Recently, I eagerly delved into a collection of Victorian vampire stories (in book form, under the title Dracula’s Guest). From the mystical to the mysterious, poetic and somber, in that sordid little collection of ghostly tales, vampires walked abroad, seduced the living, and spun haunting tales. Many were by English writers but some were translated from foreign languages, and revealed the vampire lore within those societies… such as one culture’s belief that vampires only came back to prey on their family members, rather than guests.
Dracula is widely regarded as the best known vampire story but others predate Stoker by generations, including Carmilla, by a French author. The origins of the vampire myth go further back, into ancient folklore revolving around the goddess Lamia, who was believed to have drunk the blood of her own children. Modern society has seen a resurgence of interest in these macabre monsters, eternally separated from light, (often) and from religious relics. Many are painted as tortured souls in search of redemption, while the more recent Dracula Untold turns Dracula into a hero who takes on a mantle of darkness to protect his family. Why so many centuries of interest?
Vampires are not the only morbid fascination modern society holds; legends of werewolves still thrive and make up the topic of popular films and television shows. Throw in the recent surge in interest in zombies, ghosts, and other undead but no-longer-human creatures, and we have a modern society obsessed with… death. Nearly as obsessed with it as earlier civilizations, who put candles in windows, stakes through the heart of dead relatives in their coffins, and feared that Grandma might come back for a ghostly visit.
The truth is, humans like to be scared and there is nothing scarier than the idea that death is not binding; that it is not permanent, and that we are not safe from evil even when it dies. Because we fear what we can’t understand, we give names and lore to supernatural events, and then invent heroes to combat the forces of darkness. For every evil child-eating witch, there is a Hansel & Gretel to kick butt and save the day. Sam and Dean Winchester dispatch demons, vampires, werewolves, and all other manner of evil on Supernatural. Vampires such as Elijah, Angel, Louis, and Edward seek redemption from their own darkness, turning their immortal bloodlust into a metaphor for alcoholism and addiction. What it all boils down to is our deeper belief that there is life after death, and a subconscious knowledge that our soul is eternal. Maybe we even hope that if we can’t find salvation in this life, we may be able to earn it in the next. Folly, perhaps, but it says a lot about the condition of the human spirit… for both good and ill.