10 Facts About Vampires
I am currently studying a Bachelor of Arts in Writing at university (goes well with my science degree – physics major – and Education degree as another piece of paper to stick on my wall), and I recently finished an essay on the development of the Vampire in Literature. I did a heap of research for the essay which was not used – word count restrictions and the fact not all information came from literature – and so I thought I’d share some of what I discovered through way too much reading of various tomes. So, here are 10 things about Vampires that I have learnt.
Now, I am fully aware that many people may already know these, and that some people will cite some book or something that contradicts what I have here. All of this information has come from actual written sources – not the Internet, not Wikipedia, not Dungeons And Dragons – and quite a few papers written by academics with far more time than me. There is contradictory stuff out there, but I have gone with what the majority of experts seem to indicate. But, of course, feel free to disagree below.
1) Blood-sucking demons existed in many cultures. Notably in Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece, but also Japan, China, South-East Asia, India, North America, Central America and Africa had various tales across many different cultures that had supernatural beings who sucked the blood of humans.
2) It was not until some point after the fall of the Roman Empire that in Eastern Europe, some people came to believe that a dead person could be turned into one of the blood-sucking not-dead (which we now call undead, a comparatively recent term).
3) Current academic thought indicates rabies might be a cause of beliefs in Vampirism. Rabid people usually have sensitivity to a strong stimulus – like sunlight or garlic – tend to bite others and are often not keen on looking at themselves (so avoid mirrors). Also, a common cure-all was arsenic-based compounds; medical journals still indicate that small doses help a number of ailments. However, too much will kill, but it also preserves a dead body, and so a person with rabies, taking arsenic to try and cure themselves, dies, but their body does not become corrupted.
4) The use of religious iconography to keep a Vampire at bay was not a part of any original legends. It appears to have come from western European fairy tales in the Edwardian period, when it was felt that surely God could stop them.
5) The most famous “real” blood-sucker of history was not Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler); he merely leant a family name to a fictional Vampire – Dracula. It was Elizabeth Bathory, an Eastern European noblewoman of the sixteenth century. Accounts of the time indicate that, in order to stay young, she would have young female servants (or just virgins) killed (or tortured and then killed), and then bathe in their blood. Unfortunately, most accounts were written after her death to demonise her, so how much is truth, how much is embellishment or exaggeration and how much is pure legend is really unknown.
6) The images of Vampires with elongated canine teeth appears to have come from misinterpretations of Eastern European myths being translated into Western European (Romance and English) languages and combining the Vampire myths with those of animal therianthropes (werewolves, werebears and weredogs in particular) of the area.
7) The sexual aspect of Vampires was something heightened in Victorian era tales, and then subtly placed into Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is something that academics seem to be split over – the sexuality of the Vampire in the novel. It is pretty much 50-50 for and against the concept. But my reading of the book and other tales of the same era indicates that it is there, though not as overt as some like to make out.
8) In the original legends, the only way to kill a Vampire was to cut its head off. The idea was that a stake in the chest would keep the Vampire pinned to the ground and so give the killer the chance to cut the head off. Later on, it would be claimed the head would have to be burnt. Still later, it was said that these ashes had to be dropped into a swift-flowing river. By the time of Stoker’s work, the belief was that the simple act of staking a Vampire could kill it, as well as exposure to sunlight.
9) Vampires being generally good-looking creatures is a Hollywood invention. Belo Lugosi was not considered ugly, then Hammer came along and Christopher Lee was suave, and then we had Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas. Traditionally (and even in Stoker’s book), the Vampire was a hideous creature, ugly to look at and reeking of death.
10) Modern Goth culture (dating back to the 1990s in more mainstream terms) that worships the Vampire can be traced back to the 1920s, though before then there is no evidence of the worship of nor desire to be a Vampire. A number of people actually claim to be real Vampires nowadays. Vampire Personality Disorder is an actual psychological disorder, while Renfield’s Syndrome is an obsession with blood-drinking. Modern therapists are in a conundrum as to whether to tell clients that their delusion is just that – a delusion – or to allow them to self-identify any way they desire.
(For the record, sparkling Vampires suck and, in my opinion, should not be mentioned as real Vampires; Meyers is a hack and her books are only horror because of how poorly written and morally dubious they are.)
There you are – 10 facts about Vampires! Well, as much as a mythical, legendary and fictional creature can have “facts”.
One of the reasons for me doing this is to indicate that sticking to the “truth” to write about these classic monsters is generally not something to be strived for. They are creatures of legend – as writers, we should feel free to change them to suit our tales and not be hung up on the “reality”. So, even Meyers had the right to make the changes she did. More’s the pity.