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V is for Vampire Part Three: Vampire, Modern

Regarding all pseudo-scientific names in Bestiary-style posts: please note that while I did study Latin at university, I was never very good at it (tri-weekly mortification hour, as I knew it) and I haven’t done any revision in the five or so years since I graduated. I also, unfortunately, am not overly familiar with the rules governing the grammatical form of all types of scientific classification. As a result, if anything is erroneous (either by the rules of classification or because my Latin is ungrammatical – or because that word does not mean what I think it means inconceivable) please do mention it. Furthermore, as dividing creatures by scientific strata can be complicated (should a vampire be classified as undead, sub-type magical person or magical person, sub-type undead? etc) any sensible opinions on that would be much appreciated. But don’t get too worked up over it, given that it is primarily a joke. I also suspect that proper academic folklorists have a system for classification which I have simple not been able to get my hands on. If there is such a thing, I would very much like to have a copy of it, although I would probably end up using both that and my method for classification, because mine seems likely to be more amusing.

V is for Vampire Part Three: Modern Vampire

Common Name: Vampire (also: Modern Vampire, Literary Vampire)

Scientific Classification:

Kingdom: Folkloria

Order: Mortui

Family: Lamiae

Genus: Strix

Species: S. Stokerii

Binomial Name: Strix Stokerii. Sub-species: Horror Vampire (S. Stokerii Stokerii), Paranormal Romance Vampire (S. Stokerii Verpa), Child Friendly Vampire (S. Stokerii Sesame)

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Range: Modern Vampires are found worldwide, although this is because many of them have migrated from their native Britain and United States, where they are still found in over-abundance.

Habitat: This differs per sub-species. The Child Friendly Vampire typically inhabits children’s entertainment of all formats (television, film, stage and book) as well as advertisement campaigns and Halloween decorations. The Horror Vampire is all but extinct on stage and a rare sight in books, however in television it can occur with reasonable regularity and it is still the dominant species in film. The Paranormal Romance Vampire is massively overpopulated in books, appears regularly in television, is occasionally sighted in film, and is completely unheard of on stage.

Evolution: Despite the term Stokerii, the Modern Vampire began to evolve before Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, although it is certainly when the species’ defining traits became pronounced enough for them to be viewed as a separate species to their Traditional forbearers. The Modern Vampire first began to evolve in 1819 – in Dr. John Polidori short-story The Vampyre. Polidori’s Lord Rutherford can, in fact, be viewed as the missing link between the S. Strigoi and the S. Stokerii. Various other proto-forms of the Modern Vampire followed, but by 1922 they had developed into a fully-fledged species of their own; the better known cousins, and descendents, of the Traditional Vampire. After this the Modern Vampire went largely unchanged for several decades, before the wild diversification of the late 20th century resulted in the three key sub-species of Modern Vampire: Horror (S. Stokerii Stokerii), Paranormal Romance (S. Stokerii Verpa) and Child Friendly (S. Stokerii Sesame).

It is worth noting that the original form of the Modern Vampire – the typical high collard, be-cloaked, pale aristocratic Count (never a Viscount) – was originally viewed as horrific, hence the Horror Vampire also being called the True (Modern) Vampire – but in later years has only been retained by the Child Friendly Vampire, which is the smallest, weakest and most docile of the three sub-species. It is believed that the evolution of the three sub-species was jumpstarted by the advent of cheap, colour, television and higher literacy resulting in higher rates of utter garbage being written and sold. It is also believed that the Paranormal Romance Vampire’s population explosion in the last few decades may be the result of cross-breeding with beings from the Scientific Kingdom of Pop-culturia (as opposed to Fokloria, Animalia, et cetera), and a plague of Wasting Angst Disease. It may also be on part to do with a delusion among modern humans that “you can be anything you want to be when you grow up” (this has empirically been proven to be untrue on the grounds that I am not a turtle) and that “Writing is easy: everyone can do it”.

Nevertheless, on occasion truly remarkable and admirable specimens of S. Stokerii Verpa have been sighted and they fill a pseudo-ecological niche which might otherwise be filled by (and is being encroached on by) Paranormal Romance Zombies (Braaains Braaains Diiick).That, in none-pseudo-academic phrasing, is to say that while a vast amount of people are convinced that they are writers nowadays because they excuse a complete lack of ideas as “writer’s block”, a complete lack of talent or skill with “there’s no such thing as bad writing” (which is complete nonsense) and a complete lack of willingness to put effort into improving their work with “but that’s haaaaaaaaard”, they are a problem that affects all genres and while they are over-common in Paranormal Romance (because they can simply change names and regurgitate), it would be wrong and unfair to say that all Paranormal Romance was like that. Some Paranormal Romance (both published through publishing houses and self-published) is, I am given to understand, of a very high quality – provided you like that sort of thing. But I digress – and ought to stop digressing, before it gets so rant-y that I need to file it under (Rants) On Writing, instead of here in the On Folklore (Bestiary). But I’m sure those of you who do like Paranormal Romance must get sick of having to slog through crap to get to the quality works, given that so many people think of it as the “easy, money-maker” genre and don’t have their hearts in it.

Physical Description: Unlike their more traditional forbearers, Modern Vampires are beautiful™. (This, of course, has the occasional exception in the form of S. Stokerii Sesame, which – although never unpleasant looking – can occasionally bear a strong resemblance to felt or chocolate cereal.) This is notable as one of the major evolutionary traits which separate them from their ancestors – the Traditional Vampire (S. Strigoi). In the event that you (in your perusal of stage, page, film and television) should come across a vampire that is always hideous – rather than just occasionally horrific when deliberately being scary – you are actually dealing with a Traditional Vampire (S. Strigoi) which has somehow managed to survive into the modern era. You should also run like hell, because those types are much harder to domesticate.

Although the Modern Vampire started out uniformly “aristocratic”, this has become less specific of late – vampires are almost uniformly described as beautiful (albeit “unnervingly” so in the case of the Horror Vampire, which is a rare species and tends to cross breed with various forms of S. Strigoi). This beauty, in turn, is always of the pale, high cheek-boned and suspiciously Western European Upper class kind (which has some interesting implications). Occasionally they will be “deathly” pale, yet still they will look good – with a distinct lack of physical imperfections, which are the norm among real humans, and absolutely no rot or rigor mortis in evidence.

All Modern Vampires are distinguishable from their Traditional relatives by their elongated upper (and sometimes, but less often, lower) canine teeth (“fangs”), through which they somehow suck the blood of their prey, indicating that these tooth-like structures must be hollow and that the connection of the throat to the oesophagus is an unnecessary accessory.

The Modern Vampire is typically a humanoid, which can shape shift into various forms – although typically the bat-form and only the bat-form will be in evidence. The Modern Vampire is always undead, as is made evident by a lack of heartbeat and breathing (but, oddly, not a lack of ability to have orgasms or erections). Although the Child Friendly Vampire (S. Stokerii Sesame) still wears the original Victorian Era white tie outfit plus black cloak, the other types of Modern Vampire (S. Stokerii Stokerii and S. Stokerii Verpa) have taken to wearing clothing appropriate to the culture and era they find themselves living in (a trait which the original S. Stokerii also had: they simply found themselves in the Victorian Era, at events which were white tie).

Strengths: Since they first evolved the strengths of the S. Stokerii have continued to develop at an alarming rate – they have quickly become overpowered and overdeveloped. They have developed (or possibly retained) an ability to avoid decomposing. They have developed supernatural speed, strength, and astounding Parkour abilities. As well as capable of humanoid-form flight, they are immortal and super-durable (leather made out of vampire-hide would likely be better than Kevlar), as well as eternally youthful. Oddly, they have mostly lost some of the strengths of their Traditional ancestors (such as poltergeist-ing, the ability to interbreed freely with humans, most shape-shifting and being demons possessing human corpses which can be driven out but not necessarily killed). Control over the weather, although present in the earliest S. Stokerii, seems to be completely lost to the current variants. A strength which the S. Stokerii has gained of late, on the other hand, is almost superhumanly good fashion sense.

Weaknesses: As with strengths, the Modern Vampire has both gained new weakness and lost many of their ancestral weaknesses. Among Traditional Vampires, most things that would kill a human (fire, drowning, decapitation, stake through the heart) were fatal (although to some Traditional Vampires the stake only stopped them moving around), however only the stake remains effective against Modern Vampires. In fact, the most common traditional weaknesses and apotropaics – garlic, water, silver, stakes, religious symbols and holy water – are utterly hit and miss on a case by case level with Modern Vampires, while less known Traditional Weaknesses and apotropaics (mustard seed, running water, hawthorn, wild roses, telling the night time invader to leave and come back with fish I kid you not, disorientation at crossroads, and OCD-like tendencies when confronted with messy knots and small countable things) have all but completely ceased to affect the Modern Vampire. S. Stokerii Sesame seems to be the sole exception in this case, as obsessive counting is a habit of his. Modern Vampires, however, have developed a bizarre allergy to sunlight. In some cases it can be quite explosive. They also typically lack shadows, reflections and the ability to be heard over a mobile phone or have their passport photos taken. Finally, and least notably, they may be unconvinced by their inability to blend in completely thanks to their unnaturally good fashion sense and apparent ability to physically repel dirt.

Diet: Blood (human). Blood (animal, excluding human). Blood (artificial). Life energy. Mental energy. Emotions. Whichever of these, or combination of these dietary options, the vampire prefers, one thing remains common; they gain their food by “sucking” (oddly, vacuum cleaners are not granted status as vampires despite feeding by the same method).

Reproduction: It is generally agreed that, despite being regularly treated as a metaphor for drug addiction rather than the more logical option of being a metaphor for eating disorders, Modern Vampires are viral. This they have in common, to some degree, with their Traditional ancestors. Unlike their ancestors, however, Modern Vampires seem to be exclusively viral. (Traditional Vampires were more diverse about their reproduction.) Child Friendly Vampires (S. Stokerii Sesame) appear to go completely without reproducing, and spawn fully formed as single individuals in children’s television, toddler’s storybooks (in this case they will likely be fluffy animals as well) and advertising campaigns. Meanwhile, the Horror Vampire (S. Stokerii Stokerii) and Paranormal Romance Vampire (S. Stokerii Verpa) almost exclusively reproduce by biting and transforming suitably attractive humans – although the exact details of the method differ on a case by case basis. Certainly they do not reproduce (except on very, very rare occasions) by sexual reproduction, despite how much rampant unprotected sex they (especially the Paranormal Romance Vampire) tend to have. The Horror Vampire rarely gets to go through with raping their victims before the heroes arrive to save the day and often are more interested in eating from them anyway. The typical method for transforming a human into a Modern Vampire seems, on average, to be: biting them, drinking from them, and then making them drink from the vampire. Apparently it is this last which differs them from bite-induced-mind-slave status and status as late lunch.

Behaviour: The behaviour of the S. Stokerii differs vastly per sub-species. The Child Friendly Vampire almost never is shown engaging in vampiric behaviour (or will only hunt vegetables and chocolate milk) and typically will be a goofy, friendly eccentric. Meanwhile, the Horror Vampire (an increasingly rare breed) typically hunts – menacingly, from the shadows – at night and prefers spooky, environments with lots of jump scares. It has been having increasing difficulty finding suitably eerie places to hunt unwary humans in modern times as smartphones and city living do not often blend well with the creeping dread it likes to associate with. Occasionally, it will adapt well to this environment and disguise itself as its cousin – the Paranormal Romance Vampire – until it is too late for the victim to fight back (in the event that the victim is a blonde teenage girl, this is unlikely to go well anyway, but they try). The Paranormal Romance Vampire is tends to prefer either small towns or big cities, especially nightclubs, and is usually the vampiric equivalent of a health nut on a vegetarian or vegan fad (as opposed to actually being consistently vegetarian or vegan). Sadly, most Paranormal Romance Vampires, although fighting their dietary requirements (often with copious, unnecessary, angst), still take their hunting methods from their cousins the Horror Vampires, which can often result in problems (or meta-problems) given that those methods are suitable for killing, not wooing.

Competition: Primary competition differs per subspecies. The primary competition of the Horror Vampire is the Zombie (Braaains Braaains). The primary competition for the Paranormal Romance Vampire is the Paranormal Romance Werewolf (Lycaon Verpa), although it should be noted that the L. Verpa almost always loses its prey to the S. Stokerii Verpa unless it is hunting in a location free of its competition. The S. Stokerii Sesame has no known competition as it is friendly and gets along well with everyone, except the large purple dinosaur (Barneus Makeitstopus) which all creatures in their native habitat live in fear of meeting.

Pros and Cons in Television:

Pros: If you’re looking for a single-episode or arc villain, a Modern Vampire is an excellent choice on account of the fact that the basic rules and their variations are near universally known. As long as you don’t stray too far from the way everyone does them, your audience will have no difficulty understanding what is going on. Child Friendly Vampires can make good reoccurring minor characters in children’s television, while Horror Vampires can get away with fudging how they get around in their modern environments. Paranormal Romance Vampires can be good love interests, although it often becomes a case of “of course they’re going to win the love triangle”. In all of these cases, the makeup can be easily handled and special effects of that type are commonly enough done that they should not be difficult to figure out.

Cons: Modern Vampires are so common that within the first five minutes your subtle clues will have the audience screaming at the characters for being idiots because it’s “obviously” a vampire. Child Friendly Vampires must either have some alternate source of sustenance than blood or remain largely unexplored background characters else the moral guardians will complain. Horror Vampires can be difficult to pull off in most settings, so extra care must be taken to make them scary (and just adding more gore won’t necessarily cut it – besides, fake blood and all those effects will add up to huge costs if left unchecked). Meanwhile Paranormal Romance Vampires can make a show suffer from severe arc fatigue and create in story paradoxes if they behave more humanely, due to being a love interest, than the rules of the show imply are possible. Finally, given that everyone and their grandmother do vampires, the special effects have to be damn good and that’s expensive – especially if the vampire is a reoccurring character or, worse, on the main cast!

Pros and Cons in Film:

Pros: Modern Vampires are well known enough that a film dedicated to them can take the time to thoroughly explore the concept and get creative. Horror vampires tend to thrive in this environment and a film budget often has more room for good looking special and makeup effects. Many of the things which have become cliché in books and television have gone mostly unexplored in this medium and therefore will seem fresh and new.

Cons: In all Modern Vampire films there can be an overdependence on special effects and clichés (werewolf/vampire war with tragic star crossed lovers, anyone?) Horror based Modern Vampires in film are beginning to run out of new things to do with themselves, consequently most audiences can identify what is going to happen and when and thus cease to be scared. A feature film length time spent on a Child Friendly Vampire is nigh on impossible without offending the supervising adults somehow. Paranormal Romance Vampires have difficulty adjusting to a medium where their irresistible attractiveness can be judged by a viewing audience rather than described vaguely and left to the imagination. As filmgoers still associate the vampire in film with horror more than romance, there is considerable difficulty in being taken seriously – a fact which even romantic comedy setups cannot necessarily fix, as Paranormal Romance Vampires hunting-turned-wooing techniques can be much harder to portray as romantic rather than horrific sexual assault when you cannot climb into the character’s head (attempts to get around thins with voiceovers generally just make it worse).

Pros and Cons in Theatre:

Pros: Modern Vampires are exceedingly rare in theatre, with the exclusion of a musical or two specifically focused on them and an uncommon performance of Dracula, and so can be an unexpected enemy, background puppet, or dark secret for the love interest. The preference for large makeup on stage can also allow for more exaggerated or traditional costume and make up to not look as ridiculous as it would on screen. Again, the vampire is so well known that very little effort is required to ensure comprehension on part of the audience.

Cons: As the black cloaks originally used to make them disappear on stage have become standard vampire wear, other – more expensive – special effects are now required to allow vampires to seemingly vanish on stage. Actors with fake fangs – especially those large enough to be seen from the audience – will have a bloody difficult time enunciating clearly enough that the audience will be able to understand them. Fake blood is an absolute bugger in live performances, no matter how large your crew of stagehands are and often must be replaced (expensive) every show because you’ll always loose a significant amount to the floor.

Pros and Cons in Books:

Pros: Modern Vampires are exceedingly popular in fiction at the moment, which means you have a pre-made audience. Modern Vampires can work in just about any genre – from storybooks to horror to romance to detective fiction, et cetera – and the benefit of the written word is that you can get more rule and lore building done for your specific vampires than you could get away with in the long speeches which other formats would require. Vampires are also cheap in fiction, as you can get lavish with things that – to produce in a visual medium – would require massively expensive special effects.

Cons: No matter what idea you had, no matter how original, it’s already been done. The Modern Vampire is not yet one hundred years old and yet everything has been done. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it again, and possibly do it better, but it’s been done. Many people are sick of vampires and wave all of it off as “teen porn”. That being said: as of the last two decades; if you are writing any genre that is not Paranormal Romance and it isn’t obviously a storybook for toddlers, you will find your work being misplaced and mislabelled as Paranormal Romance. If by some miracle it is put in the right genre (or you are writing in the common genre) the chances that anyone will actually read your work are slim because they will have to wade through ten billion other books with the exact same premise to get to it.

 

URGH. That was an exhaustingly long post. Sorry.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2016 in On Folklore

 

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V is for Vampire Part Two: A Bite Sized History

The irony of detailing any folkloric creature’s history is that at some point you will find yourself recounting the history of creatures which are no longer even remotely the same as the creature you set out to discuss. This leaves the writer with a dilemma: describe all of the vaguely similar folklore leading up to what is definitely the early forms of the creature in question, or give a less than complete description of the origin of the species (okay, okay, bad pun) and focus on that folklore which is definitely related to that creature – rather than just any vaguely similar creature or which could be related but which is missing links to connect the two.

I could begin by talking about the history of vampiric beings in folklore, but this is supposed to be about the history of the vampire – which overlaps, but is somewhat different. Certainly, the idea that something supernatural could be sucking human blood for food or nefarious purposes is far older than the idea of the vampire, and the idea of supernatural bloodsuckers would therefore have already been in the minds of our species as a whole by the time the vampire was invented, there is no real causal link between, say, the vampire and the Indian Vetala (a ghost-like creature which takes over a dead body).

A good place to start might be mentioning that some of the oldest known depictions of vampiric behaviour (the consumption of human blood) can be found on Ancient Persian pottery (for the record, given that I’ve been flabbergasted in the past by people who thought it was fictional; Persia is an Ancient Greek name for Iran) . It would be tempting to suggest that the vampire might be the result of Ancient Greek and Roman stories of Empusa (a demigoddess who caused sleep-paralysis in young men and drank their blood – but who has more parallels with the succubus than the vampire) and Lamia (a lover of Zeus whose children were murdered by Hera and who took to eating children in vengeance). It is very tempting to suggest that there may be some mixing of those Greco-Roman creatures and the Assyrian & Babylonian Lilitu – which it is believed may have given rise to the later stories of Lilith in the Abrahamic mythology – and that many centuries later this mixed of demonic, humanoid, often beautiful, blood-suckers gave rise to the Eastern European vampire that we all think we know and the subsequent Western Literary vampire which we all actually do know. It is tempting. It is also inappropriate and erroneous to imply such a direct link as records in those days were not so plentiful and we just don’t know. Similarly, a link between the vampire and the Estries of Jewish myth (recorded as early as 1465) is a tempting theory – we know them both in modern times as typically good looking bloodsuckers who can shape shift, can fly and have an association with cats. Indeed, modern depictions of estries often give them vampires’ weaknesses. However, this theory – just as the previous theory – has problems. Specifically, they make connections to earlier mythical beings which match the more modern depiction of the vampire, rather than the older and more traditional forms.

So where can we start without risking that we are going down the wrong road entirely? Well, obviously no matter what we do the earliest recording of a folkloric creature will inevitably occur much later than the idea comes into being, as to be believed enough to be passed down an idea needs time to grow and become common enough to seem reasonable. In this way, a background of Christian (and earlier Jewish and Babylonian and Assyrian and – you get the picture) demonology would have been fertile ground for such an idea as the older forms of vampire, but we cannot prove a direct link.

The vampire originated at some point in the Medieval Period (that is: 5th to 15th centuries) and can be presumed to have been present by the High Medieval Period (11th through 13th centuries) but may have already begun in the very late Early Medieval Period (5th through 10th centuries), as deviant burials found in Kilteasheen, Ireland, which date from the 8th century are believed to predate the idea of vampires. Certainly, as the vampire is of Eastern European origin and tales of them become less natively common with each body of water crossed (Danube, Irish Sea, North Sea, English Channel, Rhone, etc) for all that those more Western places have their own creatures of lore, the Kilteasheen burials can be said to predate the concept of the vampire in Ireland.

It is also worth noting that deviant burials (often erroneously called “Vampire burials”) could have begun in response to any number of revenant (that is: visible ghost or reanimated corpse) stories. The Strzyga (a type of female demon) of Slavic, and especially Polish, lore certainly was prevented from returning to the world of the living in this manner. Indeed, as vampires in their earliest forms are less like reanimated corpses and more akin to demonic poltergeists, it seems quite likely that as vampires of lore became embodied so too did the burial practises aimed at the other supernatural un-dead become adopted into their lore. A deviant (not vampire!) burial, for those of you who’ve been wondering, is a burial which is deliberately unlike the cultural norm – typically found with items meant to prevent the body coming out of the grave (rocks or bricks wedged in the mouth, a sickle placed across the neck, metal spikes driven through the corpse, etc) or in an unusual position (head separate or beneath the buttocks, head and arms in a skull and crossbones position, buried facing downward so that it would claw its way out in the wrong direction and wind up in Australia where it wouldn’t be noticed because everything there is trying to kill you anyway, etc).

Etymology, also, is quite useless in determining when vampire lore came into being. We can date the arrival of the word and concept into English at 1734, quite late in the game, in reference to matters in Eastern Europe, and which came to English via German (and possibly French) from the Serbian vampir. Unfortunately, determining where the word vampir itself came from – not to mention the origins and first meanings of its related terms; upir in Old East Slavic, Czech and Slovak, upyr in Old Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian, vampir in Bulgarian, Croatian and Macedonian, Iampir in Bosnian and finally upior and wapierz in Polish – is made exceedingly difficult by poor historical record keeping (that is to say people back then had better things to worry about) and lingual exchange. A piece of Christian propaganda in Old Russian dating from within the High Medieval Period (11th to 13th centuries) refers to the worship of upyri which could be a reference to older vampire lore, however as it was in an anti-pagan treatise all the information included therein is highly questionable. All we can say for certain, without taking a time machine to go demand answers from the person who wrote it, is that something called an upyr (presuming that upyri was a plural) existed in the native folklore at the time.

In the 12th century accounts from William of Newburgh (Newbury) and Walter Map give accounts of revenants which are traditionally associated with the history of the vampire; however it should not be forgotten that the older vampire legends have far less in common with revenants than they do with demons and poltergeists. Typically, older vampire lore describes the vampire as first non-corporeal or as a gelatinous lump (often a boneless “bag of blood” ) which only gains bones and a more human form after a certain amount of time (often forty days) and a sufficient amount of bloodsucking (sometimes done through a furry snout). Such older-lore vampires would often be invisible at first.

The first accepted record of a person being described as a vampire came in 1672; from the village of Kringa on the Istrian peninsula in what is currently Croatia. Jure Grando Alilovič was a peasant, who lived from 1579 to 1656, and was reported to return from his grave at night (some sixteen years after his death) to terrorise the village by knocking on their doors (foretelling a death in the house within a few days) and sexually assaulting his widow. As attempts to stake him with a stick of Hawthorn failed, he was eventually decapitated. His children were forced to flee the area. However, it is very important to note that the word used to describe Grando was strigoi (a somewhat more sorcerer and/or poltergeist like being from Romanian lore, being the troubled soul of a dead person rising from the grave or a living person with magical properties) not vampir.

Then in 1718, Austrian officials in newly-Austria ruled northern Serbia became aware of a local – and presumably relatively longstanding – practise of exhuming and killing vampires. The reports of the officers, prepared through 1725 and 1732, became a massive inspiration for gossip and panic alike, thus beginning what is now called the 18th Century Vampire Controversy – during which massive numbers of stakings and panics occurred (think pop-culturally-inaccurate-witch-trials-panic). The panic, I should add, occurred even though (or, rather, because) government officials widely publicised their investigations into the supposed vampirism of Petar Blagojevich and Arnold Paole (both Serbian). Blagojevich, in particular, is believed to have been the case which solidified much of the traditional image of vampires in popular knowledge – an image which did not significantly change until Bram Stoker came along. After Blagojevich’s death, within the next eight days, many people died of sudden maladies, claiming that he throttled them. The exhumed body showed all the signs of what we now know as decomposition (skin receding and giving the appearance of new nail and hair growth, bloating with decomp gasses and fluids giving the corpse a fat and ruddy appearance, and blood at the mouth). He was subsequently staked and his body burned.

The 18th Century Vampire Controversy raged until the Empress of Austria sent her own physician – Gerard van Swieten, b.1700-d.1772 – to Moravia to investigate the matter. Van Swieten recognised decomposition and panic for what they were and on his advice the Empress banned all further attempts to kill “vampires”.

Now, vampires had already been appearing in poetry in literature for quite some time (Heinrich August Ossenfelder’s 1748 poem The Vampire, for example) but it wasn’t until John Polidori’s 1819 short-story The Vampyre (featuring Lord Ruthven, who was based on Polidori’s patient Lord Byron) that vampires began to leave their traditional, rotting and bloated, roots and transform into the “original” vampires of Western fictional tradition. The modern vampire came most irreversibly to take over the meaning of “vampire” for most people in Bram Stoker’s 1897 massive act of cultural appropriation, ahem, novel Dracula, which at the time was considered quite risqué. Stoker’s creation cemented the idea that vampires were aristocrats, rather than peasants or overripe vegetables as was traditional, and the association with fangs and bats. Bats, specifically, were not involved in traditional folklore regarding vampires – owls were. Indeed, the associated creature Strzyga, from Slavic myth, has its etymological roots in the Latin strix (owl) and some believed that the Strzyga is the etymological root of the Strigoi.

But I digress. Stoker’s Dracula was not affected by sunlight (this came from the 1922 film Nosferatu), nor did he wear a cloak (an invention of 1920s stage plays done in order to allow an actor to ‘vanish’ while in the audience’s sight), and it was only due to Stoker’s cultural appropriation that Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (also known as Vlad Tepes or Vlad Drăculea) ever became associated with vampirism. Admittedly, Vlad III was already known as the Impaler, but being known for impaling one’s enemies is hardly the most ruthless or bizarre thing rulers of that era did. Indeed, in Romania, Vlad III is known as a folk hero because he prevented the Ottoman Turks from invading – and history has long proven that for the people being invaded a successful invasion is never good news. The patronymic epithet Dracula has often been mis-attributed to devilishness, however in truth it comes from Latin draco – dragon – and was not nearly as negative as it is now assumed. Thanks to Bram Stoker deciding to pinch that because it sounded cool, Romania has suffered through proof of how damaging cultural appropriation can actually be, as most people in the modern world only know it as “that place in Eastern Europe where Dracula came from and no one can pronounce their ws”.

This brings me to my last point in our abridged (yes, abridged) tour of the history of the vampire: Dracula, despite living from 1431 to 1476/7, was never associated with vampirism until Stoker came along in 1897 and therefore he is a modern addition to the folklore. This is mirrored by the case of Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (alternately: Ecsedi Báthory Erzsébet) who lived from 1560 to 1614, was from a noble Hungarian family, and was put on trial for the supposed murders of up to 650 women. Nevertheless, it was only in modern times – long after her imprisonment in a locked and walled up set of chambers as punishment for her declared guilt – that she became associated with vampire lore and compared to Vlad III. It is also worth noting that when Bathory was accused of being a murderer, it was only after her husband had died and the king owed her family an awful lot of money. Furthermore, her son and sons-in-law organised a verdict with the king which would allow them to keep their own property (and large amount of inherited money) and the king’s debt would be wiped away. Whether this means that Bathory was not guilty, or that the crimes were exaggerated, is impossible to tell. She may well have been the monster she was viewed as at the time, but the version of her in modern vampire folklore is significantly different than the historical figure.

And so, patient readers, we come to the end of our investigation into the history of the vampire and can conclude that the traditional or ruddy vampire came into being somewhen in the High Middle Ages (11th through 13th centuries) and was popularised in the 18th century, while the modern vampire – despite beginning to coalesce in the 1890s – is truly no older than the 1920s, created by imitators of Stoker, some of whom may well have never read his book. And now, in the modern era, the vampire is changing again – turning from threat to lust object, slipping away from its demonic and revenant roots into something crossed between an angel, a drug addict and an incubus.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2015 in On Folklore

 

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V is for Vampire (Part 1)

This post, due to the huge umbrella which “Vampire” covers, is just an introductory post – first in the Bestiary I’m compiling in the On Folklore category – and I will go into more detail on the modern and traditional vampires in later posts, as well as giving each named type (Strigoi, Moroi, Mullo, Dhampir, et cetera) it’s own entry. When I eventually cover other, less common and/or less debatable, creatures from folklore, I hope to be able to cover everything (nature, history, causes, meta-causes, pros and cons in film, television, stage and page, and other notes) in a single, or pair, of posts per creature. But in my typically over-enthusiastic way, I’ve started with a hugely complicated and contradictory creature.

So. Welcome to the Bestiary.

V is for Vampire

What is a Vampire? It sounds like a ridiculously easy question to answer, given the sheer oversaturation of vampires in modern fiction, but it truth it couldn’t be more complicated. In folkloristics “vampire” is sometimes used as a blanket term for any creature from folklore which falls under a very wide umbrella of un-death or blood drinking, or sometimes both. However, if you ask a fan of paranormal romance fiction, they will tell you that vampires are immortal, brooding, sex-gods who sparkle in sunshine, while many modern people simultaneously face-palm because they “know” that vampires are un-dead, blood-drinking monsters who are destroyed by sunlight and that the paranormal romance fans are just ruining the entire concept of vampires because they’re straying from the original and embarrassing themselves. Meanwhile, in some of the more traditional and remote villages that still exist in the places where the lore of vampires originated (remote here meaning that it’s a bit hard to get Wi-Fi, not that they’re still living as 17th century peasants) they might tell you that a vampire is a loved one’s spirit which has not been laid to rest properly and needs to be set free – and then someone less traditional will disagree, the media will turn it into a culturally offensive circus, and the entire thing will end in lawsuits.

The key to understanding folklore is that “older” does not mean “better” or “truer” and that nothing in the subject has one “right” answer. Two equally old tales from neighbouring villages may tell completely different truths about some lore. Neither village is wrong. They most fascinating facet of folklore is that the facts change with time and location – we cannot say what definitely started something, even if we can get a rough history of an idea, we cannot say that something is right or wrong; merely observe how (and the possible whys of) its changing. More importantly, we have to remember that folklore did not stop existing in the time of picket fences around thatch-roofed cottages: we are still creating new folklore every day, so Meyer’s sparkle-pires (no matter how unrelated to all vampire lore which came before them and how much they may seem to be other creatures from legend simply misnamed) are not wrong or less true to the “real” vampire than Bram Stoker’s Dracula (who, by the way, was NOT harmed by sunlight – he just couldn’t shape shift in it). Indeed, while it is the Stokeresque vampire which is most prevalent in the modern mind, much of Stoker’s Dracula was as different from the traditional lore as Meyer’s Sparkle-pires are. That all being said: Meyer’s sparkle-pire work may not be guilty of being untrue to the “real” vampire, but – unlike Stoker’s Dracula – it is guilty of being very bad (that is: poor to no quality) writing. But I digress.

In truth the modern vampire of fiction (typically: a pale, aristocratic, fanged bloodsucker which can turn into a bat, which creates new vampires by infecting them, which is inevitably either wholly malevolent or tragically misunderstood with a chance of brooding, and which may or may not have mind control powers to explain its sexualised enticing aura) is so far removed from the traditional vampire folklore (most often: a fangless, bloated, ruddy, un-dead corpse which is – for various reasons – causing harm to the living with its presence but not necessarily meaning harm, often viewed as a disease victim, but sometimes an apparently living, hypersexual, dead loved one or red-headed albino who reproduces like normal people and can go undetected for decades) that it is almost laughable to claim that they are from the folklore of Romania and its neighbouring countries.

What Do Vampires Represent? Probably nothing. No. I’m serious. There’s a considerable erroneous belief about folklore amongst the general population – thanks (sarcastically) to armchair psychology and overly-analytical professional psychologists who neglect to consider human nature when they explain human nature – that everything must represent something (and that’s singular, both meaning more than one thing and meaning nothing are often dismissed in favour of academics and amateurs battling out their theories). Insofar as our ancient ancestors were concerned, however, they were just as much normal humans as we are and just as likely to imagine having wings because that looks cool or come up with scary stories just to spook their siblings as we are. Vampires don’t have to be a subconscious projection of anything, nor a metaphor for addiction (as commonly assumed, whether intended in the portrayal or not, of modern vampire fiction), nor subtly tied to the American political parties (ever going up and down in popularity as the foreign, minority sucking the lifeblood from society, while opposed to the mindless consumption of the Zombie) because America is not the centre of the universe and it’s about time it admitted that. However, it is worth noting that traditional vampires were often associated with illness and rot, as can be seen through both the tales left behind and an analysis of their weaknesses and the apotropaics (a type of magic which wards off harmful things) which shows that many of the items meant to keep them away were actually disinfectants and cleaners (silver, running water, holy water, salt, garlic, etc).

Why Did People Invent Vampires? The most common explanation for how people, once upon a time in a land which – depending on where you read this from – you might actually be in right now, is that people from pre-industrial societies did not fully comprehend how decomposition works and therefore would observe that recently buried bodies appeared to be growing new hair and nails (those don’t keep growing, by the way, it’s just your skin shrinking), groaning (that’s decomp gasses moving and giving you post-mortem flatulence), were no longer stiff from death (that’s because rigor mortis only lasts for about forty-eight to sixty hours; long enough to last the wake, but gone after burial), appeared ruddy (decomp juices again) and sometimes had blood oozing from the nose and mouth (again, not unusual in decomposition). Other popular theories include: to explain illnesses like TB (“consumption” in the Victorian era, which was considered a very romantic way to die) which were contagious and thus made it seem that an invisible killer would take out entire families after the first victim died, to explain premature burial (all of the reasons of misunderstanding decomposition, but with the added bonus of fingernails scratching on the inside of the coffin), and to explain physical and mental illnesses such as Porphyria (mostly debunked as the symptoms it had in similarity to vampirism were in similarity to modern fictional vampirism and not the older vampire of folklore), rabies (symptoms include biting, frothing at the mouth, problems with sunlight – again too modern for the origin – and garlic, according to folklore problems with looking at their reflection; which is questionable in value as evidence as the no-reflections rule of vampires came from their silver allergy in a time when mirrors were backed with silver, disrupted sleep patterns and hyper sexuality), OCD (traditionally vampires could not cope with messy ropes, had to count any spilled grain no matter what they’d been doing before that, could not enter without permission, and could not cope with crossroads) and some forms of albinism.

The truth is: all of the above. Folkloric beliefs almost never come from one single source or have one single explanation. One town might have had a premature burial and dug someone up to find they looked as if they had been drinking the blood of the living, and if a rumour of that spread to two towns – one where the family of a mentally ill person had been sick with a contagious disease recently, and one where an unusual looking person had recently travelled through and played a few practical jokes – then within three towns you would easily have three completely different vampire legends spring up, based on their experiences and how the tales would change as they heard rumours from the other villages.

 

So, that was fun. I hope you enjoyed it. At some point soon I will write and post the next part of this little series on vampires (probably a history of the concept). Sometime after that, I’ll make posts on the modern and all more traditional types of vampire – nature, appearance, behaviour, causes, weaknesses, and the pros and cons of each type in various mediums of fiction. These take more research than my On Writing rants, which I will also be continuing, so these will comes more slowly and intermittently.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2015 in On Folklore

 

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