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Blood and Roses


Book: Bram Stoker, DraculaThis Valentine's Day marks the 70th anniversary of the movie Dracula's release. Billed as "the strangest love story ever told," this classic horror film forged a connection between blood and sex in the popular imagination that still resonates through fantasy novels, art, films and television shows.

The unspoken connection between blood, sex and the season of romance always existed, of course. For most of ancient Europe, mid-February marked the turning point of winter, when the cold began to ease and the first flowers began to push their shoots above the snow. Domestic animals prepare to give birth. The medieval legend that birds choose their mates on Valentine's Day reflects human observation of this behavior as much as it shows the saint's popularity.

The Romans celebrated Lupercalia on the ides of February (February 15). Sacred to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture and domestic animals, this holiday commemorated the adoption of Romulus and Remus by the she-wolf. In honor of the occasion, the priests of the Luperci sacrificed a goat and a dog.

Young boys dipped thin strips of the slaughtered goat's hide into the sacrificial blood, then raced through streets and fields with their makeshift whips, lightly slapping women and crops to increase their fertility. Afterwards, unmarried women placed markers bearing their names in a large urn in the center of their village or town. Local bachelors chose a name from the urn and, in many cases, the chance-paired couple set up housekeeping for a year.

Many of these trial pairings ultimately resulted in marriage. Nevertheless, the fledgling Catholic Church considered the proceedings scandalous and "recommissioned" the festival in honor of a martyred priest named Valentine. Historians can't say whether the romantic tales ascribed to St. Valentine arose before or after his association with the traditional date of the marriage lottery. But the blood was Valentine's own. Bela Lugosi and his more conventionally sexy successors just brought the traditional associations of mid-February full circle.

And beyond. As this month's interviews with Fred Saberhagen and Rhys Bowen demonstrate, the wheel of tradition never stops turning and enriching our culture. Bowen recalls the Welsh villages of her youth to provide a window in time and space to her mostly American readers. Saberhagen returned to the novel that inspired so many literary, film and video imitators to give the world a look at Dracula's point of view.

Who knows what new spin this new century will take on February's ancient celebrations? Reading the novel, some might call Dracula the ultimate wolf, but is he? Does another avatar of sex, blood and fertility already wait in the wings of a writer's or artist's imagination?

After all, with Survivor and Temptation occupying the nation's television screens, can Februata Juno's Love Lottery be far behind?

Jean Marie Ward

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