Vampires and Evil

Greetings and salutations. My name is Craig, and I'll be your professor this evening. Bear in mind, that I'm only referring to myself as "professor" because I only 'profess' to know something about the subject which I'm about to teach. Whether I actually DO know anything about it, well, that's another story.

My subject is vampires, as you may well have guessed. Those evil, malignant creatures of darkness who crawl forth from their tombs to drain the blood of the living. Hmmmm? What's that? You say that vampires aren't really evil? That vampires are really just misunderstood monsters who heroically fight to save their humanity against the forces of darkness seeking to claim their souls? How interesting. Well then, let's explore this further. Are vampires evil creatures, or tragic heroes? Where and when did vampires become the good guys? Tonight I'll try to answer this question, and maybe even come up with some good, solid questions of my own for others to ponder. (Oh, and if any of you happen to actually BE vampires, feel free to jump in at any time)

To clarify what exactly I mean by the term "vampire", let me see if I can come up with an unofficial definition. Traditionally, vampires are seen as something other than human. Specifically, a vampire is a something that once WAS a human, but then at some point experienced some form of death . In the old days, it was not until a vampire was "dead and buried" that he or she could return as a vampire. In more contemporary stories, the dying part is not entirely necessary. In the movie The Lost Boys, for example, it was presented such that Michael and Starr would become vampires after their first kill, and then only after having imbibed vampiric blood. (Lost Boys, 1987) The act of drinking the blood of a vampire in order to become one is also present in the mythology of Anne Rice (Rice, 1976). In Rice's "vampire chronicles" however, it is also necessary that the mortal body die in order to transmogrify into a vampire. Therefore, I think it is safe to say that that vampires are traditionally seen as animated corpses.

Another convention of the vampiric condition is the drinking of blood. All vampires drink blood. That is, more than anything, a definition of a vampire. As a very important side note, I am well aware that there a number of people who drink human blood, and therefore refer to themselves as vampires. I don't begrudge these people the name "vampire", and I'm really not here to say they're NOT vampires. (although I've always liked the term "Sanguivores") My personal definition of the word "vampire" however, implies a non-human blood drinker. In short, for the purposes of this class, I'll be using the unofficial definition that vampires may be described as "blood-drinking dead people".

Vampires enjoy a long, illustrious history. We would, of course, expect no less from immortal creatures. According to J Gordon Melton's The Vampire Book, the first recorded appearances of "vampirelike beings" go back to the Twelfth Century AD (Melton, 1994). After that, there are a few recorded instances of vampires until the late 1600s to early 1700s, where we see several waves of 'vampire hysteria' in Eastern European countries. At this point, vampires are closely linked with ghosts, the exception being that vampires tend to bring their bodies around with them. In 1746, Don Augustin Calmet wrote his famous dissertation on vampires and revenants (Calmet, 1746). It is interesting to note, that although Calmet seriously examines the subject of vampires, he also concedes that most of the reports he's studied are nothing more than product of imagination and superstition.

For the next century, several poems and short stories involving vampires are published, (including 2 operas!) (Melton, 1994) Among these works of vampire fiction is John Polidori's "The Vampyre". (Ryan, 1987) Polidori's work is perhaps best known for it's historical connection to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Both were originally conceived during a summer stay at Lord Byron's villa on the Lake Diodati. [1816] Polidori's vampire, Lord Ruthven, is a very thinly disguised charicature of Lord Byron himself. In this story, we have the first depiction of the vampire as "Byronic Hero" This term refers to a type of literary character who, despite being morally repugnant, is practically heroic in his lack of goodness (actually, there's a little more to it than just that, but for these purposes it will suffice) Although Lord Ruthven is a being of utter evil and wretchedness, the reader feels a certain attraction to his amorality. I believe that Byron was pleased with this reflection.

In 1872, a novelette entitled "Carmilla" was published by British writer Sheridan Le Fanu. (Ryan, 1987) The central vampire of the piece was an attractive woman named Carmilla. Carmilla was became "friends" with a young girl named Laura, whom she began to terrorize. It was soon discovered that Carmilla was actually Countess Mircalla Karnstein, one of Laura's ancestors. As in Polidori's tale, the antagonist was not only evil, but also tragically sympathetic. The relationship between Laura and Carmilla had some very clear lesbian undertones, and there seemed to be at least some genuine affection between Carmilla and Laura.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is doubtlessly the best known of all vampire tales. (Carter, 1988) Many variations on the Dracula myth have been published, written, drawn and filmed. The Dracula of Bram Stoker's original novel is clearly an antagonist. Dracula makes his appearance only infrequently throughout the novel, yet manages to make his presence felt very strongly. It is perhaps because of the Count's infrequent appearance that some have chosen to portray him in a more sympathetic light.

Coppola's filming of the novel, for example, Dracula (portrayed here again as Vlad Tepes, the historical Dracula) is seen as a tragic figure being "punished" for his act of hubris in renouncing God. Although this is a very beautiful and creative depiction of the Dracula myth, I feel it deviates from Stoker's original purpose.

Most of the vampire fiction of this era seems to follow that same concept. The vampires of the 1800s are rather well-educated, polite, and affable. However, these qualities are only used by the vampires to lull their victims into a false sense of complacency. As the undead antagonist subtly works his way into the lives of those around him, the heroes of the story begin to believe that this creature is nothing more than an eccentric friend. It is then that the vampire strikes. However heroic the vampire may seem, it is still a creature of darkness, powerless against in own thirst for blood.

So then, when did these vamps become "the good guys"? I think that we can trace this tradition back a mere 30 years, when a character known as Barnabas Collins arrived upon the scene. Dark Shadows, a failing soap opera with undertones of gothic horror, had made it's way to the BBC in 1967. (Melton, 1994) Barnabas Collins, an undead ancestor of the series' central family, was introduced in episode #210. Although Barnabas began the series as somewhat of an antagonist, he gradually became more of a sympathetic figure. As the series itself was brought back from the dead, Dark Shadows' fan base grew. By 1967, the first Dark Shadows fan club was started.

In 1976, one of the best known vampire novels of all time, Interview with the Vampire was written. (Rice, 1976) This novel was a well-wrought attempt to break the rules of vampire mythology. This novel went unnoticed for quite some time before finally gaining recognition.

The hero of the tale, (for those few of you who haven't read this) is a tragic figure known as Louis. Louis is another sympathetic vampire. The act of drinking blood is practically repugnant to him, and one wonders why he chose this unlife to begin with. Although Louis is the story's main character, it is Louis' "sire", Lestat, who steals the show, as it were.

Lestat is a sort of revival of the Victorian Byronic hero. His morality is based upon whim, and he possesses a very seductive depravity. Lestat embodies all that is attractive about vampires. He breaks both human and vampiric laws with impunity, seduces men and women alike, and has the preternatural powers of the Devil himself at his beck and call. Anne Rice, in her attempt to create an imposing villain, had inadvertently created a very desirable anti-hero.

Today, as evidenced by the popularity of web-pages such as this one, vampires are more popular than ever. Chat groups on the Internet are becoming ubiquitous, as more and more people initiate "in-character" vampire discussion groups. The 'Vampire-Chic' is upon us, and self-styled vampires now have their own music, nightclubs, fashions, and comic books.

Before going on, I'd like to re-iterate that I'm casting NO aspersions on people who are interested in vampires as a hobby, or listen to Goth music, or like to dress in Victorian-age dress. Obviously, I am myself just as fascinated by vampires, and have no problems with my own self image. OK, end personal disclaimer.

Now that we've explored the development of the vampire through history, let us now try to determine a vampiric ethical framework. (For those of you squirming in your seats, don't worry, class is nearly over.)

So, are vampires evil? For some of you out there, this is a dead issue. A vampire is simply a blood-drinking corpse, animated by the same spirit that originally inhabited it. That is to say, if Martin Luther King Jr. Had become a vampire, he'd be very decent, and not in the least bit evil. On the other hand, if someone really evil, (like maybe the guy who wrote the screenplay for Highlander 2) became a vampire, he'd be a completely depraved individual. I like to think that I'd make a pretty good vampire myself, being somewhere between saintly and damned. This argument, however, only holds water if you think of vampires as something resembling "a ghost with the meat still on".

Another representation of a vampire could best be described as an evil spirit which inhabits the body of a deceased person. This is a more terrifying depiction of the vampire. The demonic vampire would have no human emotions, no mercy, and no morality, yet it would look just like our closest friends or relatives. ::Brrrr...::

A third vampiric representation might be something between the two. True addiction can be every bit as frightening as any mythological creature of darkness. A very addictive drug, such as heroin or crack (not to mention nicotine or alcohol) has the power to transform our closest and most beloved friends into monsters. If blood-addiction in the undead is anything similar to narcotic addiction, a vampire could very well be both the bodily incarnation of a former spirit, yet also an 'evil' being. Evil, that is, in the sense that it would be wholly unable to control it's thirst for blood.

It is difficult to categorize 'evil' behavior. Evil is a very subjective term. Khalil Gibran once wrote: "What is evil, but good tortured by it's own hunger and thirst..." Anne Rice's concept of evil is: "What happens when people get hurt" (Ramsland, 1993) To steal a quote from "The Tick": "Evil is just plain bad!". Now that I've gone from Gibran to the Tick in just three sentences, I think I'll bring today's class to a close. I hope I have opened the door to discussion, and I sincerely hope I haven't offended anyone in the process. For those of you wishing to speak to me after class, I can be reached at [e-mail address listed below.] Feel free to write if you have any comments, complaints or ideas. (And if you DO have complaints, please, please, please bug ME about it, and not Liriel. She really was a sweetheart for letting me put this here, and my opinions aren't necessarily hers.)

Thank you, and good night.


Calmet, Don Augustin. Treatise on Vampires and Revenants. The Phantom World. (trans. By Rev. Henry Christmas.) Desert Island Books. New York. 1993.
Carter, Margaret L. Dracula: The Vampire and the Critics. UMI Research Press. Ann Arbor, MI. 1988.
Gibran, Khalil. The Prophet. Random House. New York. 1968.
The Lost Boys. Dir. By Joel Schumacher. Warner Bros. 1987.
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book. Visible Ink Press. Detroit, MI. 1994.
Oppenheimer, Paul. Evil and the Demonic. New York University Press. 1996.
Ramsland, Katherine. The Vampire Companion. Ballantine Books. New York. 1993.
Rice, Anne. Interview with the Vampire. Ballantine Books. New York. 1976.
Ryan, Alan. (ed.) The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories. Penguin. New York. 1987

Author: Craig Anderson


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