Alvin Schwartz died a short while ago. He was an American author who wrote three books that scared me like nothing else at the age of 11 – the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. The writing, like all good writing for children, is sophisticated, terse, and withholds more than it reveals. The illustrations – terrifying black and white images that never really reveal the monstrous, but hint at it, rather than give it to you straight up.
But Schwartz started out as a non-fiction writer, a journalist – the horrifying quality in his stories is actually the fruit of careful research in American folklore. The ghost in the attic and the toe in the garden are actual stories from America’s oral tradition.
Albanian folklore has monsters too, and not just your run of the mill kulcedras (dragons) and vampires. Robert Elsie’s dictionary of Albanian mythology and folklore has a rich catalogue of supernatural, mythological and religious figures, the vast majority of which I’ve never heard of. There really isn’t an Albanian Grimm brothers, or Alvin Schwartz.
For example, there are creatures called avullushe (avull is Alb. for steam), that can suffocate a human just by breathing on them.
Dhampirs are not exactly vampires – they are created by the union of a vampire father and human mother. They don’t have the weakness of vampires, and are supposed to be good at killing them. In Albanian folklore, it takes thirty years for a vampire to become a true vampire. At that point they are called a Kukudhi and cannot be destroyed by sunlight.
My sister told me that there’s also a myth about the Mother of the Sea, a being that pulls people into the water as they drown.
Oret are also mysterious – sometimes benevolent, and sometimes not. They can take the form of human women, of snakes, and sometimes they are invisible. They are supposed to reward good and punish bad. In the north, the three “Oret” appear upon the birth of a child and determine its fate.
My father has told me stories about ghost hauntings from long long ago within our family – a poltergeist that terrorized a family, a horse refusing to cross a river.
Scary stories are good for children. It makes them face what is beyond their control, especially the bad in the world that is beyond control. The lack of control is a fear adults have – I get older and I still wake up sometimes in the middle of the night or early in the morning with a panic I can’t explain, from a vague shape in a dream.
I want to see what other monsters I can find.