Predating Bram Stoker’ Dracula, Carmilla is the ultimate gothic vampire tale—stylish, menacing, sensual, and spellbinding
You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.
When a mysterious carriage crashes outside their castle home in Styria, Austria, Laura and her father agree to take in its injured passenger, a young woman named Carmilla. Delighted to have some company of her own age, Laura is instantly drawn to Carmilla. But as their friendship grows, Carmilla’s countenance changes and she becomes increasingly secretive and volatile. As Carmilla’s moods shift and change, Laura starts to become ill, experiencing fiendish nightmares, her health deteriorating night after night. It is not until she and her father, increasingly concerned for Laura’s well-being, set out on a trip to discover more about the mysterious Carmilla that the terrifying truth reveals itself. — [X]
I feel like if Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu sorted out his patriarchal, colonialist attitudes and was a writer in this century, he and I would be like this: *attempts to cross fingers* *tries again* oh, you know what I mean.
His writing style for the novel Carmilla is a movement from:
- “…” (i.e. nothing much is happening in this provincial life”)
- to “???” (i.e. hark! something strange and beautiful approaches!)
- to “!!!” (i.e. it’s becoming less beautiful and more strange, oh dear)
- and finally ends with “?!?” (i.e. well, that got really scary really fast and now it’s all over … time for therapy).
Which is basically how my own stories turn out: there’s a solid beginning, a intriguing middle, then people ask questions, and …. everything proceeds to goes to hell in a Fed-Exed hand-basket. So, maybe I’m not making the best case for the structure of his story
and how dissatisfying his ending was for me personally, and truly if you want a classic vampire story to scare the pants off you (a turn of phrase that I’m sure both Carmilla and Dracula would appreciate), you’re better off with Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
You want a story that is less about vampire hunting and more philosophizing about monsters and love? Carmilla is for you! You want ladies who may or may not be having a roaring lesbian affair under the roof of one of their parents? (THEY ARE TOTALLY CANON YOU GUYS!) You pick Carmilla! You want classic ladies who pass the (truly basic) Bechdel test with flying colours? *shoves a copy of Carmilla at you* These girls simply do not talk about guys and almost never speak of them in a romantic context. I <3 them.
Also, with Carmilla, you also get to watch the YouTube webseries Carmilla: Love Will Have Its Sacrifice!*
Here’s what you need to know about the webseries:
1. It takes place after Le Fanu’s book, in contemporary times at a university in Austria. The lead character’s name is Laura (as was the name of the protagonist and narrator of Le Fanu’s book) whose roommate goes missing …
[I appreciate the presence of that cereal.]
2. … only to be replaced by Carmilla, who is not a particularly nice roommate.
She is always snarky, canoodles with her girlfriend on Laura’s bed, and does not clean up.
3. The series has basically only two male characters. One of whom says the words “out of the bro-ness of my heart” and I didn;t know whether to barf or giggle. *ahem* They have a lot of female characters (as did the book) with several, diverse representations of queer characters. And yes, they pass the Bechdel test effortlessly. I think the character of La Fontaine, especially, is pretty ground-breaking. Apart from Laura, they were my favourite.
4. You don’t have to read the adapted text because Laura re-enacts Carmilla’s past with puppets. And yes, that is a tied up Carmilla with a rope of garlic around her neck. No, not sexy times. Yes, they just figured out she’s a vampire.
5. BONUS! This isn’t an important point but my favourite screencap that I took was of Laura brandishing a wooden spoon to defend herself from Carmilla … who really isn’t bothered at all. *hugs Laura* She is just the best.
As always, my complaint is that we only have the one POC. Who, at least, gets a talking part … but is really not that important. So far, she seems pretty token:
I am not afraid to smack you if you cite geography/history as a reason not to have more POCs. The series has vampires and frat boys who aren’t complete asshats. They can do with some racial diversity. IMHO, the absence of bigotry is not the same as being inclusive and actually dealing with systems of oppression, and by casting more POCs the webseries will be doing a better job of dealing with this passage from Le Fanu’s Carmilla:
Then she described a hideous black woman, with a sort of coloured turban on her head, and who was gazing all the time from the carriage window, nodding and grinning derisively towards the ladies, with gleaming eyes and large white eyeballs, and her teeth set as if in fury.
I feel like retellings ought to take things to *cue intense rock music* the next level. Le Fanu’s Carmilla is already pretty damned revolutionary whether he intended it to be or not:
[Carmilla] kissed me silently.
“I am sure, Carmilla, you have been in love; that there is, at the moment, an affair of the heart going on.”
“I have been in love with no one, and never shall,” she whispered,” Unless it should be with you.”
(Though, how could he not have intended that!)
So, that is what I am hoping for from season two: more POCs, maybe some characters with disabilities, more snuggling with cuties (BECAUSE IT WAS CANON) and less being punished for being gay– the latter of which seems like a strong possibility in the book, given that Laura and Carmilla could never truly be together.
These issues aside, I really enjoyed watching this series! It’s got 36 episodes. Each episode is no shorter than 2 minutes and rarely runs longer than 5 minutes, and yet they manage to pack in so many references and details. The Lizzie Bennett Diaries was awesome and will always be special, but the makers of Carmilla took a story and genre that may not seem conducive to a web series format and made it work incredibly well!
*The tagline is an actual line from the book.
**Also, while you’re waiting for season two, go ahead and read Holly Black’s fantastic short story Millcara! You won’t regret it. 🙂