Being an ardent reader of books in the horror genre, I was very pleased on coming across this incredible short story written by Cowles. The author according to me has surpassed himself in this absolutely grotesque story of the unearthly Count Of Kaldenstein who as the title amply suggests is a vampire who continues living by feasting on the blood of innocent victims. Many of my fellow readers on reading this enchanting story would presume it to be a sort of a similar recounting of the classic novel ‘Dracula’ penned by Bram Stoker specially the first part of the narrative where Johnathan Harker visits Count Dracula’s castle inspite of the many warnings he had encountered by the locals. To such readers I would like to clarify that this masterpiece has no connection whatsoever to the Gothic story of ‘Dracula’. The story of Cowles is an ingenious work of art which creates a very horrific atmosphere that any reader of the fantastic would be thrilled by. His storyline is different as well as the way he presents his protagonist. One cannot deny Cowles the credit of being a very extraordinary writer of terror.
The story is divided into four parts very systematically & very professionally by the author. The protagonist who is on a walking tour across Germany in the year 1933 as the story goes, loses his way somewhat & manages to find himself in a very rural & primitive looking village called Kaldenstein.The people there are simple but friendly & the innkeeper there offers him food & boarding. The descriptions used by the author are not tiresome but infact enhance the whole effect of the story upon the reader’s mind. Many times in the story, the descriptions are the tools with which the author is able to create a scene of horror which mystifies us & also scandalises us. This is seen very well when the protagonist observes castle Kaldenstein blocking the full moon across a starless sky indicating an image of foreboding. The author also masterfully portrays how in a simple village setting….there lays an evil most powerful & ancient. In the story this is clearly shown when the villagers in the inn refuse to speak about the undead Count of Kaldenstein & also when the innkeeper himself bolts his door shut before he informs the author about the number of years the count had been residing alone in the castle (300 years). The descriptions enliven the narrative & creates in the reader a fear which only a great story-teller can do.
The characters are portrayed very well in the narrative, even though it is a short story. The characters are brought alive with the use of a minimal amount of introductory statements which are sufficient to inform us about the character’s traits & to go on with the story. Be it the head strong protagonist, the devilish Count Of Kaldenstein, the mysterious & half blind servant of castle Kaldenstein or even the thin Christian priest who ultimately saves the protagonist from a very gruesome death……all the characters are wholesome & very well described.
Scepticism is portrayed very well in the protagonist. His scepticism however turns to defiance when he challenges the warnings of the locals as well as of the priest & visits the castle of Kaldenstein twice, once in the morning where he returns safely & the second time at night to meet the Count …..where he does not emerge until he is saved by the priest & the innkeeper. Scepticism is degraded in the narrative whereas a belief in the unknown is questioned leaving the reader at the end of the story in a questioning frame of mind.
The character of the Count Of Kaldenstein himself is definitely different to that of Bram Stoker’s ‘Count Dracula’. Unlike ‘Count Dracula’ the Count of Kaldenstein is uncivil & is not in control of his basic instincts. This is portrayed very well when the Count licks up the pool of blood dripping out from the protagonist’s cut hand. He also delves in Black magic which has made him immune to death altogether according to the Kaldenstein priest. Otherwise, The Count Of Kaldenstein possess similar characteristics of regular vampires. He is quite unusually pale with sharp pointed teeth & also is extremely strong. His strength is observed when he lifts the protagonist off his bed from the waist as if the protagonist was just a mere child.
The most gruesome part of the short story however, is when the helpless protagonist is placed upon the dining table ready to be feasted upon by three vampires, two who were technically supposed to be dead while one was technically immune to death. The idea of each of them feasting upon the blood of the victim first from throat then the breast & then the neck is revolting yet, the author has managed to make the story very much the stuff of high-brow classic literature which prompts the reader of the fantastic to go on towards the climax. The protagonist however is saved by the priest & the innkeeper who forces the Count Of Kaldenstein to open his castle door with the aid of the Catholic Blessed Sacrament.
The story ends with a mystery & a feeling of wonder at the reality of it all. On another note, the atmosphere created by the author is tantalizing & yet, highly peaceful just like the remote village where the story takes place.
All in all, a must read for all horror genre readers especially those who prefer their vampires devilishly evil.