The Dark Past of Family
Age Roles and Superstition in Southeast European Literature and Popular Culture
Evil old witches haunt the woods in order to trap and eat little children. In the fairy tale brave Hansel and Gretel had a lucky escape, unlike the young victims of Balkan vampires doomed to obey and spread the evil. The Balkan vampire was usually an elderly fierce paterfamilias violating and murdering younger, preferably female, family members. Werewolves also preferred to prey on younger victims, just as their relations the wizards and witches did. Do superstitions and myths in the Balkans therefore relate to aging? Is it really always the innocent, young and beautiful who are haunted and defiled by ugly old age? How does the often-stated patriarchal organization of Southeast European culture relate to concepts of aging? The paper investigates and follows the monsters' development from folk culture to literature and pop culture. The vampire, for example, evolved from a rough, uncouth villager who, after suffering a violent death, returns at night to prey on his wife and other extended-family members, to a much more violent figure in South Slavic literature – hugely different from the attractive demoniac count of Byron, Polidori or Stoker. This same vampire took quite another shape in the first Yugoslav horror movie Leptirica. The film was so frightening that according to an urban myth a man died of a heart attack during the premiere in 1973. The main focus of interest of this paper lies on Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Slovenia, with some digressions to Eastern Slavic literatures.