Freaky Friday: Bite Me
April 5, 2023
Over the years, there have been many different monsters with scary stories. Frankenstein, mummies, werewolves, and dozens of other monsters have been created, remade, and ripped off. The most well-known of these monsters is probably the zombie. But the second is the vampire.
I Vant To Suck Your Vlood
Stories of vampire-like creatures can be found in cultures all around the globe from as far back as ancient Mesopotamia, but the first instance of a being that resembles the modern vampire has its origins in Eastern European folklore that dates back to at least the 1600s. These vampires were living, bloated corpses who would rise from their graves at night to feast on the living; a far cry from the beautiful, tragic vampires of modern pop culture. The very undead beings were said to be draped in the shrouds they were buried in, which would often be soaked in blood from their most recent victims. These original vampires were believed to be undead witches or corpses possessed by evil spirits and, according to Chinese and Slavic folklore, any corpse that was jumped over by a cat or dog was at risk of becoming one. The most common way of killing these vampires was to place sharp objects in their coffins to cause their bloated bodies to deflate. Over time, the vampire began to shift from this zombie-like form to something a little less … cadaver-y.
By the 1700s, we began to see a shift towards what many people would consider to be the classic vampire. While still technically dead, their bodies were no longer decomposed. If a body wasn’t as decomposed as it was expected to be, or if there were holes above its grave, it was believed to be a vampire and would have to be dealt with accordingly. The most common way of killing a vampire was to dig up its grave and impale its heart, usually with a wooden stake. In some regions, specific types of wood were believed to be more effective than others. In Romania, people were known for using steel to destroy suspected vampires by placing it over the eyes, in the mouth, and between the vampire’s fingers while it was asleep. Other methods for dealing with vampires would spring up during this time period throughout Europe, such as decapitation, pinning their limbs to the ground to prevent them from rising from their graves, and forcing garlic into their mouths. It is these examples of vampire folklore, and others from around the world, that would inspire the most famous vampire story in all of fiction, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The Vampire King
Count Dracula is originally from Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. He is the main antagonist of the book and the origin of the modern vampire. In this book is where vampires received powers such as turning others into vampires via biting them.
Dracula is said to be based on a real-life person by the name of Vlad the Impaler, also known as Vlad III Dracula. Vlad lived in Europe from 1431 until his death in 1476. Stoker later spoke about how Dracula wasn’t inspired by Vlad, but he had notes with mentions of “Dracula”.It is unknown why this was.
The original novel has been adapted into movies a few times, but Count Dracula definitely has more fame than the movies or books. Today, he’s met other famous monsters, been the star of multiple pieces of media, and is on a cereal box.
The Real Vampires
Of course, how can one talk about vampires without discussing vampire bats? This small family of bats with three extant species spread across three distinct genuses. These species are the common vampire bat, the hairy-legged vampire bat, and the white-winged vampire bat. Unlike the mythological creatures they are named after, these bats do not seek to drain victims of their life force, rather they use their pointed teeth to make small incisions in their prey’s skin that they then lick the blood off of. Their saliva contains anti-coagulants that cause the tiny wound to bleed for longer than it would normally.
Of the three species of vampire bat, only the common vampire bat preys on humans. This is not due to any hatred of people, but simply because these bats aren’t particularly picky with where their food comes from. The other two feed almost exclusively on birds, goats, and cows. Regardless of what they eat, however, all vampire bats use their sensitive sense of thermoreception (heat detection) to locate prey. Once they find a host to feed off of, the vampire bat will crawl on all fours, looking for an ideal spot to bite the unfortunate victim. Contrary to what you may think, the vampire bat was actually discovered almost 80 years before Bram Stoker wrote his famous Dracula novel. His book was the first recorded instance of bats being associated with their mythological namesake, an association that persists in pop culture today.
Pop culture has remade, ripped off, and inspired many different types of vampires. Perhaps the most famous vampire media out there, other than Dracula, is Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga.
The Twilight Saga follows the main character Bella Swan as she navigates her relationship with Edward Cullens, a vampire who has fallen in love with her. Along the way, her childhood friend, a werewolf named Jacob Black, also falls in love with Bella. The vampires in the series have some normal vampire abilities, such as super strength and speed, and they drink blood from humans, but certain vampires do have extra abilities. Such examples of this are Edward can read minds, his sister, Alice, can see the future, and (spoiler alert) when Bella turns into a vampire, she can act as a shield against other vampires’ abilities. This series also gives vampires the ability to sparkle in the sunlight instead of burning.
Other media revolving around the bloodsuckers are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Castlevania, First Kill, and Vampire Diaries. Vampires are also commonly featured in pieces of fiction with other monsters, such as Supernatural or Hotel Transylvania, and in games like Dungeons and Dragons.
For millenniums, we have had the legend of vampires and have always known of their eating habits. Are they real? Maybe in animal form, but for humans? Who knows. Maybe we never will. But vampires are still cool to many people and are likely going to be around for many more millenniums.
Next time you see someone burning while in the sun, or someone who is hungry for blood, keep garlic with you. They may be a vampire after your blood.