The Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora

By Giselle Liza Anatol | Go to book overview

Introduction

[E]very age “discovers” what in a work of art relates most to its own needs and
desires, even if the artist himself was not consciously aware of all he created
.

—LESTER FRIEDMAN

Soucouyant. Ol’ Suck. Old Hige. Volant. Loogaroo. Gens-gagée. These words bring terror to the minds of children raised on Caribbean folktales about the elderly woman who keeps to herself, often chasing people from her yard or sleeping the day away, and then emerges from her skin at night, becomes a ball of flame, and plagues her community by drinking people’s blood—sometimes straight from their hearts. For adults as well as children, the word “soucouyant” and its equivalents conjure images of frightening old age; alarmingly bloody, skinless creatures; terrifying invasions of the home; and nightmarish penetrations of the body. This book takes a closer look at the legend and the ways contemporary authors of the circum-Caribbean and other parts of the African diaspora have incorporated the lore into their writing. We have all heard the phrase “Sticks and stones can break your bones / But words can never hurt you,” but what exactly lies beneath the words and tales that have been transmitted over many generations? Words can obscure ideas of much greater substance—a framework or symbolic skeleton that guides our social existence. As the novelist Tessa McWatt attests in Out of My Skin, which is explored in Chapter 5, “some words hide truth just like fat hides bone” (82). The Things That Fly in the Night attempts to strip away the “fat” and reveal the “bone” beneath traditional and reappropriated renderings of vampiric women in African diasporic—and particularly circum-Caribbean—narratives. A good many scholars have interrogated the connections between sexuality, gender, violence, and “respectability” in African diasporic popular culture forms; however, most of them focus

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