TEN EVOLUTION OF VAMPIRES LORE

by: Matt Martin. Cultures from all over the world have myths
of blood-drinking gods and demons. In the
Middle Ages, people believed that these
demons would inhabit dead bodies, which
would rise from their graves at night to
terrorize the living. This pervasive belief has
sparked an obsession with the undead—a
hysteria that spread to literature, where
vampires were created. From there, vampires
evolved from shuffling corpses into the
charming undead . . . and back into shuffling
corpses.
10 Children Of The Night
Sumerian texts dating back 4,000 years tell of
night spirits that preyed upon sleeping
humans. These spirits may have inspired
myths of the Hebrew demon Lilith, whose
name means “night monster.” Lilith had the
upper body of a woman and lower body of a
giant snake. According to legend, she was the
snake who tempted Eve in the Garden of
Eden, as well as the mother of many
monsters. Her demonic children may have
inspired many traits of the modern vampire,
especially her daughters, the lillu and the
estries .
The lillu fed off the blood of infants, and the
estries would die if they did not feed on
human blood. Estries were shape-shifters that
liked to trick their way into victims’ homes,
often taking the form of a young woman. If
killed, an estrie had to be buried with dirt in
its mouth, or it would rise from the grave.
9 Revenants
A revenant is a corpse that rises from its
grave to terrorize the living. The corpse
would have been a vain, wicked person in
life. Murky eyewitness accounts of revenants
spread throughout Western Europe in the
12th century.
A Welsh chronicler, Walter Map, wrote to a
bishop asking how to destroy a revenant. The
undead had been calling out the names of
villagers, cursing them to die of illness. The
bishop wrote back, telling Map to dig up the
body, sprinkle it with holy water, and cut off
its head .
In the 1190s, historian William Parvus noted
that there were so many reports of revenants
that he couldn’t record all of them. In one
instance, he tells of a revenant that rose from
its grave each night and would beat to death
any villager that it could find. During daylight
hours, the villagers dug up the corpse. When
they pierced its chest with a spade, blood
gushed out as if from an exploding leech.
They removed the heart and burned the body.
Another legend speaks of two revenants that
carried their coffins on their backs. They
banged on the walls of houses and shouted. A
sickness spread through the town, and the
townsfolk began to die. Soon, only three were
still alive. The sickness stopped when they
dug up the revenants and cut off their heads.
8 Draugr
The Norse draugr are a more powerful form
of revenant, and they represent an
evolutionary path that vampire lore could
have taken.
Draugr possess immense strength and magical
abilities such as shape-shifting, weather
control, and seeing into the future. They live
in their barrows, greedily guarding the
treasures within. Unlike revenants, draugr
are not confined to a helpless sleep during
the day.
Draugr are jealous of the living. Anyone who
passes by a draugr ‘s barrow can be driven
mad by its telepathic hate. At night, they
leave their barrows, transforming into an
ethereal mist to pass through walls. They seek
to torment the living and will slaughter
domestic animals or people who get lost in
the forest. If you run away with a draugr‘s
treasure, it will force night to fall and then
chase after you. You won’t be able to sleep
because a draugr with a grudge can enter
your dreams.
7 Real-World Hysteria
Jure Grando was a real person who lived in a
village in Istria (modern-day Croatia). He died
in 1656, but legends say that he rose from the
grave every night for 16 years until the
villagers sawed off his head. He is the first
person in recorded history to be described as
a vampire .
Another tale of a supposedly real vampire was
that of Petar Blagojevich , who allegedly rose
from the grave in 1725 and killed nine
people. When the villagers dug up his grave,
they found that he had grown longer hair and
nails. There was blood around his mouth, and
he looked more alive in death than he did in
life. When they staked him, blood gushed out
of his orifices.
The villagers had mistaken natural
decomposition for signs of life. After death,
skin loses fluid and begins to contract, giving
the illusion of growing hair, nails, and teeth.
The corpse swells as gases form in the torso,
pushing blood through the mouth and nose.
This also gives the body a ruddy, almost
healthy-looking complexion. Piercing the skin
will cause the pressurized blood to spew out
and the gases to escape through the mouth,
making an audible moaning sound.
6 The Vampyre
As stories about supposed undead like Grando
and Blagojevich spread, the public became
interested in revenants and vampires. The
18th century saw a spike in poems and short
stories about revenants. With each iteration,
the shuffling revenant transformed into the
intelligent vampire . Later, in 1816, a novel
called The Vampyre was published. Though it
was originally credited to Lord Byron, it was
actually written by his traveling physician,
Dr. John Polidori.
The titular vampire is named Lord Ruthven, a
character that Polidori based on Lord Byron.
Ruthven was in many ways a proto-Dracula.
He was an aristocratic vampire who preyed
on the wives and daughters of aristocrats. No
longer was the vampire a decaying revenant—
a peasant with a miserable soul. Now, he was
a suave charmer. The Vampyre was a hit. It
sparked a vampire craze throughout Europe.
Even authors like Tolstoy and Alexandre
Dumas wrote vampire stories of their own.
5 ‘Varney The Vampire’
So-called “penny dreadfuls” were trashy short
stories written in the 19th century. They were
published weekly to an audience of young
males, with each pamphlet costing a penny.
One of the most popular of these was “ Varney
the Vampire.” It ran for two years, totaling
nearly 667,000 words. The narrative was
choppy and full of anachronisms and retcons,
but the series was popular.
Varney was the first vampire to have fangs,
hypnotic powers, and superhuman strength.
Like Lord Ruthven before him, he could be
healed by moonlight. However, the Sun did
him no ill effect, nor did garlic or holy water.
Varney needed to feed to restore human
functions and appearance. The longer he
went without feeding, the more vampiric he
became in appearance, thirst, and power.
Varney was also the first vampire to be
written as a self-loathing anti-hero. He
despised his condition so much that he once
inflicted it upon his enemy as a form of cruel
revenge. Ultimately, he committed suicide by
throwing himself into Mount Vesuvius. More
than 100 years later, morally gray vampires
like Varney would become popular in fiction
like Interview with the Vampire and Dark
Shadows .
4 Carmilla
Carmilla was the original lesbian vampire.
She featured in an eponymous 1871 Gothic
horror novella written by Joseph Sheridan Le
Fanu. The story follows Laura, a lonely young
woman who lives in a castle with her father.
One day, a carriage accident brings an
injured girl named Carmilla to the castle door.
The two become fast friends, even though
Carmilla’s flirty playfulness makes Laura feel
bashful. Laura soon discovers that Carmilla
has a habit of sleepwalking at night. Not long
after Carmilla’s arrival, girls in the village
begin to die of a mysterious illness.
Over two decades years later, Bram Stoker
would use Carmilla as his inspiration for
Dracula . The amount of similarities between
the two books are alarming. Dracula’s
vampire hunter, Dr. Van Helsing, resembles
Carmilla’s vampire hunter, Baron Vordenburg.
Dracula feeds on his victims in the same way
that Carmilla does. They both enter their
victims’ bedchambers to drain their blood a
little each night. The victims become weaker,
unsure of why they are sick. Lucy, the girl
whom Dracula turns into a vampire, bears a
striking resemblance to Carmilla. They are
similar both in appearance and their free-
spirited behavior. They even have the same
sleepwalking condition. The two stories even
originally took place in the same setting until
Stoker changed his in later drafts. The
inspiration is even more noticeable if you
read Stoker’s short story prequel, “Dracula’s
Guest .”
3 Nosferatu
Dracula , written in 1897, is a masterwork of
Gothic horror. The titular character combines
aspects of Carmilla, Lord Ruthven, and Varney
to form the most influential vampire
character of all time. Despite critical praise,
Dracula was not an immediate best seller, and
Bram Stoker didn’t live to see its eventual
success.
In 1922, a German filmmaker made a silent
movie loosely based on Dracula called
Nosferatu . It added an iconic weakness to
vampire lore—vulnerability to sunlight. The
movie was popular, but it was made without
the permission of Stoker’s widow, who sued
and won. Many copies of the film were
destroyed, but it was too late to suppress the
movie entirely.
Universal Studios legally acquired the film
rights and released the iconic Dracula ,
starring Bela Lugosi, in 1931. Since then,
Dracula has gone on to appear in more films
than any other literary character in history.
2 Bram Stoker’s Dracula
In the original novel, Dracula was a creature
of pure evil who sought to dominate the
world. That changed with the 1992 romantic
horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (also
sometimes referred to as simply Dracula ).
In the movie, Dracula is portrayed as a tragic
hero driven mad by a broken heart. He is a
mortal warrior who returns from battle only
to find that his wife has committed suicide
upon receiving a false report of his death.
Dracula goes mad, desecrates a temple, and
renounced God, thus cursing himself to
become a vampire.
Nearly 400 years later, Dracula travels to
London and meets Mina Murray, the fiancee
of his enemy, John Harker. Dracula believes
that Mina is the reincarnation of his wife. As
he seduces her, he resists the urge to force
the vampire curse upon her. But as Mina’s
memories of her past life return, she begs him
to do it and forces him to turn her against his
will.
This is in stark contrast to the book , where
Dracula and Mina have no past together.
Dracula is actually more interested in Mina’s
friend Lucy. Also, in the book, Dracula attacks
Mina and turns her into a vampire as revenge
against Harker. Yet, despite these drastic
changes, the 1992 movie is truer to the
original novel than any other film.
The movie popularized the idea of vampires
as romantic heroes. It set the stage for
modern vampire interpretations such as Buffy
and Twilight.
1 Zombies
Believe it or not, zombies evolved out of
vampire lore. It all started with the 1954
novel I Am Legend and its follow-up movies.
The novel is about Robert Neville, the last
man alive after humanity has been wiped out
by a pandemic that turns people into
vampires.
Robert learns that the pandemic is caused by
a bacterium that is damaged by sunlight. He
also discovers that vampire weaknesses are a
result of psychological conditioning. People
think they have become vampires and react
accordingly. They fear garlic and holy water
because they think they are supposed to. A
Christian vampire would fear the cross, but a
Jewish vampire would not.
This was the first novel to give vampirism a
scientific origin. It also originated the concept
of what is now known as the zombie
apocalypse. Modern zombies (as opposed to
the zombies of Haitian folklore) first appeared
in the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, by
George A. Romero. Romero admitted that he
had ripped off I Am Legend when writing his
movie. He went on to create many more
zombie movies, giving the creatures their
own unique lore.
Check out Matt’s blog for more monster lists.

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