So as I mentioned briefly before, I finished writing “The Resurrectionist,” my novel set in late 19th century Edinburgh about a surgeon who gets cursed by the son of murderer William Hare.
I feel an enormous weight off my shoulders being able to lay this book down for now and I’m very excited that I’ll be getting to share some stuff about it before it’s publication…which I’m hoping will happen in early 2016 if the publication of all other 5 novels goes as quickly as I anticipate it will.
But anyway, I wanted to talk a little bit about the particular type of monster that is one of this focuses of this novel: revenants. As you might not know, I’m a folklore and monster nut. I even took a college course at UCSB that was entirely about monsters in literature, so getting to write about something as creepy as revenants, and also putting my own spin on them was extremely pleasurable for me!
So what in the world is a revenant?
A revenant is a particularly interesting type of specter, one that is often ignored in popular culture, but is quite a terrifying concept! In very short terms, they are kind of a hybrid between a zombie and a ghost that has returned from death, generally to seek some sort of vengeance. But there’s a lot more to unpack surrounding their history.
The name itself comes from latin, reveniens, meaning ‘to return.’ This creature is Britannic in its origin, but shares many, many similarities with zombies, ghosts, ghouls, vampires, and other undead monsters that spread internationally.
“The Encyclopedia of Things that Never Were” describes the revenant as “restless ghosts who return eternally to the scenes of deadly crimes, of which they were either the victims or the perpetrators. The victims return to constantly bewail their untimely fates; the perpetrators because their bloody deeds deny them eternal rest.”
They differ from the zombie, however, in that stories involving revenants are of a much more personal nature. They’ve risen not in a blind state of rage or hunger, attacking anyone at will, but they come back to exact revenge, often times on people who they know–mostly people who have wronged them. They also differ from the vampire in many ways: they are not known to feed on the living, but rather exist to terrorize or harm someone.
In Anne Rice’s, “Interview with the Vampire,” revenants are mentioned as a type of creature that is more like a zombie, though likewise vampiric in nature. They are of similar origins to the race of vampires in her universe, but they lack the ability to communicate and use their minds in ways that Louis, Claudia, and Lestat clearly do.
However, drawing from other sources (mainly folklore,) I consider this monster to be of an even more emotionally charged state than the traditional vampire, which makes them even more fascinating, in my opinion.
Revenants, as I have read of them, are not quite corporeal beings, but also not quite as intangible as a ghost either. They exist in this halfway state between life and death, not quite reborn with a body, but not resting in death. It is this peculiar, undefined liminal state that truly draws me to these beings. They haven’t returned simply to feed or to wander. The passion of rage and vengeance consumes them, causing them to remember little else about their previous life and the world around them. To them, nothing matters but their desire to destroy the one that harmed them.
Why did I choose to write about them?
First of all, I sensed an extremely underused and fascinating potential in this monster. I hadn’t seen or read much popular culture involving them where they weren’t a simple background monster. However, they had such a rich history and countless possibilities to play with, that I couldn’t ignore them.
Secondly, “Resurrectionist” is about vengeance and victims, and this is really what sets revenants apart from traditional ghosts, vampires, and zombies.
The whole point of the book is how people can’t truly live if they are so caught up in lamenting the horrors of the past. The revenant was perfect for this.
How do revenants come into my novel and what form do they take?
The revenants in my book are the risen victims of the Burke and Hare crimes, summoned by witchcraft to punish William Hare and his descendents–to trap them in an eternal ‘half-life’ of guilt, never dying, but never truly living, just as they are. This, again, came into play with the Arthur’s Seat coffins that I wrote about previously. Remember how the figurines were carved and buried with their eyes still open?
I wanted to put a creative twist on this already interesting specter, too. In the book, they are more than just ghosts who torment Hare. Not to give away too much, but they eventually break free and haunt different places of Edinburgh. I thought that it would be just fantastic to imagine that these spirits would nest in places that they found familiar and build up surreal, frightening, disjointed little worlds constructed around their particular emotional trauma.
Each of the revenants is based off an actual victim of Burke and Hare, and I did my best to maintain accuracy as well as keep their stories interesting, and certainly to show respect to the people that lost their lives in this horrific spree of murders. They are not just evil spirits that I wanted to set up and tear down for the entertainment of the reader. Their stories, or what I imagined them to be, are each tragic and horrific in their own right. Revenants want their vengeance on those who’ve wronged them. They want justice.
And most of all, Revenants want to be remembered.