The thought of Halloween invokes the image of children dressed in costumes resembling vampires, ghosts and witches. The entire holiday of Halloween stems from All Hallows Eve, a Christianized version of Samhain. Considering Halloween is my favourite holiday ever, I wanted to share the history of vampires in literature. How did these frightening creatures come to be? What was their evolution and what ideas are still being developed by today’s popular culture?
1819 – The Vampyre – John Polidori
The original vampire novel that transformed folklore into literature. The Vampyre is a short novel of approximately 84 pages about an aristocrat who preys upon the upper crust of society.
1847 – Varney The Vampire – James Malcolm Rymer
highly influential on future vampire lore featuring fangs leaving two puncture wounds on a victim, a taste for unsuspecting maidens asleep in their beds, hypnotic powers and superhuman strength. Rymer’s novels also provided early elements of the sympathetic, self-loathing vampire powerless to stop themselves from commit heinous acts – the possinle beginning of the morally tortured creature.
1872 – Carmilla – Sheridan le Fanu
First novel to add erotic elements into vampire literature and first example of lesbian relationships through the use of a female vampire seducing the novel’s heroine to feed from her.
1897 – Dracula – Bram Stoker
The most recognized vampire classic novel in popular culture and a personal favourite classic. A novel weaving medieval myths, previous vampire fiction elements, sex, blood and death. First novel featuring a vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing, which birthed a new hero. Thanks, Dracula for giving us the grand-daddy of the Winchester brothers.
1954 – I am Legend – Richard Matheson
The first post apocalyptic take on vampire lore by developing a world infested with a disease that creates vampires. I am Legend is often noted as the first modern vampire novel.
1975 – Salems Lot – Stephen King
King, a ridiculously popular modern horror writer, recaptured the vampire lore in popular culture with vampires residing in a sleepy Maine town among humanity. Strangely, Salems Lot is listed as a very important text to reinvigorate modern vampire literature.
Vampires are extremely popularized through Hollywood as romanticized versions of their former monster selves. Vampire novels are often found on the bestsellers lists and have also become a common source of entertainment on the big screen via movies and television. The modern vampire tales feature heroic, tragic romantic figures (Twilight), alternate realities (Sookie Stachouse series) and sexually explicit situations (Anne Rice).
The popularization of Vampires in today’s entertainment culture has led to heavy focus on relationships, sex, romance and emotional upheaval which is currently adding a new layer to the long-term vampire genre. However, there has also been a movement towards reinvigorating the beastial, unsympathetic and frightening aspects of vampire stories in recent literature through authors such as Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro, Sergei Lukyanenko and Christopher Golden. In many instances dark vampire tales attempt to push social boundaries and reach new levels of horror, terrifying audiences throughout the centuries.