Last month I argued (rather well, if I do say so myself) in a Geek VS Geek that we need some basic standards for vampire lore for use by authors and screenwriters across the board. Following up on my argument, One Lore to Rule Them All, this month our editor has asked me to lay down these rules—to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Never a big fan of whiners who don’t offer up solutions, I have happily accepted this challenge.
Admittedly, I am not really sure that I am qualified to develop said rules, because I am not really that into vampires. (I only saw Twilight due to the intersection of the flu and a free weekend of HBO.) That being said, I shall develop these standards anyway because 1) I am never one to shy away from banging on about things I don’t know much about, and 2) this time I have done my research. Heaps and heaps of research. (Well, okay, Wikipedia research, where I even found this handy chart aligning bits of lore and whether or not various sources agree with them.)
My opponent in the Vampire Lore debate made a great argument in It Takes All Kinds, especially along the lines of “with so many different sources of vampire myth, where do we start?” But as you shall see, much of the traditional lore shares a lot of commonality. And then where do we go post-folklore? What sources do we choose to take as canon? Aside from the fact that Dracula was apparently written on a whim and without any real research (my kind of guy, this Stoker), I think we can all agree that it basically kicked off modern-day vampire stories, so I will give heavy precedence to that. (Heck, Dracula is from the Carpathian Mountains and Vigo was the “Scourge of Carpathia,” so if Ghostbusters II likes Dracula, how can you not?) And while Twilight may have been really darn popular, I don’t care how hunky and sulky Edward is or how epic his love of Bella may be. Vampires sparkle? No! That series is part of the reason we are in this mess in the first place.
Let’s start, therefore, with a brief history of vampire myth. There are lots of vampire-esque beings in folklore from all over the world. In Ancient times the theme was outright misogyny. There is Lilu (Lilith) in Hebrew culture: she was Adam’s first wife and banished for not being subservient to him, so since she sucked at being a good woman, she fed on babies and their mothers and lustily caused men to go astray. Then in Greek/Roman culture we’ve got more blood-sucking, baby-killing, home-wrecking behavior from assorted females. In the Philippines and Malaysia, there are legends of seductive creatures who were females by day and bat-like creatures by night. This could well be the origin of today’s sexy, seductive, evil vampires. Plus, shape-shifting.
In Medieval times we see a move away from generic daemons that go bump in the night towards legends and accounts of actual people that were bad/different during life and then came back as the undead. In Western Europe there were stories of revenants, those who came back to torment their towns after death: assaulting their widows, spreading disease (plague anyone?) and otherwise being un-neighborly. While not vamps per se – they were undead – the corpses of these supposed creatures were nevertheless decapitated, burned and/or had their hearts removed. A twelfth century account also includes holy water being used against them. So we’ve begun to see methods of killing vamps, and some discussion of their weaknesses.
At the same time, in Eastern Europe, vamps were getting into full swing. Archeologists recently dug up 800-year-old Bulgarian corpses with stakes through their hearts. Johann Weikhard von Valvasor provides some fifteenth century accounts, one of which had crosses making a vampire cry. To kill him, the villagers had tried to pierce his heart with a wooden stake, but they couldn’t, so off with his head!And then we come to Gothic literature and the penny dreadfuls in the 1800s. Here is where the modern vampire first appeared, influenced by thousands of years of folklore, plus ignorance and fear of the unknown. First is The Vampyre (1819) by John Polidori, featuring the vampire Lord Ruthven. Unlike previous Medieval undead, Ruthven was suave and sexy and seduced his victims (a nod to the older lore of sexy seductresses). A whole spate of short stories appeared and then, because dudes dig hot lesbians and it’s hotter if they bite, we get Carmilla (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu, in which a female vampire preys on an aristocratic young woman. The vampire temptress befriends the woman, sometimes tries to seduce her, and then, at night, sneaks into her bedroom in the form of a cat and bites her. The capstone of all this frenzy is, of course, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897).
So there is a brief history of vampire folklore. Now we need to get down to the nitty gritty of standardization. I will try and leave enough room for artistic license, and obviously I’m aware that while it’s still hanging on in the publishing world — likely, is immortal, much like the creatures themselves — the vampire fad has well and truly passed it zenith and this may very well be a case of closing the barn door long after the bats have escaped. Nevertheless, I’ll break these official standards down into the biggies: life, food, cool powers, vulnerabilities, death, and morality.
Tomorrow, the rules get laid DOWN.