calesta, obscures his senses to make him believe that he still has a lot of time left before dawn. On the other hand, he does expose himself to the light of day, quite a few times. After the death of the Master of Lema, when Gerald’s party is being chased by demons and there is no other way of escape from the underground corridor, Tarrant breaks the wall of the tunnel and lets the sunshine in. It is supposed to kill the demons, and, as his companion Damien Vryce believes, Tarrant himself… only it doesn’t. It takes him a lot to recover, but, finally, after a few months, he does. Also, on a cloudy day, he shapeshifts into a demonic creature to save his companions from the Terata. Similarly, he appears on the deck of the ship during the storm, again to help . At all of these occasions daylight can hurt him, sometimes really badly, but it does not kill him. Under normal circumstances, Tarrant prefers darkness (if it is indeed darkness, as we shall see later). In his fortress in Jahanna he is surrounded by the eternal gloom of the Forest he has created, but even there he leaves for some underground place when the dawn comes. When he is travelling with Damien and the rakh woman Hesseth, he looks for a hiding place every night and it is an ultimate proof of his trust to Damien when during their final journey to Mt. Shaitan he lets Vryce share his shelter.
So, can a beam of sunlight kill a vampire? No, if we talk about Daetrin. He dislikes sunlight, that’s right. But he is certain – certain – that it cannot kill him. He even states it plainly: Daylight can’t kill me. During the dramatic defense of Earth against the Tyr, when he is a pilot in the army, he decides to fly dayside, because that’s where he’s needed most. Unlike Gerald, he doesn’t have to take chances and try to imagine what would happen if he was exposed to the sun. He knows it well: he will immediately start to feel bad, his body temperature will rise and soon he will show all the symptoms of the Fever. The Fever isn’t actually an illness: it is rather a process preparing the body of a vampire to function more or less like the body of a human. It is painful and it costs a lot – one would die trying to remain in this state for too long – nevertheless, it can make Daetrin act like a daybound, as C. S. Friedman calls humans in “The Madness Season”.
Sunlight, as far as we know, is not the only threat for a vampire. Among the traditional ways to kill (or at least repel) an undead three are most common: first, garlic, then all kinds of holy or sanctified objects (holy water, crucifixes), and, finally, a wooden stake, the only weapon that could actually kill such a creature. All these features are already present in B. Stoker’s account. In case of C. S. Friedman’s characters, this first danger simply does not exist, apart from one allusion, i.e. Daetrin’s comment on one of his people; that quotation was used as a motto to this essay . Daetrin mentions this fact ironically, when he speaks about the unfortunate changes in those of the vampires who had survived the Tyrran Subjugation. Additionally, this bit of information of an older-bodied fellow haunting the Carpathians seems to be a little pun: reading this remark and imagining the vampire in question, who wouldn’t think of Bela Lugosi in the classical Hollywood production? As for the other threat, though, the case is not that simple. Daetrin, as far as we know, is not afraid of any kind of holy objects. His own reaction to the cross and holy water of his tormentors in (Renaissance?) Florence proves it . Explaining his revulsion, he says:
The symbol is one I have come to associate with man’s darker, more violent side. Beneath the shadow of the cross my father watched the Library of Alexandria burn; in the name of the cross I myself have seen whole cities put to the sword – have watched murder replace reason – have lived as an outcast in the world that once welcomed my kind. How can I do anything other than despise what it represents?
Daetrin, as we can see, does not perceive a crucifix as a danger to himself. Yet even though his reaction to the sight of the crucifix has a different background than in traditional vampire tales – not fear, rather indignation and revulsion, based on cultural and political reasons- it still remains faithful to the tradition that makes a vampire hate the Christian church and everything it stands for. The Christian symbols cannot hurt Daetrin: in one of the timefugues we see him in church, accepting the communion and holy water and begging the God of the Christian to forgive him, a non-believer, the profanation of his altar . On the other hand, more than once Daetrin uses words like “Jesus” or “Christ” as exclamations . Is it a sign that his opinion on Christianity has changed in centuries or is it just a force of habit (after all, he has been living in predominantly Christian societies for a long time)? Or perhaps using those exclamations is a part of his forgetting, forcing out of his memory all the facts that do not suit his human – purely human – identity and making himself act like other people around him do? It is also worth stating here that Daetrin’s aversion to Christianity does not make him an atheist or a rebel against God: to him, God had always seemed a reasonable deity and His laws – though they banned my kind from worship – had always seemed at least marginally rational . It is what the humans can do in the name of religion that bothers him, not God himself.
Gerald Tarrant is yet another case. He has been not only a servant of the Church, like count Dracula in F. F. Coppola’s movie. The Church of One God on Erna is based almost entirely on the teaching of the Prophet, who has reworked the preserved fragments of Terran holy writings and added new books to the Ernan Bible. The Prophet was, like every reader of C. S. Friedman undoubtedly knows, none other than Tarrant himself. And although some, like the Patriarch, believe that Tarrant’s transformation into an undead, demonic creature has deprived him of his previous identity , others, like Damien, keep looking for the signs that the Hunter, the monster who kills for pleasure, was once – and still is, to some extend – the venerated leader of the Church. Furthermore, Tarrant believes himself to be a loyal servant of the Church even after nine centuries of living the life of a monster. You’re no servant of the Church, Damien accuses him, and Gerald gives him an answer: Oh, I am that. More that you could possibly understand. His actions in the realm of the Undying Prince prove this declaration true. The Prince offers him true immortality and a position of a god. Yet the resurrection of the Prophet would result in the destruction or corruption of the Church. And this is the prospect that Tarrant’s vanity – or loyalty – cannot stand. In my lifetime, he says to Damien, I created only one thing of lasting value./…/. Your Church, Reverend Vryce. My most precious creation . Immortality, based on its corruption, was something Tarrant could never accept. It is obvious, then, that Tarrant is still, to some extend, loyal to his Church. He can enter a holy place without fear, in his own fortress in Jahanna he has a chapel imitating the one in the Merentha castle … but there are limits to his tolerance. The Fire, a holy relic of the Ernan crusades, could kill Tarrant in a moment. Senzei Reese, unobservant as he is, might be doubting it, but Damien knows better: he sees bloody tears falling down Tarrant’s face and his skin, reddening and peeling, as the sanctified light spread across his features . When dying Senzei Reese has spilled the contents of the flask containing Fire, it takes just one breath of the air for Tarrant to feel it – and to start coughing and bleeding. He has to Work the wind to stop, otherwise the damage might have been much greater. Gerald’s reaction in this case is typical to the traditional image of the vampire, much more than Daetrin’s. For Daetrin, the cross and holy water are simply revolting. For Tarrant, the holy Fire is deadly.
Speaking of deadly objects… it is stated in nearly every version of a vampire tale that the undead creatures can be killed only with a wooden stake stabbed though his heart. Well, for Daetrin this certainly isn’t true. He may be killed, that’s right – but not with wood. In one of his timefugues Daetrin remembers the lesson given to him by his father. Iron and steel you must always fear , Daetrin’s father says, as well as most stone. The things that come from the living creatures, however, like wood or some types of rock, pose no threat to a vampire, if he/she is prepared for it. During the lesson, Daetrin’s father stabs the palm of his son’s hand with a wooden stake and a young vampire must react to it immediately: wood must be incorporated into his body as it enters him . Swords and knives, stubbornly unalterable, are a different matter, though. In Daetrin case, then, probably the second popular motif of vampire tales, using silver weapon against the nighbound, will prove more correct . As for Tarrant, in this aspect he does not differ from other humans. A knife in the heart is as fatal to an adept as it is to any other human, he has once said and this saying keeps haunting Damien Vryce’s memory. And that’s exactly how the Hunter dies, in the underground chamber beneath his keep, killed by his last descendant’s bloody sword . There is no need for wooden stakes or silver daggers. Interesting, though, is the fact that as a proof of his death, Andrys Tarrant carries out the severed head of the Hunter… just like Dr van Helsing has severed the head of Lucy Westenra .
It is also commonly known that according to most of the vampire tales, an undead cannot be seen in the mirror. As for Tarrant, we simply don’t know, although the very fact that he doesn’t need light to see seems to explain the problem. With Daetrin, the situation is different. Once again, just like in case of the cross, C. S. Friedman is re-working the traditional approach of horror literature. Daetrin can see himself in the mirror… only that he hates to do it. When he looks in the mirror, he sees the wasted centuries and the time of his life he had wasted without the courage to acknowledge… [his] own weakness. What is this weakness? Is it perhaps the fear that he would be forced to accept his true nature? His longevity? His shapechanging talents? His hunger for blood? I had always hated mirrors;, Daetrin states after his shapechanging experience on the Talguth and after facing once again the possibility that he wasn’t entirely human. Now I remembered why, he adds bitterly.
Among the features commonly associated with vampires one of the most popular is their ability to turn themselves into animals. These animals are usually bats, often also wolves and rats. In case of C. S. Friedman’s characters, the ability to shapeshift or shapechange is also a specific talent of both Daetrin and Gerald. The term is different in the Coldifre (shapeshifting) and in The Madness Season (shapechanging), but the process seems rather similar. As for Daetrin, first and foremost he hates the idea of being able to shapechange. He has spent all the time since the XX c. trying to convince himself that he was nothing more than a human with nutritional deficiency, caused by specific enzyme dysfunction. Memories of changing his human shape and becoming something else he has buried deep in his subconsciousness. But when he’s about to leave Earth forever on the board of the Tyr longship Talguth, the memories – and skills – return. Why? Because Daetrin’s almost dying. In this extreme situation he does what his instincts dictate him: he finds a place on the ship where Terran animals, soon to be transported to another planet, Meyaga, are kept and he kills one of them. Kills it by drinking its blood and that simple fact changes everything. For years Daetrin has lived on (invented by himself) nutritional pills and felt relatively safe, convinced of his human identity. There was, of course, a scientific explanation to these upsetting dreams and memories he kept having: all of them, memories of flying, memories of being a wolf, of his sister Yolanda killed in her wolf-shape by the hunters, were nothing but “timefugues”, electromagnetic patterns occurring in his waking brain that should only appear during sleep . Only that on the Talguth he has to face the possibility of shapechanging again, after having drunk animal blood and now… now he cannot deny it, if he wants to survive. He takes on a body of the wolf and thus escapes the ship: when the wild animals are being set free on Meyaga, he is among them .
Daetrin believes that he can change himself into an animal of the size similar to his human body and this intuition turns out to be right. He is also convinced that he can turn into Terran creatures only… and that’s where he is wrong. In the course of his adventures, he is forced to take on a body of an alien, first a predator hraas, then the enemy – Tyr – itself. This experience was different than changing into a bird or wolf: to use Daetrin’s own words, it was like being thrust suddenly into ice-cold water . The problem was not the somatic change itself, but the adaptation of human mind to an alien psyche. What was a minor inconvenience in changing into less intelligent creature (for days after flying across the mountains with Kiri I still dreamt of succulent worms , Daetrin admits ), turned out to be nearly overwhelming, when an intelligent and truly alien creature was concerned. Daetrin’s time in a hraas body was short, but still, his reaction was: I can’t do that form again, not for anything . What made Daetrin feel especially endangered, the alien psyche and alien reactions started to influence his actions and his way of thinking. For somebody who was defending his human identity as fiercely as him, a prospect of becoming truly alien must have been even more repelling. But the worst was yet to come. After his coming to the Domes and finally admitting his nature to the scholars gathered there , Daetrin’s skills have been tested and examined. His last and most difficult task was then to change into a Tyr. In a form of a Raayat-Tyr Daetrin traveled to the Tyr home planet and took active part in the mating ritual of the Tyr. All this time he is obsessed with the idea that he might lose his humanity. Every bit of Tyr knowledge that he has, even if it helps him to save his life, is a reminder that soon, Daetrin may forget how to be human . This is why he does not kill the Tyr Giver of Life, even though he has an opportunity. The idea of taking the Giver’s place and serving the Tyr forever seems too high a price to pay. What he has done was enough: changing into Kuol-Tyr, so that he could Translate the starship though the non-space, required personal death and becoming one with the common consciousness of the Tyr. And before the Translation there is one idea in Daetrin’s mind: I want to be human again. I want my soul back. His change was so absolute that he has become, in fact, a father of the new alien species. Yet all the time it is his humanity that he values most.
Gerald Tarrant is a shapeshifter, too, even though it is commonly believed on Erna that such a change is impossible. Every night of their journey he changes himself into a flying creature – a white predatory bird or a demonic, bat-like monster – to look for the day’s shelter or to hunt. Daetrin is afraid that one day he would lose his human identity and remain forever the creature he had turned into. For Gerald, on the other hand, the change of shape is a matter of utter discipline and utter submission to the fae… and it isn’t easy: Damien Vryce believes that he will always remember an echo of pain and fear so intense /…/ that he still shivered before the force of it, that he saw in Tarrant’s face just before the change. My guess would be that this is also exactly how Tarrant’s new body was created. After Andrys killed the Hunter – the legendary monster – and let survive the core of his human soul, Gerald’s compact with the fae has made it possible for him to make a new body and, to quote his own phrase, cheat death anew. There is also a striking similarity between Daetrin’s changing into the Tyr and Gerald’s shapeshifting. In both cases, the feeling is terrible and the price extremely high; both the processes resemble, to some extend, dying and resurrection rather than a simple change of form. This ability seems to be one of the closest links between these two characters. A shapeshifter is also the main character of “Thanksgiving”. Her indented victim sees her in the guise of his recently lost beloved. Ah, do I look like her? , the vampire asks. And before that, she says: I hear you gasp to see my face, this mask/ Designed for you, sculpted to suit your need.
The vampire, as many traditional tales say, is bound to his native soil. It is both wrong and right in case of C. S. Friedman’s characters. Gerald Tarrant can and does travel, even though he dislikes it. Yet he knows that it is in the Forest that he has grown and evolved for himself that he is strongest and most safe. It frustrates him that he cannot reach the force of the Forest from the land of the Prince and he is certain that in his own domain, no demon could pose a threat to him. The forest is my power base , he says to Damien on one occasion. As for Daetrin… even though he knows all too well that for him there is no belonging , he would still do everything to come back to Earth. When he first leaves the planet, he’s filled with fear: What was the ancient belief, about leaving one’s native soil?. He fought against the Tyr and risked everything to save his planet from the alien conquest. And he promises, both to himself and to Earth: My land, I will come back to you. Somehow .
Vampires, the tradition says, often wield magic and special powers. This proves true in case of both Tarrant and Daetrin. The former had been a mighty sorcerer – perhaps the most gifted in the entire history of Erna – before he became a vampire. The latter has many talents that human beings do own possess, first and foremost the ability to heal faster than humans. Isn’t rapid healing one of your people’s greatest strengths?, he reminds himself after the events on Talguth. And recounting the incident with the doctors and his frantic escape from the laboratory, he comments bitterly on his assets: The strength of a madman. The capacity of the damned . The main character of “Thanksgiving” also possesses supernatural skills. She greets her potential victim with soft sounds, but filled with power. After such a magical introduction she would have no problem with bringing the man to his knees or holding him fast with one word.
Another common theme is the vampire’s association with sexuality, appearing in the majority of critical analyses of the myth. By his very nature, a vampire should be incapable of a sexual act, for a very simple reason: the act means (at least potentially) procreation and the beginning of a new life. An undead creature, no more on the side of the living, to coin U. K. Le Guin’s phrase, cannot, by definition, spread life. Such a statement, however, does not change the fact that in most version of the myth the vampire figure is (or is supposed to be 😉 sexually attractive and fascinating.
In Daetrin’s case, one must remember that he is not an undead, but just a representative of a different “subspecies” of Homo sapiens. He himself, as we know, was born, not made a vampire. It should not be surprising, then, that in the course of the centuries he had many lovers (Marguerethe, Lucille, Bianca, to mention only some of them); some of them were mere humans, like Marguerethe, some vampires, like Bianca. He also falls in love with Kiri, even though he knows that in her case the human body is just a disguise for her Marra nature. It doesn’t stop Daetrin from loving her – and wanting her. His reaction to her is a man’s reaction to a woman. Kiri’s closeness makes him shiver with wanting hee . They become lovers on the night before his final change into a Raayat, after she has offered him her blood. The feelings they share turn out to be permanent: after his return to Earth Daetrin is found by Kiri and reunited with her. In this case, then, Daetrin acts and behaves just like any other – living – human being.
Gerald Tarrant most undoubtedly _is_ an undead. Everything that relates to life is dangerous to him: Healing somebody or being Healed, as well as helping humans in any way, has been prohibited by his compact with the Unnamed. Any act of life is as forbidden to him as the fire was, or the light of the sun . This obviously renders him incapable of sexual congress or even of mimicking its forms . Yet at the same time (and from the reader’s perspective, on the very same page), he plans to use a threat of sexual assault against his intended victim, who happens to be Narilka Lessing. His association with (twisted) sexuality is also stated by Ciani in her conversation with Damien as well as by Narilka herself :
The Hunter. /…/ She wandered what he was, what he had once been. A man? That’s what the tavern girls whispered, between giggles and mugs of warm beer, in the safety of their well-lit workplace. Once a man, they said, and now something else. But with a man’s lust still, corrupted though it might be. Why else were all his victims female, young and inevitably attractive? Why would he have such a marked taste for beauty – and for delicate beauty, most of all – if some sort of male hunger didn’t still cling to his soul?
To Damien, one may add, Tarrant seems at the first sight handsome, refined, attractive to women . While describing him to the Patriarch, he defines Tarrant as elegant, forbidding, seductive, malevolent…and utterly ruthless . Narilka’s behaviour proves that point well. She has been unmistakably fascinated with Tarrant (which is, probably, why she would fall for Andrys) since their first meeting in Jaggonath . And she isn’t an exception: Sarah, the girl killed by the Hunter in the eastern lands perceives him as both terrible and fascinating. Chained to the rock to be a bait for the faeborn, she welcomes Tarrant with terror, submission [and] desire . When the Hunter approaches her, her heart is pounding and she waits frozen in a reverie that was as much yearning as it was pure terror . In the moment of her death she sinks down into the sea of his hunger and the bittersweet ecstasy of dying . Is it pleasure then, in addition to suffering and death, that the lord of the Forest gives his victims? If anything may prove this rather uncertain conclusion, it’s Damien’s vision in Hell, when he sees the Hunter’s victims and shares their feelings. What he experiences is fear, of course, but also fascination. What a Hunter’s victim feels just before death is a rising heat, sharp and shameful (…) and one last glorious moment in which she shares his pleasure and is willing to die for this terrible embrace. There is a hot sea he sinks into, fear transmuted into desire, horror made into beauty, resistance giving way to a blissful acquiescence . That’s true, the experience has been masked by Karril’s hedonistic illusions , but the similarities between this description and the feelings of Sarah make the above assumption at least partially plausible. What it emphasizes beyond doubt, though, is the Hunter’s association with eroticism.
All the above arguments make it certain that in constructing the characters of Daetrin and Tarrant, not to mention the “Thanksgiving” speaking person, the author has used a different variations of the vampire myth. To repeat the question I have asked in the beginning, the main characters of “The Madness Season” and “The Coldfire Trilogy” most certainly do not belong to the same species. Yet it does not mean that there are no deeper-going similarities between them. Both Gerald and Daetrin must take part in a dangerous journey. For Daetrin the travel brings acceptance and understanding of his nature. For Gerald, it results in the lack of such acceptance and desire to be human again. The struggle for humanity in themselves and (paradoxically, for the good of the human race as well) is their most important common feature. They’re both saviors of humanity, both pay an immense price for this – and both, against all odds, get their unexpected reward: yet another chance for… happiness?
There is one last question that demands an answer: why vampires? As we have seen, it wasn’t the author’s intention to invent a “species” of vampires and then elaborate on the topic, like A. Rice did in her books since “Interview with the Vampire”. There is no consequence in C. S. Friedman’s vision of a vampire, her vampiric characters differ immensely from each other. Yet both Daetrin and Gerald, as well as the nameless character of “Thanksgiving” represent the same element: an alien. A theme of alien seems to be of the same importance in the writings of C. S. Friedman as it is in case of Ursula K. Le Guin. But where the author of “The Left Hand of Darkness” uses a figure of an extraterrestrial, a person belonging to civilization and culture different from ours (and in her later writings, a figure of an oppressed: a woman or a representative of a minority), Friedman makes use of a figure of the vampire . This choice makes her writings the more paradoxical: a vampire is at the same time an alien to the human society and a creature entirely dependent on it, seemingly indestructible at night and so very powerless during the day, repelling and fascinating. The female vampire of “Thanksgiving” has taken a shape of her victim’s recently lost love. I am what you desire me to be, she says. And this remark, as much as it relates to her looks (Ah, do I look like her? , she asks later on), is also a definition of the character as a vampire. She is what we – humans – want her to be. In the poem, she decides not to kill a desperate young man who sought her. Instead, she grants him what he wants: she feeds on him and gives him dreams. She can (and does) create illusions that will offer him, for a moment, a feeling of happiness again. Is it why we need her kind? To dream our dreams (of immortality, of ultimate freedom, of eternal youth granted by the taste of blood? Of power?)? To accept that darker side of our own nature? To compare ourselves with alien and thus make sure of our humanity?
dedicated to agnieszka, a well known vampire fan 😀
C. S. Friedman, The Madness Season, DAW Books, 1990 (cited as TMS)
C. S. Friedman, Black Sun Rising, DAW Books 1992 (cited as BSR)
C. S. Friedman, When True Night Falls, DAW Books 1994 (cited as TNF)
C. S. Friedman, Crown of Shadows, DAW Books 1995 (hardcover) (cited as COS)
C. S. Friedman, Thanksgiving (The Vampire Poem), available at: http://www.merentha.org
C. S. Friedman, The Erciyes Fragments, White Wolf Publishing 1999
S. King, Dance Macabre, tł. P. Ziemkiewicz, P. Braiter, Warszawa 1995
B. Stoker, Dracula, Penguin Books 1994
U. K. Le Guin, The Earthsea Quartet, Penguin Books 1993
copyright by ninedin 2003-2005