Ken’s Mystery by Julian Hawthorne is the first story in the Draculea collection by ABEditore. Published in 1883 in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, it’s a short story – but not that short really – told for the most part in the first person by its own protagonist, and in part by one of his friends – who personifies the author – during a visit to the former.
As usual, we always recommend that all those who speak Italian also take a look and read the corresponding article on the Bloody Reader blog with whom we’ve been collaborating on this segment.
Ken’s Mystery – Plot
The narrator is visiting a friend after a journey in Europe. Keningale is an artist who travelled there officially for research purposes but all his friends actually doubted that he would apply himself as he should. However, upon his return from the journey, Ken seems changed. In fact, he himself tells his friend of his strange adventure in Ireland.
On the night of All Hallows’ Eve, when those who aren’t alive anymore come back to walk the earth, he met a mysterious woman. It was definitely a weird night that would have seemed like just a strange dream if Ken hadn’t woken up the next morning with a banjo that was given to him before his departure but that already seems centuries old.
The first story that is presented in the collection is put forward as a direct experience of poor and unlucky Ken, on whom, for sure, the events he witnessed have left a deep mark. The legend of Ethelind Fionguala opens the entire story. It is, in fact, only in the legend that we find a veritable mention to vampires but never, however, to the specific adventure that Ken went through. And yet the creature he meets certainly has some characteristics that remind him of that creature. The skin white as the rays of the moon, the eyes that can enchant those they set themselves upon, the skin as cold as that of a corpse.
There are a few small hints, then, that the reader can gather and that let them guess how the events might have unfolded or how it could go from there on out. All of this in a style that is very much characteristic of the time, but not in a heavy-handed way, rather it respects the colloquialisms of a story that perfectly displays what it is effectively trying to present.
A “peculiar” vampire
Even though, as we already said, the word “vampire” is never used to describe Fionguala specifically, we can still assume that’s what she is. However, some peculiarities emerge that differentiate her from the creatures we are used to.
It seems, in fact, that the woman is especially linked to All Hallows’ Eve and that she can act exclusively on that precise day of the year. It’s a trait that shows up for the first time in literature, at least when it comes to the works we have encountered in our itinerary.
In addition, she is never described while biting or drinking blood even though Ken experiences a quick weakening while Ethelind’s cheeks appear to gain colour. Very often, actually, the two characters are divided by a certain distance and yet the effects of her presence seem to hit Keningale all the same. It seems, then, that her mere presence is enough to let her take away his vital energy.
Lastly, we cannot ignore the similarities in sound between Kern of Querin‘s name and Keningale‘s. Especially when considering the woman’s behaviour toward him. But after all, in his Dissertations, Calmet already explained how vampires choose victims among their relatives. Being so, we could even presume that there’s some kind of bond then. Or maybe not, they’re just speculations.
The story – even while not being all that well-known – can most certainly offer an amazing vision to the most passionate fans of the genre. The vampire as described by Hawthorne is definitely interesting. As is his choice to link the creature to the “old world” and specifically to the lands of Ireland, which offer a folkloristic and legendary landscape that is already ripe and broad on its own (we’ll come back to this, I promise).
In any case, it was, for me, an amazing find that I highly recommend to everyone who wants to broaden their knowledge on these creatures that are as fascinating as they are mysterious.