Vampyre History

As I pondered the question of my most recent blog post, regarding whether I want all the books I write to be connected, I stumbled upon a history of the vampire genre. I’ve long been a fan of Anne Rice, whose vampire chronicles are a good example of a long genre series. Most of her work does connect, even when she stretches out to non-paranormal themes such as Feast of All Saints. Even in that novel, which takes place in her favored New Orleans, there’s a brief reference to vampires when the story goes to the island culture of past generations. Her work forms a paranormal web; she ventures into witch families and werewolves and has invented sentients of her own, such as the blood-being twin in Blackwood Farm, and the taltos.

What captivates me in Rice’s vampire tales is the depth of emotion and the system that addresses universal conscience in dynamic ways. I also love her settings, traveling back to ancient Italy and Germany, giving quality and history to the atmospheres. I attributed vampires having a conscience to her but I think her contribution is more the “little sip” and vampires being able to sense victims who are innately cruel, who have committed evil crimes, also being able to filter out that evil in the final blood-taking and cleanse it from our collective consciousness, replacing it with love, in the very act of fully knowing.

I came across information on the earliest vampire tales, beginning with John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (1819), a short story inspired by the life of Lord Byron and his poem, The Giaour, followed by a long series of penny dreadfuls, Varney the Vampire (1845-1847), in which many standard vampire conventions originated: Varney has fangs, leaves two puncture wounds on the neck of his victims, and has hypnotic powers and superhuman strength. Apparently, Varney was also the first example of the “sympathetic vampire”, who loathes his condition but is a slave to it. (You can read the original works online here.) As more people might know—even thinking it was the origin of the vampire—Bram Stoker, another Irish writer, authored Dracula, featuring Count Dracula, with the vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing his arch-enemy. Dracula has been considered seminal to other literary (and film) genres including horror and gothic.

Having read the first Varney episode, I can say this: Anne Rice changed the female experience of vampire tales. From the nubile girl—beauty emphasized—being ravished by a terrifying nighttime invader, we follow in Rice’s work the Vampire Lestat—compelling, with a full history back centuries in Europe, and a wide array of female characters. Then came the Twilight series, followed by a flood of indie paranormal and urban fantasies hungrily devoured by readers today. For example, a friend of mine, Scarlett West, writes vampire novels set in Eastern Europe, with urban scenes in modern Prague.

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