Taking a break from my hectic life, I paused to answer a blog-related email yesterday. While researching pointless minutia from a Dark Shadows Fan™, I found a much better question on a Dark Shadows-centric blog. Asked 8 eight years ago and no longer relevant, it’s still more interesting than explaining an errant boom shadow caught on tape more than a half-century ago.
On the blog Dark Shadows Every Day, writer Danny Horn ponders a famous cue and wonders why the dogs howl in connection to Barnabas Collins:
“As Maggie pours a refill for his coffee, she hears a pack of dogs howling outside. This is a mysterious vampire power that never really gets explained. It’s not clear how Barnabas makes dogs howl, or even if he does it on purpose. It’s possible that the dogs just howl whenever he gets excited about something, kind of a canine early warning system.”
The answer is relatively simple – the howling dog trope comes from both folklore and several famous vampire stories. It’s a warning and an ill omen. According to legend alone, dogs should howl all the time when Barnabas is near.
Folklore tells us dogs howl at impending calamity.
Willie opening the coffin in the secret room certainly unleashed calamity on various people in Collinwood and Collinsport.
Dogs howl in the presence of evil, particularly if they are vampires.
The 1967 Barnabas was not a nice guy. He’s a vampire, a supernatural arch predator. Even if he experiences momentary regret for his actions, he is still mean. His kidnapping Maggie Evans to make her his vampire bride was not an act of chivalry.
Dogs howl in the presence of death.
Barnabas certainly left a trail of corpses behind in the summer of 1967 and had no regrets. He was a lean, mean killing machine, even if he dressed well.
The writers do explain the chorus of doggie howls in one show. In Episode 355, Dr. Hoffman confronts the newly bitten Carolyn under Barnabas’ vampiric spell.
“Julia: Don’t you know what the howling of the dogs means?
Carolyn: No, tell me.
Julia: Well, it means that Barnabas is upset about something, and he’s getting ready to do something about it.”
An unhappy Barnabas is a dangerous Barnabas. Howling dogs went into overdrive if he awoke up in a bad mood.
Of course, I doubt Dark Shadows writers Ron Sproat and Gordon Russell pored over dusty books in the library stacks researching folklore. There was no need as three famous vampire stories had already established the howling dog trope.
In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Christabel, the dog howls to indicate there is something supernatural abroad at the beginning of the poem.
“Sixteen short howls, not over loud;
Some say, she sees my lady’s shroud.”
In Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla, we find dogs inexplicably howl in her presence.
“…Plague take the dog!’ he interpolated. ‘Silence, beast! He howls so that your ladyships can scarcely hear a word.”
In the definitive vampire novel, Dracula, Bram Stoker used the howling dog throughout the novel to foreshadow supernatural events and vampiric presences. As Jonathan Harker embarks on his disastrous visit to meet Count Dracula:
“Then a dog began to howl somewhere in a farmhouse far down the road—a long, agonised wailing, as if from fear. The sound was taken up by another dog, and then another and another, till, borne on the wind which now sighed softly through the Pass, a wild howling began, which seemed to come from all over the country, as far as the imagination could grasp it through the gloom of the night. At the first howl the horses began to strain and rear, but the driver spoke to them soothingly, and they quieted down, but shivered and sweated as though after a runaway from sudden fright.”
And there is the answer to the question– the howling dogs are reacting to the presence of a vampire. It is both a warning and an ill omen. Barnabas causes this simply by existing. He has no control over the reactions of local canines. The origin comes from folklore and a previously established literary device in vampire stories.
I don’t’ think anyone ever got the correct answer for the howling of the dogs on Dark Shadows Every Day*. I find that sad as it is an excellent blog. Too bad I didn’t see the question 8 years ago. Being the veritable font of all knowledge, I could have solved the mystery.
*Dark Shadows Every Day is a blog that spanned eight years. From 2013 to 2021, writer Danny Horn undertook the monumental task of watching one episode of Dark Shadows daily. Then, he analyzed and summarized the episode. His website is still the most accurate episode guide in Dark Shadowsdom. Though Danny moved on to other creative projects, the blog is still there as a legacy and a reference. Do give it a read!