[THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS]
The Strain is a trilogy written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. It tells the story of the end of the world as we know it through the spread of a vampire virus. Throughout the novels we follow the CDC medical experts Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Martinez, vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian, professional exterminator Vasiliy Fet, and gang member Augustin “Gus” Elizalde in their fight against The Master, the vampire mastermind behind the outbreak.
The first part of the trilogy, The Strain, comes across as a well-researched novel, where detailed descriptions add extra layers to the narrative. However, as I discussed in a previous post on The Boomerang, when taking a closer look at the information provided by the authors, some of the details are either incorrect or presented in a slanted manner.
In the second part of the trilogy, The Fall, we follow the continued adventures of our group of survivors as they struggle to fight back against the vampires who have taken over the world. As in the case of The Strain, The Fall contains passages based on seemingly thoroughly performed research. However, just as in the case of the trilogy’s part one, some of the statements made in part two crumble when picked apart.
Let’s take a closer look at The Fall.
1) Dinosaurs in amber
The Fall begins with a diary entry written by Ephraim Goodweather. The entry is a brief recapitulation of the events that passed between the end of The Strain and the beginning of The Fall. Ephraim ends his diary entry on a philosophical note.
The dinosaurs left behind almost no trace of themselves. A few bones preserved in amber, the contents of their stomachs, their waste. I only hope that we may leave behind something more than they did. (p. 3)
There are several problems with this statement. Yes, it is true that the dinosaurs have left few traces of themselves, some of them found in amber. However, the dinosaur remains found in amber are not bones, but microscopic traces of feathers. So far, dinosaur bones have exclusively been found as fossils. Regarding stomach contents and waste, these too have only been found as fossils, not preserved in amber. Moreover, admittedly few in number, there are more dinosaur bones that have been discovered than stomach contents and waste.
2) Occido Lumen
The McGuffin of the story in The Fall is an ancient book called Occido Lumen. This book contains the secrets to the destruction of The Master. The book is first introduced when Abraham Setrakian reads its entry in the Sotheby’s auction catalog.
Occido Lumen (1667)—A compleat [sic] account of the first rise of the Strigoi and full confutation of all arguments produced against their existence, translated by the late Rabbi Avigdor Levy. Private collection. Illuminated manuscript, original binding. In view upon appointment. Estimated $15–$25M (p. 14)
What this entry tells us is that the Occido Lumen is an illustrated manuscript from 1667. An illustrated manuscript is a book with pages made from parchment and bound by wooden boards. Illuminated manuscripts were mostly produced during the Middle Ages. In other words, an illuminated manuscript from 1667 is a very late example of this kind of book.
Haggadah title page (Additional 27210 f. 2, British British Library, Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts).
So far the description of Occido Lumen is straightforward and in line with what could be referred to as alternate history. The big problem occurs on pages 248 and 249 of The Fall.
Let’s first take a look at page 248. Here, Setrakian and Fet have been given access to Occido Lumen at Sotheby’s. The following description of the book is provided,
The old book rested on an ornate viewing stand of white oak. It was 12 x 8 x 1.8 inches, 489 folios, handwritten in parchment [sic], with twenty illuminated pages, bound in leather and faced with pure-silver plates on the front and rear covers and the spine. The pages themselves were also edged in silver. (p. 248)
From this detailed and vivid description we understand that Occido Lumen is an impressive illuminated manuscript, handwritten on parchment.
Left image: Man with Dragon (Sloane 1975, f. 13, British Library, Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts).
Right image: Manticore (Royal 12 C XIXm f. 29v, British Library, Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts).
On page 249, Setrakian and Fet leave Sotheby’s. The vampire hunter proceeds to explain to the exterminator what he found when examining the book.
Setrakian said, “The pages are watermarked. Only a trained eye can see it. Mine can.”
“Watermarked? You mean, like currency?”
Setrakian nodded. “All the pages in the book. It was a common practice in some grimoires and alchemical treatises. [—] There is text printed on the pages, but a second layer underneath. Watermarked directly into the paper at the time of its pressing. That is the real knowledge.” (p. 249)
Above it was stated that Occido Lumen is an illuminated manuscript handwritten on parchment. Here, Setrakian is talking about the book consisting of printed paper pages. What is going on?
I believe that the confusion stems from the fact that the word “parchment” can mean two things. The most common meaning of the word is prepared animal hides used for writing before the introduction of printing. But there is a second meaning of the word, namely a crude type of paper. The mistake that seems to have been made here is that the word “parchment” is used referring to a type of paper while the Occido Lumen itself is called an illuminated manuscript. An illuminated manuscript is a medieval literary and visual art form that is produced exclusively on parchment made from animal hides. Still, this doesn’t explain why the authors seemingly can’t decide whether the book is handwritten or printed.
In addition to the issues raised here, The Fall contains several instances of inconsistencies, repetitions, and cliched dialogue. When I read the book, I kept asking myself if the editor and fact-checker went for a liquid lunch and then forgot to finish the job.
In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, The Fall (Harper Fiction, 2011)
Sid Perkins, “Dinofuzz found in Canadian Amber,” Science.
Brian Switek, “Stomach Contents Preserve Sinocalliopteryx Snacks,” Smithsonian Magazine.
Christina Reed, “A Dinosaur’s Wasted Legacy,” Geotimes.
Britannica.com Illuminated manuscripts
Britannica.com Western painting