In the past few years Halloween became quite an important part of the modern Romanian society. An imported holiday, it was adopted quickly, but somehow pushed a local tradition away from the central spotlight. In Romania, a tradition and celebration similar to the All Hallows’ Eve can be found on the night between November 29th and 30th, a night known also as the Night of the Spirits. However, to say that Halloween pushed Saint Andrew’s Night away from our attention will not be entirely fair. Caught in the vicinity of Saint Andrew’s Day, the saint considered the protector of Romania, and the National Day celebrated on December 1st, the night when the boundary between the seen and unseen disappears, when light and darkness meet and the chaos dies and the harmony is reborn took a plunge for the worse. Together with countless images of endless queues of pilgrims at the Saint Andrew’s Cave in Dobrogea broadcasted on the news station and printed in newspapers the excessive promotion of holiday’s religious aspects made Saint Andrew’s Night seem an entirely ecclesiastic tradition and made it come second to the more playful Halloween. Even more, the old traditions of Saint Andrew’s Night are often seen as weird, although they have great potential for playfulness too and are an important source for genre fiction as well. The spirits are roaming the land freely, but you’re protected if you put garlic on the windows and doors. If crumbs are thrown into the courtyards, so the spirits can feast on them, the gathered crops and the livestock will be safe. Bonfires are burning into the night to chase the spirits away. The protective garlic is made in the same night of the previous year in a ceremony of “guarding” involving the young girls and boys partying. The girls can use different methods for finding their promised one. Also there are rituals that can help foresee how the weather of each next 12 months or how rich the harvest of the next year would be. The ghosts and the wolves can speak and move among humans and although in most cases it is a very bad sign to hear them, leading to death, they can also reveal the names of thieves, criminals or the locations of hidden treasures.
But is the promotion of Saint Andrew’s Night’s religious aspect the sole reason for Halloween’s popularity in Romania? Are all these traditions associated to Saint Andrew’s Night easily forgotten and discarded as important sources for the Romanian speculative fiction? To find some answers I’ve asked some of the most talented and promising Romanian writers, artists and editors to share their opinions on the matter. My guests for this roundtable discussion are:
Raluca BĂCEANU ● Marian COMAN ● Oliviu CRÂZNIC ● Ştefana Cristina CZELLER ● A.R. Deleanu ● Andrei GACEFF ● Teodora GHEORGHE ● Teodora MATEI ● Cristina NEMEROVSCHI ● Claudia NICULESCU ● Mircea PRICĂJAN ● Radu ROMANIUC ● George SAUCIUC ● Cristina SCHEK ● Narcisa STOICA ● Ioana VIŞAN
About the authors:
Raluca Băceanu writes poetry, fiction and essays. She made her debut in 2009 with “Călătorie prin mintea unei adolescente” (Journey Through a Teenager’s Mind), which was re-edited in 2010. Raluca Băceanu published short stories in various Romanian magazines and anthologies, and in 2013 she released her second novel, “Harul” (The Talent).
Marian Coman published two short story collections, “Nopţi albe, zile negre” (White Nights, Black Days) and “Testamentul de ciocolată” (The Chocolate Testament), and one containing social-themed essays, “Teoria flegmei. Apel la mitocănie” (The Phlegm Theory. Appeal to Grossness). In 2006 Marian Coman received the Eurocon Encouragement Award and in 2012 he was nominated for the SF&F Translation Awards for the volume of short stories available in English, “Fingers and Other Fantastic Stories”.
Oliviu Crâznic is the author of numerous short stories and novellas, but also of many articles, essays, reviews, and interviews published in Romanian and international magazines of speculative fiction. In 2010 Oliviu Crâznic released his debut novel, “… şi la sfârşit a mai rămas coşmarul” (…And at the End Remained the Nightmare), and in 2012 he edited the anthology “Dincolo de noapte. 12 Feţe ale goticului” (Beyond the Night. 12 Faces of the Gothic). In 2012 he received the Eurocon Encouragement Award.
Ştefana Cristina Czeller is a writer and journalist whose short stories were published in many Romanian anthologies and magazines. In 2011 Ştefana Cristina Czeller published her first novel, “Cerneală și sânge” (Ink and Blood), followed this month by “Ozz”. In 2011 she has received the Eurocon Encouragement Award.
A.R. Deleanu is the pen name of Flavius Ardelean. He made his debut in 2006 with a poems and fiction published in the magazine “Familia” (Family). In 2012 A.R. Deleanu released his first novel, “Îmblânzitorul apelor” (The Water Whisperer), and in 2013 his first short stories collection, “Acluofobia” (Achluophobia).
Andrei Gaceff made his debut with “Victoria, ce bine-mi pare să te revăd” (How Good to See You Again, Victoria), a short story published in a Helion almanac. It was followed by a couple of more stories in magazines such as Nautilus, Argos or Revista de suspans (The Suspense Magazine) and in the Romanian anthologies “Dansând pe Marte și alte povestiri fantastice” (Dancing on Mars and Other Fantastic Stories) and “Zombii: Cartea morţilor vii” (Zombies: Book of the Living Dead).
Teodora Gheorghe is a writer, translator and collaborative editor at a couple of magazines. She published short stories and poetry in Gazeta SF (The SF Gazette), EgoPhobia, Revista de suspans (The Suspense Magazine) and Translation Café. This month, Karth Publishing House released Teodora Gheorghe’s debut poetry volume, “Moartea era un iepure șchiop” (Death was a Limping Rabbit).
Teodora Matei published a serial novel between April and November 2012 on the online magazine, Nautilus. She has published numerous short stories in magazines such as Nautilus, Gazeta SF (The SF Gazette) and Ficţiuni (Fictions).
Cristina Nemerovschi is dubbed as “the rebel of today’s Romanian literature”. With a master in philosophy she made her debut in 2010 with “Sânge satanic” (Demon Blood). This novel was followed by “Pervertirea” (The Perversion), “Ani cu alcool și sex” (Years of Alcohol and Sex), both in 2012 and “nymphette_dark99” in 2013. Her short fiction was published in a few Romanian and international anthologies.
Claudia Niculescu is a Romanian artist. She studied Art History at the University of Vienna and is currently living in Wien, Austria. She paints, creates handcrafted jewellery and recently illustrated A.R. Deleanu’s collection of short stories, “Acluofobia” (Achluophobia).
Mircea Pricăjan is a translator, editor and writer. He worked as an editor for a couple of magazines and translated numerous books for various publishing houses. He also published articles, interviews, short stories and translations in Romanian and international magazines. He authored on novel so far, the 2002 Into the Deep Shadow of Reality. In 2012 he founded the online magazine, Revista de suspans (The Suspense Magazine), and in 2013 he edited the anthology “Zombii: Cartea Morţilor Vii” (Zombies: Book of the Living Dead).
Radu Romaniuc graduated from the Caragiale University of Theatrical Arts and Cinematography in 2001 and since then he appeared in many theatrical plays, films and television productions. Mainly a writer of short speculative fiction his stories have been published in Jabberwocky Magazine and the Romanian Argos and Revista de suspans (The Suspense Magazine). Some of his short stories can be found on Radu Romaniuc’s personal site.
George Sauciuc is the editor of one of the longest-lived Romanian speculative fiction magazine, Gazeta SF (The SF Gazette). He published several articles, stories and studies in a few collections, newspapers and magazines. He is the founding member of the SF Cygnus-Quasar Club and The Literary Initiative Club.
Cristina Schek is a Romanian photographer currently living in London, United Kingdom. Inclined towards imaginative and surrealist works she is responsible for the art department of Revista de suspans (The Suspense Magazine).
Narcisa Stoica made her debut in 2009 in Nautilus magazine with the SF story “Interviul. De angajare” (The interview. For hiring). Since then she has published in local magazines and several anthologies. In 2012 Narcisa Stoica released a collection of short stories, “Cu vorbele la mine” (I Have My Words), and published her debut novel, “Taxidermie” (Taxidermy).
Ioana Vișan is the winner of the 2013 Eurocon Encouragement Award. Her short stories were published in more than ten magazines and anthologies in Romanian and English. Ioana Vișan’s debut collection, “Efectul de nautil” (The Nautilus Effect), was released on March 2013, followed on May by her novella, “Instincte umane”, also available in English as “Human Instincts”. She released exclusively in English a series of novellas entitled “The Impaler Legacy”.
In the past few years Halloween, despite being an imported tradition, grew in popularity on the Romanian society to the detriment of the local Saint Andrew’s Night. Why do you think Halloween became more popular in Romania than Saint Andrew’s Night? Would you like to see the local tradition celebrated and promoted more?
Raluca Băceanu: Some would say that popularity is a phenomenon bound to globalization. I prefer to believe it is about the dead-weight of the society we live in (post-modern, maybe). Of course, there are the familiar historical facts when Occident was always preferred to the Orient; the trend, the traditions, all these come in our days from the Occident. Today we identify this Occident with the U.S.A., all that comes from there is more interesting, pleasant, favoured to the traditional and dusty Saint Andrew’s Night. We can start an entire discussion from here, of the novel size, but it is pointless. What is for certain it’s that everything coming from outside our borders is fashionable. It is enough to look a little over the history to see why. And the present is built around the fascination of America. The paradox is that we are also the ones vehemently criticizing the American society… From here the against-Halloween parties and a lot of other against what comes from there. Oddly, against what we might believe, although an against-Halloween these parties are in fact just malicious extensions of the same phenomenon… The traditional local holiday remains on the second plan. If I prefer our own tradition promoted more? Is this tradition at least promoted to make claims for being promoted more? I, for one, say: maybe there are Halloween parties, maybe they are successful because they are fun (although I notice a certain lack of originality when it comes to costumes, most of people instead of going dressed indeed in another way chose to remove their everyday mask and become, one by one, the monsters devouring their souls: the girls become vulgar, there is no distinction between a fairy and a demon, short skirts, lace and latex are the holidays’ leitmotifs, the boys are boring to say the least, they don’t disguise too much, fact that might suggest their lack of substance…) but when returning home the garlic is customary at the doors. Tradition doesn’t sleep, it is just promoted at individual level, in-house. For example, it’s not in trend to talk in public about the way you decorated your doors with garlic, it rises questions, how can you do such a thing?… The grandparents or, at most, the parents may choose to follow the “garlic” path and not necessarily from a real fear, but out of respect for a Romanian symbolism. Maybe if the young cultivated this respect more (and not the proper tradition of believing in the undead in particular) we have a chance. Not a chance for popularity, but for not forgetting who we are, not forgetting what makes us unique…
Marian Coman: Paradoxically, for all these three questions I have a common answer resumed in a single word: Marketing. I’ll get into details.
It is all about marketing when we are talking about the reasons for which Halloween is promoted more in Romania. And then again, it is better to be honest and remember that Saint Andrew’s Night, the Head of Winter night, was never a big tradition in Romania. I am not certain if there are 10 or 15 years since I first heard of it. I don’t have memories from my childhood, lived in the Communist era, celebrating or assisting to a certain event linked to the Saint Andrew’s Night. However, just the imports of Occidental holidays and traditions, like Halloween and Valentine’s Day, made us rediscover, as an act of resistance against globalization, our own traditions such as Saint Andrew’s Night and Dragobetele. I don’t have any preference for any of them in particular. I do appreciate on all these holidays their playfulness and I consider all of them, local and imported alike, as important sources of inspiration. For instance, for the 8th issue of “Harap Alb Continuă” (The Story of Harap Alb Continues) I wrote the comics script entitled “The Night of the Dead” based exactly on the Saint Andrew’s Night.
Oliviu Crâznic: The answer for the first question can be found in the second: Halloween benefited from a very strong promotion, directly and indirectly (through movies, books, music, other cultural movements). Besides, Saint Andrew’s Night has a religious and folkloric feeling, both discouraging a modern approach from the “entertainment” perspective. As far as I am concerned, being an urbanite and non-traditionalist and also being more familiar and attracted to the Occidental art and culture than to the orthodox religion and “rural life”, I am afraid that I look at Halloween with sympathy and Saint Andrew’s Night with absolute indifference (as holiday, I mean; from the Saint Andrew’s Night’s legends and myths perspective I manifest a punctual interest from case to case).
Ştefana Cristina Czeller: Halloween’s increasing popularity must be put in the bigger context of the fracture brought by the 1989 revolution in the Romanian society. It was more than just a political change. After decades of denying access to and from the West an avalanche of Occidental products and concepts, mostly Anglo-Saxon, fell over us. With great enthusiasm we have adopted them, probably because they were the forbidden fruit for such a long time. And the big companies have taken advantage in the fullest, after all they do have a lot of merchandise for selling! And let’s not get out hopes too high since the book, magazine and movie are still merchandise.
The children of 1989 grew surrounded by the same borrowed imaginary and they perpetuate or will continue to perpetuate it through the next generation. Especially for the urban public what would be more spectacular, more familiar and more attractive? The idea of finding your promised by putting basil under your pillow, something you only read in a school book? Or the witches, ghosts and other such accursed things, encountered on every step starting with the childhood cartoons and ending with the thematic party held at your favourite pub? I think the answer is obvious.
A.R. Deleanu: For the same reason that Romanians eat McMici and watch the X Factor, or what’s it called. It’s easier – make-believe recipes, lozenges of pseudo culture. I think it’s important to know that we do have a local tradition similar to theirs and, sorry if I’m mistaken, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they have the same roots. I would like to find out more about local traditions, yes, and I think it would be nice to see them being promoted more, but with care and measure – local absolutism is a wicked little thing.
Andrei Gaceff: The dilemma is if you feel in the mood to protect yourself from ghost for one night, to defend against madness or to celebrate this madness and join the monsters and witches. This way Halloween, especially the modern Halloween, wins. Of course, Halloween has its spiritual aspect as well, Soul Cakes – eat one more cookie, release one more soul – but the costumes, the carnival come first, it is the time when you’re allowed to be anything you like without the danger of being locked up somewhere because of it.
Saint Andrew’s Night is about a lot of defensive and the interpretation of signs and it is from here where its loses come as an urban celebration.
Teodora Gheorghe: We tend to emulate behaviors and customs belonging to people or groups of people which possess qualities that we would like to have. Unfortunately, many Romanians have acquired a distorted image of their country, as a result of the poor standard of living, political crises, and other disheartening issues. Traditions have been left aside. The ‘American dream’ has become a source of inspiration, especially as far as celebrations are concerned. However, the fortunate economic situation in the USA is not the only reason why we import traditions, dreaming of imitating a comfortable life style. I think it also has something to do with their flexible and gregarious nature. Americans are much more flamboyant when it comes to celebrating. On Halloween, children knock at the doors of neighbors they know very well and are greeted by smiles and candies. They’re all part of a united community. In Romania, Saint Andrew’s Night is only celebrated in the rural areas and without much fuss. I guess along the way, we’ve forgotten how to enjoy ourselves and feel the need to borrow more efficient ways of creating a special night.
Yes, local traditions should be promoted more. I would like to hear about them on the news and see posts about them on the internet. But in order for this to happen, there has to be a general interest in the Romanian traditions. Most people are not interested in them, because they have already assimilated the foreign traditions.
Teodora Matei: Old traditions are celebrated for sure in small communities, where old people keep them alive. They don’t know much about Halloween, but have strong beliefs in ancient mythological creatures or Saints. They still have fears and they respect some practices for good-luck, health or prosperity.
Facebook and Twitter generation considers that returning to the own past is not trendy. They would be tired of broadcastings based on Romanian mythology. But they enjoy colorful events, frightening masks and orange pumpkins. They celebrate “Valentine’s day” and buy red fluffy hearts, ignoring the sad story of Saint Valentine and his letters from jail.
The questions are: “Why don’t we promote national traditions?”, “Why do we all want to be occidental, even if our roots remain Romanian?” The answers may be that we are big consumers of commercials and sparkling-promoted stuff. Someone gets a lot of money as a result of all these campaigns and we only get useless products, but no memories. We shall never be occidental, because one must live as such, not learn how to do it.
It’s sad that only few people know the real legend of Halloween, the origin of feast, the meaning of frightening masks and sculptured pumpkins.
We should read our children old Romanian stories, so they can learn about their ancestors. We should tell them about Saint Andrew and his significance in Romanian history. We should teach them old Romanian carols, ended with our own “treat or trick”.
Promotion of Romanian traditions may not be so profitable in the beginning, but this way people would learn about their own past. I would like to see campaigns about the old practice of sowing wheat in water on the night of Saint Andrew and how garlic hung at the windows helped people against horror folklore creatures.
Cristina Nemerovschi: I was never the one to reject from the start everything that’s imported – I am not bristling (as I’ve seen many do) when I hear about Valentine’s Day or Halloween. But since it exists here, for a long time, their local “synonyms”, less known but still with tradition, I believe that ideally would be for all these holidays to go hand in hand – we should celebrate both Halloween and Saint Andrew’s Night. I don’t think one excludes the other. For my part, I like a lot the symbolism of both Halloween and Saint Andrew’s Night because it has everything to do with our fears and terrors, with the dark imaginary existing in all of us. These are not things and feelings easy to handle, we are not dealing with them on every day basis, so I am happy to have these holidays that urge us on reflection.
I believe Halloween is more popular lately because it was exploited more on the American pop-culture – it is a holiday used in excess in movies (of any genre, not only horror), in mainstream TV series, in books, in pop and rock songs, there are specific costumes, that attract the young, the party feeling associated with it, the pumpkins became as famous as the Christmas tree… There even are specialized shops for renting Halloween costumes. These things are very much on the teenagers liking, but also on those who seek every opportunity to start a small party. I think we need to take the Halloween’s example and promote our local holidays more. To discover what exactly is special at them (and there is aplenty to work with here!), what we don’t find in other traditions and make them more attractive. Of course, I would be happy to see this happening.
Claudia Niculescu: I think this is a matter of integrity. Looking back through history it’s easy to observe how Romania always tried to keep up with the trend. The Halloween situation did not get its fame only in Romania, it has been adopted all over Europe. I couldn’t say that I am a Halloween fan. It is an admirable tradition, but I never celebrate it because I can’t really identify myself with it and I often get the feeling that it is overrated and it is a good reason to easily take the money out of your pocket. I think traditions represent the mentality of a certain region. Every region has a different mentality, so, a different creed. And, what traditions do is shape and stabilize this belief. They can’t just be adopted unless they have a social or commercial interest. So yes, I would like to see the local traditions promoted, although they probably seem “old fashioned” (in the end that is what traditions are all about, their function is conservation not adaptation) instead of some random trending habits in which we do not believe and which we don’t fully understand. That would be doubtless healthier, spiritually speaking.
Mircea Pricăjan: I definitely would, yes. Now that I got that off the way, let me just say that I really don’t think things look good for that to happen in the near future. We are living in a profoundly laymen’s society, and while Halloween may have a religious under-theme, it is removed enough from the conscious mind for it to be primarily perceived as a secular tradition. On the other hand, Saint Andrew’s Night, like most other Romanian holidays, is fundamentally religious in nature. We have still to give it that layman easy-to-grasp commercial dimension. Until then it is only bound to be kept alive in the still religious-imbibed rural areas of the country.
Radu Romaniuc: There are, probably, many reasons for Halloween becoming popular here. For kids it is obviously more fun, you know, with the costuming and the sweets. And here in Romania it is not at all religious, which makes it even safer for children. Also, it is economically more viable – lots of people can make a living out of it, so it is promoted in every form of commercial mass-media.
No, I don’t think local traditions should be promoted more. They had hundreds of years to promote themselves, and if the local communities don’t find them useful anymore then it is in the nature of things for these traditions to disappear. I think that all the traditions that focus on the religious will slowly fade away, and they will be survived only by the traditions centred on humanity and human life – personal celebrations like birth, marriage, death, or community events like the New Year’s Eve. I don’t see any necessity in reviving some religious ceremonies where old bearded dudes sing out of their noses about another bearded dude, although I wear a beard myself.
George Sauciuc: Halloween, from my point of view, is not a holiday. Or it isn’t a holiday anymore, unless we forcefully refer to it as a secular holiday. I heard a joke from an American pastor once saying that religion started in Jerusalem as sermon, migrated to Ellada (Greece) where it has taken the form of a philosophy and ended in Rome, where it became religion. When it reached the USA changed once more, into a business. Something similar happened to Halloween. It is a consumerist manifestation, developed in America because of the immigrants from all over the world, each with their own customs and beliefs brought into the new world. I think that Halloween is the holiday that united dispersed faiths.
Now, we all are familiar with the modern canonical desire of closeness to the West. For the majority the West, the Occidental world is represented by the USA. In the past few years we absorbed, as society, without chewing, everything that came from the Occident. It is only normal to absorb Halloween too, among all these things, and this holiday’s popularity is owed to the promotion it received, through cinema, sit-coms and books. Besides, it is promoted in kindergartens, schools and, the biggest surprise for me, organized for the young by the Tatars Community, who are Muslim. And yes, in a few years, Halloween would be traditionally celebrated through social metabolism. Not a single holiday was born at the same time with a community. I am not sure who remembers nowadays that Halloween is the Gaelic Samhain holiday. To answer the second question I don’t see a decrease in popularity of our traditional Saint Andrew’s Night. Let’s not forget, that after all Saint Andrew is a religious holiday and the traditions are linked to marriage and protection from evil spirits (in general) with small regional ethno-folkloric differences. My opinion is the profane parts of our holiday deserve to be promoted, they have their charm, but with the risk of being seen as a bigot it is impossible to talk about traditions specific to Saint Andrew’s Night without the religious aspect.
Cristina Schek: This might have happened because of the movies, the Hollywood Halloween effect. Hollywood power is unmatched, precisely because our minds are stimulated by images. I, myself, know very little about Saint Andrew’s Night, but I would like to find out more – as long as the Romanian Saint Andrew isn’t going to be swallowed by the Romanian church. Hollywood is preferable to superstitions.
Narcisa Stoica: First of all, I never felt Saint Andrew’s Night to be a popular tradition. That is, I think, because I was born and raised in a small town near Bucharest (during the Communist regime), where everybody treated the date of 30th November as a name-day for those called Andrew, Andrea and such and nobody thought so much about Saint Andrew and his role in spreading the Christianity in our geographical area.
That is why I do not feel that Halloween grew in popularity on the Romanian society to the detriment of the local Saint Andrew’s Night.
As for why Halloween became so popular in Romania, I think it has to do with the massive attention and promotion it got from the media, the entertainment industries and the policies of the multinational companies with subsidiaries here.
Some might say that the popularity of Halloween (a foreign tradition) has something to do with the Romanians appetite for the “shapes without foundation”, ”the ghosts without substance” or ”illusions without truth”, as one of our prestigious scholars – Titu Maiorescu – called, as far as 145 years ago, the ”habit” of Romanians to adopt foreign cultural structures, and, by extension, foreign traditions…
But I am confident that no matter what traditions they adopt, Romanians will manage to spice them with the local flavor… For instance, with us, The Black Friday lasts for seven days and it starts one week earlier than for the rest of the world.
On the other hand, I would like very much that local traditions, which are beautiful and fascinating and speak directly to our hearts and minds, to be celebrated and promoted more and that is why, lately, I write stories where one can find hints about Romanian mythology, folklore and traditions.
Ioana Vișan: There are two main considerations here. First, by the end of the Communist era, our traditions were already dying, being restricted to the rural areas. Second, after living secluded for several decades, with little access to what was going on outside our borders, we were hungry not only for information but also to catch up with the rest of the world. It was the proper ground for marketers to sell us a lot of stuff that worked well in other places and made money. This is the case with Halloween, St. Valentine’s Days, and many other imported traditions, items, ideas, etc.
It would be nice to return to our traditions and keep them alive, but I think it’s a little late for that. The youngest generation has barely heard of them and never seen them in practice. It’s hard to care about something that survives only as a concept. You need to be able to relate to it. And this is another problem. For most Romanians, Halloween represents a name and a reason to party. Since it’s not ours, we don’t need to go deeper and understand everything it stands for. We can take only the fun part and discard the rest. When it comes to St. Andrew’s Night, though, there isn’t much fun in it. There was no time to commercialize it and turn it into a brand easily appealing to people. If you read about St. Andrew’s Night, you realize it’s quite scary and you might even get a cold chill running down your spine. Not many people are comfortable with that feeling.
With such rich traditions, legends, mythology and folklore strangely the fantastic and horror have only little presence on the Romanian cultural scene. As in the case with Halloween are we more attracted to the imported literature, movies and art of the fantastic and horror? Are we more afraid to explore our own fantasy and horror traditions and stories and is this one of the reasons of their lack of popularity?
Raluca Băceanu: We are attracted by what attracts the rest of the world. And we nurture this feeling just for not being left behind! This is the mentality. We believe that by following the trends we have a chance of being noticed by the entire world, that outside our borders. This idea has such deep roots in our minds that it makes us forget our origins, we forget to pay them attention. There is a small group trying the opposite, but what are their chances? Ridiculed most of the times, because they fail to see, in fact, the salvation comes from the glorification of the ideas from cinemas, that in the end has as target a public not much interested in books… The fact that on the market there is an obsession for vampires and werewolves, well, it is due to the movies. The writers who chose this path desire most of all and dream with fervour at the ecranization of their novels, it’s in itself a great achievement. Fame, money, the rest is already known. There are no more writers of value, who write with a respect for this occupation, who write because otherwise they will not feel alive, nowadays there are only writers in quotation marks. Only too few write because it is what they dream about, only too few have a revelation in which writing is their meaning. They do it because in a world least interested in such things being called a writer is interesting. Because it is bohemian. Because they desire admiration from a public least interested anyway in the depths of the soul, in the true meaning of horror and fantastic literature. And because of this they reach a public alike them, a handful who seem interested in their daily activities: “I write, read horror”, waiting fascination from their companions, or, who knows, even… fear. You may believe this to be an unfounded judgement, that these are childish opinions, but I met too many people with no relation to writing or reading, only with the trends. Writers who write about morale but have no knowledge of it, defenders of ideas in writing but that trample with their feet usually… Let’s judge the writing, not only the author? Maybe this principle was applied before, nowadays not anymore. We are not afraid of tackling themes from the Romanian mythology, we are lazy. We consider that it’s beneath our attention. It doesn’t look commercial enough. We consider that writing about fairies and dwarves is childish. Maybe if we tackled other motifs of mythology such as Blajini or Iele, it would be something else. But nobody is bothering with looking for something else in the fantastic. Vampires and werewolves are much more frightening and of impact. We don’t have a chance on this plan because we don’t want to and because we are taking everything for granted from the West, which abuses two or three major concepts anyway and make them the subject of hundreds of thousands of volumes following the same line. A kind of complex fairytale, a kind of vulgar fairytale (because everything that is degrading is of success!), a kind of upside-down fairytale.
Marian Coman: Mainly it is about marketing when we notice that the imported products, in the cultural space as well, are more in demand than the local ones. And I refer again to the “Harap Alb Continuă” (The Story of Harap Alb Continues) magazine which has proved that through proper marketing, talent, professionalism, invested money into promotion and a lot of work a superhero story originating from Romania can be successful too. The heroes from Harap Alb’s story do not come second to the ones from X-Men, for example. And the readers reacted fast, embracing with pleasure the universe and characters of “Harap Alb Continuă” (The Story of Harap Alb Continues). Almost 100,000 fans on Facebook and an undreamed press run until now on our market are just a few examples proving that good marketing can make a story successful even if it is produced here, in Romania. And no, we are not afraid to explore our own myths and traditions, our own space. At least I am not afraid to do it. All my stories, all my texts are rooted to the fears, desires, traditions, people and history of this place. What it’s missing, I have no doubt, are more editors capable of developing a performing marketing for the local productions.
Oliviu Crâznic: On one hand, the fantastic of any kind was discouraged in Romanian during the Communist regime (following a period of great respect for it, if we recall the Caragiale and Eminescu’s interest in Poe’s works), and after decades of inflicting on people’s minds that imagination is of the childhood’s domain it is difficult to regain the value of the imaginary, therefore it will take a while to keep the pace, from this point of view, with the rest of the world.
On the other hand, certainly the foreign genre works (and not only) are superior to the Romanian ones, in both quality and quantity. There are exceptions, of course, on the quality part, but not many. It is reasonable considering the continue discouragement for this kind of literature here and how few are the Romanian genre writers compared to those from Occident and if we take into the consideration the huge population disproportion between Romania and the Occidental World… Even more, mass-media and the educational system have highlighted mainly “weak” works, leading to a justified distrust from the part of the reader for the Romanian writer. Which makes even more difficult the mission of the creators who reach the international level, they have to fight against the toughest “enemy” and, in the end, to transform him into a friend: the reader. And if I was so radical, to not damage unjustified the Romanian literature, already found into a dire state, I’ll give a few examples of Romanian writers of international reputation, who prove this way that we also can swim to the shore, with a lot of effort and a little luck: Liviu Radu with series like “Taravik”, Costi Gurgu with his dark “Reţetarium”, Ciprian Mitoceanu with his “Colţii” (Fangs), Mihai Andrei Aldea with “Drumul spre Vozia” (The Road to Vozia) (and here is a fantasy of international reputation inspired by the Dacian culture and Romanian imaginary!) are just a few of unchallenged examples that can bright our perspective. If we wish to see this light, of course, and if we stop hiding behind the quotidian literature, that we try to pass as art when it is in fact superficiality. And I might add that despite my reservation towards the typical Romanian resources for the genre stories (in my opinion, more appropriate through their characteristics for cult fairytale than the other mentioned literary genres), I also used, when I felt it was right, the Romanian ancestral thesaurus (for instance, ielele for “Însângerată, luna”/The Moon, Bloodied or zburătorul in the last part of “… şi la sfârşit a mai rămas coşmarul”/…and at the end remained the nightmare).
Ştefana Cristina Czeller: From a writer’s, but also a reader’s perspective, it is not a question of fear. It is rather about the radical change taken by our lives on so many aspects that the folkloric motifs aren’t of actuality anymore. Not only for the Romanian living in bloc of apartments and going to work with the trolleybus, but also about the rural inhabitant who spends his evenings enjoying the performances of a parabolic antenna that can be found on any cottage. We are more afraid of the ghost, vampire or serial killer than Muma Pădurii or Balaurul. Maybe the undead might have a chance…
That doesn’t mean that such motifs or characters, for centuries perfect for the stories told near the stove in winter, cannot be resurrected to a newer life. Let’s not forget that many successful writers from the West incorporate the traditional fantastic and horror into the reality of the moment, Stephen King being the most famous example. However, for a Romanian writer, it is a bit more difficult to imagine Zmeul Zmeilor as a taxi driver or Moroii hired by the Cemetery Administration.
A.R. Deleanu: This is a very good question and one that I sadly don’t have an answer for. I really don’t. I can only look at the way I’m working and acknowledge the fact that I don’t choose my topics and my style – they just come to me. I suppose the macabre just didn’t come to a lot of other Romanian writers. It’s as simple as that. But someone has to do it. And it’s not at all easy when you lack a literary tradition that you can build upon and deconstruct in order to create something fresh and original. We look at other cultures and manipulate them for new material, but it’s like building scaffoldings on a ground that you don’t understand, so bad writing is very often the outcome. I really believe we need to build our stories on a Romanian cultural context, but I’m not a huge fan of using folklore – for me the macabre needs to be about here and now (please note that I am not using the word “horror”; I would not like to be known strictly as a horror writer, because it’s not what I am). If we don’t have a market for it, I am happy to contribute to building one, but I do need the help of readers, critics, magazines, publishers.
Andrei Gaceff: I would refer, in general, to the charms of wild animals. I think there is something similar with a competition between wolf and tiger, the imbalance of creature’s popularity. The visitors from everywhere would be crowded around the tiger’s cage while passing quickly by that of the wolves. I think the tiger is more popular even in the zoological gardens of the countries where it is found in the wild too. But the wolf has its charm too, a certain very interesting behavior, and not rarely someone remembers him and wishes to see it again.
Teodora Gheorghe: There is a kind of subtle fear lurking in our minds in connection with our folklore and mythology. And it’s not about the ghosts or the evil fairies. There is a huge gap between the city and the rural mentalities. Whereas people from the big cities are hooked to the internet life and more in tune with the progress of technology, science, etc the peasants prefer a simple life and are faithful to tradition. Communication is broken, the two ‘sides’ belong to different worlds. As the population from the cities exceeds the population from the rural areas, a majority of Romanians have adopted foreign traditions, literature and movies. Another reason is the popularity of the American horror movies. Alfred Hitchcock is considered to be a pioneer in the horror movies industry. He inspired so many writers and directors who gained international notoriety, also due to good advertising, which Romania lacks. A famous movie is always preferred to a movie directed by a ‘John Doe’.
Teodora Matei: The attraction is due to the promotion style. Imported literature has colored covers and great reviews. There is an army of sales and marketing specialists behind every single book. We may be tricked by bright covers and words. We may be disappointed after reading this kind of books or seeing this kind of movies; we had greater expectations. At the same time, I discovered a gothic Romanian novelist only by chance: a friend told me about him and his book’s subject. I’ve read it and I wasn’t disappointed.
I saw a Romanian horror movie a few weeks ago. I enjoyed seeing the story I knew, hearing the actors speaking in Romanian, I had the feeling that I was part of the story. Recommended.
Romanian writers really write about traditions, legends and Romanian fantastic. We can find their stories in online magazines or on their blogs. We can thumb through some books selected by publishing houses. A publisher is a seller. He always puts profit first. And profit comes from trendy subjects, not from old Saints’ stories. It comes from contracts with very talented people.
Some writers choose to edit e-books, which are cheaper than printed versions. Many readers are not very familiar to this kind of literature; they prefer traditional printed books, the smell of ink on paper and the touch of glossy covers.
Some other writers choose self-publishing and self-promotion. The rest of them keep on writing online, for friends and family. This may be a primary kind of promotion.
I don’t consider that we are afraid; we just feel the influence of external success stories.
Cristina Nemerovschi: The main problem of genre literature in Romania is not that it doesn’t exist or is not original enough, but that it is not promoted as it should be. At the moment there is good genre literature in our country, but the readers has restricted access to it. Many would read local horror literature if they had information about it. But between the readership and the Romanian dark literature is a barrier made of prejudices, one proclaiming this type of literature one of niche. It is far from the truth – on the contrary, often it is horror to tackles universal themes, subjects in which the reader finds himself more easily. Authentic art has to inflict emotions, to make the one experiencing it ask himself questions and the horror literature has an enormous potential in this aspect.
Of course, since this type of literature is less highlighted, one of the end results is the young Romanian writer’s tendency to stay away from the genre and to try his talent with a literature “accepted” more, encouraged by the official critique. It is enough to look over the literary awards of the past couple of years – the fantasy and horror literature hardly have a place on them. The juries are unaware of these genre, these are completely alien to them. So, if this type of literature would be encouraged with certainty the number of writings of this kind will increase considerably. Together with quantity, of course, the quality will increase as well – we would have from where to make choices, the horror and fantasy literature’s local market would be more competitive and from it certainly a couple of bestsellers would be born.
I believe that Romania has favourable circumstances for writing dark literature here – I refer to the traditions, folklore, rural imaginary (we have a great cast of characters in our fairytales for instance, and all could be endlessly used in the horror literature of quality), but also to a particular characteristic for us, the Romanians, the capacity to narrate about sadness, death, sickness, separation, hate, crime, suicide, elements that could be excellently channelled into an actual and attractive literature. I have the conviction that we could compete anytime with what is written abroad. But we need, in order to reach the public, to find a way for bringing this barrier between the so-called niche literature and mainstream down.
The foreign horror literature has the advantage to have already overcome these prejudices. You will not hear and American or an Italian saying that Vampire Diaries, for example, is a bad book because it has vampires. This is only a Romanian prejudice. In other parts of the world, literature is separated, as it is normal to be, between the well written one and the mediocre one, the one that has no message to send, the one that bores. Therefore the foreign fantasy literature is naturally assimilated and promoted in consequence. And the Romanian public is somehow more receptive to what comes from beyond our borders, already wrapped in shiny colours and with the bestseller label on it.
Claudia Niculescu: Once again it is a matter of trend, integrity and strong publicity. I think that nowadays people read/watch the artistic product with the noisiest promotions and with the deepest clichés because most of us have a slothful attitude towards this matter and just trust the opinion of the masses without doing any further researches to find exactly what we want to see. We accept too easily what we are given. I think here is also a problem with our spiritual routine. We are pleased with our habits and knowledge and refuse to accumulate new information. So I think this is all about the easy accessibility.
Mircea Pricăjan: There’s a time for everything. Just like there is a person to say it best for everybody. Maybe we are still waiting for that time and that person. Or maybe just for that time. Because I personally know of a few young Romanian writers who have already written impressive stories based on our local traditions, legends a.s.o. Maybe if their works would get a higher media coverage (may that be commercials on the radio or TV, their presence in various daytime talk-shows and, ultimately, their works’ turning into good films), or maybe if our beloved compatriots would be more willing to lend their ear to literature, in general, things would be indeed different. Genre fiction depends very much on the media phenomenon, on the present street culture, even though it – the said fiction – can and must draw on things of the past, things that give weight of meaning to any plot. Therefore, I see a change coming its way only when the media culture (non-literary by nature but prone to the weirdest stories) will integrate genre fiction.
Radu Romaniuc: Our folklore and mythology is rich, but hardly original, and what we find now in translated works is not imported mythology, in most cases, but returning mythology. At least, this is my opinion. I am not well-read in the field, but from my readings on the subject of Romanian mythology I have discovered it to be a mixture of older tales and heroes belonging to older people. I mean, Hercules practically retired here, although we called him Novac or Iorgovan (I think he checked in under fake names) and Achilles owned an island on our coast. So, in fact, the myths and creatures we read about in translated western fantasy or horror have the same roots as our own folktales. We can “click” with their Giants, because our old folktales had the enormous Jidovi, we can relate to wizards riding dragons because our own Solomonari did that, the werewolves are the same wolf men that ancient Greeks believed to roam in the reeds and forests of the Hieron Stoma, a part of the Danube Delta, the vampires are the blood sucking creatures added to our folklore by the Szekely people, and so on.
I think that we now live in a religious society and that interferes with how people accept these old beliefs as part of our identity and culture. But that makes way for more Christian-themed fantasy and horror, and I can see that a few young writers are having success with this genre, like Oliviu Crâznic, Liviu Surugiu or Șerban Andrei Mazilu.
George Sauciuc: I believe the main blame for not using our native fantastic vein lies on the educational system. The Romanian school is to be blamed because it enforces a weird bibliography through the literature’s devaluation, to say the least. The student who is tempted to find comments and other tricks for the pleasure of the teacher, even with quotes from famous critics, instead of looking for the ideas’ individual beauty and the pleasure of reading, to discover the writer’s works, even those less known… If you were overwhelmed with idiotic critics about Vasile Alecsandri’s writing than it would be very difficult to find interesting or to like “Noaptea Sfântului Andrei” (Saint Andrew’s Night).
The truth is that video games and horror movies are on almost everyone’s liking, without consideration for intellectual construction, even though doesn’t necessarily mean the consume of the same type of literature. Unfortunately, in Romania it is impossible to shot movies in Hollywood style, but fortunately it is not the same case with writing. There are young authors who manage to write and they find inspiration in our fantastic stories. This is for the best, because indirectly they make the genre popular, in the domino style, through the writer’s friends, the large circle of acquaintances and so on. A catalyst for this phenomenon, I believe, were the electronic magazines Revista de suspans, Gazeta SF and, sometimes, Nautilus. I have expectations from the newly born magazine too, Ficțiuni.
Cristina Schek: I don’t think this happened because we’re afraid or we’re more attracted to foreign literature. I believe it’s the same thing all over again – our traditions, our legends, our folklore are strongly intertwined with the church traditions and superstitions. Instead of reading a good horror story or watching a Halloween film, we invariably end up praying to a fictional character.
Narcisa Stoica: I don’t think it has anything to do with fear, but more likely with the lack of exercise and interest. And, again, with, the lack of promotion.
Ioana Vișan: I don’t know if it’s the result of being attracted to something or more like the amount of things we’re being offered. Again, there are two reasons why this might happen. On one hand, the public is more interested in new, unfamiliar things that understandably come more easily from abroad. On the other hand, the market is flooded with translations and foreign movies because if someone already released them then they must be at least remotely good so why risk with someone or something local? And it’s not only the promoters who think this way but the audience too.
Referring strictly to books, based on the same considerations mentioned above, most people will go for the latest highly advertized best-seller. The odds are that won’t be a Romanian writer in most cases. And if you don’t publish them, the writers don’t get a chance to grow, and many of them might stop writing in those genres all together if they can’t find a market for their books. Sure, we’re at a time when the situation is starting to change, but very slowly, because what can you except in a country where the Romanian Writers’ Union places the science fiction and fantasy literature in the children literature category?
Do you think that horror and fantasy have a future on the Romanian cultural scene?
Raluca Băceanu: They have a future. I am not sure yet how bright or gloomy. If we continue with the same steps we take now I am thinking that maybe will exhaust what is already exhausting abroad. At a certain point something will be triggered and we will return to the subjects approached less, I hope. I am dreaming of a moment when something triggers inside the writer’s conscience, they would start to believe more in their works and less in the material result of it that brings only little integrity for the moment… I am dreaming of a time when the reader would start making differences between what is truly valuable and what has value only because the trends demand it, or because it is imposed by critiques driven more or less by political reasons, or dislikes, and who have no place in literature… The fantastic and horror have a future even if the things mentioned above do not become reality. But it is better a change to take place, otherwise a literature of genre would be remembered for its aesthetics and not for the profound philosophical discourse that was praised before.
Marian Coman: I have no doubt. I believe that the literature of quality, despite of its genre, has a future on the Romanian cultural scene. But, as I was saying, it is about marketing in the first place. It is about market. It is about the literary industry that in our country doesn’t function properly for now. However, I am optimist.
Oliviu Crâznic: Only if we enforce it – with the help of talented writers, (those of the past republished, those of today highlighted and those of the future encourage) and dedicated promoters. We need to assimilate the fantastic before we claim it. In the past we had, we know it for certain (Vasile Voiculescu, for instance, to give you the first name that comes to mind, can always sit next to H.P. Lovecraft on any bookshelf). The future isn’t created without any effort.
Ştefana Cristina Czeller: We should begin by defining the Romanian cultural scene. Unfortunately, if we talk from the Writer’s Union of Romania and many of today’s critiques point of view, the horror, fantasy and science fiction are minor genres, literature for children. So, I am sceptical about these particular circles. But if we talk about the general public I believe that we have enough passionate genre readers to be certain that these books will be always on demand. However, do they wish a return to the traditional? It depends on what we, the writers, have to offer. The ball is in our court.
A.R. Deleanu: Yes. I build my hopes on a handful of people (I won’t name them, they know who they are) who invest a lot of time and energy in building a cultural space for speculative fiction and, in particular, for darker fiction. I have great respect for them. But some things need to change. The gatekeepers of the field need to be open to new authors that don’t belong to their parish and critics need to start writing about speculative fiction in more serious terms (very often the gatekeepers and the critics are the same people and their silence towards some titles, my recent one included, resembles a silly type of omerta). But I am confident that readers will eventually separate good writing from bad writing like oil and water do on their own. I trust readers.
Andrei Gaceff: It better have. I’ll become a bit more playful for a moment and say that I want for the Romanian horror and fantastic to get on the movie screens. Each Romanian director and, in bigger sense, Romanian writer better take one local monster and (even it is initially a paper monster) and bring it to the cinema.
Teodora Gheorghe: I believe anything is possible if you really put your heart into it. The problem is that Romanians are generally reluctant to promoting cultural events. Things should first change at this level. If there were more people interested in promoting Romanian fantasy/horror writers, more people would find out about them and perhaps have a different appreciation of our cultural values.
Teodora Matei: The future depends on how open we can be to “no name” stories, on how much patience we will have to read and understand them. It also depends on how much credit editors will give to every script they receive.
Readers will always be fascinated about horror and fantasy. The public really likes to be scared. Old Romanian legends may do the same as imported ones. Someone has to find the proper words. And someone has to recommend these words and pack them in glossy covers.
Cristina Nemerovschi: I think they do so long there are young writers heading for this kind of literature, directors wishing to delight the viewers with horror movies, or with fantasy themes, instead of those already exhausted, with scenes from the Communist era. The Romanian artist has a multitude of sources for inspiration, has, in my opinion, a distinctive structure pushing him towards the dark themes, the only thing that is missing is motivation, encouragement. I do hope this mentality would be changed and horror would not be perceived as a Cinderella. To receive what is just for it – the chance to reach the public’s soul and conquer it.
I think the public would honestly appreciate the local horror and fantasy, it would be a breath of fresh air after all the imported books and movies that most of the times lack originality, but are adopted because of a state of lethargy. Besides, I was always convinced that at least in literature the reader relates more easily with his time and space, the familiar places, the imaginary with which he grew up. With a little luck and very hard work the Romanian horror literature could be loved more than the foreign one, here on the land of Baba Cloanţa, Muma Pădurii, the Strigoi and Zmei.
Claudia Niculescu: They must have. I think this is the missing part of the whole scene. I haven’t really thought about a strategy of promoting or introducing this genre nor if it will be accepted or not by the public, but one thing is for sure: You cannot experience beauty without the grotesque, joy without horror or caress without pain. By denying or skipping the parts that do not please your soul you just push yourself further into an illusion of vague terms.
Mircea Pricăjan: Definitely! By all means! In any part of the world, genre fiction takes the prize in terms of popularity, culture-wise. In Romania it will be the same; we just need a few more years of political and social normality to settle and center our lives on the things that give us rest from the daily turmoil. Horror fiction is a perfect outlet for our socially-repressed emotions – we just need to recognize it as such. I see a time when Romanian writers of the thrilling and supernatural will be as well-known, and maybe more, as our present-day so-called TV divas.
Radu Romaniuc: Probably any kind of good art has a future, even a present, on the Romanian cultural scene. Despite the inherent corruption, the scandals and whatever, our cultural scene is open and alive, and it is an enormous pleasure to be a part of it, or at least circle it, in these times.
As genres, fantasy and horror must overcome the handicap of the imports that you previously asked about. These imports are a handicap because, despite being fun and entertaining, the majority of them is culturally bland and unchallenging. You don’t go for boobs, guns, bigger ships, bigger dragons, and expect to be culturally significant. So we have to grow up and take our fantasies to another level to have a future as a part of the high culture, otherwise we will be forever stuck in an acne-teenage phase.
Leaving high culture aside, I do think that there is a future for commercial literature in Romania. The young people who are just discovering books now are part of a generation that isn’t obsessed with the Occident anymore. My daughter, who is 11, is more interested in Liviu Radu’s stories then in Ted Chiang’s or Stephen King’s, simply because these are stories about her world, about the identity of this place around her that she’s just discovering and exploring.
George Sauciuc: Of course. Our horror is on forced march, it discovers itself, takes shape. The fantastic on the other hand is rooted to Romania’s geographical area. I can say (quoting Vlad Sibechi, with an idea submitted on one of the CIL’s meetings in Suceava), that the cult fantastic in Romania has a forerunner character, with the example of Ion Creangă’s “Povestea Poveştilor” (The Story of Stories), in which the main character, the peasant, is blessed by God with a harvest of you know what. The shocking part is the market scene where, trying to sell his crops, the client is not surprised by the merchandise, he finds it normal, but by the price of it.
Cristina Schek: I hope so, I want to believe.
Narcisa Stoica: Yes, I do. And not only because I am an optimist by nature, but also because I think that very soon, if it hadn’t happened already, some of the Romanians involved in creating cultural content will understand that the horror and fantasy with Romanian flavor are very valuable exporting assets and will treat them accordingly.
Ioana Vișan: I firmly believe they do. I’m not a big horror fan so I’m not familiar with everything that’s written in this genre, but I know we have at least a few good writers. As for fantasy, we have several strong writers that would make a good impression abroad if they ever got translated.