Meet the Zombie,Vampire Bride of Your Dreams: A Review of "Wake Not the Dead" by Johann Ludwig Tieck
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
I thought about reviewing a short story of child psychopaths, but instead we’re gonna talk about a zombie, vampire bride.
Intrigued? Well let me introduce you to “Wake Not the Dead!” by Johann Ludwig Tieck. Published in 1800, this German horror story is also known as “The Bride of the Grave.”
It should come as no surprise that this story originated in Germany; it’s messed up! Seriously, it is right up there with the nightmare fuel of Krampus and children’s tales like “The Dreadful Story of the Matches” and “The Story of the Thumb-Sucker.” Yes, these are all real tales, and if you want to hear them here are a few links (part 1, part 2, part 3) to a few videos that Christine Schiefer, one-half of the And That’s Why We Drink podcast, made on German folktales. Germany seriously loves to create some messed up stories.
Also, a spoiler warning for the entire story is in place.
The tale of “The Bride of the Grave” begins with our protagonist, Walter, weeping at the grave of his first wife, Brunhilda. She was a fiery, raven haired lady in life who was the first love of Walter. Sadly, she died young leaving Walter alone with his grief for a period of time. He ultimately remarries, this time to a lovely woman named Swanhilda, and has two children with her. Swanhilda is pretty much the opposite of Brunhilda. Swanhilda is described as a quiet, mild-tempered woman with golden locks that are reminiscent to the morning sun.
Swanhilda is a great woman and deserves a hell of a lot better than Walter. Walter is a complete buffoon. I understanding grieving over a loved one, and can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a lover at a young age, but he never moves on from Brunhilda; even nearly a decade after she dies. He can’t give her up, not even in death. He’s the biggest fault in this story, but at the same time, I think he’s supposed to be.
Also, there is no timeline to this story, it opens with Brunhilda being dead and buried. Then two paragraphs later, Walter is overcoming his grief to marry Swanhilda. In another paragraph, he suddenly has two children who have to be around five or six years old because they're walking and talking like they have for awhile, but Walter is still grieving for Brunhilda. He does nothing but compare Swanhilda to her first wife, and he never stops thinking of Brunhilda; especially considering he visits her grave nearly every night. That decade after Brunhilda’s death is my best guess as to how long she has been dead.
Anyway, on one of these night excursions, Walter meets a mysterious man who in my mind looks like Igor from Young Frankenstein.
Basically, this guy tells Walter he can bring back Brunhilda, but he warns Walter to “wake not the dead!” This dude gives no other warning to Walter about what may happen if Brunhilda comes back, but Walter doesn’t care because his dead wife is gonna come back to life.
So three days later, Walter gets his wish of having his beloved’s corpse reanimated.
I wish I could tell you how she looked after being reanimated, but there is no description of Brunhilda after she comes back into the plot. Since there is no timeline, there is no telling how long she was buried for. My best guess is that she was in the ground for nearly a decade. Realistically, she would be bones, with maybe a thin layer of mummified skin. Her cloths would also have decomposed in a span of ten years.
She should be a disgusting, disturbing site, but based on how people react to her presence, she must have looked like she did in life. Walter doesn’t recoil from her, and when townspeople see her they just note that she looks a lot like Brunhilda. I guess she looks perfectly normal then, but since there is no description, and because this is my blog and can do as I please, we’re going to pretend that she looks like Emily from Corpse Bride.
Back to how stupid Walter is as a character though. I feel like I’m about to make a horrible, 2000’s style yo mama joke because of what I’m about to type but here we go.
Yo, Walter is sooooo stupid that he thinks the dead walking about again ain’t a problem.
Yes, I did just type that in a yo mama joke fashion, I regret it, now let’s continue.
Brunhilda tells Walter that she needs to rush off to some distant castle to hide from the sunlight. She claims that it’s because her eyes aren’t used to the light of day from her years in the grave. Walter, dude, she’s actually a vampire. Or a zombie, take your pick.
And Walter is so smitten with her that he never sees any red flags when it comes to her behavior. As the story progresses she kills the young around her, and tells Walter that she will never love him again unless he divorces Swanhilda. Oh, yeah, remember her? The kindhearted wife who loves her husband despite his faults? Yeah, well Walter tells her to get out of his house, and go back to her father’s home because she is now her father’s property once again. He basically said “I want to return you. I’m tired of you.”
Eventually, there are no young people in the town.
Walter makes no notice of these changes until he loses his children. Surprisingly, he actually grieves his children; he has not paid the two any attention during the course of the story. Again, Walter is a horrible person. Red flags mean nothing to him.
He does right his wrong in the end. With the help of Igor, oh yeah remember him, Walter is able to kill Brunhilda and return her to the grave. Alas, this is not out of guilt or the chance to right a wrong. Please don’t give him any credit, he only kills her out of self-preservation. Walter is such an amazing guy, what a true gent, what a catch, ladies.
Not long after returning Brunhilda to her grave, a woman who looks an awful lot like our zombie/vampire, seeks shelter in Walter’s home. My best guess is that this woman is Brunhilda’s true spirit reincarnated to bring Walter a punishment for what he did to her.
In my mind, when Brunhilda was brought back from the dead it wasn’t fully her spirit inhabiting her body. There had to be some black magic that brought her back, but I think it only brought part of her back and some other spirit also took up residence in her body. This other spirit is what made her feast on the blood of the young. This woman at the end, like I said, is Brunhilda’s spirit come back once more for revenge on Walter for what he had done to her. Tieck does say that Brunhilda was a fiery woman in life so it makes some sense that she would come after Walter’s ass after what he did to her.
Final thoughts, this short story is a ten out of ten. It kept me hooked the whole way through, especially when Brunhilda began reeking havoc on the town. She’s such a strong, active female character that you can write a lot of think pieces on; she’s a much better character than Walter.
As horrible as Walter is, he’s also interesting to follow. I may have made fun of him a lot, but he’s intentionally written that way. Nothing in this story makes me want to root for him, but I definitely want to see what happens to him.
This is an amazing short horror story. If you haven’t read it and want to read a good Romantic tale, I highly suggest reading it. It’s a public domain story at this point so you can find it for free on the internet. Go read it! It’ll only take you about 15 minutes.