Thursday 19 April 2012

Journey into Vampire Fiction: Eger, Hungary

This week's guest blogger is fantasy novelist Narrelle M Harris, author of the acclaimed vampire novel The Opposite of Life and the Melbourne Literary app for the iPhone and iPad.

For a lot of people, books lead to travel. But sometimes the reverse is true - travel leads to books.

My 2010 trip to Hungary led to me writing a short story inspired by Hungarian history, the country’s legendary association with vampires, and a little town called Eger.

Hungary has a history of association with vampires. Until after World War I, Transylvania (home of Vlad Dracul) was part of Hungary; the infamous Countess Bathory who bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth was Hungarian; and 20th century horror film actor Bela Lugosi was a famous son of Hungary.

Hungary has also suffered under more immediate and real monsters than those contained within the legions of the undead. Its 20th century history is a litany of tyranny and oppression, as Hungary was allied to Nazi Germany in the Second World War and Hungarian Jews were murdered in their hundreds of thousands as a result.

The Soviet Union then liberated Hungary, exchanging one tyrant for another. The Terror House in Budapest contains a wall depicting victims of the secret police of the postwar communist regime. Another, perhaps darker, room depicts those who worked for the secret police.

The museum is a dark and disturbing memorial, the brightest part of which is its very existence: Hungary is now a place where those evil secrets are no longer buried. Hungary has emerged from that past and is shining a light on it, perhaps in the hope that it will never happen again.

As a writer, I wanted to create something that played with all of these elements of Hungary's story – both its recent history and its fantastical relationship with vampire lore.

Then I visited Eger. Eger is a beautiful town in eastern Hungary, famous for its Bull's Blood wine and its impressive castle. Eger fell to the Turkish invaders of the Ottoman Empire in 1596, nearly 50 years after the majority of Hungarian territory was conquered. Eger eventually defeated its Turkish overlords in 1687, around a decade ahead of the rest of the nation.

This defiant town's castle has been restored and tidied up above ground; but to me, one of its most interesting attractions was a dark, damp hole beneath it.

A tour led below the castle to tunnels hewn into rock, dripping water and inhabited by permeating cold. It was claustrophobic to squeeze through its narrow tunnels with two dozen strangers to stare at a cave behind bars: one of the castle's actual dungeons. A pile of mouldy hay and a few rats, as depicted in countless films, were the only touches missing.

Then, in the strange alchemy that happens in the minds of writers, a story was born.

A story about a vampire created in the Ottoman era, who doesn’t fit in the modern world; a family enslaved to his will for generations; a castle with a dank and terrible dungeon beneath rooms and stairs now made safe for tourists; and how the most surprising things can happen when you underestimate the courage of people who are fed up to the gills with evil bastards.

I don't know if the resulting story, Thrall, is one of those tales that will inspire someone to visit Hungary; I hope so. Either way, Hungary definitely inspired me, with its colour, tragedy, defiance and hope.

Narrelle M Harris's short story Thrall appears in her latest book Showtime, a short story collection published by Twelfth Planet Press - you can buy it online here.  Find out more about Narrelle's writing at

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