After some rather heavy posts, I thought I’d look at something lighter. So I picked Vampires. Go figure!
From Bram Stoker to Buffy, from Nosferatu to Ann Rice, from Dark Shadows to True Blood, from Salem’s Lot to The Lost Boys, and even Twilight (ah well!) we are head-over-heels about these Blood Suckers. Whats going on?
Etymologically, Vampire comes from the French vampire, which is from German Vampir, probably from the Serbo-Croatian vàmpīr (possibly a variant of the Proto-Slavic *upir *ǫpyrь It may derive from Macedonian. Compare the Russian упырь (upýr’), Polish upiór, etc.
Vampire stories must be one of the most popular genres in the modern world. Just check out the Wikipedia lists and articles on Fictional Vampires, Vampire Literature and Vampire Films. Their extent is staggering! I find it interesting that Wikipedia uses the article title “Fictional Vampires.” Are there any other kinds? Hmmm!
Almost all world cultures have stories of supernatural creatures that feed on human flesh and blood. Among ancient peoples, these were seen as Demons of various kinds. One of the most prominent was the Babylonian/Assyrian Lilitu, who has come down to us through Hebrew as Lilith. She is explicitly referenced in much Vampire Literature.
A very fine academic study of Lilith is Lilith: The Edge of Forever by Filomela M. Pereira (Las Colinas, TX: Ide House, 1998). While it is out-of-print, this can be found in Libraries and some used book venues. I highly recommend this to learn about the history of this influential Myth, and Filomela is a friend of mine, and part of the Book Club we had at Rosicrucian Park for some years.
In her most recent incarnation, the novels of the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris and their HBO version True Blood make her the Mother of Vampires. This is fairly traditional, as the Hebrew Lilith is the first wife of Adam, and mother of demons.
It is also in the role of Adam’s first wife that she appears in George MacDonald’s 1895 Fantasy
Novel Lilith. It is considered his most profound work, and deals with what the Christian ἀποκατάστασις (apocatastasis) (Universal Salvation) would actually work. It’s importance was marked by Lin Carter’s inclusion of the novel in the renowned Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series in 1969. It has been one of my favorites since I read it at that time. MacDonald was a formative influence on C.S. Lewis.
Vampires as We Know Them
Revenants who return to feed on humans are written about as early as the 12th Century in Europe (Walter Map and William of Newburgh), but the Vampire proper comes from Eastern European legends of the 17th-18th Centuries. In 1672 the legend of Jure Grando came from Istria (in modern-day Croatia). During the 18th Century, Eastern Europe was awash with such tales culminating in the “vampire craze’ of the 1720s and 1730s,” and these spread to Western Europe, and thence to the rest of the World. In Asia, particularly, these tales merged with older legends to become very popular.
Perhaps the first literary mention is found in The Vampire (1748) by Heinrich August Ossenfelder, and another, the narrative poem Lenore (1773) by Gottfried August Bürger. These are notably followed by
- Robert Southey’s oriental epic poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1797)
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Christabel (written between 1797 and 1801, but not published until 1816)
- Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1872)
- Lord Byron’s The Giaour (1813) and a fragment about Augustus Darvell, his his contribution to the famous horror story competition at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in the summer of 1816, between him, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and John William Polidori.
- John William Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) from the same competition.
- Cyprien Bérard’s Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires (1820) attributed to Charles Nodier.
- Elizabeth Caroline Grey’s The Skeleton Count, or The Vampire Mistress (1828)
- Varney the Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer (or Thomas Preskett Prest) (1847)
- Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872)
- Paul Féval: Le Chevalier Ténèbre (1860), La Vampire (1865) and La Ville Vampire (1874).
- Marie Nizet’s Le Capitaine Vampire (1879)
- Hans Wachenhusen’s Der Vampyr – Novelle aus Bulgarien (1878)
The Vampire legend achieved its iconic form in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). After that, the floodgates soon opened. I recommend the Wikipedia articles referenced at the beginning of this post for a thorough review of the literature and films.
Vampires Today: What Fascinates Us?
Vampires today are villains and heroes. Both archetypes flourish. There are even Vampire Lifestyles (connected to the Goth sub-culture) and Vampire Religion.
Many reasons have been evinced over the years to explain Vampire Legends. These include:
- Ancient Slavic Spirituality
- Decomposition and Intact Bodies
- Premature Burial
- Deaths from Contagious diseases
- Psychodynamic unconscious desires and anxieties
- Political implications (the Noble Dracula preys on the peasants)
- Vampire Bats
I would suspect that all of the above have some relevance. But what I am more interested in is what makes them so interesting?
We can divide modern portrayals of Vampires into several categories:
- Monstrous Evil Vampires (Nosferatu, most of the Vampires in Buffyverse)
- Suave, Sexy Evil Vampires (Dracula, Carmilla, some of the True Bood Vamps)
- Noble, Sexy Vampires who even though they suck blood, do good sometimes, or become more noble (Eric Northman, Spike)
- Noble Sexy Vampires on a Crusade, tortured by their own Vampire Nature (Bill Compton, Angel, all of the Vampire Detectives and Policemen, and NBC’s Dracula—Alexander Grayson). They are often making up for their evil pasts.
- Purely Good Sexy Vampires (Edward Cullen) (It’s just another race of creatures).
You will note that while there are more Male Vampires than Female throughout the genre, this is changing, particularly in Buffy, True Blood and Twilight. Equal Opportunity is here, and racial boundaries are also crossed.
What makes the Monstrous Vampires Evil?
This seems obvious. They not only kill us, they turn us into monsters too. It’s as if being bitten by a Nazi could change you into a Skinhead. They use their preternatural abilities to hunt us. They must shun the Light (a symbol of goodness) and are harmed by tokens of Holiness. It is always entertaining to read about or watch heroic women and men fighting creatures that seem to have the advantage.
How About the Other Kinds of Vampires?
As we move through the categories, we can discern a growing pattern. Notice that each of the other categories includes “Sexy.” This suggests that we like flirting with danger, and also we are afraid of sexuality as a culture, or at least think of it as dangerous, and sometimes deadly (with STDs and AIDS, this is sadly true).
The fact that Vampires of all genders prey on both men and women make Vampires a natural for LGBT themed books and films. Good Reads lists 343 such works, and there are numerous films and TV shows that feature LGBT themes.
Coming to the varieties of Noble or Good Vampires, we are now crossing over into the Superhero genre, as well as stories of People-With-A-Past atoning for their sins through service. These are both very good fodder for drama. We love the tortured hero, as well as the Anti-Hero.
Sleep All Day. Party All Night. Never Grow Old. Never Die. It’s Fun to be a Vampire.
Add to that super-strength, speed, flight, allure, and several other preternatural gifts. What could be wrong with this?
Aside from the physical and spiritual evil involved, and dominating other people’s lives (Makers control their progeny ruthlessly), there is an esoteric concern, even for the heroic Vampires.
Physical Immortality has a catch. If one accepts the Karmic cycle of reincarnation after reincarnation, perfecting the Soul Personality and moving up the ladder of being, then being stuck in one lifetime is indeed a curse. The Karmic debt piling up for a 5000 year old Vampire would be truly horrendous. If we are meant to return, cycle after cycle, to grow and learn, Vampires are stunted in their development. Seeing all one’s mortal loved ones die again and again would also leave a deep psychic wound.
I could not resist one political reference, so here are (thankfully former!) President Bush II and VP Cheney in revealed in their true natures:
Let’s make sure there is no Bush III. Please!
So it seems that our attraction to Vampires is pretty reasonable after all. It’s the candy we know is bad for us, but we love it so much! Back to True Blood!
Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant