vampires in literature evolution

For generations, people have created folklore and myths about vampires, endowing certain beings with supernatural abilities and the capacity to manipulate the lives of everyday people. Vampires do not belong to any single country’s folklore; however, mythology from various countries contains several stories concerning such “children of the darkness” in various ways. The majority of vampire legends emerged in Europe during the Middle Ages when people began to show an interest in mysticism, especially that related to religion (Wright 8). Since then, the portrayal of the vampire has become very popular in literature and, later, in cinema. The image of a modern vampire has a considerable difference from that of the previous one. Modern vampires have romantic features and are characterized by self-control and honors, as opposed to the original vampires, whose major features were ghoulish terrors and demonism. The image of a vampire has been softened in order to be profitable to modern readers and teenagers. This is the reason why modern authors have recreated vampires, instilling more romanticism in them. Hollywood, in its turn, has made great contribution to the development of the image of modern vampire, making it seem more a sex symbol rather than monster. It is useful to research the process and reasons of evolution of the image of a vampire and understand the role of society, literature and cinema in this process.

What Is a Vampire?

Vampires, who exist on the earth, both similar and different from what people expect. Of course, it is better to start discussion of the vampires as of the live creatures, who have similar features with humans, however, demonstrate a myriad of physiological and psychological differences. In many ways, the vampires are similar to the familiar monsters from the myths and movies. In general, vampires are living dead, who fed the blood of the living beings in order to extend their immortality. A vampire is clinically dead, as its heart does not beat, it is not breathing, its skin is cold, and it does not grow older, however, they are able to think and walk, plan, speak, hunt, and kill (Barber 7). In order to support its artificial immortality, the vampire must consume blood of human beings. Some penitent vampires prefer the blood of living animals and the ancient vampires must hunt down and kill other vampires to feed themselves but most of vampires support themselves with the blood of their former kin (Barber 8).

History of Vampires

Until the nineteenth century, the vampires in Europe were described as terrible monsters from beyond the grave. As usual, evil magicians become vampires, although, in some cases a vampire is able to pass its vampirism to people, who simply are innocent victims. However, sometimes the vampire could become a victim of a brutal, premature or violent death (Wright 18). Most of the Romanian belief in vampires as well as European vampire stories is of Slavic origin.

Vampire Folklore

Vampires have become the heroes of national folklore in many countries. They were very popular characters of horror stories in folklore and gained huge popularity among readers and viewers. It is challenging to provide a general account of a traditional vampire, as its characteristics are very different in diverse cultures (Crawford 12). The appearance of the European vampire has features, for which it can be distinguished from an ordinary corpse, taken from grave.

There are traditions related to the dead in many ancient societies and these traditions found their reflections in the tales about the vampires and the dead. The return of a ghost from beyond the grave has become a common motif in many cultures, however, folklore tells of lively corpses, which are returning for several hours, predominantly at night, and spreading disease to people (Crawford 26). These stories have gained fame among readers all over world, and therefore, the love of people to vampires has increased. In many stories the dead person has committed sin and is unrepentant on his deathbed (Konstantinos 45). According to some tales, the corpse was feeding on the blood of people; therefore, this belief was the basis for the modern myths of vampires.

Why Human Blood?

Vampires have always been associated with drinking blood of live people, so blood drinking is an inevitable part of stories about vampires. However, drinking blood is also a substance that is considered the prohibited subject in literature and world religions. For many years people believed that blood, taken from the person, was able to detain it from life force. Drinking it meant the absorption of that life force, powers, and attributes of the donor. It was also considered that vampires were drinking blood to continue their life (Rickels 17). Vampires are believed to have the strength of ten people, they are able to command wolves and bats, hypnotize the living, and heal the most terrible wounds. However, the folks and tales show that this fact is only partially true. The strength of a vampire increases with time and the young, newly created vampires are often not considerably stronger than live people (Rickels 17). However, with the growth of a vampire over the years, it learns to use its blood to evoke secret magic powers.

Religious Response to Vampires

Religion does not have positive attitude to vampires and their depiction in literature. Moreover, it does not accept the idea of people’s admiration of vampires and them being the central themes in literature. The Bible clearly does not mention vampires, and, consequently, there is no direct guidance to be found about vampires (Schmidt 9). The representatives of world religions state that vampirism is a demonstration of a dark power, which people should avoid. There are several examples of vampires to be used as religious icons. As a result, there has been an increase in writings of Christian Vampire Romance (Hallab 7). Although religion does not accept the vampires as living dead, stating that the place of each dead is in grave and it is unethical and morally incorrect to disturb the dead, the vampires have taken their place in the Christian and religious literature.

When Did the First Vampire Appear in Literature?

Literature about vampires is regarded one if the most popular among people of all ages and this popularity can be attributed to the development of the image of vampire in literature. Many people consider that the first image and concept of modern vampires came into literature with the release of Dracula by Bram Stoker (Ronay 16). However, the mentioning about vampires papered in literature long before modern interpretations. The literature about the life, adventures, and style of vampires have always attracted readers, as they depicted the evil creatures that drink blood. However, despite this, vampires evoke positive emotions and even sympathy in readers.

The jump of the image of the vampire from folk tales into big literature began in the late 18th and early 19th century and has occurred for several reasons. The first one is the opportunity to switch from the usual images of folk literature to something new and unusual. Secondly, this is the final release of literature from the influence of the Church. It was important for the writers to validate the fact that after death the human soul is not headed to Heaven or Hell but remains in the body (Patterson 20). This idea became possible to develop only when the influence of the church was weakened. Thirdly, the image of the vampire has been associated with the proliferation of the genre of romanticism, which is characterized by the personal view of things, partly free from the common cliché and the first attempt to create the enemy, who is not infernal and devoid of positive traits, but romanticized, with a human face, who can be seen as a tragic figure. Since the biggest part of the works about vampires of the late 18th century was written in Germany, the first stories and poems about vampires appeared in Germany. The earliest poem of this period, devoted to the image of a vampire The Bride of Corinth (1797) by Goethe. Ossenfelder and Burgher wrote about vampires as well. The poem of Burgher Lenore was early translated into English and has had a noticeable impact on Coldridge whose Crisbel, published in 1798-1800, was the first poem about vampires in England.

In 1800 in Milan, the opera of Silvestro Palma I am Vampire was staged. In 1813, the poem of Lord Byron The Giaour appears, containing the first description of vampirism as a curse:

“But first, on earth as Vampire sent, Thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent: The ghastly haunt thy native place, And suck the blood of all thy race; There from thy daughter, sister, wife, At midnight drain the stream of life; Yet loathe the banquet which perforce Must feed thy living livid corpse. Thy victims as they yet expire Shall know the demon for their sire, As cursing thee, thou cursing them, Thy flowers are withered on the stem” (Byron 14).

These lines demonstrate that many authors were devoted to the cult of vampires (Melton 47).

First Vampire in Hollywood

The history of vampires in Hollywood is rather long. Long before the occurrence of the image of vampire in Hollywood movies, people were captured with the horror films, depicted creatures, which were drinking human blood. Later, this image has been transformed into more usual for modern viewers, resulted in the release of a great number of movies, which depict vampires. The first mentioning of a vampire, Dracula, is met in the movie Nosferatu, based on the famous book by Bram Stocker Dracula. This was the first visual interpretation of a vampire. However, many critics are sure that the first attempt to depict vampires was made earlier, in 1896, by Georges Melacom in his short film The Castle of the Devil (Karg, Spaite, and Sutherland 18). It opens with a scene, depicting the bat, flying into the castle and then turning into Mephistopheles. According to myths and legends, the bat is the prototype of a vampire. Three-minute movie was an attempt to use various special effects to create fantastic events and images of Mephistopheles, ghosts, skeletons, and a vampire.

With the development of the cinema as well transformation of image of a vampire, many movies about these cold creatures were made. These are movies Lost Boys and Interview with the Vampire, which created and delivered the image of a vampire, whom people like (Karg, Spaite, and Sutherland 21). Modern Hollywood images of vampires considerably differ from those, depicted in the early stage of development of the genre. Therefore, the image of vampires has been changed from bloody, pale creatures, instilling horror, to modern sexy images who eradiate sexual energy, attract viewers, and promote violence and seduction.

The Hollywood movies, depicting vampires in the past, demonstrated these creatures with such features as the ability to seduce young women and innocent girls of the Victorian era and constant desire to drink blood from their necks. Henceforth, the look of the vampires was characterized by protruding fangs, skeletal hands with wolf claws, and tin look with dead metal eye (Karg, Spaite, and Sutherland 23). Vampires were killed with garlic and a wooden stake, driven through their heart. The vampires could not stand daylight and produced horrifying sucking sounds when they were hunting for their victims. This image of vampires is stuck in the minds of people, based on the descriptions, provided in literature and old movies, however, modern vampires have considerable differences with the old ones.


In the early 30s, well known American film director Todd Browning became interested in the topic of vampirism. His first film about vampires London After Midnight has been, unfortunately, lost, however, critics state that it was the first work, in which the image of a vampire occurred in the manner, so close to modern depiction (Stoker and Klinger 15). His second film Dracula is an adaptation of the novel of Bram Stoker. The work of Browning is considered to be a canonical film about vampires. The role of Dracula was played by a Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi, whose name in the history of the cinema means almost as much as the name of the Count. Browning’s movie first introduced the image of the vampire which today is considered a classical one. The director goes from the perception of the vampire as a monster to a beloved one. In addition, erotic component appears in the image of Dracula (Stoker and. Klinger 17). The dark essence of the vampire is associated with its nocturnal activity, and the night has traditionally been perceived as something connected with human sexuality. People needed to rethink its nature, and sexuality has ceased to be a taboo topic, so it was time to look at vampires as creatures which were not opposing to men but close to them.

Similarities and Differences between Old and Present Day Vampire

Nowadays, the difference between modern and old images of vampires is obvious as the evolution of the vampire’s image is observed. The vampire of the past, depicted in the folk stories differs from sexy and kind vampires, who are the heroes of modern tales and movies. The difference between old and present day vampires is not only in the depiction of appearance and behavior, their names are also different. With the flow of time the attributes of vampires have changed, therefore, nowadays it is very difficult to depict the real and genuine vampire. Modern literature covers the characters of vampires and makes them happy, friendly, and attractive while old vampires are characterized by cruelty and hatred to people (Meyer 19). Modern cinematography focuses on sexuality as the most attractive feature of vampires, making them lovers and seducers. Vampires become major characters of many novels and modern movies, where they are presented as kind lovers, able to make friends with people. As a result of such transformation, vampires become positive characters, able to evoke love, sympathy, and respect. Indeed, the literature of the earlier period presented vampires as creatures, close to demons (Robbins 56).

Why Did the Vampire Evolve?

It has been already mentioned that the image and character of vampires has always been interesting and evolving in literature, cinema, and art, in general. The reason of evolution of the vampire can be explained by the constant interest of people in these strange creatures, the nature and the character of which have been the subject of interest of people for centuries. The mysterious nature of the vampire gave the impulse to create great masterpieces of literature and cinema, therefore, modern authors and film directors try to continue this tradition, while adding something new to the image of modern vampire. As long as people are interested in these dark creatures, the stories and movies about them will exist. Moreover, the transformation of the vampire’s image gives numerous opportunities for imagination, which make the image of the vampire evolving.

Works Cited

Barber, Paul. Vampires, Burial, and Death. Yale University Press, 1988.

Byron, Lord. The Giaour. NY:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2016

Crawford, Heide. The Origins of the Literary Vampire. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

Hallab, Mary Y. Vampire God: the Allure of the Undead in Western Culture. SUNY, 2009.

Karg, Barbara, Arjean Spaite, and Rick Sutherland. The Everything Vampire Book: From Vlad the Impaler to the Vampire Lestat: A History of Vampires in Literature, Film, and Legend. Adams Media, 2009.

Konstantinos. Vampires: The Occult Truth. Llewellyn Publications, 2008.

Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Visible Ink, 1994.

Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight. Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

Patterson, Kathy Davis. “Echoes of Dracula: Racial Politics and the Failure of Segregated Spaces in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.” Journal of Dracula Studies, vol. 7, 2005, pp. 19-27.

Rickels, Laurence A. The Vampire Lectures. University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

Ronay, Gabriel. The Dracula Myth. Pan, 1975.

Robbins, Russell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. Crown Publishing, 1959.

Schmidt, Alvin. Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization. Zondervan Publishing Company, 2001.

Stoker, Bram, and Leslie S. Klinger. The New Annotated Dracula. W.W. Norton & Co., 2008.

Wright, Dudley. Vampires and Vampirism Legends from Around the World. Lethe Press, 2001.

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