So it’s been a little bit, but the time has come once again to return to the various myths and monsters of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy (…I promise you, the alliteration won’t be a recurring feature.)
With last entry’s look at the first collection, Seed of Destruction, most of the work was pretty cut and dry, going into a handful of fairly known myths. For this installment, Wake the Devil, we’re cutting more into some old world European folklore, including the first appearance of a particularly famous face we’ll be seeing more of down the line.
That said, I will be prefacing this with a partial note regarding my prior entry – going into this run, I’m rereading some of these stories for the first time in years, so events of later works are a bit hazy. It is with this in mind that, if I am proven incorrect in a statement in an earlier entry (as I will acknowledge with regards to part of my entry on Rasputin last time) I will attach a note of correction where appropriate in this entry.
Okay. Let’s get started.
Okay, this particular entry is one we’ll be evolving as we go into later volumes. There’s a good reason for this – vampires, by their general nature, are one of those forms of monster that has iterations in various different countries’ lore, each with their own particular rules and nature to them. Given we’ll be encountering other ‘types’ in later volumes, we’ll take each particular as it comes.
In this case, the particular vampire in question is one Vladimir Giurescu – a Romanian noble with a track record for serving in many battles, wherein he was cut down and seemingly rose from death.
The nature of Giurescu’s vampirism is one that doesn’t necessarily conform to a specific set of cultural rules, but rather builds from a composite of them. A good chunk is taken from what’s known in the west as the most classic vampire narrative – an immortal being that feeds on the blood of the living, living in a castle, complete with the nearby village of victims.
The most distinct element of Giurescu’s case, beyond its origins, is his ability to be healed by moonlight after he’s been struck down. While it’s more than likely Mignola incorporated this to tie into elements of the background of Giurescu, it does also have a small place in vampire lore. Said place, admittedly, is actually a fairly minor note later in the overall history of the mythology (primarily turning up in 19th century vampire fiction, most famously the book Varney the Vampire.)
Suffice it to say, there will be subsequent further entries on vampires as other lore and types are introduced into the series.
Speaking of Gieurescu’s origins…let’s get rolling on that front.
As referred to above, Giurescu’s vampiric origins aren’t quite those of convention here. This is instead tied into the Greek myth (and it’s offshoots) of the cursed queen Lamia.
In her human life, Lamia was said to be a queen who, as so often happens to unlucky mortals in the Greek canon, became one of Zeus’s many, many, many flings. Ever having to deal with her husband’s infidelities, Hera decided to have her revenge on Lamia. This part has been told a couple of ways, two prominent examples being that Hera either kills or steals Lamia’s children, after which Lamia is transformed into a child-eating monster (in the former version, it’s Hera that does it, in the latter, she is driven mad and seeks out others’ children out of jealousy, being eventually transformed by her own actions.) Another worth mentioning as it ties into another of this volume’s entries is that, rather than being a human cursed into monstrosity, Lamia herself was a child of Hecate, who will come to shortly.
Going off of this monster form, the lore has also evolved to a grouping of demons referred to as Lamiae, that share similar traits but – relevant to the use in this story – rather than flat-out devouring children, survive on drinking blood. The common physical description of these, as well as what has been generally commonly accepted as the physical form for Lamia’s transformed body – a serpentine creature with a woman’s face, is also employed in Mignola’s depiction in this story.
Which, of course, is then applied to this volume’s depiction of Hecate.
A poster child for the malleable nature of myths and legends if ever there was one, Hecate’s image has undergone many changes over the course of her story’s life. Despite being most commonly known for her role within the Greek canon – the earlierest mention of her on record is actually among the Carians of Anatolia, Hecate is actually a deity that has been recognized among several cultures, for several different roles. On the one hand, in several circles, she is now as a goddess of nature and the wilderness, as well as being viewed as a mother goddess. On the other, she has also been seen over time as being a goddess of the underworld, sorcery, and death.
For this story, her particular role seems to be an amalgamation of a number of these aspects. As one of the primary antagonists – the end game of the story being to revive her into the world with the sacrifice of Guirescu – the sorcery aspect is already quite pronounced (particularly with her work being aided by the Witches of Thessaly [see below]). Alongside that, elements of her wilderness role play a part – most notably with regards to her title as goddess of the crossroads (initially born out of a custom to make a sacrifice to her at a crossroads before setting out for a safe journey).
In this case, that is especially prominent, as the climax of the story involves Hellboy being left as a sacrifice at a crossroads (though that role is then conferred to Guirescu instead) for her resurrection.
As a general note goes, Hecate herself is still often recognized as a goddess figure within the Wiccan religion.
-Witches of Thessaly
‘Witches of Thessaly:
According to Greek folklore, women with the power to “draw down the moon,” to transform themselves into monsters, birds, and animals. They were know to eat corpses and excrement and possessed insatiable sexual appetites.’ – Hellboy: Wake the Devil.
The region of Thessaly, in legend and literature, has developed a reputation for witchcraft, with the literature depicting several witch characters (one famous example – Erichtho – featured in several works of Greek literature).
In reality, the women of the region were believed to be astrologers, but their ability to predict lunar cycles was seen as witchcraft that allowed them to command the moon. One particular woman, Aglaonice, was known enough for this to merit a proverb declaring ‘As the moon obeys Aglaonice.’ This aspect, not surprisingly, plays into this story quite a bit, playing into Giurescu’s ability to be healed by moonlight, as well as several mentions of the moon’s role in the rituals employed throughout this arc.
Besides this, the witches depicted in this story (who, as a decidedly non-Greek turn go, in one scene quote the witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth) also employ the mentioned shape-changing, taking on bird forms and at times resembling another figure of Greek mythology – the harpy.
Before we go into this, a slight correction on the notes of my previous entry: As I said, I’m taking this information as it’s presented volume by volume, and as such, I had erroneously credited Rasputin’s occult teachings as a result of his encounter with the Ogdru Jahad. As this volume shows, prior to his brush with death in the Neva River, he was visited by Baba Yaga, who explained his fate and was entrusted with half of his soul.
It’s only fitting that Baba Yaga would be a major mover among Mignola’s antagonists. Though only a small part of this particular story (which also makes reference to a prior case that will be included in a later collection), Baba Yaga herself is among the more well known figures of European folklore.
A prominent character in Slavic legends, the old witch Baba Yaga is, depending on the story in question, either an aid or a hindrance, a friend or a foe. The things she provides can either test a hero or act against him, making her a fairly ambiguous character by design.
As this story is concerned, she is firmly entrenched in the latter camp, aiding Rasputin (in this volume providing him with an iron maiden previously employed by the infamous Elizabeth Bathory) and seeking revenge upon Hellboy for a previous slight. With what few pages she features in here, Mignola still includes two of the most distinct pieces of Baba Yaga’s iconography, depicting her traveling in a signature giant mortar and pestle, as well as mentioning and featuring her residence – a house that travels on a pair of chicken legs.
This is an entry we’ll likely be coming back to and modifying as new stories deliver new information, if only for the sake of refining and/or contrasting.
Speaking of ‘We’ll come back to this.’
I will admit, I could probably have left the Homunculus entry out of this part entirely, as the still dormant Roger is shown here, but doesn’t do much in the greater story yet. At the same time, I’m keeping this in here as a quick entry for formality’s sake.
Traditionally, a literally man-made human (often of small size), homunculi have been noted in stories as far back as 16th century alchemy. That Roger isn’t fitting the typical type is acknowledged within the story as well as the alchemical origins.
For the purposes of this particular role, this will make for enough to start on. Rest assured, we’ll be exploring homunculi and the mythology therein in the future.
So, in hindsight, I should have discussed this last time. Though it’s not explicitly calling out the event of Ragnarok as defined in Norse mythology, there’s no reason to not be at least a little thorough and discuss this quickly here.
Over the course of the first two volumes, Rasputin makes reference to a Nazi project being codenamed Operation Ragnarok. This is, of course, the name given to Norse equivalent of the Apocalypse – a fateful, final battle in which many of the great old gods will perish, the world will be drowned, and at the end, the few survivors will start anew.
Given Rasputin’s plans for the Ogdru Jahad, he couldn’t have picked a more suitable name for his project while also playing to Hitler’s fascination with Norse lore.
Appearing briefly in the epilogue of this story, the Yggdrasil is another call to Norse mythology – the so named World Tree that connects the various worlds of Norse lore.
In Mignola’s setting, this is treated as a sort of mid-point between this world and the next. This serves as a sort crossroads where Rasputin meets with Baba Yaga (and where she has hidden her half of his soul). With much of her power lost from her encounter with Hellboy, she now resides there, unable to continue existing within the human world. She offers Rasputin the opportunity to stay with her, only for him to decline, resuming his efforts among the living.
That concludes the primary points for this volume. With the next volume, things will get a little more varied as we hit a collection of more short stories rather than a single narrative.
Keep an eye out in a month or so for the case file on The Chained Coffin and other stories.