The vampire is an undead creature originating from the Slavic region.
- Some vampires feed on psychic or life energy-- generally known as incubi or succubi
- Some are not undead, but are instead created by a mutation or virus
- Vampires in modern fiction sometimes claim that they cannot give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation because they "have no breath." This makes no sense; the fact that they can speak normally indicates that they are fully capable of inhaling and exhaling when they need to.
- Vampires are sometimes seen to sire or carry children. Being undead, this doesn't make a lot of sense. As it's been eloquently put, "the tadpoles aren't swimming anymore." The cold body of a female vampire wouldn't sustain a living fetus, and a dead fetus is, well, dead and wouldn't grow. Although the Romanian strigoi were said to be able to father children, they were not undead corpses after reforming a human body.
- In some stories a vampire will completely drain a human body of blood in a single feeding. The human stomach is nowhere near capable of holding that much fluid; the stomach holds about one quart while the human body contains about six quarts of blood.
History & Origins Edit
Early Vampires and Quasi-vampiresEdit
The notion of things that go bump in the night and feed upon unfortunate humans has existed for millennia. Indeed, things that go bump in the night and eat people have also existed for millennia. Our primitive ancestors had somewhat to fear from the nocturnal (but perfectly normal) predators out there. The cries and howls of these animals undoubtedly sent shivers down their spines. Undoubtedly the discovery of an unfortunate individual who had ended up prey to one of these creatures raised a lot of questions - what had befallen this poor person? What kind of unnatural terror would do such a thing?
From these quandaries came legends of man-eating monsters that roamed the night. Virtually every culture on Earth has legends of these creatures.
One of the earliest vampire-like creatures was the Mesopotamian Lilith... although she didn't start out that way. Originally a benevolent agricultural/childbirth goddess, Lilith was demonized by Hebrews much as Christians demonized innocuous nature spirits believed in by pagans. Lilith became a demon believed to be responsible for the deaths of young children in the night, visiting them in their beds and drinking their blood. Eventually she was tacked onto the story of Adam and Eve, said to be Adam's rather feminist first wife, who was created out of dirt (equal to him) and was kicked out of the garden after refusing to submit to him. While the newer Lilith exhibited some vampiric traits, she was certainly not a vampire herself, or even a "mother of vampires," as her victims did not rise as undead - or even demons - themselves. (Though she did give birth to demons, but this was in a more literal "gives birth" sense.
Fast-forward awhile in human development.
An intrepid group of grave-robbers are carrying out their business. They dig up the box, pry it open, rip open the burial shroud, hold their lantern up, and gaze upon the cadaver in anticipation of the valuables it may be carrying.
They notice something is off. Instead of the pale, shrunken look one would normally expect from a corpse, this body has an unusually lively appearance. His complexion is ruddy, he appears plump and well-fed, and a trail of dried blood leads from his mouth.
Being unaware that gasses building up in the corpse would cause it to bloat, break blood vessels, and force blood out of oral and nasal orifices, they come to the logical conclusion that the corpse rose from its grave, fed upon some unfortunate victim, and returned to rest until its next adventure.
These early vampires more closely resembled modern zombies than modern vampires. They were merely mindless corpses looking for their next human meal. No angsting, no billowy capes, no lavish coffins.
Naturally, the next step after discovering this gluttonous corpse was figuring out what to do about it. Removing its head would certainly kill it once and for all, making it easy for the soul to leave. Driving a stake through its chest would pin it to the coffin and prevent it from escaping. Iron, silver, hawthorn, and other items believed to have protective powers could prevent the body from rising when used properly. Placing garlic in the mouth was also said to be effective. In later times, ordinary bullets were considered sufficient.
Other questions were raised - how did these creatures come to be to begin with? Certainly it had something to do with some unholy activity. It was sometimes said that a person who died alone or by suicide could rise as a vampire, or that they were people of immoral natures in life. Other physical oddities were tacked on as a sign of rising from the grave after death: being born with teeth, a tail, or a caul could indicate a future vampire. Consuming the blood of a vampire or smearing it upon oneself to protect oneself from vampires in life made one a candidate for rising as a vampire after death. Also, being attacked by a vampire at some point in one's life also put one at risk. Of course, these are only a handful of the many ways a corpse could rise from the grave to suck blood.
As stories of these horrific creatures spread, different people tacked on their own ideas. Some of these were (relatively) sensible (such as a vampire having neither shadow nor reflection, as both were your soul and a vampire had no soul), but some were truly bizarre.
According to South Slavic/Romanian folklore, a vampire was a soul that could not find rest. It started out as an invisible shadow, sucked blood (or ate food from the bereaved family's larder) until it became an amorphous gelatinous blob, and eventually formed a human body like that it had in life. This process was said to take seven years, and the vampire was then capable of living as a human and fathering children, which were known as dhampirs. Dhampirs were said to have the ability to see the invisible vampires, making them efficient vampire hunters. However, they would also rise as vampires themselves after death.
A living person could also be a vampire according to Romanian tradition. These people did not rise physically to feed, but instead their souls left their bodies during the night.
Other assorted beliefs were attached to the Slavic vampires: they only had to return to their graves on Saturdays, they could take the form of various animals, they didn't necessarily feed on blood, but sometimes a person's soul or life-essence. They also caused damage to crops and livestock and caused droughts and floods.
Romanian vampires were sometimes said to have two hearts, and the second heart was the one that must be pierced to destroy the vampire.
One variation of vampire is said to be created when a baby dies before its baptismal day. These hellish infants generally choose to attack livestock. It was said that they would eventually become strong enough to withstand the sunlight. (However, the belief that vampires disliked sunlight was hardly universal.) One odd (yet amusing) variant states that pumpkins could turn into vampires if not used by Christmas. Vampiric pumpkins were said to rock back and forth and make odd grunting noises.
Some Greeks believed vampires to be indistinguishable from normal humans, and sometimes even harmless, returning from the gave to give their widows financial support. However, they were more commonly believed to be extremely dangerous. As with anywhere else, the Greeks had their own ideas attached to the myth: on the island of Lesbos vampires were said to have long, wolf-like canines, vampires on the Saronic Islands were said to be hunchbacked with long nails, and on Mount Pelion the undead were said to glow in the dark!
In short, there were so many variations to the vampire myth that there really is no single "traditional" or "real" vampire. The "old-school" vampires we have today (such as Dracula) are but mere hatchlings in the vampiric legacy. So when, where, and how did they develop, anyway?
The Beginnings of the Modern VampireEdit
Flash to the 1720's-30's: Europe experienced a 'vampire craze' when a few well-documented 'vampire' cases sprang up. A Serbian peasant was believed to have become a vampire, and a short time later an ex-soldier was reported to be frolicking around after his untimely demise at the hands of a haycart. It seems after his death, several other people in his area kicked the bucket, and so vampirism became the prime suspect. Mind you, they had more or less good reason to believe it was this soldier: he claimed to have protected himself against vampires by drinking or smearing himself a vampire's blood during his time in the military, making him a candidate for vampirism himself.
This vampire mania would continue for a generation. Graves were exhumed and re-buried. People suspected of being vampires were executed. The hysteria finally settled down when Empress Theresa of Austria passed laws prohibiting the desecration of graves.
However, vampires were still at large in peoples' imaginations, and vampire fiction began to arise. The 1797 poem Die Braut Von Corinth (The Bride of Corinth) would feature a dead bride rising as a vampire to woo her sister's groom.
The 1819 novel The Vampyre, by John William Polidori, introduces us to Lord Ruthven (pronounced 'Riven') - an introverted sort of character and very attractive to the ladies, also described as being on the pale side (although he was this way before undeath). Lord Ruthven becomes a vampire the "regular" way - that is, the catalyst being a normal death. He certainly fits the bill of a "sexy" vampire, although his only interest in females seems to be for dinner. Also, sunlight doesn't hurt him... but moonlight heals him!
In 1845, the story Varney the Vampire would be released in a series of "penny dreadfuls." It introduced many vampiric concepts we take for granted today, such as fangs, hypnotic abilities, and superhuman strength. This story is also likely the first example of an "angsty" vampire who loathes his condition. Varney the Vampire also borrowed upon the concept of a vampire healed by the moonlight.
1872 introduced us to Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu. First published in a magazine and later in a collection of short stories by the same author, features a female vampire (the title character) who targets a female victim. She is portrayed as highly sensuous... and certainly has no problems traipsing about in the sunshine. Carmilla also introduces the concept of a vampire being able to change form - in this case, a large cat.
Bram Stoker's Dracula, published in 1897, helped to further cement the paradigms set by the literature before him. Stoker chose to base his vampire character on Prince Vlad Dracula of Wallachia, a man who allegedly tortured and executed people in extremely horrific and brutal manners. Certainly Dracula himself wasn't a vampire, but his reputed lifestyle would have fit the requirements for becoming a vampire after death.
Stoker also helped seal the connection between vampires and vampire bats. Although this connection may seem natural now, bear in mind that while vampires are an Old World invention, vampire bats are native to South America - hence, they are a relatively modern addiction to the mythos. Stoker's Dracula could also move about in the daytime - the only detrimental effect being that his powers were weakened. However, Lucy Westenra, a much younger vampire, was restricted to nighttime activities only, returning to her grave at sunrise to enter a state of dormancy.
Stoker's novel also establishes that the human body is inhabited by a vampiric spirit that controls the body and prevents the human soul from escaping the body and entering Heaven. The book establishes the tradition of staking, although at this point it's still (possibly) necessary to follow up with decapitation. It should also be noticed that Dracula's ostensible demise was brought about by a Bowie knife and nothing fancier. Another tradition (hardly universal) that Stoker popularized was the lack of reflection.
Vampires in the 20th and 21st CenturiesEdit
The Dracula story was picked up by the budding film industry and released in 1922 in the form of Nosferatu. Due to copyright reasons, names and locations were changed. Many minor characters were removed and certain plot elements were changed. Nosferatu was responsible for introducing the world at large to the concept of sunlight destroying a vampire (as opposed to simply rendering them comatose), as well as the general image of a pointy-eared vampire.
1931 would see the release of Dracula to theaters. The movie also has Dracula being forced to sleep by day, reinforcing the concept of sunlight being harmful to vampires. This version also has Dracula slain with a wooden stake. 1943 gave us The Son of Dracula, which includes quite possibly the earliest use of the name Alucard.
By now, the original reason for why stakes being used against vampires (pinning them to their coffins, thus preventing them from getting out) was being forgotten; stakes were merely regarded as some kind of 'anti-vampire' weapon.
As science fiction grew in popularity over the 20th century, some writers gave vampires a science fiction gloss. The 1954 novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson features a bacterium that changes humans into something similar to vampires of popular lore. Most of the vampires in this story are liquid-diet zombies (much as the original vampires were), albeit with many of the now-traditional vampiric weaknesses. This book would later be adapted to film three times: first as The Last Man on Earth in 1964 with Vincent Price, later as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston in 1971 (although the vampiric elements were removed), and finally as I Am Legend in 2007 with Will Smith.
The science fiction vampire, while never as popular as the 'mythical' vampires, continues to crop up now and then. Some of them bear very little resemblance to the popular vampire image at all except for the common trait of sucking something from humans, be it blood, brains, or life energy. The science fiction series Star Trek featured a salt vampire that fatally drained its victims' bodies of salt. The salt vampire also had the ability to shapeshift, making it easy for the creature to get close to humans.
In 1973, the dhampir, or "half vampire" became popularized with Marvel Comics' vampire hunter character Blade, who was changed into a half-vampire in the womb when his mother was bitten during late pregnancy.
Starting with Interview with the Vampire in 1976, Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles would add new material to the ever-changing vampire mythos. Her vampires were susceptible to sunlight, drink blood, and exhibit superhuman strength and speed, but garlic, crosses, silver, and stakes were useless. Mind-reading and manipulation, enhanced senses, and other assorted powers would become part of their arsenal of abilities (although usually only the extremely old exhibited a few of the more dramatic 'super-powers'). Rice also introduced the concept of younger vampires gaining 'super-powers' by feeding on the older vampires. The book would later be made into a movie in 1993. While Anne Rice certainly didn't start the concept of insanely sexy vampires, she certainly played a large role in popularizing them. Rice also gives an account of the 'origin' of vampires, tracing it back to ancient Egypt, where an Egyptian queen is transformed into the first vampire due to a vengeful curse.
In 1986, Japan finally got their say in the mythos of vampires with the release of the first Castlevania game. The game's storyline has it that every hundred years Dracula rises again and must be defeated by a member of the Belmont family. The second game introduced Alucard, the half-mortal son of Dracula, further popularizing the idea of a dhampir. The Castlevania series has spawned several sequels, continuing to this day.
In 1991, White Wolf released the tabletop RPG Vampire: The Masquerade. It featured a developed origin for vampires, linking them to the Biblical Cain (called "Caine") and the apocryphal Lilith. For the Masquerade plot, Caine's punishment for killing Abel was the curse of vampirism, and the excommunicated Lilith taught him all the game's vampiric abilities. Vampires in Masquerade are grouped into clans, each one with different strengths, weaknesses, and customs. Masquerade also gave a new meaning to the word "Nosferatu," giving the name to a clan of hideously deformed vampires.
A recent development also suggests that Lilith herself was the mother of all vampires, although the literary origin of this trope is unclear. Perhaps Lilith's roles in Masquerade and a few comic books coupled with her legendary habit of drinking blood at night made her seem like a natural for this role.
In 1992, a cheesy comedy about a high-school girl slaying vampires was released. This movie was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although the movie itself was fairly obscure, the premise was later made into the much more popular television series, which ran from 1997 to 2003. The series kept the now-traditional concepts of vampires being susceptible to stakes, sunlight, and garlic. Stakes, once used to pin vampires to their coffin, now turn the undead into a heap of dust when impaled. Sunlight now caused vampires to combust. But luckily for the undead, they also get the usual pluses of superhuman strength and agility. They can feed on any mammalian blood, although human blood is generally preferred.
Buffyverse vampires are 'sired' when a human near death consumes vampire blood. Taking a cue from Stoker's novel, a vampiric demon inhabits the human body, raising it to undeath. This demon has very little intelligence, however, and the vampire inherits its brains from the human side. The human soul, however, no longer inhabits the body. Buffyverse vampires are also reflection-free... even when they do have souls. Odd.
The series' explanation on the origin of vampires is closer to H.P. Lovecraft than to the usual pseudo-Judeo-Christian origins, involving big, huge ugly demons that left the earth a long, long time ago.
Another variety of vampire is introduced in the Len Wiseman film Underworld. They mainly resemble the modern vampire, with a few slight twists: they're a bunch of ubersexy crack soldiers a la The Matrix, locked in a blood feud with the werewolf species, and their origins have been reworked. According to Underworld, the first vampire was a genetically-volatile superhuman who was bitten by a bat. The DNA in the bat's saliva fused with his own, and as bats are generally lithe, attractive creatures who suck blood and burst into flame in sunlight, the end result was a fairly typical vampire.
Terry Pratchett's TakeEdit
Terry Pratchett, the popular sci-fi/fantasy writer, has created two other versions of the typical vampire. The first is that typical vampires still drink blood, faint in the sight of sunlight, and shy away from religious symbols, but they can overcome it. For example, in Carpe Jugulum, the father vampire, or as he styles himself, vampyre, trains the family in order to overcome their "natural instincts"-- what we all recognize as vampire traits. The other variation on vampires that Pratchett demonstrates is those who choose to be come "Black Ribboners." These vampires swear off blood and gather around a harmonioum for a singsong and cocoa. These vampires take their fixation away from blood and instead focus on something else; for example, Otto Chriek, in The Truth has a fixation on light. Similarly, Maledict in Monstrous Regiment has a fixation on coffee, and when he can't find any, his mind gradually slips from coffee back to blood.