Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ah, The Vampire.

 Lakeview Cemetery, Nashville MI. Photo by Rhonda Cook 
Vampires have been a passion of mine for twenty plus years, ever since my friend Jennifer introduced them to me in our early teens (and to Ouija boards and ghosts and other fun things). Her and I would go for walks through the local cemetery, a place we often hung out since it was so quiet and peaceful, and one of the prettier small town cemeteries I've been in, but I could just be partial. Another friend, Samantha, and I often walked the cemetery too, and it was her and I who wrote vampire stories together and stories about many other things, spook and non-spook alike. Something about the mythical creature has always allured me, perhaps it is my fear of blood (and needles) that, in some ironic way, has kept me intrigued with them. Or maybe it's their immortality, or strong yet weak nature. Maybe because they are denizens of the night. Whatever it is, I don't think about why I like them, I just do.
Lakeview Cemetery, Nashville MI. Photo by Rhonda Cook

There are as many variations of the vampire as there are cultures, culture having the greatest impact of the many types of vampires. The common Eastern European version of the vampire has taken many different forms, and more recently the sexy, angst ridden vampire has become the most popular. They weren't always this way. Vampires (this blog post will concentrate on the common European version) were originally described as hideous creatures with long fingers and ears, reeking of blood and death. Like this fella here:

Max Schreck in Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu.
Vampires were pretty much as mindless as zombies, but instead of wanting to eat your brains, they wanted to feed on your blood. They were pretty darn easy to kill, a stake through the heart pinned them down while one chopped off their head. Fire killed them. Sunlight did not, however. Hollywood brought that to us. Religious symbols could in some myths deter them. The best way to distract them was to leave piles of rice or better yet, salt, in the vampire's path, because of their obsessive compulsive behavior, they had to stop and count every damn grain before they could continue. They may have been as strong as ten men, but a thumb tack had sharper wits.

It wasn't until the 19th century when the vampire started its transformation from hideous, blood-sucking, smelly corpse, to the more lustful, cunning, and even dare say sympathetic mythical creature we know today. The first of these stories begins with John William Polidori's 1819 short story/novella, The Vampyre. Admittedly, when I read this story, I couldn't understand much of what was going on. The language is old; of course, it was written almost 200 years ago. But for the history of it all, I gave it a shot if only just to say I read the first story of the romantic vampire. My favorite vampire story of the 19th century is a novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, published in 1872 called Carmilla. Totally readable, and enjoyable, and the first book to depict a lesbian vampire. It is believed that this story may be the main inspiration for Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula. Which, of course, I have read. As much as I like and write vampires, I haven't read a whole lot of vampire fiction. For the more modern works of vampire literature, I've read Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire, George R. R. Martin's Fevre Dream (which is excellent, btw), and, I'll admit to it, I've read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight just to see what the fuss was about, but I had no desire to read the sequels. I prefer my vampire stories to be in a historical setting, not modern.
Illustration by Michael Fitzgerald for Le Fanu's story Carmilla in The Dark Blue (January 1872)

The word "vampire" made its first appearance in English in the year 1734 in a travelogue entitled Travels Of Three English Gentlemen, according to Wikipedia. The word had been in use in other languages with their own spelling variant for a time before the English version came to be, but the creature itself dates back to ancient times. Vampires have many names and many forms, but most have one thing that links them—blood. From Greek mythology we have Lamia, a queen of Libya who became a child-eating demon, sometimes depicted as having a serpent's tail below the waist. Then there's the strige, or "bird of ill-omen", which resembled a crow that flew only at night, sometimes in flocks, and pecked holes into their human victims to drink their blood. Then there are the Indian Rakshasa, who often took on the form of a human-tiger hybrid who were powerful sorcerers and ate the flesh and drank the blood of their victims. Not all vampires drank blood; some simply called psychic vampires fed off of emotions and life energies, driving their victims to suicidal thoughts and at worst, committing the act itself. Here's an old website I created back in the late nineties that I can't believe I'm linking to, but it contains some interesting information of vampire myths and the different kinds of vampires of other cultures. Don't laugh. It's bad, but not completely horrible. Yeah, it's an old Angelfire page, and if I had the old password and email address I used when I built it I would make corrections, or perhaps just delete it. But anywho...

I've talked a little about vampires in general. There is so much information on them and pictures on the web and in books that I'm not going to clutter up my blog with more. I will, however, talk a little about the vampire in my novel in progress, Draculești, since we're on the subject. You may remember her from a couple of past posts, like this one and this one.  The vampire in my novel is like a hybrid of wolf, vampire, and hellhound. She feeds on human blood and seems particularly fond of the blood of children, though she isn't fussy. Even other animals will do in a pinch. She, like other vampires, is active from dusk til dawn, and though she can come out to play during the day, her power is weakened. She appears most of the time in the form of an enormous black wolf with glowing blue eyes and has the ability to transform into a human if need be. Without giving too much of her away, I'll conclude with the one aspect of this creature that terrifies my main character, Vlad, above all else, above her cunning, her obsessive stalking of him, her sheer, intimidating size, above her tendencies to be ruthless when she kills, and that is her feeding upon the souls of her victims, trapped within the hell that is this monster forever crying and fighting to break free, never to reach the paradise of Heaven. Their souls fuel her power, their blood nourishes her body. And she has no remorse. The wolf often leaves Vlad her calling card, whether after a kill or before one, or to just intimidate; two words: Eris mihi.

Hors d'oeurves, anyone? Rendition of my hybrid vampire/hellhound, drawn by moi. 

As you can see, the vampire is a rather versatile creature. It keeps evolving and morphing; from a mindless and disgusting, blood-craving corpse to an attractive and cunning, blood-lusting corpse; a hybrid of animal and human, or just animal, or can transform into animal or mist; and in some stories they are depicted as aliens, or as humans infected by a virus that changes them into feral, blood-drinking creatures. And yet others need simply to hang out with their victims, draining them of their emotions and let the victims do the work of killing themselves. There is no right or wrong way to depict a vampire. They can be anything you wish them to be, though purists will raise their noses up and say, "That is not how a vampire is supposed to be" if it is depicted anything other than what is considered the norm. It's a creature of folklore and myth, ever-changing. It isn't just one thing, it is many things, and perhaps the vampire as we have come to know will morph into something new, and that will one day become the norm and how we all will depict the vampire.