Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 16:53 on 22-05-2014, Arthur B
Now, the more inhuman your supernatural entity of choice looks, the less able you are to "rehabilitate" them in this way -- faeries have glamours to make them look human, werewolves look human most of the time, you can invent all sorts of ways to have vampires wander around the human world, but what do you do with dehydrated, bandage-wrapped, shambling, faceless, ex-humans?

Well, first you get a lot of moisturiser...
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at 16:39 on 22-05-2014, Alice
I've been thinking about the "which supernatural beings have been included in contemporary re-imaginings?" question, and why it seems that mummies haven't formed a big part of this (in contrast to, say, vampires, witches/wizards, and werewolves. Though there's been a smattering of mummies, I suppose -- even the thoroughly non-supernatural Castle had a "mummy's curse" episode).

And it strikes me that one of the reasons for a not-so shocking lack of mummies in recent(ish) works is that there's been a shift from seeing various supernatural entities as mindless monsters to at the very least charming and attractive (albeit dangerous) monsters (Anne Rice's vampires?), all the way across the (anti-)hero spectrum (not entirely sure if the Cullens are quite heroes, but they must be getting pretty close).

Now, the more inhuman your supernatural entity of choice looks, the less able you are to "rehabilitate" them in this way -- faeries have glamours to make them look human, werewolves look human most of the time, you can invent all sorts of ways to have vampires wander around the human world, but what do you do with dehydrated, bandage-wrapped, shambling, faceless, ex-humans?

Then again, no-one's tried to rehabilitate zombies from monsters to protagonists, either (as far as I know), but they are pretty well-established baddies. So it still seems a bit odd that there are relatively few works with mummy antagonists.
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at 22:38 on 21-05-2014, Ibmiller
Is that what it's about? The trailers were playing, and I couldn't tell anything other than a) it has Eva Green (yay!); b) it looks like horror (nah).

Also, does anyone here watch Orphan Black? I was hanging out online last night, and a friend from Australia and a friend from the US were both raving about the show.
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at 22:28 on 21-05-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
Has anyone checked the new monster mash show Penny Dreadful? It has all the classics. Vampires(probably Dracula too), Egyptian demons, although no mummies yet, werewolves(at least one) and Dr. Frankenstein. And Dorian Gray. And a cowboy. Didn't seem too Mooreish even.
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at 11:43 on 19-05-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
@Adrienne

Digger is on my list, since it was mentioned here! Good to know that there are vampiric fruit there as well!
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at 11:35 on 19-05-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
@Melanie:

I'm sure there would be a lot of stuff that could be done with Necromancers. That whole gothic, macabre thing is pretty well known and death is certainly a very primal thing to hang a story around.

Mummies might be about fear of the orient, but a part of it is also the fear of death and the unknown, which is underlined by the ancient nature of Egypt, especially at the start of the 20th century, when the whole thing was very much in fashion and the knowledge of Egypt was both limited and also changing rapidly with it seems limitless possibilities.

The love aspect of ancient undead is a good idea in that it makes the creature's motives relatable at some level at least. The all consuming hatred of all things living, which seems to be the raison d'etre of many a lich and like is frightening, but really kind of weird if one thinks about it too much. Fitting for a random encounter or end boss, but not very good for an in depth character.

@Alasdair

That take on were-creatures is interesting. Of the examples, both District 9 and Metamorphosis are a curious take on the idea of dehumanization, as the dehumanization is a thing done to the Prawns and then Wikus and of course Gregor, while all of their status as feeling sentient creatures are emphasized by the story itself. The Fly seems to be a more straightforward example, but of course in that, the change is self-caused and it is more about the hubris of the character rather than an example of abuse by surrounding society.
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at 10:28 on 19-05-2014, Arthur B
Yeah, I think The X-Files went to the "Native American mummies" well too.
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at 10:17 on 19-05-2014, Daniel F
Come to think of it, there was a Buffy episode about it as well, so it must be a thing in pop culture.
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at 04:35 on 19-05-2014, James D
Sometimes Native American civilisation as well, I think? Inca mummies are spooky as well.

According to Tintin, at least.
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at 04:21 on 19-05-2014, Daniel F
Mummies, on the other hand--the major association there is "ancient Egypt", so we're talking probably thousands of years old. Even though there's no particular Watsonian reason that a mummy couldn't be much more recently created.


Right. I'd think about it in terms of the young fearing the old, both on a personal level and on a civilisational level. That's where the awkward Orientalising comes in: young European/American civilisation versus ancient Egyptian/Eastern civilisation. Sometimes Native American civilisation as well, I think? Inca mummies are spooky as well.

I'm not sure how to deal with the clash of civilisations. In principle I'm not sure there's that much inherent difference between a mummy and, say, a draugr or even a barrow-wight. It's just the surrounding cultural context: we think about ancient Egypt through this period of exploitative colonial archaeology.

They're sort of cosmic trolls in that sense and have absolutely no compunction about dragging random innocents into the picture for the sake of further tormenting darklords (or to try and corrupt player characters; Paladins end up having a particularly hard time in Ravenloft...).


If paladins can even exist in Ravenloft at all, which I believe changes from edition to edition.

My recollection was that the setting was incredibly vague on who or what the Dark Powers are, and on what, if anything, they want. Are they just a bunch of cosmic trolls who enjoy tormenting evil? Is Ravenloft actually meant to be some sort of cosmic reformatory, where the darklords repeat their own personal Groundhog Days until they improve? Are they trying to create an army of the most fiendish individuals in the multiverse for diabolical purpose? Are they dispassionate inflicters of karmic justice? I don't think the Dark Powers ever directly move to corrupt people towards evil... they just enforce certain consequences if you do.

*shrug* I always thought Ravenloft had a problem when it came to play. In order to actually play a game in the setting, you have to mostly ignore the darklords. You can't have the PCs ever stop the darklords for good, because if a darklord dies either their entire domain winks out of existence (returning to its original home? Maybe?), or a new darklord is immediately elevated. Moreover, the whole set-up doesn't work very well to facilitate D&D gameplay. Strahd is kind of interesting but after you've run the original adventure, what's left?
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at 18:15 on 18-05-2014, Arthur B
...Interesting. That does go a long way towards explaining it; when I read the book I got the impression that her being the reincarnation etc. was all in his mind and he was just fixating on girls who resembled her and convincing himself (and them) that something more mystical was going on.

To be fair, that could still be the case - been ages since I looked at my Ravenloft stuff but it'd be entirely fitting for the Dark Powers to arrange for women who happened to superficially resemble Strahd's lost love to cross his path for the sake of breaking him still further. They're sort of cosmic trolls in that sense and have absolutely no compunction about dragging random innocents into the picture for the sake of further tormenting darklords (or to try and corrupt player characters; Paladins end up having a particularly hard time in Ravenloft...).
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at 09:32 on 18-05-2014, Melanie
Did you ever see the 1979 Werner Herzog movie, Nosferatu the Vampyre, with Klaus Kinski as Dracula?


I have not! Heard of it, yeah, but never really looked into it.

At present the premise is that undefined cosmic powers called the Dark Powers abduct particularly evil people ('darklords') and trap them in particular domains, doomed to eternally repeat their crimes. It's very much the Tantalus motif.


...Interesting. That does go a long way towards explaining it; when I read the book I got the impression that her being the reincarnation etc. was all in his mind and he was just fixating on girls who resembled her and convincing himself (and them) that something more mystical was going on.

I suppose for me it's to do with the underlying psychological motif. It's very easy to understand the vampire as being about lust for life. Whereas I see the mummy as being about the lust for eternity. The vampire maintains the semblance of life by depriving it from others; the mummy goes on forever by abandoning any semblance of life.


Oooooo, yes! I think that's absolutely right. Vampires could potentially be about the lust for eternity... but it doesn't seem like it's usually the case. When they're old, it seems like they're usually only a few hundred years old, or so. Longer than humans live, but still an amount of time that's... comprehensible to us. Mummies, on the other hand--the major association there is "ancient Egypt", so we're talking probably thousands of years old. Even though there's no particular Watsonian reason that a mummy couldn't be much more recently created.
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at 08:20 on 18-05-2014, Daniel F
Although, yikes, now I'm remembering this one book... I, Strahd? It was a tie-in for some rpg setting I think, but anyway, I remember it being all about how he loved this girl, and she died, and he kept "finding" her again in subsequent generations and having this delusion(?) that it was her... reincarnated again, I think?... and then convincing her (I think hypnotic vampire powers may have been involved) that she was his reincarnated dead girlfriend.


Wow, that brings back memories. That sounds like I, Strahd to me, though I think it's less a vampire thing than it is a Ravenloft thing.

For the confused: Ravenloft is a D&D setting based on gothic horror. It spun off from an original module about the vampire Strahd von Zarovich back in 1983, where Strahd was very much the romantic take on Dracula. At present the premise is that undefined cosmic powers called the Dark Powers abduct particularly evil people ('darklords') and trap them in particular domains, doomed to eternally repeat their crimes. It's very much the Tantalus motif.

So each darklord commits their particular crime over and over again, or is constantly seeking some fulfilment or redemption that they can never achieve. Strahd murdered the woman he was in love with after she married his brother instead of his; now she's reborn every generation and he must always try and fail to woo her. Other darklords have other obsessions. Ravenloft is very big on evil as a cycle.

Very much like Dante, I suppose. The evil suffer because they continue doing evil.

Yeah--but it seems less common, less inextricably tied to them. As you say, with vampires, the preservation angle is usually more of a positive or at least glamorous thing: it's eternal youth, not eternally being a horrifying creepy shambling thing.


Isn't that another of the important differences between them? There is a strong image of the seductive, tempting vampire now. I don't want to generalise that they're all like that, but Dracula, Carmilla, etc., had powerful effects. Whereas I think the mummy is usually supposed to be repulsive.

In a way, I suppose it has to be? The primary dilemma posed by the vampire is that it must drain the life from others in order to go on living. The mummy doesn't have that problem. If the mummy wasn't repulsive, it might be unclear why being a mummy is bad.

I suppose for me it's to do with the underlying psychological motif. It's very easy to understand the vampire as being about lust for life. Whereas I see the mummy as being about the lust for eternity. The vampire maintains the semblance of life by depriving it from others; the mummy goes on forever by abandoning any semblance of life.
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at 08:11 on 18-05-2014, Adrienne
Janne - Dunno if you've read Ursula Vernon's fabulous graphic novel Digger (also available complete on the web), but it does in fact contain vampire squash! Only place I've ever seen them in modern fiction.
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at 07:03 on 18-05-2014, James D
As you say, with vampires, the preservation angle is usually more of a positive or at least glamorous thing: it's eternal youth, not eternally being a horrifying creepy shambling thing.

Did you ever see the 1979 Werner Herzog movie, Nosferatu the Vampyre, with Klaus Kinski as Dracula? That's basically what happens to him. Dracula is portrayed as this tragic figure who's immortal and powerful but also incredibly ugly and repulsive, not to mention he needs to drink blood to survive, so he's incredibly lonely. This is what he looks like.

After Anne Rice, that "Nosferatu-style" vampire has definitely gotten way less popular, though, at least as the primary type. If they're included at all these days, it's usually as some offshoot "clan" or whatever, with the main guys still being glamorous and pretty.
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at 06:53 on 18-05-2014, Melanie
You don't think vampires are sometimes interpreted to be about preservation? I'm pretty sure there are stories where vampiric existence is boiled down to the question, "How much are you willing to take from others in order to extend your life?" It's easy to see a resistance to transformation there.


Yeah--but it seems less common, less inextricably tied to them. As you say, with vampires, the preservation angle is usually more of a positive or at least glamorous thing: it's eternal youth, not eternally being a horrifying creepy shambling thing. I've even seen stories where the transformation into a vampire involves getting younger, for some reason. Overall it seems like vampirism is less about someone being (horribly imperfectly) preserved as they were at the point of death, and more about them being... transformed into something intrinsically non-aging, I guess.

Plus, it seems like while there are really old vampires, and they're generally presented as more powerful/impressive than younger ones, most of the time they've been living through that time. I mean, they've usually been awake and interacting with the world--they didn't go to sleep or hibernate or semi-die centuries ago and they're just now waking up and what was supposed to be dead and dealt with ages ago is suddenly walking around and out for revenge etc. If you see what I mean. (I think it's occasionally the case--I seem to have a vague memory of a movie or tv episode or something that involved that--but it's entirely optional and seems kind of rare.) If they're old-fashioned, it seems to be presented more as them being nostalgic or set in their ways or the romanticized version of that, and less an intrinsic part of their being.

Although, yikes, now I'm remembering this one book... I, Strahd? It was a tie-in for some rpg setting I think, but anyway, I remember it being all about how he loved this girl, and she died, and he kept "finding" her again in subsequent generations and having this delusion(?) that it was her... reincarnated again, I think?... and then convincing her (I think hypnotic vampire powers may have been involved) that she was his reincarnated dead girlfriend. And then she'd be killed. Over and over. There, he actually was clinging to the past to the extent of reliving it repeatedly.
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at 06:43 on 18-05-2014, Tamara
Dunno - fear of the Orient seems to be intrinsic here, in the sense of a western...concern? alienation?...at the confrontation with the ruins this much older culture, one that rose and fell while the west barely existed, etc. It's about this bottomless well of past again, coming back all grotty and nasty but still with the capacity to cast curses and roll boulders onto archeologists and undermine the whole imperialist project while we're at it.
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at 05:59 on 18-05-2014, Daniel F
Yeah, that's a point. Mummies being essentially about the past coming to get us and/or refusal to change.


That's my feeling as well. The Mummy makes sense in making the villain all about attachment.

They make a nice counterpoint to vampires, actually. Mummies and vampires both engage with the idea of eternal existence, but where vampires (at least in certain urban fantasy guises) embrace eternal youth, mummies have all the trappings of age. Moreover, where vampires are parasites and dependent on human society, it's easier to get a sense of cosmic indifference with mummies. Nothing compels them to interact with mortal society, so they're inherently harder to engage with.

Hey, if you think about it, mummies are kind of the opposite of vampires, werewolves, and zombies. With those three, there's this theme of transformation. (It's the whole point, with werewolves--and it's the main threat, for zombies (and sometimes the other two).)


You don't think vampires are sometimes interpreted to be about preservation? I'm pretty sure there are stories where vampiric existence is boiled down to the question, "How much are you willing to take from others in order to extend your life?" It's easy to see a resistance to transformation there.

There's the eternal youth idea again. Annoyingly, the first example to spring to mind is a season two Angel episode, but I'm sure there are others. The little girl in Interview with the Vampire, perhaps. Vampirism is stagnation; it is the refusal to change or grow.

I suppose the problem is that no one's figured out what sort of deep archetypal fear the mummy taps into beyond the Western fears of the Orient.


Might it help to think of them as liches, rather than mummies?
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at 22:25 on 17-05-2014, Melanie
Oh my god yes! Sandy Everygirl(sorry for the conventional gender roles, but bestsellers can't be too revolutionary) moves to a new town and high school in let's say Vermont and is intrigued by the outsider boy who is a moderately rebellious scion of a family of ancient necromancers, who only raise the dead because they are lonely.


oh no, I take it all back Hey, I maintain that there'd be some worthwhile stuff! Plenty of crap, too, I'm sure, but that's inevitable anyway, so I'm not too concerned about what trappings the crap is going to have. Hopefully it would also result in more interesting/fun takes on the subject matter, like the Abhorsen books, or the Johannes Cabal ones. Or even just a few more necromancy-used-for-detective-work series.

I suppose the problem is that no one's figured out what sort of deep archetypal fear the mummy taps into beyond the Western fears of the Orient.


Love (or anything else held on to on a very personal level, perhaps - ideology, vandetta, etc) carried on beyond its time and its civilization, to become something decayed and grotesque, to total destruction of the soul and of the flesh that were the vehicles of that love.


Yeah, that's a point. Mummies being essentially about the past coming to get us and/or refusal to change.

Hey, if you think about it, mummies are kind of the opposite of vampires, werewolves, and zombies. With those three, there's this theme of transformation. (It's the whole point, with werewolves--and it's the main threat, for zombies (and sometimes the other two).) But the process of making a mummy is the process of trying to preserve as much as possible.
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at 17:47 on 17-05-2014, Tamara
I'm very, very fond of the first The Mummy movie, and - campy as it was - I think it's doomed-obsessive-romance angle was a nice touch. Love (or anything else held on to on a very personal level, perhaps - ideology, vandetta, etc) carried on beyond its time and its civilization, to become something decayed and grotesque, to total destruction of the soul and of the flesh that were the vehicles of that love. (...that's my idea of a romance!)
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at 16:49 on 17-05-2014, Arthur B
Maybe the idea of the mummy as the Malevolent Conservative, the eternal authoritarian father who entraps his children, might have potential...

One thing which so far as I'm aware hasn't really been used to its full potential is the point that the ancient Egyptians didn't believe in a unitary, indivisible soul, so you could conceivably have a story about the mummy being animated by one part of the soul whilst the other parts attempt to help stop its reign of terror.
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at 16:17 on 17-05-2014, Alasdair Czyrnyj
You know, on the subject of werewolves, I heard an interesting line of speculation that the concept has undergone an interesting evolution with the emergence of a new subtype: the were-insect. The idea is that while the werewolf represents the Western anxiety over the struggle between civilization/reason and barbarism/passion, the were-insect, which we've seen examples of in District 9, The Fly, and, hell, even The Metamorphosis, represents our fear of dehumanization and personal mechanization, of being forcibly transformed into a simple machine, as well as our fear of alienation itself. Monsters are often shunned or hide themselves away, but when a man turns into a bug, it's almost certain that he will die alone.

As for neglected monsters, I think the mummy has yet to get a fair shake. I suppose the problem is that no one's figured out what sort of deep archetypal fear the mummy taps into beyond the Western fears of the Orient. Probably the only reason we consider the mummy a "classic" monster is because the great age of black-and-white horror of the 1920s coincided with the Egyptian craze that followed the unearthing of Tutankhamen's tomb, which naturally led to mummy movies being made. Maybe the idea of the mummy as the Malevolent Conservative, the eternal authoritarian father who entraps his children, might have potential...
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at 07:13 on 17-05-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
I kinda hope it's necromancers. It seems like that's usually a good time.

Oh my god yes! Sandy Everygirl(sorry for the conventional gender roles, but bestsellers can't be too revolutionary) moves to a new town and high school in let's say Vermont and is intrigued by the outsider boy who is a moderately rebellious scion of a family of ancient necromancers, who only raise the dead because they are lonely. Or if they need free labour or just for whatever. Everyone else dresses like they are from an Abercrombie commercial and the necromancers look like they wandered off of a Tim Burton set. The boy has as a sidekick a family heirloom skeleton named Catherine, who dispenses valuable relationship advise, which she(it) knows, because while alive, she was one of the mistresses of Charles II before dying of smallpox in 1676. Also we learn that zombie is just a name for a very fresh animated skeleton, ignoring caribbean folk lore altogether. Probably there is some sort of plot for a necromantic world domination by some other clan of not so nice necromancers, who get their raw materials not by raiding stealing corpses from medical schools, but by killing people directly. And they could be lead by a lich! Or a mummy! And have vampire thralls!
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at 03:28 on 17-05-2014, Melanie
Perhaps faerie-aliens? I think one of the alien races in Star Control 2 was something like that.


Yes! The Arilou had this sort of implication that when they'd visited Earth in the past, people thought they were fairies, something like that. (Here's the file with the text for conversations with them, for the curious.)

That leaves the originality of the particular take on it and the anticipation of what the next big thing is. I just hope it's something that hasn't been done very many times at this point.


I could definitely go for some more fairy-centric fantasy, but I kinda hope it's necromancers. It seems like that's usually a good time.
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