Vampires in Society and Mass Media Essay
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Vampires. The living dead. Immortals. They go by many names, but whatever they are called, they are known by people in every culture. They haunt our nightmares and color our dreams, turning the night into a sinister and mysterious place. Whether we see them in movies or books, or hear their stories around the campfire, vampires are all around us, rooted deep in our minds. But what are vampires, exactly, and where did they come from?
The unknown has always been a cause for fear in people.
The dark, death- we don’t know what they hold, and our imaginations run wild trying to prepare our minds. “… it is not surprising that primitive societies the world over… have created whole pantheons of gods and demons, all supposedly out to gorge themselves on human flesh and blood.” (Frost, 1989) Legends stem back to the beginnings of religious lore, of a female vampire called Empusae by the Greeks, Lamia by the Romans, Lilitu by the Babylonians, and Lilith by the Hebrews, a succubus bent on the ensnarement of young men.
So how do people think of vampires today? Until recently, the stereotypical vampire was known to be pale-skinned and soulless; a killer who gorged on blood to survive, who had no reflection and could not bear the presence of any holy object or garlic, could not cross running water, and could be killed with a stake through the heart or from exposure to sunlight, which burned. Today, many different variations of the legend exist, from psychic vampirism, “which is a mysterious process whereby certain persons are able to steal other people’s vitality without even touching them” (Frost, 1989), to vampirism of a scientific nature, existing in a normal human with a soul.
While on the subject of vampires, one must also talk about their slayers. The name Van Helsing always comes up when on the topic of vampire slayers, whether it’s Abraham Van Helsing form the original Dracula, or Gabriel Van Helsing from the movie, Van Helsing. One must also mention Buffy Summers, from the popular 90’s television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Each of these characters hunts and kills evil vampires that prey on and murder innocent victims. They are the heroes. In some stories, however, the vampire slayers are the villains, attempting to murder vampires seen as good or innocent, a newer concept.
The most well-known vampire story is Bram Stoker’s 1897 book, Dracula. Set in Victorian London, it tells the story of Jonathan Harker and his fiancée Mina Murray. Harker is sent to Transylvania to help the mysterious Count Dracula with a real estate transaction, but he soon realizes that he is being held prisoner, kept weak by Dracula’s three wives. Dracula then travels to London and begins feeding on Lucy Westenra, a friend of Mina’s. Her fiancée, Arthur Holmwood, later known as Lord Godalming, and other suitors, Quincy P. Morris and Dr. John Seward, enlist the help of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, “renowned as a specialist in rare diseases of the blood” (Joshi, 2011), when they see her wasting away, and attempt to give her multiple blood transfusions, but she eventually dies and rises again as a vampire to feed on the young children of London. Harker manages to escape from the ‘sisters’ and is met by Mina in Budapest, where they are married before returning to England. Dracula begins visiting Mina, and the men quickly realize what is happening to her. With her help, they lure Dracula back to his Transylvanian castle, “where he is dispatched (with knives) by Harker and Morris” (Joshi, 2011).
Originally entitled The Un-Dead, Dracula is written in the form of notes in shorthand and transcribed on typewriters, gramophone recordings, telegraph messages, and journal entries of the various characters. The Count himself is the only major character who does not narrate the story at some point. While Dracula is certainly now well-known by most everyone, it did not become popular until it was adapted for film and the stage.
At the Lyceum Theater in London in 1987, Bram Stoker presented a stage reading of an abbreviated version of Dracula. This helped him secure the performance rights for his novel. The first Dracula movie was made in 1922 and titled Nosferatu in an attempt to avoid paying royalties to the Stoker estate. 1931 introduced perhaps the most famous Dracula yet known in Bela Lugosi, a Hungarian actor whose voice and physical appearance formed the character of Dracula for many years to come. Many other adaptations have since been created, the most recent being Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992. The closest match to Bram Stoker’s original book is the 1972 film version of Count Dracula.
“Anne Rice has long been credited with reviving the vampire as a cultural icon, introducing it to a huge mainstream audience and influencing most interpretations of the archetype that followed hers.” (Joshi, 2011) Although she originally had trouble reading as a child, Rice wrote Interview with a Vampire in 1973, based on a short story she had written in 1968. Interview with a Vampire is about a man who is turned into a vampire and does not want to kill.
Her second Vampire Chronicles novel, The Vampire Lestat, is tells the story of Lestat, who originally created Louis from Interview with a Vampire, and he dissents with Louis’s opinions of him and gives much more information of the vampire world than was given in Interview with a Vampire. She continues Lestat’s story with The Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the Body Thief, Memnoch the Devil, and The Vampire Armand. Then, she crossed her vampire Chronicles novels with her Mayfair witches series in Merrick, Blackwood Farm, and Blood Canticle. To date, Interview with a Vampire and The Queen of the Damned have been adapted into movies, and a play named Lestat, based on Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, has been adapted for the theater.
In 2005, Stephenie Meyer began the first novel in her Twilight saga. The series consists of Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. It follows Bella Swan, an awkward teenager who meets a mysterious boy in school and comes to find he is a vampire. As the series continues, several attempts are made on Bella’s life because she knows about vampires, and eventually she marries Edward and is turned into a vampire after giving birth to a human-vampire hybrid. The books have so far been made into four movies, and a fifth is scheduled to come out November 16.
Other vampire stories are created simply as movies. The Underworld series is about a race of vampires that is at war with a race of werewolves, called Lycans. It includes the movies Underworld, Underworld: Evolution, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, and Underworld: Awakening. Recently movies like Daybreakers have been made, where vampires have basically overrun the humans. In the movie Blade, Blade is a human-vampire hybrid who protects the humans from vampires.
Vampires have even been introduced into children’s shows. The Disney channel show My Babysitter’s a Vampire has a cast full of teenage vampires protecting their small town of Whitechapel from other strange monsters. Even in Sesame Street, The Count teaches small children how to count and the alphabet. The 2000 movie The Little Vampire is about a little boy who tries to save his new vampire friends and their family from an evil vampire slayer.
Vampires have been a big part of society and entertainment. From books to movies to TV, everyone has heard of, read about, and watched vampires throughout their lives, and it is unlikely that they will go out of style anytime soon. With the Edward Cullens, Lestats, and Draculas of the world out there, it looks like we will always have vampires around, and we’re okay with that. Vampires help us consider life after death, mortality, and even our relationships with other people. They show us that no matter how bad things get, you can always change for the better.
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Damned. Dir. Michael Rymer. Roadshow, 2002. Film. Underworld. Dir. Len Wiseman. Warner Bros., 2003. Film.
Wright, Dudley. The Book of Vampires. New York: Causeway, 1973. Print.