Elizabeth Kostova might find it a blessing in disguise that "The Historian", her debut novel, never made it to pre-production stage. Sony Picture bought the rights to the novel, but there were probable reasons why this project was shelved. The studio liked to play is safe, so producers opted for sequels, prequels, and remakes, romantic comedies, and horror flicks that left moviegoers disappointed after witnessing the climactic scene. It was also no secret that Marvel Studio and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures were about to collaborate on a very lucrative undertaking. (You must be out of this world if you didn't guess the Marvel Cinematic Universe.) But one reason would likely be right. "The Historian" was unfilmable at all.
Literature depicted Eastern Europe as a landscape shrouded in myth and superstition. The impression hardly changed despite the numerous political and social upheavals that changed the landscape these last few decades. J.K. Rowling, for instance, revealed Lord Voldermort's whereabouts after the infant Harry Potter weakened him. He was hiding (and recuperating) in Albania. The opening chapter of "The Howling" (1977) described a small of village of Dradja, located near the border separating Bulgaria and Greece. Passing travelers were warned not to go near that place, as weed wouldn't grow on the village ground. Did Gary Brandner think about that hair-raising story for nights? It seemed to be it, but there would be something else. The native of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan did an extensive research on Eastern European folklore. John William Polidori's "The Vampyre" (1819) saw his doomed protagonist witnessing a vampire attack in the shadows of a Greek temple. Elizabeth Kostova did better than the three in "The Historian" (2005).
Some readers wouldn't like the fact that "The Historian" wasn't grounded in reality, even if vampire legends would connect most parts of Europe. But it was hard not to be impressed at Kostova's extent of her research in this region. For instance, she described a remote monastery built during the Second Bulgarian Empire (12th–14th century). Could it be the resting place of Vlad the Impaler? The author didn't let her readers make a guess, as she next took them to a medieval abbey in the Pyrenees. The monks have a fatalistic attitude towards the coming of 1000 AD, but one scholarly monk managed to find the secret to immortality. And then Kostova brought them to a puzzling fact. Sultan Mehmet II, the man behind the fall of Constantinopole in 1453, turned out to be a vampire hunter. It would be too good to be true, but records were scant if compared to what was recorded in Western Europe during the previous millennium.
Love can move mountains
Kostova, who hailed from New London, Connecticut, rediscovered her Eastern Europe roots. She listened to Bulgarian folk music, even sang and directed a Slavic chorus during her college days. This led her to travel to Eastern Europe in 1989, where she studied the musical customs of every region. She witnessed the effects of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it was safe to say that it inspired her to use Eastern Europe as her setting in her books. New ideas would be a must in writing, and Kostova didn't run out of it in her short literary career.
"The Shadow Land", which hit the bookshelves recently, saw Kostova returning to Bulgaria. Sports put this Eastern European nation on the map. (Manuela, Katerina, and Magdalena Maleeva were once dominant in women's tennis.) Could there be something else other than the Balkan Mountains, the old churches, and Communist legacy? Kostova found something, and it was grounded on a real thing. This made "The Shadow Land" different from "The Historian", where Paul and Helen went around Europe. (They were on a seemingly wild goose chase.) It could be compared to a fine morning when the sun's rays dissipate the mist. Stay tuned for the next feature.