Sketchbook Page 33: Vampyre

January 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Homo hematophagens

Vampires are mythological or folkloric beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures, regardless of whether they are an ‘undead’ or a living person. In most cases, vampires are revenants of evil beings, suicide victims, or witches, but they can also be created by a malevolent spirit possessing  a corpse or by being bitten by a vampire.

Although vampiric entities have been recorded in many cultures – and these records may go back to prehistoric times – the term vampire was not popularized until the early 18th century, after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe from areas where vampire legends were frequent, such as the Balkans, although local variants were also known by different names, such as vrykolakas in Greece and strigoi in Romania. This increased level of vampire superstition in Europe led to mass hysteria and in some cases resulted in people being accused of vampirism, public executions – and the practice of pinning corpses to the ground with stakes.

While folkloric vampires of the Balkans and Eastern Europe had a wide range of appearance – ranging from nearly human to bloated rotting corpses, it was the success of John Polidori’s 1819 novella The Vampyre that established the archetype of charismatic and sophisticated vampire; it is arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century, inspiring such works as Varney the Vampire and eventually DraculaThe Vampyre was itself based on Lord Byron’s unfinished story Fragment of a Novel, also known as The Burial: A Fragment, published in 1819. However, it is Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula that is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and which provided the basis of modern vampire fiction. Dracula drew on earlier mythologies of  werewolves and similar legendary demons and, according to literary historian Susan Sellers, “was to voice the anxieties of an age”, and the “fears of late Victorian Patriarchy “.

The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century, with books, films, video games, and television shows. The vampire is now such a dominant figure in the horror genre that Sellers places the current vampire myth in the “comparative safety of nightmare fantasy”.

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