Looking at Mirrors, Vampires, and You the Reader
Why Dracula Hates Mirrors -- Bram Stoker
"The now popular idea that vampires cast no reflection in a mirror (and often have an intense aversion to them) seems to have been first been put forward in Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. Soon after his arrival at Castle Dracula, Jonathan Harker observed the building was devoid of mirrors. When Dracula silently came into Harker's room while he was shaving, Harker noticed that Dracula, who was standing behind him, did not appear in the shaving mirror as he should have. Dracula complained that mirrors were the objects of human vanity, and, seizing the mirror, he broke it.
"The mirror incident does not seem to have any precedent in either vampire folklore or earlier vampire short stories and dramas, although Stoker seems to have been aware of folklore about mirrors. Mirrors were seen as somehow revealing a person's spiritual double, the soul. In seeing themselves revealed in a mirror, individuals found confirmation that, that there was a soul and that hence life went on. They also found in the reflection a new source of anxiety, as the mirror could be used negatively to affect the soul. The notion that the image in the mirror was somehow the soul underlay the idea that breaking the mirror brought seven year's bad luck. Breaking the mirror also damaged the soul.
"Thus, one could speculate that the vampire had no soul, had nothing to reflect in the mirror. The mirror forced the vampire to confront the nature of his/her existence as the undead, neither living nor dead." -- (Melton 407)*
Well, yes, we are allowed to speculate, aren't we? Thank goodness, other wise we would never come to understand what this author was stabbing at, as if in the dark, armed with only what they knew and been told. That is one point of this exposition, to help people come to understanding the importance of mirrors, not only in the novel Dracula, or in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles talked of later, but the importance of mirrors in general, and the fact that this article is a mirror, you just don't know it yet. The final point will become obvious at the end, or at least I hope it will be. So let's look closely at the mirror, shall we?
The word mirror has it's root in the Latin verb mirari, which means to wonder at. And what does wonder mean? Wonder comes from the Anglo-Saxon word which means "... a portent. The original sense is awe, literally, that from which one turns aside."† Awe has it's distant roots in the Greek word achos, or fear. What I'm getting at here is the differing reactions to mirrors. I want to find out possibly why folklore then assigned mirrors as containing our souls, and to possibly why breaking a mirror was considered as bad luck. It becomes clear to me that the mirror was an experience of wonder that could be either thought of as bad or good, depending on what one thinks one sees. If the mirror is broken then one could no longer wonder at it and hence oneself. Its even worse if one breaks it on purpose, because then one is refusing to look at what's there. I can see why the mirror can become frightening, especially if one doesn't approve of what one sees there, which is oneself. The mirror can often expose the real self, as opposed to the delusion of what one thinks one is.
Consider this when you wonder why Dracula did not appear in the mirror, and then why he then broke it. I've come to think that he wasn't soulless, but he was afraid of looking upon what he had become, which metaphorically was nothing. He did not want to reflect on what he had become. He had ceased to wonder at himself, and in that act had ceased to change. Since he had ceased to change he really was dead. He's only still 'alive', or existing because he drinks the blood of others.
Blood comes from the Anglo-Saxon word blõd, which comes from the word blõwan, which means to flourish or bloom. That's a strange concept, isn't it? Let's look at other words, or ideas about blood, or the red fluid in our veins. The Latin word for blood was sanguis, from which comes many words, the two most interesting I've found are Sang-froid (French for cold blooded) and Sangraal ("...same as Holy Grail."†). In Sang-froid, or cold blood, the idea is about someone that's lifeless or does not have "... agitation or excitement of mind,"† or passion. And then we have Sangraal, or Holy Grail, or cup with Holy in it. Blood is Holy? Well, yes I guess it is. Without enough blood I wouldn't be writing these words, and if you didn't have enough blood you would not be reading them. In this sense saying that, "The Blood is The Life" is true, but they are not the same. Otherwise why have two separate words? Blood is just something that's essential to life. Deep within all our minds blood has a deep significance, without it we can't live, we know this.
So when Dracula drinks the blood of others he's stealing their life essence. Dracula is no longer changing, or learning how to adapt and create his own life, he's no longer able to support his existence. And since he's no longer 'blooming' he steals other people's ability to bloom and this is how he sustains himself. He takes, and takes, and eventually you become transformed into a similar creature, or rather learn to be like him in my view. No wonder Dracula smashes the mirror, he doesn't want to see that he has become nothing. A horrifying idea, isn't it?
Bram Stoker knew symbolically that vampires are the stealers of blood and hence of life. Bram Stoker was really addressing larger issues than the legend of Vlad Tepes, that must have been a flash of insight that lead him to the story. Stoker uses the story Dracula to address his own dilemmas of people who suck off other people to make their own existence. Stoker was addressing people he's seen as vampires in his life. Let's at least realize what he was saying about what he saw going on. Otherwise the whole point of the story is lost. And you wonder why the vampire image has been so captivating to people in recent years? Let's get real here.
The Dawn of Reflection -- Anne Rice
"Anne Rice felt that her character's, despite their supernatural status, should have no more proof of the existence of God than do mortals. "If Louis failed to see himself in a mirror," she says, "he would know that some force was at work." Rice wanted her vampires to "possess supernatural powers without explanation," and to exist as what they logically were: being outside of humanity, but still part of it and still governed by the same physical laws. Since vampires take up physical space and represent eternal substance, they naturally see them selves in mirrors." -- (Ramsland, 301)‡
I will point out here that the 'physical laws' and 'space' and such are as Anne Rice's sees them in the universe she has created in the Vampire Chronicles. Let's not mistake these laws for the scientific laws that are made by scientists, even if her laws are based on what she's learned of their laws. The Chronicles are a work of fiction, don't forget that. It's easy to believe that when we here such language as above that it must be real.
Anne Rice has borrowed the vampire image from those that have followed Stoker's idea and did a fairly new thing with it, and it's turned out to be a very successful idea. She's allowed them to look in the mirror and see what they see. Sounds simple enough, let's examine what happens...
"Louis is the first to describe his experience of seeing his vampire image. He is amazed, because he had expected that, as a vampire, he would be unable to do so. It means to him that perhaps he does have a soul and there are no supernatural processes at work. But when he catches the image of himself sucking blood from a rat, he comes to wish that he could not see himself. IV 37, 196
"Lestat is horrified when he first picks up a mirror in Magnus' tower and perceives the image of a replica of himself. "I became frantic to discover myself in it." VL 103 It is clear that he has lost some of his humanity and the mirror seems to mock that. Gradually, however, viewing what he has becomes fills Lestat with an eagerness to know all about his new existence.
"On a later occasion, after he has been on a killing spree with Akasha, he looks at himself naked in a full-length mirror and thinks back to his original experience. "I was just as afraid right now," he claims. QD 357 Examining his white skin, he grows more aware of what becoming a vampire can mean. There seems to be something beyond the mere reflection in the mirror, and the scene hints at the larger theme of self deception." -- (Ramsland, 301)‡
What Anne Rice has so skillfully shown throughout her Vampire Chronicles, and indeed beyond into all her other writings, is how mirrors, or the act of wondering at ourselves can make or break a person's development. For instance Louis gets stuck in his shame and guilt over what he is. Whereas Lestat does not turn aside from the fear of what he sees, sure it horrifies him, but he then wonders what it all means and goes to seek answers. It's no wonder Lestat is the hero in the Chronicles, even if they started with Louis's story, Lestat is the one character who carries the questions forward in the search for answers. He goes on a epic quest for the meaning of his existence as a vampire. Why? Please recall Lestat's 'Dark Moment' or the 'malady of mortality':
"Rice based this scene on her own experience. She had smoked some marijuana when she was twenty-six and had suddenly realized that everyone, including herself, was going to die. "I realized that we might not even know, when we die, what this [world] was all about -- which is exactly Lestat's experience. I was a basket case for six months. I could hardly function. I never again felt the same about life or death."." -- (Ramsland, 86)‡
This was her dilemma, and hence Lestat's dilemma, and it's really a dilemma that most people have, especially for those who don't want to look at what 'this' is. The author who reports Rice's quote felt they had to explain what Rice was saying when she said 'this', I must argue that it's not just 'world', it's much broader than that -- 'this' is existence. 'Why are we here?' is an eternal question. It's one that Anne Rice tapped into and struggled with through her characters. Especially Lestat, who is someone on the other side of life, one who's really a human predator, but as he reflects upon himself, he finds that he's really still human.
"...Rice often uses pairs of characters to mirror each other. For example, Louis sees himself mirrored in the hypocrisy of the priests. The effect makes him more self-aware and more appreciative of what his vampire experience offers him. By the end of [Interview], however, after Louis loses his passion, Armand sees in Louis a reflection of his own emptiness and despair; unfortunately, neither of them is able to utilize this insight for psychological growth." -- (Ramsland, 302)‡
Indeed, and yet, I will argue that Rice shows us that it was a matter of choice for them. Since they did not choose to conquer their fears, they did not change or grow. It's not that they can't, it's that they chose not to. Louis loses his passion because he lost everyone who had passion. He had no passion of his own to begin with because he was always dependent on others to impassion him. When Lestat and Claudia left he did become empty, and when he did not address the real issue he remained empty. This is something important that Rice had learned from her life, I would even go so far as to say it was because of her daughter's death, but she showed us this through her character Louis.
And when you consider this, its no wonder it was nine years before Lestat was published, because Rice had to find life's passion again for herself. She then showed us this 'way' she had found in Lestat's quest, which ends in a confrontation with God, this is highly symbolic, maybe even more so than Rice realizes. This may be why after writing Memnoch The Devil, the character of Lestat didn't have anything more to say. This may be because Rice found that Lestat and perhaps even God is not the answer to her dilemma, the 'malady of mortality', that perhaps it's not a malady at all. Consider her non-vampire writings after 1995 and perhaps you'll see that other issues are being addressed, especially Violin. This is all an interesting speculation, but let's put this all back into the context of mirrors.
The Vampire Chronicles were Anne Rice's mirror, one that wondered at the 'malady of mortality.' But her works of fiction are offered to us as mirrors, for our own speculation, not as to the possibilities that vampires exist, but as to possible ways how to exist. This is why her works seem so real, and I'm sure she would think if you have suspended your belief then she did her job as a fiction writer.
The point of fiction is not for you, the reader, to believe fiction as fact but to learn something of life from it. How's this work? Well think about it, what fictional characters do you like the most? What is it about them that you like the most? Consider then, why do you like them? I think you will find some essential truths to your own existence in the particular characters you like, or for that matter, even learning something about yourself in the characters you hate. For better or worse, look deeply into the mirror. Do you want to be on a quest for answers, like Lestat and Anne Rice? Or do you want to stay where you are, like Louis? Or stay where you are, and deny what you are, like Dracula who can't stand the sight of himself? It's a matter of choice.
* Melton, Dr. J. Gordon. The Vampire Book; The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Invisible Ink Press, 1994
† Webster's Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1949
‡ Ramsland, Katherine M. Ph. D. The Vampire Companion; Official Guide to Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles. Ballatine Books, 1995.
© Liriel McMahon
Vampirism Research Institute
Seattle, WA USA
Reprinted with permission.
Author: Liriel McMahon