The truth about Vampires – how the history does not match the fiction.
Vampire mythology and the real story behind today’s beloved villains.
by Theresa Bane
© Buzzy Multimedia
Not a lot of people can say that their parents brag about what their children do for a living, but I don’t have that problem. My dad introduces me as his daughter the famous author and my mom proudly tells folks, when asked, that her daughter is the vampirologist they saw on Discovery Channel.
I love my job, it’s way more awesomer than what my brothers do, and they know it too. Muhahaha!
I especially love working and playing at conventions – big or small, Dragoncon or SheVaCon, that’s where my people are. Gamers, 501 Stormtroopers, other folks who enjoy “Legend of the Seeker,” and those of us who still watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Where else can we all gather together and partake in a drum circle?
I love the costumes, especially the new wave of Steam Punk get ups and the superheroes who walk around in tights. Mmmm, tights. And even mmm-ier Ironman! I take pictures of them with my sock monkey, Salty, and one day I swear they will be posted on my website. But what I really like doing are the panels where I get to wax intellectual on the subject of vampires with peers for the entertainment of the attendees.
Now that I have discovered the wonders of Blogs and Blogging I can reach out to fans en mass while wearing my pj’s. Although, I could technically do that at a con too. In short, my presentations would go a little something like this…
Hey kiddies, welcome to my one-person panel: “Bites, Hypes, and Bandwagons: The Truth about Vampires.” Gather round and let me school you on the myth of the vampire and how it has been used in fiction.
Vampires have been around since the dawn of man. I estimate that within 7 minutes of the first person dying of what would then be considered “mysterious causes” the vampire was conceived, created and immediately heralded as the bad guy that had done the deed.
The earliest piece of writing that has been discovered was not a love poem or a honey-do list, or even a primitive character sheet to a previously unknown rpg, but rather it was a magical incantation to keep a type of ancient Assyrian vampire away from a mother’s newborn child.
See, historically, vampires only prey on what is culturally important to a people. If a society has enough food and water and shelter and all they have to really worry about is the health of their children then that society-without fail-will have a vampire who prey on children.
If another society has ample food and water and a means of sustaining life, but live in a particularly harsh climate, like northern Canada, then you have a vampire like the Aipalookvik that feeds off of body heat, not blood. Go figure. At a con, vampires would feed on the guests of honor, but never fear, for they would then be repelled by swag or con id badges. See how it works?
Now, let me address fictional vampires for a minute. Ann Rice did not invent Vampire Fiction. That genre has been around for thousands of years. There are lots of Greek and Roman tales that have survived the test of time, and they were based on even older tales. True enough, Ms. Rice made a mint with her book Interview with the Vampire and the slew that followed, and she was without a doubt the first person in a long time to have a successful run of vampire fiction books, but she did not originate the concept. And neither did Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. No, not Edger Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft. Stop guessing, you’ll never get it!! Lord Byron was probably the first commercially successful author to write about a male vampire who dressed nicely, was rich and charming, oozing sexuality and quite the lady killer. Literally. The vampire’s name was Lord Ruthven, which is pronounced “riv-inn.” However, the story of Lord Ruthven was not what paid the bills. He sold it; it was printed, but was not what would be considered a New York Times Best Seller. When Stoker wrote about Count Dracula, he was doing what was popular for his day. There already was a plethora of vampiric fiction on the market when Dracula came out. Stoker was doing what any business man would do – he was riding a bandwagon. Get-along little doggie!
But Stoker did do something, in my humble opinion, that I feel gave authors “permission” to follow en suite, authors like Stephenie Meyer, Elizabeth Massie, Laurell K. Hamilton, Colleen Gleason, and even Carrie Vaughn although she’s mostly about the werewolves. Dracula was a vampire not based on any singular species of historical or mythological vampire, but rather a combination of them generously mixed with a liberal portion of artistic licensing. Stoker “invented” a species of vampire. How freaking kuel is that! He did it so well that people believed Count Dracula was an actual species of vampire that could be found in the Transylvanian forests if not in history books. His vampire character was so awesome that pretty much since then every other vampire in fiction was based off of him-be it in abilities, dress, country of origin or the like.
So when folks ask me if a certain author did their vampire “right” I say, “Of course they did! It’s their book, it’s their world, and they made up the rules that govern their vampires. As long as there is consistency who am I to judge? ” However, I think the question that folks are really meaning to ask me is “are those vampires based on any sort of historical or mythological lore?” Because the answer to that question would be “Umm, no.”
Admittedly, I do not read what can be categorized by anyone standards as “a lot” of fiction. I have to be real selective in my leisure choices because I don’t have lots of “me” time to read bad books let alone a series of books in the hopes they get better or go back to being as good as they used to be. Of those few fictional titles I do read, none of them are about vampires. For example: The Dresden Files series has vampires in them and one of the secondary characters is a vampire named Thomas, but the series of books is about a wizard/private eye in modern day Chicago. Whereas books like Twilight and Interview with a Vampire are about vampires. See the difference?
I like authors who respect the mythology that they are using and modify it to fit into their story. Authors like Tony Ruggiero. I cannot recommend his books enough, so check out his series “Immortal Servitude-Book 1 of the Declassified Files of the Team of Darkness.” (Vampires used in Black Ops, Need I say more?) I don’t expect nor would I enjoy a story about a vampire that is 100% historically accurate, but I sure as heck want a certain level of rational realism that your typical fifth grader could not debunk.
For instance: Why are vampires in Contemporary Fiction and Urban Fantasy books able to come out at night but not during the day? That’s not historically accurate at all. You may answer that the sun is out during the day and that the sun kills vampires. OK, I’ll buy that, of the 900+ different species of vampires, there are those dozen who are vulnerable to sunlight. So, I ask again, how can they come out at night? The moon is a honking big mirror up in the sky and ever since it was scientifically established that it was not made of cheese we have all known that it waxes and wanes and shines bright because it is reflecting sunlight. The very same sunlight from the very same sun that would have killed a vampire in the afternoon is now somehow OK? What’s up with that?
And I have to say that this whole idea of vampires being sexy is a brand new thing, historically speaking of course. I don’t like to stand next to a smoker in line at the supermarket because they smell like an ashtray, and even to give a social kiss to one can be a yucky experience. So, why oh why oh why on God’s green earth would I ever want to kiss-let alone knock boots with-a guy who drinks blood. Do you know what his breath would smell like? Yes you do, on a good day it would smell like rotten chop meat. There’s a reason why in cop shows like CSI and NCIS the actors put a hand over their mouth, squint and say “pee-yooou!” when they must examine a corpse. THEY SMELL! Remember that scene in Jaws when Sherriff Brody looked at the hand of the shark’s first victim, it was only a few hours old and there was a stink factor. A little later in the movie when Hooper did his examination of the remains, he gagged. Vampires who drink blood would reek of death and decay.
I have to say this real fast too – ever watch any animal show on PBS or on the National Geographic Channel, or Nat Geo as the kids say? Do lions, as they stalk stealthily along in the tall savannah grass which they perfectly blend into growl the whole time? Grrr. Grrr. No, because the gazelles would go “Do you hear that? Sounded like a lion. Better run! LIONS!”
So, would somebody please introduce a bill to congress that forces TV and Movie people to stop making vampires hiss and growl as they hunt folks to eat! It also grinds my gears when the growling vampire finally is able to nab someone and bites them on the neck, beginning to feed. At some point-and I dare to you mention one film where this does not happen-the vampire looks up and blood oozes everywhere. Why? Lions have bloody faces on the TV when they eat a gazelle because they have no thumbs! TV and Movie Vampires do, but apparently no gag reflex to speak of. Picture you at the dinner table, do you let a mouthful of food fall out of your mouth as your eat? Why would a vampire, especially when you consider that they have to hunt for it. You can always nuke some more mac and cheese.
That being said, vampires of fiction and on the silver screen are always made to be hot. My favorite vampire of all time has to be Spike of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Spike was handsome, because James Marsters who was cast in the role was handsome. But when I see James doing other stuff, I don’t feel that spark I feel when I see Spike. Blondie-Bear tried his best to live a consequence free lifestyle despite Buffy’s best effort. Finally he figured out how to do what he wanted to while promoting her agenda. He is an imp, an enabler, a bad boy who will use you up and throw you out and make you beg for more. But Joss Whedon didn’t base his vampires on anything historically accurate either. In fact, he based his vampires on what I would consider to be commonly accepted vampire beliefs. Good for sales, bad for history.
So let me sum it up and real quick answer some the most popular questions I get asked at the “Q and A” section of a panel: “No. Yes. I didn’t read that. What? Oh, oh God No! Well, not really. 4 o’clock. Hmmm, let me look into that. Yes. Coffee.”
Haha! That was fun.
Anyway…here it is-
I am not now, nor do I profess to be a vampire. I have never met an undead vampire, but I have met bunches of people who claim to be vampires and two people who are said to be energy vampires.
There is significance between a cross and a crucifix, especially when confronting a vampire; one will get you killed, one will save your ass.
The vampire pumpkin is real, the vampire watermelon was not.
If a Jewish Vampire is confronted with a crucifix nothing will happen, except maybe you getting eaten.
Garlic works on vampires because in the world of “primitive man,” like back in the Flintstones era, it was quite possibly the most abundant natural resource and everybody rich or poor had access to it.
There are cases of cats, dogs, horses and leopards becoming a vampire-but no, Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe was a kid’s book, based on no vampire mythology I know of.
And no, I have not read Twilight yet.