Native Soil


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Native Soil

(pop culture)

In the folklore of eastern Europe, vampires were believed to be the revived body of a recently deceased member of the community. They resided in their graves at the local graveyard. They were commonly surrounded by their native soil, but no special mention was made of it. Nor was there mention of native soil in the early vampire fiction, such as John Polidori‘s, “The Vampyre”; Varney the Vampyre; or Sheridan Le Fanu‘s, “Carmilla”. The idea of a need for native soil came from the imagination of Bram Stoker.

As a desperate Jonathan Harker began to explore Castle Dracula, he discovered the Count laying in a box filled with newly dug earth; other boxes of soil were nearby. Harker returned to his room in great fear. Later, he again went to the room with the box and discovered Dracula bloated with blood from a recent feeding. For a second time Harker was unable to take decisive action and the boxes, with the vampire in one of them, were shipped to England. After landing in England, Dracula retrieved the boxes and had them sent to a number of locations in the greater London area. Vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing discovered that Dracula needed the native soil as his resting place, and that attacking his resting place was an effective means of destroying him. Of the 50 boxes, 49 were located and filled with eucharistic wafers, thus making them inhospitable to the vampire. Dracula escaped in the last box and returned to Transylvania, where he was later killed.

The transportation of Dracula’s native soil to England also served a useful purpose in what many critics saw as an underlying theme in Dracula (1897)—the fear that existed in civilized Englishmen (Stoker’s first audience) concerning the invasion of their society by representatives of the “uncivilized” cultures they had conquered. Stephen D. Arata spoke of this fear of reverse colonization—a fear prominent in late nineteenth-century British fiction. Thus, one could view Van Helsing’s gathering of the men to fight Dracula as the organization of an army, called to defend home and hearth, that launched an attack on foreign soil in the form of the 50 boxes of earth.

In spite of these possible meanings of the native soil in Dracula, later writers saw it more narrowly as a necessary attribute/limitation on the vampire. Mystically, the vampire drew strength from it. Many contemporary writers such as Anne Rice simply dropped the idea; it limited the mobility of vampires too much. Possibly the modern vampire most tied to his native soil has been P. N. Elrod‘s hero vampire Jack Fleming. Others, however, allowed a more literal reading of the Dracula myth to influence their development of a new variation of the myth. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro developed the most unique variation of the native soil myth. Her hero St. Germain had special shoes with hollow heels where native soil was placed. Thus he was in constant touch with that vivifying element.

Sources:

Arata, Stephen D. “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization.” Victorian Studies 33, 4 (Summer 1990): 621–45.
Elrod, P. N. Bloodlist. New York: Ace Books, 1990. 200 pp.
Senf, Carol A. The Vampire in Nineteenth-Century English Literature. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988. 204 pp.

Yarbro, Chelsea Quinn. Hotel Transylvania. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979. Rept. New York: New American Library, 1979. 408 pp.

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