A History of Vampires

This was too good NOT to reblog! Check out this great post from Lisa Binion’s blog, The News in Books. Here’s the link to her blog: http://www.thenewsinbooks.com/vampires/


The history of the belief in vampires in fascinating.  Surrounded by various myths and legends, they have been ensured a place in the world of fiction. Legends of vampires have been around for a very long time, but the creatures who displayed the traits of a vampire were not always called by that name.  Babylon and Assyria had beings that feasted on the blood of babies, as well as some that roamed throughout their cities and killed men.  With the existence of such creatures, Babylon and Assyria would not have been pleasant places to live. India had ghouls that lived in dead people. Persia claimed to have demonic creatures that drank human blood, while demons that sucked blood from people and devoured babies were said to roam Europe.  So living in Europe wouldn’t have been a lot of fun either.

Lord Ruthven public domain image

Lord Ruthven public domain image

Before Dracula, who is probably the most famous vampire ever, there was Ruthven from The Vampyre: a Tale.  Although Dracula is way more well known, Ruthven was the first aristocratic vampire.  I would love to question John Williamson Palidori about his creation of Ruthven.  Palidori has been dead for quite some time though. I would also love to know more of what went through Bram Stoker’s mind as he was creating the most famous vampire of all time.  Unfortunately, he isn’t around today for me to interview either.  One of the questions I would ask him is where he got his inspiration for the character of Dracula.  I realize that is a pretty common question to ask an author, but there are a couple of different theories floating around as to where he got his inspiration.

Wikipedia image of Vlad the Impaler

Wikipedia image of Vlad the Impaler

I have always heard that Vlad the Impaler, who came from the House of Draculesti, was the inspiration for Dracula.  He ruled in what is now known as Romania from 1455-1462.  Considered a hero by those he ruled over, he had a habit of impaling his enemies.  It is said that he took great pleasure in sadistically torturing and killing them.  Sounds like a pretty good person to base the character of Dracula on.  But there is another possibility. Bram Stoker was a rather sickly child.  Until he was seven years old, he was bedridden, so all he had to do was listen to the stories his mother told him.  Most of these stories were about his family, including Manus “the Magnificent” O’Donnell.  He was an Irish chieftain who led a rebellion against King Henry VIII.  While leading the rebellion, it is probable that he had some pretty violent, bloody moments.  He also once ruled over much of Ireland. A young child listening to stories about what his heroic ancestor did would most likely dream up some pretty awesome tales.  They had no television, no radio, not telephones, no video games.  His only escape from boredom would have been books, the tales his mom told him, and his imagination.  And, as I have learned from experience, characters based on people that are in your family are super easy to develop. I think that maybe Dracula was a combination of the two men, but the only way to know for sure would be to ask the man whose imagination gave birth to him. Writers today have taken the traits of the original Dracula and played with them to create their own version of this blood-sucking creature.

public domain image of Bela Lugosi as Dracula

public domain image of Bela Lugosi as Dracula

What are the traits of the vampire created by Bram Stoker?

  • Unless he is unfortunate enough for his head to be chopped off or have a stake driven through his heart, he (or she) is immortal.
  • Drinking the blood of others is what enables him to survive.
  • How strong is he?  His strength would be equal to that of twenty men.
  • Not only can he transform into a bat, he can also assume the shape of a wolf.  (I have never read about a vampire assuming the shape of a wolf.  Maybe I’ve not read enough vampire books.)
  • He can appear as mist floating through the air.
  • He can’t look in a mirror to fix his hair because his reflection won’t appear in the looking glass.
  • He can easily sneak behind someone in the sunlight because he doesn’t cast a shadow.  But even though he can go out in the sun, his supernatural powers are greatly diminished until evening.
  • He has a hypnotic power over his victims, and he can turn them into vampires.
  • He may not enter a household unless invited inside.
  • He has to sleep on soil from his native land, so he usually puts this soil in his coffin.
  • He is not able to cross running water.
  • He can be warded off by garlic or holy objects such as a rosary, holy water, crucifix, etc.

Count  Vladislaus Dracula (Richard Roxburgh),Van Helsing, http://www.whatsupmovies.com/top-20-sexiest-vampires/

Count Vladislaus Dracula (Richard Roxburgh),Van Helsing, http://www.whatsupmovies.com/top-20-sexiest-vampires/

What about ‘modern’ vampires?  In addition to the above, they could also have the following traits:

  • Dracula did not have fangs, but the modern vampire has them along with extra-large teeth.
  • His (or her) skin is perfect and pale, and he his youthful beauty doesn’t fade.
  • Seen as mysterious, he mostly wears black clothing.
  • He can read the thoughts of potential victims and move faster than is possible for a mere human.
  • He is a sexual predator.
  • He sparkles in the sunlight.
  • His night vision is fantastic.
  • He has no soul.

If you know of any more traits of either Dracula or modern-day vampires, let me know.  I’m sure there are a few I missed.

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