Evolution of Vampires: The Earliest Fiction

By Valerie Willis

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The Evolution of Vampires_ The Earliest Fiction by Valerie Willis

And finally we reach the conclusion of my series on the evolution of vampires. If you missed them you can catch out part one here, and part two here. Today I’m tackling tales of vampires in older fiction, you might also like to check out Hazel’s piece on The Life, Death, and Undeath of the Vampel for a look at modern accounts…

Vampires within Older Fiction

We know of Dracula but there were many other pieces written with vampires or vampire-like beings. Some insist they are female, others that they change, and many tie them to the grave. With illnesses like tuberculosis and nobility eating and drinking the blood of their subjects, it wasn’t hard to find inspiration. No one was safe from the powers of a vampire. The could haunt you like a ghost, steal your soul or life and drink blood as if they were the devil himself. Thus, stories were told to capture the imagination.

“Vampyrismus” by Baron Gerhard van-Swieten – 1768

The magic of the deceased (Magia posthuma) was then in vogue in those areas. They called the dead, who were so vicious, vampires, and believed that they suck human blood.

“Vampyrismus” by Baron Gerhard van-Swieten – Rough Translation

Written in German, this was essentially a mockumentary designed to bring to light the rampage of labeling the deceased and diseased as a supernatural vampire. The Baron would never know that some folks to his piece very literal, despite his introduction of declaring “these are fake notes written in German.” He had defined them, identified them, spoke of what they could do and proper disposal of these creatures of ill-will. It was meant to be humorous, but in a time when panic and pandemics were putting entire families in the grave, the mind does wonder.

“The Vampyre: a Tale” by John William Polidori – 1819

“There was no colour upon her cheek, not even upon her lip; yet there was a stillness about her face that seemed almost as attaching as the life that once dwelt there:—upon her neck and breast was blood, and upon her throat were the marks of teeth having opened the vein:—to this the men pointed, crying, simultaneously struck with horror, “A Vampyre! a Vampyre!”

“The Vampyre: a Tale” by John William Polidori

This is a great example of a trend of spelling vampire as vampyre which happened during this 1700-1800’s. The introduction to this piece is amazing and he does discuss the fact consumption, tuberculosis, had much of the grounding in the research and belief of vampires in the time he wrote this piece. If you were looking for some great resources, this is a good fictional piece with some of the inspirations revealed upfront. He quotes work, such as The Giaour, along with people within this period and gives a great glance of even how vampires tied into heresy. Remember, that’s why Upir Lichy was convicted as a vampire in 1047 CE. Regardless, his writing and storytelling brings this blood sucking thirst and desire to life. In a few ways, there’s this ting of romanticizing and I wonder if this piece had a large influence on inspiring Bram Stoker’s own piece, Dracula.

“Vikram and the Vampire” by Sir Richard F. Burton – 1870

Scarcely, however, had the words passed the royal lips, when the Vampire slipped through the fingers like a worm, and uttering a loud shout of laughter, rose in the air with its legs uppermost, and as before suspended itself by its toes to another bough.

“Vikram and the Vampire” by Sir Richard F. Burton

This is a loosely based version of one of the oldest written vampire lores. Sir Richard takes us for quite the adventure and introduces us to a Baital, or vampire of the mischievous sorts. Here we have a blood and flesh eating being in the form of a giant demonic bat. It hangs from a tree and can dissolve into mist. Later in the story, he possesses and hypnotizes people and shenanigans ensue. The vampire in these tales is a master of trickery and illusion. Not only does he change his own appearance, but the vampire can change the appearance of others. It seems the vampire in this story let’s himself be captured by Vikram then grew curious and asked questions on who he was and where he came from. Amused by the stubborn capturer, he reminds him to keep his manners and speak nicely to him. Especially since Vikram will be strapping him to his back like a beggar’s wallet by the use of his waistcloth.

Russian Fairy Tales by Ralston – 1872

nor does their evil influence die with them, for after they have been laid in the earth, they assume their direst aspect, and as Vampires bent on blood, night after night, they go forth from their graves to destroy.

Russian Fairy Tales by Ralston

I love Russian fairy tales, and they have their share of vampire references. They also include numerous tales of wizards and witches, who are one and the same. That’s right, when a witch or wizard die and are buried, they come back as vampires! Granted they were said to have sold their souls to the devil, but it is an intriguing idea that someone who can cast spells and use magic get this added bonus.

There was also belief that the devil would collect their souls to free their bodies for use by demons. In this scenario, the vampire would still venture out to drink the blood of the living. It is also in these tales we are given the idea vampires  had to return to their coffins by the rooster’s crow as in the story The Coffin-Lid. It is said you are more likely to run into a vampire at crossroads or the neighborhood of a cemetery and it’s advised to not be in these places when night falls.

Another fun story within this collection is The Two Corpses were two vampires argue on who will get to eat a soldier returning home. The interesting part is one corpse comes from the graveyard while the other is inside a church. By the end of the story, the rooster crows and they fall dead. The soldier lives, praising the Lord for saving him from the wizards.

“Carmilla” by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu – 1872

“Your mother warns you to beware of the assassin.” At the same time a light unexpectedly sprang up, and I saw Carmilla, standing, near the foot of my bed, in her white nightdress, bathed, from her chin to her feet, in one great stain of blood.

“Carmilla” by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

If you feel like you know this one, yet not sure, it’s because it has influenced many authors in present day. One of my favorite references to Carmilla has to be from the anime movie and short novel series, Vampire Hunter D (Spirit of Carmilla scene: https://youtu.be/wmskV9CGTOM ). In fact, it is implied D’s father is “Dracula” and “Carmilla” is his step mother of sorts, while his birth mother was human. Anyhow, in this piece the main character finds himself caught in a strange situation. He begins to see a ghostly version of Carmilla at the foot of his bed and within the mansion. Upon investigation, the cast comes to agree she is a vampire and discover her coffin. The intriguing aspect here is the tie-in’s with Elizabeth Bathory, having Carmilla bathing in blood and her coffin filled with the stuff.

Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” – 1897

He was lying on his belly on the floor licking up, like a dog, the blood which had fallen from my wounded wrist. He was easily secured, and, to my surprise, went with the attendants quite placidly, simply repeating over and over again: “The blood is the life! The blood is the life!”

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

Taking in the literature and historical accounts of vampires, we were given a novel which has continued to dazzle modern audiences. Bram Stoker had done some research, some reading, and even saved clippings about the “New England Vampire” epidemic during his time touring with his theatre group in 1892. This work of fiction took a little bit from everywhere for one grand finale, the firework show everyone would remember. You can find references from various places such as the Bible, Carmilla, and many of the works we discussed. He romanticized the story and thanks to his experience as a stage manager, he was able to capture the audience where others had failed.

Today we still know “Dracula” and many of us reply “Bram Stoker’s? Or Vlad the Impaler?” It gave us a journaled account of one man’s struggle to save the love of his life while confronting the supernatural in ways one had never thought possible. He gave us the idea they were nobility in their own right, but creatures deserving of pity at times. From this point, Bram Stoker was a driving force to inspire the present-day vampire and encouraged us to dive deeper, stranger, and leave the readers thirsting for more.

Conclusion

I like to think by the time the 1900’s took hold the belief in the real vampire faded away. It had held our descendants captive and even imprisoned our ancestors, but as medical science improved, the occurrence of the dead coming back from the grave vanished. We learned what tuberculosis was, that germs can take out entire households, and the monsters were merely human, and we could stop them. I have dove far, and down the unbeaten path. Though there were Greek Goddesses and Babylonian Demi-gods, I wanted to take us on a journey less walked, reviewed, and reflected on.

Vampires are part of our culture, they always have been, but they aren’t haunting and feeding off our families anymore. Instead, they are in the spotlight in movies, television series, comics, cartoons, anime and books. We love them, and in a way, fact has inspired fiction in ways no one in the 1800’s could ever imagine. Those few brave writers who indulged in writing about the vampires and taking the time to address, this is consumption, vampires are simply innocents accused of something supernatural, should know their message was heard. The terrifying thing here is to imagine the misunderstanding of pandemics had gave birth to this. No means to double check if someone was dead or alive, I imagine coming back from the grave happened quite a lot! Still, we haven’t forgotten our roots, or our imagination.

References

  1.      Etymology of the word “vampire” – https://www.etymonline.com/word/vampire
  2.      FORUM: Word Reference Discussion on Ubyr – Etymology – https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/vampire-ubyr-etymology.2615925/
  3.      ‘Genesis of the word “Vampire”’ by Vampriologist – http://vampirologist.blogspot.com/2009/01/genesis-of-word-vampire.html
  4.      Vampire folklore by region – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire_folklore_by_region
  5.      Etymology of the word “Strigoi” – https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/strigoi
  6.      Podcast – Lore episode 72 ‘A Grave Mistake’ – http://www.lorepodcast.com/episodes/72
  7.      Strigoi – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strigoi
  8.      Bible, New King James Version – https://biblia.com/books/nkjv/Re17.6
  9.      “How Old is the Bible” by Paul Ratner – http://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/how-old-is-the-bible
  10.  The Sibylline Oracles – http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/sib/sib.pdf
  11.  The Oracle: Real or Myth? – http://www.scififantasynetwork.com/oracle-real-myth/
  12.  “Vikram and the Vampire” by Sir Richard F. Burton – https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2400/2400-h/2400-h.htm
  13.  Sanskrit – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit
  14.  Baital Pachisi – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baital_Pachisi
  15.  The Baital Pachisi English Translation by WB Barker – https://archive.org/details/TheBaitalPachisiEnglishTranslationWBBarker1855
  16.  Pishacha – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pishacha
  17.   The Book of Were-wolves by Sabine Baring-Gould – http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5324
  18.   Moroi – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moroi
  19.  Vampyrismus by Freiherr van Gerard Swieten, 1700-1772 – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/30886/30886-h/30886-h.htm
  20.  Russian Fairy Tales: A Choice Collection of Muscovite Folk-lore by Ralston, 1828-1889, Published 1872 – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22373/22373-h/22373-h.htm#Page_295
  21.  The Vampyre; a Tale by John William Polidori, 1795-1821, Published in April 1819 issue of New Monthly Magazine and was there erroneously attributed to Lord Byron, Fiction – Vampire – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6087/6087-h/6087-h.htm
  22.  Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 1814-1873, Fiction – Vampire – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10007/10007-h/10007-h.htm
  23.  Vampires in Russia – https://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Russia%2C+Vampires+in
  24.  Bathory’s Torturous Escapades are Exposed – https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bathorys-torturous-escapades-are-exposed
  25.   High Albania by Mary Edith Durham – http://www.digital.library.upenn.edu/women/durham/albania/albania-IV.html
  26.  Vampyrism by Gerard van Swieten 1768 – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/30886/30886-0.txt
  27.  How Mosquitos Came To Be – A Tlingit Legend – http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/How_Mosquitoes_Came_To_Be-Tlingit.html
  28.  Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke – https://www.amazon.com/World-Lore-Monstrous-Creatures-ebook/dp/B0738LH55P
  29.   The Real Dracula: Vlad the Impaler – https://www.livescience.com/40843-real-dracula-vlad-the-impaler.html
  30.  Gilles de Rais – Medieval Vampire – https://www.vampires.com/gilles-de-rais-medieval-vampire/
  31.  ‘History of Vampires’ Recounts Woodstock Tale – https://www.thevermontstandard.com/2010/11/%E2%80%98history-of-vampires%E2%80%99-recounts-woodstock-tale/
  32.  “Dracula” by Bram Stoker – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/345/345-h/345-h.htm
  33.  The Golden Bough by James George Frazer – https://ia800303.us.archive.org/3/items/cu31924021569128/cu31924021569128.pdf

Valerie Willis

Valerie Willis

Valerie Willis is the author of The Cedric Series, a high-rated Paranormal Fantasy Romance Series featuring an anti-hero dragged away from the revenge he seeks on his maker by love and the onset of a larger threat. Valerie’s work is inspired by a melting pot of mythology, folklores, history, topped off with a healthy dose of foreshadowing.

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