GEEK VS. GEEK: VAMPIRE LORE – IT TAKES ALL KINDS
In her review of Seduced by Blood by Laurie London in last month’s issue, Geek Speak’s Paranormal Romance expert Amy Sharma said this:
“… vampire lore needs some sort of IEEE standard. Aside from the ridiculous Twilight sparkling, there are some things out there that need to be standardized. Can vamps go outside? (And let’s nix the special “vamp sunscreen”, that’s just lame.) Can they drink any blood, or must it be human? And what about garlic and personal invites into your home and crosses and mirrors? Can they breed? How does one become a vampire? Every time I pick up a vamp book, (which is a lot lately) I have to decipher a new set of vamp rules.”
While this, of course, made me chuckle – Amy’s funny – I also disagreed most strongly with its central thesis. Standardizing vampire lore? Making every storybook vampire the same? No! No, no, no, no, no. The very idea was anathema to me, as much as sunlight is to a vampire. Or, at least, as it is to some vampires.
And I like that it that way.
Let’s take a look back at the origin of the vampire myth, to that one single point in history about which we can definitively say: “That, right there! That is where the legend of the vampire began!” Oh, wait, sorry, we can’t do that, can we? Because humanity’s concept of the undead, blood-drinking nightwalker doesn’t date back to any particular source, cannot be ascribed to a single story, or historical detail, or even country; the theories behind our belief and/or fear and/or worship of such creatures are as plentiful as are the types of vampire themselves. Was it a Mesopotamian lie conjured to terrify the masses? Was it born out of Slavic religious practice? Was it Vlad the Impaler and his documented cannibalism? Was it people with rabies, or with some other medical condition, perhaps one that necessitated blood transfusions? Did it have something to do with patriarchal societies fearful of female sexuality? None of us knows. Nor will we, most likely, ever.
And it’s not like these historically legendary vampires – the lamia (Greek), or mullo (Romany), or Aluka (Hebrew), or mandurugo (Filipino), or ramanga (Madagascan), or Tunda (Colombian), so very etc. – all share the same characteristics, the same powers or even the same dietary requirements as each other. Throughout the millennia, and across the globe, their various appetites and activities have become increasingly multifarious; even in purely Western tradition, vampires (or, to be more ye olde about it, vampyres) don’t hold to one single template. So why shouldn’t fictional vampires – well, more fictional, as in those created by an author as opposed to a cultural tradition – get to be just as diverse and interesting?Back in Volume 1of this very publication, Geek Speak’s Editor at Large Kate Nagy and I offered up the lengthy feature article entitled Dead and Doing It. This was a list of twenty vampire Paranormal Romance and/or Urban Fantasy series, comprising of handy-dandy primers on each, and specifying such details as the Mythology, Powers and Weaknesses of their immortal denizens. Varying from the demonic to the magical to the mystically scientific – Lynsay Sands’s Argeneau clan are the result of nanobots from Atlantis! – the types of vampire therein mentioned are myriad, and their abilities range from the usual longevity, super-strength and speed to mind-control, flight and assorted telekenetic talents. Catch the gaze of one of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake-universe vampires, and they’ll make you their slave. Startle vampire librarian Jane Jameson, from her eponymous series by friend of Geek Speak Molly Harper, and you could find her clinging to the ceiling by only her fingernails. P. N. Elrod’s vampire P. I., the noir-cool Jack Fleming, can walk through walls!
Of course, this was only scratching the surface of the vamp-lit then available, and in the two years that have passed since we compiled that (even then) only relatively comprehensive guide, many more versions of vampiric lore have been added to the paranormal landscape, across almost as many subgenres; not to mention all the onscreen incarnations. But no matter what the manner of their making or the degree of their supernatural coolness, there is one thing that pretty much all vampires have in common: the one certain way they can be killed. Oh, they don’t all care about garlic, holy water or crosses, and even a stake through the heart isn’t necessarily fatal – like with L. J Smith’s creations from The Vampire Diaries, where it takes a stake made out of only a certain type of wood to affect them – but cut the head off any vampire and/or burn them up, and hey presto, you generally have one even more dead vampire. (As you would of pretty much anything, it has to be said.) And it’s worth mentioning here that the vampires in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books can actually be reconstituted from ashes with a single drop of blood, so decapitating them and burning them up probably wouldn’t help you much.
I love that. I love that there are as many varieties of vampire, and potential vampire slaying, as there are writers’ imaginations. Probably the only part of this inherently changeable mythos I don’t love is that sometimes the ways in which the vampires are created seem just plain wrong. Oh, I don’t mind the blood-exchange concept, or the virus-transmission concept, or even the soul-suppressing demonic possession concept, cf. Buffy. Some newborn vampires need to lie in dirt for three days before they rise, others writhe in agony for three days until their humanity leaves them entirely, and still others simply lie unconscious in a deep sleep for three days before awakening with a ravenous thirst—I’m cool with all of that. (Though, why is it always three days? Is it ’cause of Jesus?) But I am less enamored of the vampires who have kids, and not just in a Renesmee-is-the-worst-name-ever way. And do you know that that child’s middle name is? Carlie! As in, a hybrid of Carlisle and Charlie. If ever there was an argument against teen pregnancy…
Sympathetic vampires as ancient, lonely, tortured creatures seeking redemption and believing themselves unworthy of love – occasionally while also protecting their species from ruthless enemies, or humans from their ruthless kindred – I can totally get behind. Reluctant, newly-turned recruits into the species, often female who often then go on to become private detectives of some kind: oh, yes, absolutely. But related families full of vampires, born and raised – like in Kimberley Raye’s Dead End Dating series, for example, where “pureblood” born vampires are the aristocrats of their society, and “turn” when they lose their virginity – I simply don’t find as appealing. (With apologies to the wall of “transitioning” vampire hotness that is the Black Dagger Brotherhood.)
Nevertheless, it just makes sense to me that, in the absence of hard truth, in the absence of incontrovertible evidence that This is the Way it Must Be – and even then, Science Fiction novels often mess with established science fact, and they manage to make it work – vampires should come to us in every possible permutation, be they born or made, vicious or pattern cards of every virtue, of extra-terrestrial origin like comic book heroine Vampirella or merely a monstrous parasite like the creeptastic Nosferatu.
Or even, and I cannot stress this enough: sparkly.
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VAMPIRE MYTHOLOGY: ONE LORE TO RULE THEM ALL
by Amy Sharma
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