Mythological Africans: Seeing Beyond the Unknown Other in Folklore

‘Forest Pygmies, Congo’ by babasteve is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

We’d like to showcase the work of Helen Nde, whose project Mythological Africans is an exciting exploration of the diverse mythology, religion, and folklore of the African continent.

Helen has a forthcoming book, The Runaway Princess and Other Stories, a collection of short stories recounting the deeds and misdeeds of memorable women from African history, legend, and folklore. You can support the Kickstarter project for the book here. There is an extract from the book here.

Helen describes the book here:

Seeing beyond the unknown other in folklore

Whether they are fueling our fever dreams or feeding our fantasies, otherworldly creatures have one thing in common: they are often our best approximations of the unknown other. In recent times, however, changelings, zombies, blood suckers, shapeshifters and other things that normally go bump in the night have enjoyed pop culture revivals which do not always cast them as the feared and fearful unknown. This revival is evident too in works of fantasy, magical realism, or speculative fiction by African authors. Ogbanjes and abikus, children born to die and return over and over again, are not exclusively harbingers of woe. Revenants fall in love, shapeshifters save the day and monsters speak necessary truths. This literary landscape also promotes efforts empower the marginalized and challenge negative stereotypes previously informed by ignorance.

On the African continent, one of such marginalized groups include the various short statured indigenous hunter-gatherer peoples who live in the dense forests of countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Madagascar, and Zambia. Encounters between these and other African peoples in the course of the Bantu expansions and other migrations have created a rich body of folklore which, in some stories, cast these forest peoples as magical beings endowed with deep knowledge of the natural world. In other stories, they are tricky and violent cannibals to be avoided at all costs at best or destroyed at worst. These stories most likely reflect the nature of the encounters: friendly or hostile. Migrating populations were, after all, encroaching on and building settlements in territories previously occupied by various hunter-gatherer populations. These stereotypes have persisted to the present day, with forest peoples across the continent simultaneously admired for their close connection to the forests and the knowledge that has yielded over time, but also systematically dehumanized and dispossessed of the same forests which have been their homes for millennia.

 It is therefore important as we continue to plumb the folklore of different African peoples for creative inspiration, to recognize when a creature depicted as dangerous or monstrous is in reality a differently abled or bodied person. This is a theme I explore in this excerpt from my upcoming book The Runaway Princess and Other Stories in which I retell traditional African folktales recounting the deeds and misdeeds of memorable girls and women from African history, legend, and folklore. I hope you enjoy it!

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Blood & Celluloid: Vampire Film Festival – October 15th 2022

Fangtastic news – OGOM will be taking part in Blood and Celluloid: an all day Vampire Film Festival at The Ultimate Picture Palace, Cowley Road, Oxford. This is part of the BFI In Dreams are Monsters Season – a major BFI UK-wide film and events season celebrating the horror genre on screen, taking place from 1 October to 31 December in cinemas nationwide, and at BFI Southbank (from 17 October to 31 December).

Films showing throughout the day (11.00-22.00) include:

  • Neil Jordan’s atmospheric adaptation of Anne Rice’s mould-breaking novel Interview With The Vampire, introduced by Dr Sam George and Dr Bill Hughes from the Open Graves, Open Minds Project (University of Hertfordshire).
  • Prolific French horror director Jean Rollin’s elegantly crafted erotic tale of female vampirism, Fascinationintroduced by Professor Patricia MacCormack (Professor of Continental Philosophy at Anglia Ruskin University Cambridge).
  • Tony Scott’s stylish cult classic The Hunger, starring Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie as chic vampire lovers, introduced by film critic and film programmer Dr Anton Bitel (University of Oxford).
  • Abel Ferrara’s gloriously gloomy yet gorgeously shot look at urban decay and human fallibility The Addiction, starring Lili Taylor and Christopher Walken.
  • And closing the festival will be Jim Jarmusch’s stylish and atmospheric modern masterpiece Only Lovers Left Alive, starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as two vampire lovers coming to grips with humanity’s decline.
OGOM Vampire Book

Why Vampires, Why Film?

Since their animation out of folk materials in the nineteenth century in Dracula, vampires have been continually reborn in modern culture. Stalking dreams and nightmares in print and on screen, they have enacted a host of anxieties and desires, shifting shape as the culture they are brought to life in itself changes form. They have fascinated us down the years in all their various manifestations and cultural forms, but it is film that has reinvented and reanimated them, giving sustenance to our most beloved gothic monster. 

Taking Part

The Open Graves, Open Minds project is beyond excited to be taking part in this vampire film festival. Every age has the vampire it needs and 2022 is the year of the vampire! It marks 125 years of Dracula, 150 years of the first lesbian vampire Carmilla, 100 years of the monstrous celluloid vampire Nosferatu, and 25 years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s also 30 years since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, dir. by Frances Ford Coppola, so there couldn’t be a more perfect time for us to celebrate the vampire’s reanimation, and its everlasting love affair with the cinema (following on from our Nosferatu at 100 event earlier in the year) 


Booking and Preview here. Festival passes (limited to 50) are now on sale and cost £30 (with a Pay Less option of £25 and a Pay More option of £35). Tickets to individual screenings are also on sale for the price of £9 each.

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Werewolves and the Gothic: In Search of the Spectre Wolf (22nd October 2022 – London Month of the Dead)

London Month of the Dead is an annual festival of death and the arts supporting London’s magnificent seven cemeteries:  Kensal Green (1832); West Norwood (1837); Highgate (1839); Abney Park (1840); Nunhead (1840); Brompton (1840); Tower Hamlets (1841). The programme this year is outstanding, full of gothic tours and spooky entertainments You can check out all the events for October 2022 here.

Tickets are selling out fast and I am thrilled to announce that I will be speaking on British werewolves at this year’s festival: ‘Werewolves and the Gothic: In Search of the Spectre Wolf’ is at 1.30 on 22nd October at Brompton Cemetery.

Werewolves stand upright against a cemetery wall in an illustration by Maurice Sands (1823-1889)

woo hoo – here’s a synopsis:  

British werewolves differ from their European counterparts in that they are rooted within haunted landscapes, often appearing as wolf phantoms. In fact, British folklore is unique in representing a history of werewolf sightings in places in Britain where there were once wolves. In this talk, I draw on theories of the weird and the eerie to inform my analysis of werewolves in contemporary myth. I depart from psychoanalytic studies which tie the werewolf to the ‘beast within’ and posit a theory that roots werewolves in landscape and absence in the present. The result is a UK landscape constituted more actively by what is missing than by what is present (a spectred, rather than ‘a scepter’d Isle’). Interrogating the werewolf as spectre wolf, brings the creature within the realms of the weird and the eerie and situates it firmly within gothic modes. This is the climate in which the spectre of the UK werewolf has re-emerged (rising from the ashes of the flesh and blood wolf).

BOOKING Tickets £12 including a delightful gin cocktail and a 20% donation to Brompton Cemetery. I’d love to see you there and the venue is stunning!!


For those who don’t know me here is a brief biography:

Sam George is Associate Professor in Research at the University of Hertfordshire and the convenor of the popular Open Graves, Open Minds Project. Known as the ‘coffin boffin’ on social media, her research specialisms include werewolves, wolves and wild children and the history of the literary vampire. Her interviews have appeared in newspapers from The Guardian and The Independent to the Sydney Morning Herald, The South China Post, and the Wall Street Journal. She’s a regular contributor to The Conversation, amassing 176,364 reads for her articles on vampires and werewolves alone. She recently appeared on Radio 4s ‘In Our Time’ speaking on the first fictional vampire.

Her work with OGOM has led to a number of co-edited publications with Dr Bill Hughes:
Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day (2012); In the Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Wolves and Wild Children (2020); The Legacy of John William Polidori: The Romantic Vampire and its Progeny (2023) and the forthcoming collection ‘Ill met by moonlight’: Gothic Encounters with Enchantment and the Faerie Realm in Literature and Culture. Sam also co-edited with Bill the first ever issue of Gothic Studies on ‘Vampires’ in 2013 and ‘Werewolves’ in 2019

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The Folkloric Vampire and its English Progeny

I am delighted to announce that I will be speaking at the Centre for Folklore, Myth and Magic in Todmorden, Yorkshire on 6th August. My new research is specifically focussed on the intersection between folklore and the gothic, and this is reflected in recent articles on topics ranging from British werewolves  to Japanese mermaids. I am currently completing a monograph on the folklore of shadows and planning a book on Gothic Fairies: A History for Bloomsbury. For this talk I return to the topic that earned me the title of ‘Coffin Boffin’ on social media (vampires of course), only this time I build on research that featured in Older Than Dracula: In Search of the English Vampire and explore the folkloric vampire and its legacy in all its glory and horror.

The Folkloric Vampire and its English Progeny: Wharram Percy to Croglin and Beyond’ takes place at 16.00 on 6th August 2022 at the Centre for Folklore, Myth and Magic, Todmorden. You can book via the Centre’s event pages here. Tickets cost 6.00 with the proceeds going to the Folklore Centre. Thanks to Holly Elsdon at the Centre for this stunning poster referencing the vampiric fairies that will also feature in the talk! I hope to see some of you in God’s own country (Yorkshire), which I am now lucky enough to call my home:-)

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In Our Time – Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’

It’s the Year of the Vampire! A good time to share vampiric projects. In April 2022 I was excited to be a guest on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time alongside Martin Rady (University College London) and Prof. Nick Groom (University of Macau). We were discussing John William Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ (links to the text).

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the myths that gave rise to this novella from 1819 by Byron’s physician, John Polidori, and the works such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula it inspired.

It’s a lively discussion on the first fictional vampire. And there’s a reading list and related links. I hope you enjoy it. OGOM’s latest book, The Legacy of John William Polidori: The Romantic Vampyre and its Progeny will be out soon.

John William Polidori by F.G. Gainsford
oil on canvas, circa 1816
NPG 991

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2022: The Year of the Vampire

2022 is the YEAR of the VAMPIRE!! 100 years of Nosferatu, 125 years of Dracula, 150 years of Carmilla, 175 of Varney the Vampire, 25 years of Buffy and many more. OGOM has a special focus on vampire studies, so this is a very significant and important year. The project has already celebrated the Nosferatu Centenary with a wonderful symposium, Nosferatu at 100: The Vampire as Contagion (see our Twitter moment here) and we are planning another top-secret vampire event in October with the founder of modern vampire studies (all will be revealed). You can now view our celebratory page on The Year of the Vampire with a click-through gallery of vampires celebrating their anniversaries in 2022 (there are quite a few).  

We have also designed a special Vampire Timeline and searchable Chronology of the Vampire for all gothic scholars and followers of OGOM. This timeline shows key texts (literary, cinematic, and TV) and events in the evolution of cultural representations of the vampire. We have chosen items that are the most significant or that we consider particularly interesting. Click on the left and right arrows to move through the vampire’s history. We will be continually updating this resource and we’re open to suggestions. Also new to the website is a Vampire Bibliography of secondary reading which we’ll update regularly with new vampire related material. (We will also be creating timelines and bibliographies for other OGOM topics.)

To get you in the mood for a little vampire nostalgia, have a look back at footage from our first ever vampire conference in 2010: ‘Vampires Make It into Academia’ a video from the Wall Street Journal. A little reminder, too, that following our centenary celebrations on Polidori’s Vampyre in 2019, our book The Legacy of John William Polidori: The Romantic Vampire and its Progeny will be launching soon (published by MUP). Fangs to all our followers. Do join us in October for further vampire-themed celebrations.

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Rebellion, treachery, and glamour: Lady Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon and the Byronic vampire, The Byron Society, 20 April 2022

I was very honoured to be invited by Emily Paterson-Morgan of The Byron Society (@EPatersonMorgan) to give my talk, ‘Rebellion, treachery, and glamour: Lady Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon and the Byronic vampire’. It’s an expanded version of the talk I gave for our Polidori Symposium in 2019 and will also form part of a chapter in our forthcoming book for Manchester University Press, The Legacy of John Polidori: The Romantic Vampire and its Progeny. I discussed the politics and form of Lamb’s Gothic novel and roman à clef (a fabulous novel which deserves more attention) and its relation to the later Gothic Romances and the Paranormal Romances of our own time, particularly in regard to the brooding, dangerous, vampiric lover modelled on Byron.

Sam and I had a lovely evening with the friendly and appreciative guests and members of the society. (Pictures courtesy of Emily via her Tweets.)

A number of people couldn’t make it to the talk and have asked for transcripts so I have made the talk and slides available from our Resources page (along with other past talks) here.

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Events: Gothic networking, Dracula, vampires

Some exciting events coming up! Some alluring vampire-themed material here, too, with what looks an intriguing contemporary dance adaptation of Dracula, and a festival of vampire films, discussed by Prof. Stacey Abbott, who has collaborated with OGOM from the beginning. In addition, I’ve added a link on our Resources page to the discussion featuring Dr Sam George on John Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’, on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time.

1. Journeys in Gothic Study: A Research and Networking Afternoon, online/live, University of Sheffield, 29 April 2022

We are delighted to welcome a number of speakers in the fields of Gothic and Romantic studies, to discuss their research and other wider issues relating to postgraduate and postdoctoral study. We will be hosting a Research Panel, which will focus closely on the work of two Gothic scholars, and an ECR and Career Development Panel, which will look more at the process of thesis submission and possible career avenues for Gothic and Romantic researchers.

2. Dracula, Vortice Dance Company, Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield, 13 May 2022

Bram Stoker classic inspires a show that covers the starkest paths of evilness. The myth of Dracula, one of the most sinister characters in universal literature history, is developed now with new conceptual and plastic contributions. The work explores new languages from an imaginative and enigmatic world in a mystical atmosphere full of pain, hallucination and loss. 

3. ‘Interview with a vampire expert’, Dundead 2022, Dundee Contemporary Arts, 28 April-1 May 2022

This year’s festival features a retrospective of some of the best vampire films of the past 100 years, from Nosferatu right up to modern classic Blade. Our Dundead festival programmer Michael Coull caught up with Professor and writer Stacey Abbott to find out more about the horror sub-genre and get her thoughts on our fang-tastic line-up…

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CFPs: Hauntings, Southern Gothic, YA, fantasy, female Gothic, queer Arthuriana

Conference papers and articles for publication requested:

1. CFP: Hauntings Halloween Symposium, online, 30 October 2022. Deadline: 1 June 2022

The CFP is now live for our second annual Halloween Symposium! The theme this year is ‘hauntings’ and presentations on all aspects of the theme are encouraged.

2. CFPs: Southern Gothic Area/ Young Adult Popular Culture Area, Popular Culture/American Culture Association of the South 2022 Conference, 13-15 October 2022, New Orleans. Deadline: 1 June 2020

3. Articles: BFS Journal/ BFS Horizons, British Fantasy Society, Submission Guidelines

The BFS currently publishes two periodicals. BFS Horizons is a paperback journal of fiction, poetry and art. BFS Journal is now devoted to non-fiction: interviews, academic articles, reviews and features.

4. Articles: Three centuries of the literature of fear by women authors, Abusões. Deadline: 17 July 2022

Três séculos de literatura do medo de autoria feminina

Editoras: Ana Paula Araujo dos Santos (UERJ, Brasil); Ana Resende (UERJ, Brasil); Anna Faedrich (UFF, Brasil); Renata Philippov (UNIFESP, Brasil)

Submissões até 17 de julho de 2022; Publicado: 2022-04-12

Three centuries of the literature of fear by women authors

Editors: Ana Paula Araujo dos Santos (UERJ, Brazil); Ana Resende (UERJ, Brazil); Anna Faedrich (UFF, Brazil); Renata Philippov (UNIFESP, Brazil)

5. Articles: Queering Camelot: LGBTQIA+ Readings, Representations, and Retellings of Arthuriana, Fantastika Journal. Deadline: 28 August 2022

A sequel to the Queering Fantastika issue, this is an open call for papers for a special issue of Fantastika Journal which will explore the queer side of Arthurian tales, adaptations, and fan-works including any and all media, whether directly adapting or only alluding to Camelot and Grail narratives. This issue will present a multivalent approach and is seeking both critical and critical practice-based research on this subject.

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Events and CFPs: Vampires, pedagogy, Candyman, folk horror, Gothic adaptation, Gothic women

Quite a diverse selection here of CFPs, forthcoming events, and resources; OGOM’s Dr Sam George and Dr Bill Hughes discussing vampiric matters among them!

1. Polidor’s The Vampyre, In Our Time, Radio 4, 9.00/21.30, 7 April 2022

Melvyn Bragg and guests [OGOM’s Dr Sam George, Prof. Nick Groom, Prof. Martyn Rady] discuss the influential novella of John Polidori (1795-1821) published in 1819 and attributed first to Lord Byron (1788-1824) who had started a version of it in 1816 at the Villa Diodati in the Year Without A Summer.

2. Rebellion, treachery, and glamour: Lady Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon and the Byronic vampire, talk, 6.30-8.00 pm, 20 April 2022, Art Workers Guild, London

Dr Bill Hughes is at The Byron Society to give a talk that develops the ideas he first presented at OGOM’s 2019 symposium, ‘Some curious disquiet’: Polidori, the Byronic vampire, and its progeny (this will also be expanded upon in our forthcoming book The Legacy of John Polidori: The Romantic Vampyre and its Progeny (2022)). He will be tracing the progress of the Romantic vampire as political rebel through Lady Caroline Lamb’s Gothic novel Glenarvon, John Polidori’s The Vampyre, and their descendants in Gothic Romance and contemporary paranormal romance.

3. CFP: Recovering the Vampire: Degeneration to Regeneration, conference, 4-5 November 2022, Edge Hill University. Deadline: 17 June 2022

How can vampires help us heal? In the 125th anniversary year of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this interdisciplinary project examines the continuing history of the vampire from the 19th century to the present, exploring how the vampire can function as a cultural figure of recovery, community, and regeneration.

4. CFP: Gothic Pedagogies: teaching, learning, and the literatures of terror, conference, 14 July 2022, University of Birmingham. Deadline: 30th April 2022

It has been a decade and a half since the last period of sustained work exploring the ways in which gothic literature is, and might be, taught in the classroom. This symposium seeks to renew this important critical discussion. It invites contributions that explore the richness, value, and complexities of pedagogy that situates the careful scrutiny of gothic literature at its heart.

5. CFP: Candyman and the Whole Damn Swarm, hybrid conference, 7-9 October 2022, University of Sheffield/ Sheffield Hallam University. Deadline: 8 July 2022

Candyman and the Whole Damn Swarm is a hybrid conference celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Candyman (1992). The conference – a collaboration between the Centre for the History of the Gothic at the University of Sheffield, Fear 2000 at Sheffield Hallam University, and the University of California, Riverside – will take place on  Friday 7 – Sunday 9 October 2022.

6. CFP: Folk Horror: Special Issue of Horror Studies, articles. Deadline: 3 October 2022

This special issue attempts to systematize and formalize the study of folk horror, a subgenre whose meteoric rise (or return?) to popularity in the past ten years or so raises critical questions relating to rurality, “traditional” cultures, nationalism, and place, among others. 

7. CFP: Special Issue of Literature: ‘Recycling the Gothic: Adaptations in the Romantic-Era Marketplace’, articles. Deadline: 5 august 2022

This Special Issue seeks to examine adaptations of the Gothic in all forms, from the novel to the short story, chapbooks and serialized publications. It will explore the recycling of  essential elements of the Gothic as a sign of activity and innovation rather than monotony and stagnation. The recycling of the Gothic, whether specific motifs and characterizations or stories themselves, reveals continual interest and engagement between the author and the reader. This distinction is important not only because it allows recycling to be seen as crucial to the growth and sustainability of the Gothic, but also because it allows the Gothic tradition to continue to be viewed in the larger context of evolving discourses.

8. Event: Gothic Women Today: A Public Humanities Panel for Early Career Researchers, 17:00BST / 9:00PST, 14 April 2022

Do you want to share your knowledge of Gothic women writers with the world? Do you analyze the latest Gothic films according to 18C genre conventions? Do you want to meet like-minded fans and scholars of women’s writing beyond your university? Then join our discussion of how we can engage with the field of Public Humanities in this panel for early career (and beyond!) researchers. Hear Dr. Kim Simpson (Chawton House), Dr. Corin Throsby (Cambridge), Dr. Courtney Floyd and Dr. Eleanor Dumbill (Victorian Scribblers), and Dr. Sarah Faulkner (U of Washington) speak about their work bringing Gothic women writers alive and to the people.

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