Vampires in Society and Mass Media
Vampires. The living dead. Immortals. They go by many names, but whatever they are called, they are known by people in every culture. They haunt our nightmares and color our dreams, turning the night into a sinister and mysterious place. Whether we see them in movies or books, or hear their stories around the campfire, vampires are all around us, rooted deep in our minds. But what are vampires, exactly, and where did they come from?
The unknown has always been a cause for fear in people. The dark, death- we don’t know what they hold, and our imaginations run wild trying to prepare our minds. “... it is not surprising that primitive societies the world over… have created whole pantheons of gods and demons, all supposedly out to gorge themselves on human flesh and blood.” (Frost, 1989) Legends stem back to the beginnings of religious lore, of a female vampire called Empusae by the Greeks, Lamia by the Romans, Lilitu by the Babylonians, and Lilith by the Hebrews, a succubus bent on the ensnarement of young men.
So how do people think of vampires today? Until recently, the stereotypical vampire was known to be pale-skinned and soulless; a killer who gorged on blood to survive, who had no reflection and could not bear the presence of any holy object or garlic, could not cross running water, and could be killed with a stake through the heart or from exposure to sunlight, which burned. Today, many different variations of the legend exist, from psychic vampirism, "which is a mysterious process whereby certain persons are able to steal other people's vitality without even touching them" (Frost, 1989), to vampirism of a scientific nature, existing in a normal human with a soul.
While on the subject of vampires, one must also talk about their slayers. The name Van Helsing always comes up when on the topic of vampire slayers, whether it's Abraham Van Helsing form the original Dracula, or Gabriel Van Helsing from the movie, Van Helsing. One must also mention Buffy Summers, from the popular 90's television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Each of these characters hunts and kills evil vampires that prey on and murder innocent victims. They are the heroes. In some stories, however, the vampire slayers are the villains, attempting to murder vampires seen as good or innocent, a newer concept.
The most well-known vampire story is Bram Stoker's 1897 book, Dracula. Set in Victorian London, it tells the story of Jonathan Harker and his fiancée Mina Murray. Harker is sent to Transylvania to help the mysterious Count Dracula with a real estate transaction, but he soon realizes that he is being held prisoner, kept weak by Dracula’s three wives. Dracula then travels to London and begins feeding on Lucy Westenra, a friend of Mina's. Her fiancée, Arthur Holmwood, later known as Lord Godalming, and other suitors, Quincy P. Morris and Dr. John Seward, enlist the help of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, “renowned as a specialist in rare diseases of the blood” (Joshi, 2011), when they see her wasting away, and attempt to give her multiple blood transfusions, but she eventually dies and rises again as a vampire to feed on the young children of London. Harker manages to escape from the ‘sisters’ and is met by Mina in Budapest, where they are married before returning to England. Dracula begins visiting Mina, and the men quickly realize what is happening to her. With her help, they lure Dracula back to his Transylvanian castle, “where he is dispatched (with knives) by Harker and Morris” (Joshi, 2011).
Originally entitled The Un-Dead, Dracula is written in the form of notes in shorthand and transcribed on typewriters, gramophone recordings, telegraph messages, and journal entries of the various characters. The Count himself is the only major character who does not narrate the story at some point. While Dracula is certainly now well-known by most everyone, it did not become popular until it was adapted for film and the...
Cited: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Columbia, 1992. Film.
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Interview with a Vampire. Dir. Neil Jordan. Warner Bros., 1994. Film.
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The Queen of the Damned. Dir. Michael Rymer. Roadshow, 2002. Film.
Underworld. Dir. Len Wiseman. Warner Bros., 2003. Film.
Wright, Dudley. The Book of Vampires. New York: Causeway, 1973. Print.
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