Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Long Life And Legend Of Vampires In Fiction

If you think Dracula is the first vampire novel, you'd be wrong. Not only do legends of the blood-sucking fiends reach back to man's very beginnings, but the narrative tale of these undead monsters is much lengthier than many might imagine.

"Oedipus Coloneus" (c. 406 BC) by the Greek playwright Euripedes includes the description of a slain ruler whose "cold body drank their warm blood".

"The Vampyre" (1819) written by John Polidori who was in attendance at the same summer retreat in Switzerland as Lord Byron and Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein. Byron had shared with those in attendance all about his travels through the Balkans, and of the mysterious creatures known as Vampires.

The same year, Keats writes the poem "Lamia", a tale loosely based on the character from classic myth. Lamia was a demon in ancient Greece and other cultures. It is said she was once a queen of Lybia and descendent of Poseidon. She became a mistress of Zeus. Hera didn't like this and forced Lamia to eat her own child. She fled to the wilderness and became a serpent.

"Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood" (1845-47) was the serialized tale of vampire who plagued London. Written by James Malcom Rymer, the entire tale eventually encompassed 22o chapters and 868 double-columned pages. Many of the elements familiar to our modern version of a vampire arose in this work: fangs, puncture wounds on the neck, hypnotic power, and incredible strength.

"Carmilla" (1871) was the tale of a lesbian vampire that preys on young women. Written by Sheridan Le Fanu, this tale takes place in Styria, the original setting for the most famous vampire novel.

Influenced in part by both Varney and Carmilla, Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (1897) rose to become the seminal masterpiece of all undead fiction.

After Stoker's death, his discarded early chapters of Dracula were published as "Dracula'Guest" (1914). In this short tale, Jonathan Harker encounters a vampiric countess while on a stop-over in Munich. Later, after passing out in the snow, a wolf protects him. When he returns to his hotel, a letter from Dracula awaits him, warning Harker of the dangers of wolves and snow.

1 comment:

Autumnforest said...

Very good post! I look back at sacrifices in Mayan culture and Toteism in religion and I'm sure that the concept of drinking someone's blood and gaining their strength and knowledge or spirit has gone back to early man when they might have even been cannibals. I'm in the medical field and rather pragmatic, but the concept of drinking blood to gain something seems rather ridiculous when one considers the acid content in the stomach, it's a most inefficient way to gain nutrients or any other substances one is hoping for. Hee hee