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Vampire Week: My Feud with the Undead

Posted on June 23, 2010 by Eric Pollarine

First let me state, that I am not the worlds largest Vampire fan. I don’t mean the RPG nor simply movies, or fiction- but as a franchise or archetype or whatever on a whole, the Vampire just doesn’t do it for me. So when the request came down through the digital bullpen that the powers at be who run this most fantastic site said they were looking for someone to write a blog post on Vampires, for our Vampire week, I shrugged my shoulders and put my digital hand up. Why not give it a shot?

Those of you familiar with what I have been doing on Flames Rising, know that I am pretty much a die hard and committed Zombie fan. I won’t go into anything related to Zombies here in too much detail, because this is supposed to be about vampires and I have already written about 150 words not concerning them, but I will say that I look forward to possibly doing my own little blog pieces solely on the walking dead, again though-this is about the living dead, or the undead, and we should begin. Ready?

There’s been such a demand for the Vampire as of late that it makes my head spin. I walk into a big box brick and mortar book store, or even the used book store around the corner and I can’t escape it. It’s been there for more years now than I care to remember and I am assailed and affronted with the image of tween and twenty something glamour vamps, tramp starlets and hulky man boys bearing fangs, row upon row of new young adult and adult fiction books filled to the brim with anti heroes and villains seeping sexuality and bemoaning the troubles of a wicked curse known as vampirism.

And I cringe.

I say, “This is all terribly wrong, where are the real blood suckers, whatever happened to Count Orlock or even the vampire deity cults of the Sumerians? Who or what has hijacked this monster? So I decided to look a little deeper into what the vampire is and where did it come from?

The Cliché

So this is where we explore the cliché of the myth, before doing so I want you to grab something black out of your wardrobe, or even better if you’re a recovering Goth then go get some of those ridiculous cloths that we all used to wear and put on either Pornography by The Cure or any assorted song title that has the words bat, blood, curse, or even vampire in the title… are you ready? Good.

The classic cliché of the vampire is of course the one we have come to know through so many movies and books, the classic Bela Lugosi is dead, undead, undead sort of black velvet lined cape and collar, pale skin, widows peak, gold medallion and tux. A laughable excuse for the portrayal of the blood sucker if I have ever seen one. I mean he’s everywhere from Sesame Street to the box covers of our cereal isles in the grocery store. I remember my first encounter with the good old Count theme, I was about five, and my grandfather was from Hungary, and not just like , oh you know, we are from Hungary here’s our Slavic sounding name. Nope, he was off the boat so to speak Hungarian and sounded, as you would imagine very similar to dear old Bela. My grandfather would sit and tell me of Vlad and what he did for Romania and Walachia, the sacrifices and the blood fest he undertook in what Vlad at the time believed to be the ultimate goal in his life time, which was defending the holy or Christian lands from the invading Turks, etc, etc. And then he said that is where Dracula comes from. Because at the time I was under the impression that Dracula, was in fact a myth, now my little head was filled with all this historical mumbo jumbo. I read books on Dracula; I watched movies containing Dracula and every representation that I could get my little hands on. And every time I found something common, even in the pages of Bunnicula, there were always a few constants.

1. Sunlight destroys them on contact.
2. A wooden Stake through the heart was really the only sure fire way, other than sun.
3. Holy items, crosses in general were a very good way to keep them at bay.
4. Garlic was good as well, could repel the count as effectively as a cross.
5. They slept in coffins, lined with the soil of their native homeland.

So that’s pretty much what I thought vampires were from about five till I reached the ripe old age of 11. And I am guessing that many of you had the same impression. The Count Dracula myth is one that has brought joy and fright to so many millions of people over the years that there is even a whole themed vacation you can take to walk in the footsteps of both the historical and fictional Dracula. There are two, or at least what I would call two fantastic pieces of work done in the last ten years on the subjects of both Dracula and Vampires in general, and if you haven’t yet read them, well go do so. They are “The Dead Travel Fast” by Eric Nuzum and “Sundays with Vlad” by Paul Bibeau, both are similar in their explorations into how and why the Vampire myth has seized the country, if not the whole of the world in the last 150 or so years, and they offer both a hilarious and serious look into two different men’s souls trying to come to terms with their inner love of all things fanged.

So we have our classic Eastern European myth of the Vampire, right?

So let us take off the vinyl and lace, black eyeliner and capes and get to looking into how this sucker, pun intended, has evolved. Also, some of us really shouldn’t wear vinyl.

When I was 11 I didn’t have access to the gross amount of Vampire themed books that pervade the shelves of the book stores as they do today. I had to read grown up books and figure out grown up themes for myself. Which I think has contributed to a lot of successes on my part, and also more than a few follies, but I had to read Bram Stokers Dracula and books like “Interview with a Vampire” because that’s where you found vampires, I had to watch the Hammer films, and I had to reach out to find things that weren’t necessarily meant for children to read. Because the “Young Adult” section wasn’t full off waif thin supermodel vampires it is today. It was filled with books like “The Great Gatsby and “The Outsiders” ridiculous books by R.L. Stine, like his pre “Goosebumps” work, but the Vampire was almost a strictly adult themed villain. So you had to go to the adult fiction section. There among the pages of Anne Rice’s homosexual master piece “Interview with a Vampire” I found the first representation of the cursed anti hero. The guy that didn’t necessarily want to be a vampire, I am sure this was something that had been explored by other novels at the time; however, I was 11 so give me a break. But that was really the first time I had ever read about a Vampire, not really wanting to be a Vampire, I mean the dense symbolism of Bram Stoker’s  work was so thick that if there was a hurt soul in the pages of his fiction, especially in his Dracula, well- I had and continue to- completely miss it. But Anne Rice’s work was full of lamenting, and forlorn, her vampires were the fictional equivalent of a Morrissey lyric. “The more you ignore me, the closer I get, you’re wasting your time…” That was pretty much the feeling I got when reading “Interview” and by that time it was already the 90’s, we had seen AIDS take numerous high profile victims, and we had seen the first video game inspired conflict in the CNN reports of the Gulf War, technology was everywhere. The internet was becoming a tighter nit hub of BBS’s and sites were being built specifically for commerce and gathering. It was some exciting shit. And so was that book, and so was the fact that information was becoming more and more readily available. So I started looking into where the Vampire came from.

From The Beginning: Vampires in Ancient Cultures.

In Babylon, the Lilu were bloodsucking demons as were the Akhkharu of Sumeria. Lilitu one of the Lilu later became Lilith in Jewish mythology, they often depict her as living in part on the blood of new born babies. The Persians on the other hand were the very first to put down any form of the Vampire in story form, archaeologists have uncovered pottery which shows vampire like demons or spirits subsisting on the blood of men. The ancient Egyptian goddess Sekhmet was often depicted either drinking blodd or a beer like mixture which would pass for it.

Rome and Greece both offered their own stolen versions of the great monster, with Empusa, who was one of the daughters of the Goddess Hecate, she , oddly enough had feet made of bronze and would also seduce men before drinking their blood. Lamia was one that most likely came from the Lilith tradition and preyed, again on poor weak children for their blood. So moving forward in geography we come more towards the Asian shelf, lets take a look at what exactly our friends in the eastern quadrant of the world thought about our fanged Phnom’s shall we?

Look east my Son towards a land of…The Undead?

Asia or the countries which make up the land mass inhabited by the multitude of different Asian cultures is a huddled mass of lights technology, living land, spirits and the red dragon. If you have ever been to either Hong Kong or the heart Tokyo you know exactly what I am talking about, but this land of unparalleled futurism is also a land that doesn’t forget it’s dead, or should I say undead.

Starting off in Japan (as we all should for their wonderfully addictive games and cinema) we find something akin to the vampire, the Nukekubi, which is a being whose head and neck detach from the demons body and wander around looking for human prey in the night time, it’s funny to me that Japan, among the other eastern cultures has all of it’s modernity and technological might, but it doesn’t have it’s own source of a vampire. The representations of Japans bloodsuckers are those of strictly western descent. But if you go a little further you can find our familiar myth in the hands of the very capable Philippines, who have the Aswang (yes, I spelled that correctly and yes I did laugh very, very hard when I read it the first time) who is a female or at least looks female and human by day, but grows wings and claws and sucks your blood out at night with help from her tongue. The Malaysians also have a variation on this called the Penanggalan, which is another supposedly beautiful woman who detaches her head , which consequently grows bat wings, at night to suck the blood out of Pregnant Women.

But Possibly my favorite of these Asian Beliefs is the Chinese Jiang Shi, which literally means “Stiff Corpse” ( so says Wikapedia, so that’s a little suspect) who are reanimated corpses that hop about killing things to gain their essence or spirit, they are often described as covered in a mossy fur. So now wouldn’t the Twilight saga be a bit more interesting if Edward didn’t just sparkle, but also looked like an acid test version of Kermit, hopping so sexually about…makes you wonder.

So much for a pain in the neck

So now both you and I know a little more about Vampires than either of us would most likely like to, and we have seen the great count in it’s various forms, from Chinese Toad to Hebrew demoness, and you’ve learned my great dirty secret that in fact I do, to a certain extent like Vampires, well, what do we do now?

Nothing, we enjoy the stories, we laugh at the insanity and we go into the graveyard. We dust off those pleather pants and then quickly put them away, because no one my dears, repeat NO ONE,  looks good in pleathers, and we wait for the next fad in the long line of this monsters history to come and go. Because whether I like it or not the Vampire doesn’t obviously constrain itself to cultures, history or time ; no it seems that so long as there are humans there will always be Vampires, and for this, I am somewhat eternally grateful.

Cheers,

Eric

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