This was originally published on the silveroak bookstore website in 1998
Vampires. The evil undead. Nosferatu. Fanged immortals. They want to steal your life’s blood from your veins, and these days they’re everywhere.
Good, bad and yes, even ugly, we’re obsessed with them, now more than ever, in the media and in real life. Increasingly Vampires are portrayed as seductive, sexual, charismatic folk with mind-fuzzing, often erotic power over mortals.
Despite our almost lemming-like attraction to these toothy bringers of blood sucking death, our human need to live on the edge, our curiosity for dark things, there are few of us who wouldn’t scream like a girl if said Vamp actually clamped onto our neck in a darkened alley. Messing your underwear isn’t particularly seductive now is it?
So what’s a girl (or guy) to do?
Assuming you aren’t gonna fall into its arms in joyful abandonment to your fate (you aren’t right? Please, say you aren’t?) you need some ammunition. Read on!
Perhaps the very reason we as a population are becoming more infatuated and less terrorised by the Vampire is a change in the way they are portrayed. Take a look at a few examples in our short timeline..
- Ancient Egypt – The dead walked in the night and killed villagers.
- 1400’s – Vlad ‘the Impaler’ remorselessly killed hundreds, dipped bread in their collected blood, and ate it.
- 1604 – The ‘Blood Countess’ had her victims drained and then bathed in and drank their blood in hope of eternal youth.
- 17th century – Vampire plagues in eastern Europe. Vampires killed victims in their sleep. Once a victim was bitten they would become a Vampire too. Locals referred to them as ‘nosferatu’. This began the practice of staking the dead.
- 1819 – The Vampyre by Dr Polidori, a long time friend of Byron’s. This is when aristocratic Vampirism shows up.
- 1890 – Dracula. Vampires in this book have no reflection in mirrors and can fly to some degree. They can also transform into mist or wolves. Dracula is portrayed as ugly with sharp teeth.
- 1931 – In the cinematic release of Dracula he is no longer ugly.
- 1976 – Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles begin. They portray Vampires as emotional creatures with their own code of honor, capable of loving, no longer only evil.
As you can see, villagers, writers and producers throughout the years keep changing the story. All our traditional means of vampire defense are myths, shrouded in confusion. Fighting vampires is harder than it used to be.
For instance, take the Stake, widely reknowned for killing a vampire when thrust through its heart. Looking at the evidence, if you were to try this the creature may just laugh and bite you anyway. Not because it’s hard to aim that thrust heartwards in the heat of the moment, not even because breaking through ribs, breastbone and clothing with a pointy stick of wood could prove a tad difficult.
The stake was brought into use in the 17th century when people believed that driving a stake through a corpse’s stomach or back and into the ground beneath would prevent it from being able to rise.
In later years people also believed that a stake in the heart killed by preventing essential blood from being pumped around the body. Today it seems to be a mystery whether Vampire’s hearts actually pump, however.
Others believed it was the wood itself which killed the Vampire, and most commonly recommended Ash. This leads to today’s theories on wooden darts and carbon bullets.
Staking will bring you a world of trouble though.
The Saxon law which allowed vampires in England to be legitimately staked in their grave was repealed in 1823, so unless you’re bribing the magistrate, pleas of ‘He was going to suck my blood!’ will probably land you in the local psychiatric ward. The law only applied to a staking-within-grave context anyhow.
Let’s face it though, even if stakes would work in this day and age the smart Vamp is wearing the latest in bullet proof vests, so at best you’ll have something to prod the creature away with.
Crosses, Crucifixes, Eucharists and Holy Water have been in widespread use in the media for some years as an effective ward against the undead, keeping them at bay, draining their strength, burning the skin, or in some cases setting the whole being aflame.
This stems from the belief that Vampirism is satanic and therefore can be combatted with godly artifacts which represent the power of Christ. In these days when we have tens of thousands of religions, can we honestly hope that a Christian symbol will have an effect on these beings?
The destructive power of sunlight belongs solely to the modern day vampire. Vampires can experience weakness, severe sunburn or indeed internal combustion when faced with sunlight, but these are unlikely to have been traits associated with Vampirism until later years. In ancient times they usually could walk in the day. It was presumed that Vampires would attack at night in order to catch their victims unawares while they slept, as opposed to having any actual problem with daylight.
The myth was also probably given more tangible reality by such physical explanations as Erythropoietic Protoporphyria or its variants. This disorder is said to induce the body to produce an excess porphyria, which results not only in excess redness of the eyes, skin and teeth, but also a receding of the upper lip and cracking of the skin, which bleeds when exposed to light. It has been suggested that doctors of the day could only treat sufferers by secluding them during the day and by persuading them to drink blood to replace that lost by bleeding. The Health Service has it’s failings, but man, we’ve come a long way.
As films like Blade have so adeptly shown however, the vampire community, if it actually suffers from this affliction in this age, has moved with the times and powerful sunblocks and specially woven protective fabrics now mean they are having as much fun in the sun as we are. If you manage sun exposure during your fight the effects are at best uncertain.
Decaptitation has always been a favorite of the more brutal (or perhaps desperate?) Vampire hunter. While this suggests death, or at least inanimation to most, other folklore would have us believe that it will only serve as a deterrant, the hapless, headless Vampire would still live, and a fervent hunt for its own head would ensue. To this end the severed heads were often buried in a seperate grave in an attempt to hide them from the foul creature.
It seems that decapitation is one of the few methods which has survived until the present day without being overly disputed. Films like From Dusk Til Dawn certainly have beheaded Vamps regrowing their heads, but then again there’s only so much information you can derive from a film that has the thing turn promptly into some kind of hairless vampiric dog-beast.
Unfortunately man no longer scampers about his day with trusty sword strapped to hip, so unless you’re a butcher decapitation isn’t going to be at all easy.
Garlic continues to grow more popular as a Vampire repellant. Traditionally the vampire’s mouth would be stuffed with garlic and sewn shut. It is often depicted around the neck or over a doorway to ward off vampiric attack. In slavic countries an aversion to eating garlic was often considered to be a telltale sign of Vampirism. There are mixed feelings about garlic among modern day Vamps, but one fact about garlic remains true. It stinks. Yes, it might scatter every Vamp within a mile, but then, if it scatters every potential date within a mile too you have to question its worth.
Fire has long been considered an effective way to kill vampires. Since Pagan times it has been significant in ritual and symbolic of cleansing. In many books and films fire is the only way to kill a vampire. In any case it is considerably damaging to the undead body, so if you fancy yourself as a bit of an arsonist this could work (assuming you have a light and a nearby building to lure them into). What you tell the police when they show up is another story entirely.
Vampire reflection (or lack thereof) continues to be one of the more fantastical aspects of the Vampire legend, and yet belief in it remains widespread. Mostly they have no reflection, which in some cases distresses the Vampire and results in a strong dislike of mirrors. In other tales Vampires cannot stand to see their true ugliness in a mirror. These days this late-starting legend (introduced in Dracula) has extended into electronics, with Vamps unable to be recorded on film and (in the case of Ultraviolet) unable to use cell phones, as their voices will not carry electronically. This legend may have enhanced the detective capabilities of the Vampire hunting industry, but unfortunately it isn’t much use when the sodding thing has already grabbed you.
Old favorites which don’t really show up these days at all include running water or a line of salt, which the Vampire cannot cross, or throwing seeds in a Vampire’s path which the Vampire will be compelled to stop and count in their entirety before continuing pursuit. If the need arises we recommend you try these, but keep running just in case.
One worrying fact about your battle with any Vampire has got to be their supernatural abilities. There truly isn’t any way to tell if Vampires really have superior strength and speed, fast healing and regenerative powers, enhanced hearing and sight or the ability to defy gravity. Not to mention mind control, animal servants and shapeshifting abilities.
Legends have told of Vampires dissipating into dust or mist, or transforming into owls, bats, wolves or cats. Other stories suggest that Vampires have an affinity with certain animals, most often wolves, and can choose to see through their eyes at will. Tales of the Vampire’s hypnotic eyes and mind controlling abilities abound, particularly his ability to gain a sexual influence over victims.
Unfortunately there really are no ways to combat these supernatural powers, so our words to anyone who finds out the truth of these matters would be ‘You’re screwed, but before you expire do try to scribble a note to let the rest of us know’.
In fact the vampire legend today is such a mishmash of ‘facts’ and fiction that it seems it would be impossible to ever be prepared.
So if you do spot that pale handsome man with the hypnotic eyes of an evening, who won’t touch garlic, despises religion and has a wisdom and weariness beyond his years, beware – he’s likely to be a nightshift worker for the post office.
And if you really find yourself in that dark alley with a creature of the night on your neck… perhaps you may as well fall into its arms with joyful abandon.
There’s a vast mixture of Vampire literature which varies from the wildly fantastical to the simply factual.
For books which look at the history, legends and influence of the vampire try Vampires – The Occult Truth by Konstantinos , The Science of Vampires by Katherine M. Ramsland, Vampires and Vampirism: Legends from Around the World by Dudley Wright, or Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Stalk the Night by Bob Curran.
If you prefer fiction check out Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series, Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, or Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. And what about some Buffy The Vampire Slayer? How could we leave this one out, the Vampire’s greatest television hit? Besides, it gave the world David Boreanaz, and drives home the idea that girls can kick ass. There are lots and lots of novels and a really nice range of comics.
Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles are written from the Vampire’s perspective, each book telling some of the story of the Vampire race from it’s creation in Ancient Egypt until the modern day. These were some of the earliest books to really embrace the idea of vampires trying to exist alongside us, struggling with their immortality. Part of the series, Interview with the Vampire, was turned into a major motion picture starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. The two immediate sequels, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned were combined and released as one film and featured a different cast and director from the first, but still met with reasonable box office success.
Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series is for you if you are into Paranormal Romance. The first few are fun and interesting, but they get very raunchy later in the series.
The Supreme Court granted the undead equal rights, and most people think that vampires are simply ordinary folk with fangs. Anita knows better.
If you still aren’t sure, or want to read some reviews, Amazon have a page of Vampire fiction.
The astute among you may have noticed a distinct lack of sparkle. Should we hide the Twilight vamps away in a corner like an embarrassing relative at the family Christmas party, or are they no more angsty and deep than good old Louis was anyhow?
Do you have any other favourites?