On Vampire Lore
I read a lot online about how Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight sucks because it goes against vampire canon. I have to wonder how much the people who say this actually know about vampire lore. I’ve read lots of books and seen lots of movies. Just how many, I have no idea. Vampires have been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. I’ve never liked the ugly, pure evil, demonic, Nosferatu types. Yep, it’s a demon. Clearly we’re not letting that one in. Stake it if you can. A little too straight forward and blunt for me. I’m not a fan of horror for horror’s sake. For me it’s always been about the sexy ones. That’s where the true terror is. Demons who are good-looking, to whom you might be attracted, with whom you might be friends, who might just kill you, now that’s scary to me. It gives me more to think about. There just tends to be more story there.
Already we are talking about two very different types of vampires. How can canon reconcile this? To understand this I think you have to understand a bit about the history of vampire lore.
In the beginning, vampires were generally undead, walking corpses bent on stealing your life force, usually blood. Most cultures have some form of vampire legend. According to Wikipedia the term vampire did not become popular until the early 18th Century though. At that time there was an increase in vampire superstition in Western Europe from places in Eastern Europe where vampire legends were frequent, such as The Balkans.
Different traditions say different things. The vampire might be a soul not at rest who rises from the grave to cause mischief. It might be a person who made a pact with a sorcerer or witch, trading their soul for immortality or some such thing. It might also be the sorcerer or witch him- or herself. This is what people really thought back in the day. It is largely thought that because graves weren’t marked incredibly well that when bodies were exposed, either through the digging of the new grave or by animals digging, people thought they were seeing vampires who had left their graves. During decomposition hair and nails appear to grow. It’s really just the skin receding, but it gives the appearance of growth, giving anyone not educated in these matters thoughts of the ‘living dead’. Furthermore, gases bloating the body and fluids escaping through the mouth give the impression of the belly being full, having feasted on flesh or blood. Worse yet, the death shroud, being exposed to these fluids, would have been eaten by microbes first, giving the appearance that the corpse itself ate the shroud.
Pretty gruesome stuff, huh? At least it makes sense how we got the whole image of vampires as ugly demons. What about the sexy vampire though? Where does that come from?
Again, I turn to Wiki for the details. I don’t carry all this stuff around in my head, you know. According to the Wiki, ‘The charismatic and sophisticated vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori. In 1897, Bram Stoker published his Dracula, which was even more successful than The Vampyre had been, and what we now consider the quintessential vampire was born.
Fast forward to modern day and we still see these two types of vampires, the demonic beasties and the sexy beasties. The demonic types are what we see in such films as 30 Days of Night, Fright Night, Nosferatu, and Salem’s Lot. The sexy types are what we see in Twilight, True Blood, and Interview with the Vampire. They tend to be able to fit in to varying degrees with humans. Charlaine Harris’ (True Blood) vampires for instance have retractible fangs. The Lost Boysvampires, as well as Joss Whedon’s Buffy-verse vampires, look human and demonic alternately, so the lines aren’t even clear when it comes to the look of vampires.
Why do we even need the sexy sort? It’s the next step in the evolution of the vampire myth, I believe. First we believed the demonic vampires truly existed, then they became legend as we became more educated. They became the bad guy in fiction. As our education evolved, so did our fiction. People will always like an old fashioned demon/witch/vampire hunt, so the vampire as the out and out vampire will always be there, I think. The story has to evolve so as not to become boring however. Every story is a little bit different. It has to be or instead of screaming, “She didn’t stick to canon! She’s a no-talent hack,” they would be screaming, “She’s a plagiarist! She’s a no-talent hack!”
The point of this whole exercise is to show that there really isn’t a canon when it comes to vampires. There are certain things that we consider vampiric, sure, but not all are present in all tales. Authors choose their favorite features a la carte, and throw in their own touches. Here’s a list to demonstrate what I mean.
Vampires are pale:Ok, so this is generally the case, but there are exceptions. Lestat gets himself a wicked tan when he doesn’t burn up in the Gobi Desert. Bladeis black, but is a half vampire, a dhampir. Laurent is black and is a full vampire, in the Twilight movie anyway. In the books he is olive skinned, pale for olive-skinned, but still olive-skinned, not white as a sheet. As he’s part of the saga I’m defending though maybe I should come up with another example. How about Blacula?
Vampires have fangs: Typically, yes, they do, but what kind? Vampire writers can’t even agree on this point. Most of the time they are extended canines, but sometimes they are the lateral incisors as in The Lost Boys. Anne Rice chose double fangs. Sometimes fangs retract, making the vampire appear more beastly when angry, hungry, or aroused. Also, the more demonic the vampire the more pointy and gnarly all the teeth seem to get.
Stephenie Meyer chose not to do fangs at all. Her vampires just have razor-sharp teeth. A bold move, I say. They look prettier, yet when you think about it they are more gruesome. There is no neat puncturing of a vein and dainty sucking of blood here, as evidenced by Jasper’s scarred body, and the permanent double crescent scar Bella sports.
Vampires sleep during the day: There are varying degrees of this. I can’t think of any non-Twilight vampires that can go out in broad daylight without dying, other than Blade. Lestat is an early riser, so he gets to see sunset at least. Most vampires sleep during the day, but some only need to stay out of direct sunlight. Some need to sleep in coffins upon a bed of soil from the motherland. Some just need a coffin. Some don’t need coffins at all, but do need light tight rooms or hidey holes. For some it’s actual sleep. For others they are literally dead while the sun is up.
Personally, I like what Stephenie Meyer brought to vampires here. Her vampires don’t sleep at all, ever. They can go out in the sun, but if they want to keep their secret they don’t do it within sight of humans because direct sunlight makes them sparkle. What I like about it is that it makes her universe uniquely hers. Bella and Edward have the conversation where the vampire legends are compared and contrasted to “reality”. It gives the reader a moment to catch up, ditch the legends that don’t apply, and refresh his or her notions on vampires. Essentially, this conversation gives the reader and idea of the ‘physics,’ of the universe, so to speak.
A stake through the heart:This will kill some but not others. This comes from the original superstitions. In some areas a corpse would be staked prophylactically upon burial so it would not rise from the grave. This is not for everyone, Anne Rice for example.
This is a hard one for a lot of Twilight haters out there. There really isn’t anything a human can do to a vampire in SMeyer’s ‘verse, and this is a bit sticking point for some. Why wouldn’t they just take over the world if they are invincible? She does mention that vampires are not sure about certain weapons humans now possess, so they prefer to remain in the shadows. Who knows what humans would come up with if they all knew about vampires? I’m sure they would not survive a nuclear attack, for instance. Barring weapons of mass destruction, really only another vampire, a werewolf, or a shape shifter can kill a vampire, assuming there aren’t any other magical creatures out there.
Rip them up and burn the pieces: If staking doesn’t work, this generally does. Usually you have to remove the head. Forever Knight’s vampires were this sort. Removing the head didn’t kill those vampires, though. If you replaced the head, the vampire would reanimate. Anne Rice’s seem to be the rip and burn sort, although I was never sure the head needed to be removed, specifically. Spreading the ashes around is generally a good idea for the rip and burn vamps.
Twilight’s vampires are this sort, though as mentioned it takes a vampire/werewolf/shape shifter to do the ripping. I like that. It’s another little touch SMeyer has put on vampire lore.
Crosses weaken them:Nope, not always. Anne Rice’s and Charlain Harris’ vampires are noteable exceptions. They don’t bother Twilightvampires either. In fact, Carlisle keeps a large wooden cross, that his preacher father carved, if I recall.
Garlic weakens them:This goes back to the old superstitions too, so most new vampire work is not going to use this. Charlain Harris’ vampires are annoyed by garlic, but it doesn’t seem to weaken them. Garlic doesn’t bother Anne Rice’s vampires or SMeyer’s either. In fact, in the movie, the Cullen family prepares an Italian meal for Bella to welcome her to their home.
Silver weakens or kills them: I am not sure when this started popping up really. I always thought it was a wooden stake through the heart for vampires and silver bullets for werewolves, but somewhere silver became a weapon of choice against vampires. I suppose this is because silver represents purity, and is supposed to combat the unholy. I maintain this would not work. Vampires are not unholy, just misunderstood.
Kill the Maker, save your soul: This varies too. If the vampires are the demonic sort then killing the maker also destroys his/her progeny. If the hero has been turned into a vampire then killing his maker may save his soul. Or am I getting that confused with the ill-fated ’80’s Fox series Werewolf (link provided to prove its existence)? The lines begin to blur.
Vampires are evil: See ‘Silver weakens or kills them’. As stated just about everywhere here, it really depends on the story. Vampires are evil in straight-up horror, sure, but more and more the heroes are the vampires. They are often tortured souls, wrestling with their humanity and the status of their souls.
Vampires drink blood: This is a biggie. Maybe the biggie. Even still, it’s not always the case. Not only can some drink animal blood, while others can’t, but some have to kill while others don’t. Nick from Forever Knight could feed on blood he bought from a butcher which he kept in his fridge. Sometimes blood is just blood, sometimes blood is a metaphor for life force. From there it’s just a short hop to energy vampires. Yes, there are energy vampires out there. I’ve met a few, I think. Ever meet that person that just sucks all the life out of a room? Anyway, we’re talking fiction here. The movie Lifeforce is about this type of vampire, as is the Vorvon of Buck Rogers fame. Yes, I’m that big of a geek, what?
Again, I like what SMeyer did here. Vampires in general kill people, drink human blood. They made them nasty too. They can’t keep a human alive and feed on them. They are venomous. If they don’t kill the human, the venom may turn the human into a vampire. Nope, in Steph’s world vampires are deadly, and that death is excruciatingly painful. The vampire we get to know and love, however, are “vegetarians”. They live off the blood of animals. We can tell them from the “bad vampires” by the color of their eyes, which are varying shades of brown instead of red.
Even though the bad vampires are a huge threat all throughout the series, many complain that Twilight vampires have no bite. I think these people must be used to a more action-oriented plot, because the bad vampires are pretty scary. It’s just an ever-present threat rather than a nonstop fight. Besides there’s that whole fang thing I mentioned earlier. No tiny punctures or hygenic trickles of blood. These vampires will tear your throat out.
I’d like to close with a common argument against Edward falling in love with Bella. Why would a vampire fall in love with a human? “It’s like falling in love with a cow,” is not a logical argument. It’s not as simple as falling in love with your food. At no time was Edward ever a cow. He was, however, a human, with human desires, plans, feelings, thoughts, and tastes. It’s a tragedy that he is now meant to feed on that to which he is physically attracted. So there!
It changes. Deal with it.