This is another part of my series about Research and the Author. I’ve talked about time and variable sunsets, finding information about an unfamiliar location 3000 miles away and some of the pitfalls around places in Victorian London. This week, I’m taking Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn out of Victorian London as they chase the vampiric Count Dominic.
For convenience, the date is the same 10th November 1875. It’s still useful to keep this in mind as a date can make all the difference. For example, if Count Dominic is preying on the people of the East Coast of the United States then it’s good to have the detail. Railways were being built, towns were being founded and the Mississippi River changed course dramatically at Vicksburg in April 1876. And while it will be obvious to any Americans reading that not all of the states in the USA came into being at the same time, it’s good for the rest of us to remember that in 1875 while Nebraska was a state, Colorado wasn’t quite there yet and became a state 1st August 1876.
And it’s also good to put in a reminder that this is fiction. The story is about two valiant vampire hunters and a vampire. It’s not about real things. If the research gets in the way of a good story, junk the research.
Let’s start with Count Dominic. He’s leaving London for places abroad – but where? There were a lot of options from London which was at the heart of a huge communications network at the time. If he was heading to Canada or the United States he could sail from Liverpool. The main train line to Liverpool from London has its terminus at Euston Station, London. If the dastardly count was headed to Europe, he would head for either Charing Cross or Victoria to get one of the boat trains that are organised to take passengers from London to places like Amsterdam, Brussels or Paris. Paris would be the perfect place to catch the luxurious Orient Express, but it didn’t start until 1883.
The real problem with research is that it can take you to strange places. I can’t even remember what I was looking for, but I found that for most of the nineteenth century, maps of Africa included a mountain range called The Mountains of Kong. It’s a wonderful name, deep in the jungles and forests of West Africa, near the source of the Niger River and close to the relatively well known Ivory Coast and Gold Coast. I have an atlas that I inherited from my great great aunt
which she dated 1898 but which I suspect was printed earlier. It has this map.
And if you zoom in, you can see the mountains – very faintly.
A comment from OneVikingGirl, who has a Baedeker, has left me deeply envious as I would love something so informative about travel at the time. I purchased a Times Gazetteer of the World 1899 edition a few years back. I bought it from eBay when under the influence of alcohol and it cost a fortune in postage.
I checked if it had a reference to the Mountains of Kong, and it did – it reported that it was a mistake, that someone had once believed that the mountains were there but in 1899 people knew the Mountains of Kong didn’t exist. At least, those with up to date maps. And those who thought that the new maps were just hiding a great lost city stuffed with gold. Or those who had heard travellers’ tales about these Mountains.
People love strange travellers’ tales. Back in the Middle Ages, stories of Prester John told tales about lands with dog headed men and people without souls. The conquistadors and adventurers who sailed to Central and South America came back with stories of El Dorado and Pirate Islands. The nineteenth century was no exception, and as more and more people became literate and had access to books and libraries, those tales were in desperate demand. Around the World in Eighty Days, published in 1872, was incredibly popular and there are five separate versions in Project Gutenberg. Later books in the same adventuring flavour are King Solomon’s Mines (1885) by H Rider Haggard, The Lost World (1912) by Arthur Conan Doyle and Tarzan of the Apes (also 1912) by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I read Tarzan of the Apes when I was far too young to deal with the racism, misogyny and dubious interpretation of the Theory of Evolution. I loved the adventure, though, and wondered about lost cities, forgotten kingdoms and strange worlds. If you are taking the flavour of an adventure, perhaps it’s good to remember that while everyone loves an adventure story, some ideas need to stay firmly in the past.
Now that I know that there is a reference to fabled and non-existent mountains, I have to send Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn there. How could I resist? I know that boats sail from Southampton to South Africa at the time, where diamonds were discovered in 1867 (gold was discovered later) so there would be ships along the West Coast of Africa. Some may have called in to supply missionaries, traders and forts along the coast. Looking at a grossly inappropriately named map which you can find here, but I feel uncomfortable sharing, even if it was normal to use those terms back in 1736
The mountains shown at the top appear to be the fabled Mountains of Kong. They aren’t labelled but there are no mountains in that area on the current Google Maps. Looking at the combination of this elderly map and current Google maps, the best course of action, from my point of view, is to get a ship to St Louis in Senegal which was a French colony at the time. Then Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn could sail along the Senegal River to where it joins the Niger River, and then, at the right moment, head north to the mountains, no doubt silhouetted against the tropical evening sky.
St-Louis is near the Tropic of Cancer and going back to the old variable sunset, the sunset on 10th November is 6.33pm, no doubt hauntingly beautiful and strange to the English lord and his awestruck companion. Looking at weather averages for St-Louis, it is going to be hot but dry. Rain rarely falls during November and the temperature range is from 21C to 34C but is most likely around 28C or 82F. It isn’t exactly the depths of the Sahara Desert, but it’s an arid, hot area. It’s hard to imagine a vampire heading to a desert. Apart from anything else, prey would be scarce for the bloodthirsty Count Dominic. My research has led me down a dead end street. I love those mountains, but I can’t imagine sending a vampire there. Perhaps they may go back later for a different adventure. As it is, this is a great example of too much research leading the story astray. It won’t work.
For now, Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn arrive at Southampton only to find that the dastardly count has misled them. He’s not heading to those fabled, deserted mountains. He’s headed somewhere else. That mission can wait. Next week I’ll share some ideas of locations for Kurt the Barbarian and Gwendolyn the Healer in the fantasy city of Tarsh.
You can find the rest of the posts on this here – Research and the Author, Collected Posts