Ragged, putrid, with rotted and swollen flesh, reeking of decay and hungry for blood, the vampire of myth is a far cry from that which we picture today.
Nosferatu is often mistakenly given as the original name for this creature, quoted by 19th-century British author and speaker Emily Gerard as being Romanian (or Transylvanian) for Undead. This actually seems to have been a joke by Ms Gerard, that was unwittingly picked up on by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula. Romanian for Undead is actually “Nu este mort” or for not alive is “Nu viaţă.”
“No fora tu” in Romanian actually literally translates as “This will not bore you.”
However there is a real word for the undead in Romania and it is Strigoi.
Hardly surprising because the Vampire/undead blood feaster exist in almost every mythology in the world. For example the undead blood drinker is:
- Marhaban in Arabia
- Asanbosam in Africa
- Soucouyant in The West indies
- Mapuche in South America
- Jiang Shi in China
- Mandurugo in The Philippines
- Nukekubi in Japan
In Literature the two real progenitors of the modern vampire are:
“Das Vampyre” – is a short story written by John William Polidori though originally published under the name of his patron Lord Byron in 1819. It features a very Byronesques Vampire called Lord Ruthven, a noble man of foreign extraction who despoils seduces and either kills or drives to suicide women. Ruthven also kills and corrupts men with equal careless and cruel abandon.
Thus is laid down the character and look of the classic Gothic Vampire from that point on. His hunting style and much of his mythological lore come from the second major source …
Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood (1847) by James Malcolm Rymer (alternatively attributed to Thomas Preskett Prest)
Originally published in serial form two years earlier and probably contributed to by many staff writers, Varney achieved (Penny Dredful) novel status in 1847 under the authorships and editorship of J.M. Rymer. It is in “Varney” that we first find the wall crawling, bedroom invading, charming monster with a taste for virgins in nightgowns with heaving bosoms. Varney is also the first Vampire to steal wealth from his victims to set himself up as a gentleman throughout his immortal existence.
Abraham “Bram” Stoker took these elements, combined them and turned out his 1897 novel “Dracula”. Stoker laid down the basics of what might be term Vampire Lore and the basic format for every “gothic” vampire novel to come after him.
- The Vampire is immortal
- The Vampire is from a bygone age
- The Vampire is foreign (it would be a long time before home grown Vampires began to emerge)
- The Vampire in “Life” has gained a motivation to defy death (hatred of God, revenge, the search for a lost love etc.)
- Vampires can not stand sunlight (in Dracula it is mild intolerance over the years it would grow to a fatal aversion)
- Vampires respond badly to symbols of holiness
- Vampire cast no reflection in a mirror (Silver is a holy metal and only reflects what “should” be there in God’s law.)
Vampires can be killed only by:
- Piercing their heart, preferably with a wooden stake
Over the years of course these rules have evolved and changed and in some cases have been abandoned.
Stoker’s other massive contribution to the legend was to give the Vampire a nemesis and a weakness for that nemesis to exploit.
Stoker turned the vampire in to a tragic hero.
After Centuries of solitary immortality, the vampire is lonely, his need to be part of society, to find a mate and to experience ‘Life’ this is his fatal flaw.
Stoker’s vision of his Vampire was as typhoid Mary, a carrier of infectious evil, and a disease requires a Physician.
Stoker gives us two
Dr. Seward a practitioner of the modern science of Psychiatry and Prof. Van Helsing, the heroic academic medical doctor who has devoted his life to the eradication of Vampiric evil.
To assist these two, we have London city gent Jonathon Harker, Arthur Holmewood a minor aristocrat and Quincy Morris a six gun toting, Stetson wearing all American cowboy. Stoker even throws in telepathic half-vampire Mina, he was determined his troop of slayers would appeal to the widest possible demographic, and this to has become a generic convention.
Van Helsing, who incidentally shares Stoker’s first name, is now viewed by literary history as the hero of the story, but it is actually Quincy Morris who kills Dracula with a Bowie knife through the heart. (Good Marketing for the American edition of the book)
For almost sixty years this was the template for all vampires stories, until in the back end of the twentieth century the genre split in to five distinct sub genres.
1) The Gothic Vampire story: as above this was an evolution of the Victorian story, using the Vampire as an allegorical device for the evils of plague and infection.
2) The Female Vampire story: In 1872 Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, wrote Camilla, a story of a female Vampire, and there the genre stayed. Stoker was influence by this in so far as both stories are in part narrated by Doctors, but the female vampires in Dracula are weak, ineffective and obedient servants of the Count. By the 1960’s Camilla had been reinvented and the underlying sexual themes of the original were expanded out in to blatant lesbianism and female predatory tendencies. Camilla and the true life historical Countess Elizabeth Bathory became the foundation of a generic vampire that symbolised men’s growing fear of woman in an age of emancipation and the pill. The Female vampire does not need men to reproduce, is stronger than a man, and is not subject to his whims or intimidation. Terrifying to men of the war time generation.
3) The Vampire Hunter: In these stories the vampire becomes secondary, a victim, the hunter become the hunted. Vampire hunters now have the tools to fight vampires effectively, they hunt in teams, usually lead by a slayer. A specialist appointed and trained by either the government, the church or more often than not some ancient and mysterious order dedicated to protecting the human race since time immemorial. The most well know example of this generic form is the increasingly ludicrous “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” TV series and it’s literary, comic book and other TV spin offs.
4) The Modern Vampire: In this for the vampire has become something else all together. He or she is up to date, politically correct, astute and savvy. The modern vampire is a symbol for organised crime. They live in the underground, they exploit the living and use them as cattle and for income and in some cases is even an accepted or essential part of society. The first appearance of this sort of Vampire was in the novels of Robert Lory, in the 1960’s who had a team of slayers resurrect Dracula, and press him in to service to destroy a world now run by modern techno vampires. A theme later revisited in “Blade Trinity” (2004). Dracula himself founded such a criminal empire in the Satanic Rites of Dracula a 1974 Hammer Horror film directed by Alan Gibson and written by Don Houghton
5) The Vampire Apocalypse: Richard Matheson again shifted generic boundaries with the 1954 novel I Am Legend.
Matheson took the simple premise that if vampirism spreads like an actual disease but in a geometric sequence, from one vampire founding a colony the whole world could be infected in a matter of days. This is the situation at the opening of I am Legend, with one single human survivor who is immune to the vampire infection waging a day time war on the new superior species of the earth.
The idea has been used on a greater or lesser scale ever since, for example in They Thirst (1981) by Robert R. McCammon, in which Los Angeles falls to Vampirism and most famously in Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot (1975) which charts in detail the spread of vampirism throughout a small community which refuses to believe what is happening to it.
In recent times the Anne Rice has given the Gothic vampire novel a twist in her “Vampire Chronicles” series of novels. Anne Rice has them immune to modt traditional methods of slaying and uses vampires as radical sexually and religiously liberated creatures, but then Ms Rice has in the last twenty years completely redifined Vampire lore in her novels. Rice vampires are a genre unto themselves.
Terry Pratchett has spoofed the genre with his take on Vampirism as an allegory for Alcoholism in the Discworld books. Many of his vampires are “balck ribboners” vampires who have sworn off blood infavour of other obcessions, notably photography, coffee, tea and buns or in the case of Count and countess Notofaroutu running the Black ribon organistation itself.
The latest emerging sub genre is The Vampire as Superhero.
Unlike the Blade franchise, where a half Human/vampire hybrid turns slayer, this new generic form has the full vampire choosing to use his “powers” for good, and usually for the benefit of one special member of the opposite sex. The closest to a sucessful attempt was the first “Hannibal King” a Marvel comics character in the Doctor Strange stories, a young vampire who by pure will has never given in to “The Thirst” in the ten years since his “turning” by Dracula himself.
It is a generic form yet to be defined and done well, though Anne Rice has Steered her “LeStat” books in this direction, LeStat remains an anti-hero where as “Edward” of the “Twilight” books is a fully fledged Hero.
“Twilight” (2005)has been badly received by many critics and die hard horror fans, but has returned to the Gothic Romance audience at which Dracula was originally aimed. Interestingly “Twilight” does give a new allegorical symbolism to the vampire. Author Stephenie Meyer is a devoted and evangelical member of the Mormon faith and so endows her vampires with the neo-religious feel of being religious outsiders the rest of the world misunderstands and feels the need to suppress. These vampires have been the victim of bad press and smear campaigns. For instance they do not go out in the sun not because it will kill them, but because it shows them up as angelic sparkling beings.
Which ever direction the vampire genre moves next, it certainly shows not sign of going away.
Len Hazell is 46 years old from the north east of England, holds a degree in Media, and is majoring in writing for the print and broadcast media. He has published in various magazines in the UK, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and has had several plays produced throughout England. He is currently working on his own musical adaptation of Arsenic and old Lace which he hope to stage in 2011. Len can be contacted at Bonniefans@hotmail.com. His music is available at http://www.nuzic.net/members/2565