Tag Archives: Mythology

Science and the Vampire

I believe I’m overdue for a silly vampire post. So, here goes …

 

A thought I had once upon a time concerned the relationship of science to the nature of the vampire. In the beginning, the myth of the vampire was spawned from the mists of superstition and ignorance. It had no scientific underpinning. Often the vampire was depicted with a sinister spiritual aspect: in Christian cultures it was a force of darkness and an agent of the devil. However, somewhere in the latter half of the twentieth century the myth began to evolve into something else. In an increasingly technological world where science has explained whole swathes of nature and what we experience a need was seen to give the vampire a more scientific underpinning to make it more plausible, if you will. Once upon a time, the bite of a vampire inflicted a curse on its victim that transformed said victim into a vampire himself. Now, in many stories, the curse has been replaced by a virus. A human becomes infected with the virus when he or she is bitten. Once upon a time, a vampire had a whole slew of special abilities bestowed upon him by Satan or whatever forces of darkness were involved: a vampire could transform into a bat, or mist, or wolf; he could control the weather and the mean creatures of the earth; he could pass through the narrowest of cracks; and he had the strength of as many as twenty strong men. To go with such abilities, the creature had very specific weaknesses: she was repelled by holy objects like the crucifix; she could be destroyed by running water or sunlight; she could be sealed in a coffin with a rose. And there were at least several more. The strengths and weaknesses of the vampire were so many, it would be easy to miss one or two in a litany of such. Anyway, nowadays, most of the strengths and weaknesses have been eliminated in the attempt to make the vampire more “scientific.” Repulsion by holy objects? Please. Immersion in running water? Even the undead must bathe. Transforming into a bat? Good luck. The mythical has been replaced by the science of today. Now, authors are concerned with reasonable limitations and causal explanations. How did the original vampire come to be? Was he a product of evolution? Well, he must have been. But was it a gradual change, or the result of a cataclysmic anomaly like a special virus (again with the virus)? Interesting question. Of course, each author will give his own twist on the vampire tale. But I think the scientification of the vampire is becoming more common.

 

And … and … I object! Okay, perhaps object is too strong a word. I just wish to announce my preference for the vampire of myth. Give me the vampires that can transform into wolves and bats, and can summon storms or rats. I want a fighting chance with a cross or other holy object. Call me old school. Call me outdated. But I believe the vampire that threatens your very soul to be more horrifying than one that simply changes your living condition.

What do you think?

Why Are Vampires Horrific? Mind vs. Monster

Legends of the vampire abound the world over. The myth has morphed from the tales told around a campfire to world-wide box office hits and best-selling books. Throughout, the nature of the vampire has slowly changed, or perhaps been deliberately muddled. In modern times, the vampire is undergoing even more change. In horror movies (as opposed to something like “Twilight”), an emphasis is being placed upon the vampire as monster. Where once the vampire of horror resembled a human being with only a pair of slightly-too-large sharp canine teeth as tell-tale signs of its true nature, it is now being more consistently represented as a hideous monster, or  a human-like being that transforms into a hideous monster when it is time to feed. With modern special effects it is relatively easy to make a creature horrific-looking: white-grey skin, finger-nails like claws, and mouths filled with row upon row of vicious, sharp teeth. Add to that a growling, beast-like visage, and the transformation is complete. But is all this “beefing up” of the vampire’s bestial nature necessary?

 

I would argue no. It works at a superficial level; the visual effect of a horrific vampire, such as the one Colin Farrell played in the re-make of “Fright Night” can be quite disconcerting the first time you see it on the screen. But that’s as far as it goes. To me, the greatest horrific characteristic of the vampire is its human-like intelligence. Here is a monster that feeds on humans, slaying them, transforming them into its own kind, and it is as smart as any of them, often times smarter with centuries of experience on its side. To me, that has the potential of creating a truly terrible monster, yet it is hardly used as well as it could be. To me, the visually horrifying vampire does the myth as a whole a disservice because part of the horror that came with the myth was the notion that the vampire appeared almost completely human—perhaps he was a little pale, and he had those two sharp teeth I mentioned, but beyond that it was easy to mistake him for one of us. A bite from a vampire seen at a distance could easily be mistaken for a kiss. Turning the creature into a hideous monster changes that dynamic in a fundamental way and something is lost when that happens. He becomes a killing machine, a mechanism for cheap thrills and slaughter. I prefer the vampire that plots and schemes, that has a plan. This requires more subtlety in the writing, but I believe it is worth it. A story where one can see and feel the intelligence of this diabolical adversary would be far more effective than simply presenting a brutal killer with supernatural powers.