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Vampires will always be cool


Not long ago, vampires were everywhere. From Twilight to Trueblood, pop culture was saturated with the undead. But as with everything that gets insanely popular, it hits a breaking point—and suddenly everyone was sick of it.

A lot of people would say that's what happened with vampires; culture on the whole is burnt out on the idea. They're past the "best if used by" date, and writing a story based around them is no longer worth it. For many passing fads that's probably true.

But vampires are different.

The cultural significance of the vampire is just as hard to slay as the creatures themselves. What some people forget is that vampire popularity has ebbed and flowed for literal centuries, and I doubt that's going to change anytime soon. They may be in a downward trend of interest now, but they are only lying torpid until their next night to shine.

As a self-proclaimed vampire nerd, let's take a look at the history of vampires in fiction. I've always found the evolution of their story to be fascinating, and worth examining now if you are a fan of the modern vampire.

Vampires Pre-Dracula

You wouldn't be alone if you thought Bram Stoker's Dracula was the first book tofeature the "modern" vampire. However, even Stoker had several key influences before he penned his masterpiece.

Perhaps that title truly belongs to The Vampyre, a short story written by John William Polidori in 1816. Fun fact; The Vampyre was written as part of a friendly contest between Polidori, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley. From that same contest came the original Frankenstein, which makes it one of the most important competitions in horror history.

The Vampyre was a relatively simple tale compared to newer stories, but it was the first to start transforming the older myths about the undead into what we think of as vampires today. It stars Lord Ruthven as the titular vampire, a suave nobleman who leaves a trail of suffering in his wake. There were some elements of blood-drinking, but at this point the definition was still vague.


Next up came Carmilla, written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872. This book added more elements that came to be vampire stables, such as a nocturnal schedule, sleeping in a coffin, and transforming into a predatory animal (Carmilla could shapeshift into a panther). Another interesting but lesser-known vampire trait was introduced here—the idea that a vampire can only use a name that's an anagram of its real name. You don't see this often anymore, but it's the reason we have Alucard in some stories (which is just Dracula backwards).

Another fun fact; although they couldn't explicitly say it at the time, the vampire Carmilla is very clearly lesbian, as she only preys on women and the attraction between her and the story's narrator is definitely not platonic. So the vampire genre has very LGBT roots!

Dracula, the Quintessential Vampire

In 1897, Bram Stoker released one of the best vampires stories ever told. There were others before it, but Dracula became the definitive take on what a vampire was—and its influence is still strong today. 

You know the story, so I won't dwell on it long. But through this book the vampire mythos evolved by leaps and bounds. Dracula introduced the concept of de-aging through drinking blood, having crazed mortal servants, a group of vampire wives, sleeping in the dirt of their homeland, transforming into bats and mist, and many more genre staples. It's also just a darn good book, and to this day is one of my favorite vampire stories.

Yet another fun fact; Dracula could be considered an early precursor to the "found footage" genre of films! The entire book is written like a collection of newspaper articles, journal entries, and transcribed audio recordings. At one point in the book they get meta, and a character decides to take all of this and compose it in chronological order—in other words, putting together the book you're reading!

The Age of Films & Piracy


The very first version of Dracula to become a movie was a blatant ripoff. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror was a 1922 German silent film that was a very faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. So faithful, in fact, it was a problem—since they didn't have the rights to it! Stoker's heirs sued the maker's of the film, and won. The court ruled that every copy of Nosferatu be destroyed, and, well... obviously a few survived. Good thing too, because it's a fascinating part of vampire history, and inspired its own physically-deformed variant of the creature.

In 1931, Dracula made his (legal) big-screen debut. The film starring Bela Lugosi is iconic, and started an entire series of sequels, spin-offs, and monster mash-up films. This was without a doubt another high point in vampire popularity.

The Tabletop Game That Changed Everything

It's true that Dracula is critical in molding the vampire myth, but if you look at vampires today you'll notice very different stories being told. They went from being a lone monster lurking in the shadows to badass anti-heroes and tragic love interests. 

We owe that to Vampire: the Masquerade.

This tabletop roleplaying game originally came out in 1991, and it's fair to say it was the next radical step in the vampire's fictional evolution. The creator, Mark Rein-Hagen, thought that a game about hunting vampires would get old after awhile, so he took a different approach. Instead of fighting vampires you got to be a vampire!

Before this there were no shadow societies of blood-drinkers. No undead anti-heroes. I would go so far as to say Vampire: the Masquerade added as many crucial elements to the vampire lore as Dracula itself. 

Vampires Today

From the mid nineties onward, there are too many fictional vampires to list. But I don't think there has been another huge paradigm shift in their mythos since Masquerade (sorry Twilight fans, the sparkling just didn't stick beyond those books). 

So this is why I don't think vampires will ever be irrelevant. They have a long history of peaks and valleys of public interest, but they never went away.

If you are a writer and are going to tell a vampire story, my advice is this; don't be afraid to put your own mark on it. The most iconic stories don't just copy the established lore, they add their own twists on it. And yes, even though I don't like what Twilight did with it, I can't deny that Stephenie Meyer did this exact thing. I respect that, even if I'm not a fan of the route she went with.


For a little self-promotion, I'd like to mention my own vampire book, Tale of the Twin-City Vampires (link here for those interested). As you can clearly tell, I care about the mythos of this creature, so when it was time to make my own take on it I wanted to do it justice. I found a way to stick with the established lore, but look at it in a different way—and draw on even older legends, such as Egyptian pharaohs and real-world occult lore. I feel like I balanced respecting the lore while making it my own, and that's all I suggest of anyone.

So go ahead! Write your vampire tale, and if anyone says that the vampire craze is dead... remind them that rises from the grave is what vampires do best!

Comments

  1. This whole thing is super cool. I admit to not being a vampire buff myself, so most of this information is at least newish to me. It's very cool to see the history of the vampire, and the creative parts of me were finding ways to connect old and new elements even as I read. It certainly is a unique, compelling mythos, one in which branches of the Enoc Tales fits well.

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    Replies
    1. The scary part is I didn't have to research any of this—just a quick google to get the names and dates right, haha! I've been really fascinated by this stuff since I was a teenager. Something about how the fictional rules have evolved over the years is interesting to me. Glad you got a kick out of it too!

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