A Glossary Of Vampire Words

Jules Adler - Transfusion of Goat Blood 1892
40 daysSome vampires only live for 40 days. Others are immortal.
AristocracyVampires tend to be of the aristocracy, though every now and then you’ll find one from an uncouth/peasant background e.g. the vampire in “The Vampire” by Basil Tozer (1902).
BatsBats are the only mammals that can fly, but vampire bats are the only mammals that feed entirely on blood. sleep during the day in total darkness, suspended upside down from the roofs of caves. They typically gather in colonies of about 100 animals, but sometimes live in groups of 1,000 or more. The supernatural horror character clearly takes details from this animal. In some cases, vampire bats feature in the stories as bats e.g. “The Vampire Nemesis” by someone called Dolly (1905) is about a suicide victim reincarnated as a vampire bat. (It’s not a good story.)

Vampire bats are indirectly terrifying to human communities because they suck the blood out of precious horses and livestock.
Baudelaire, Charles-PierreA French poet who wrote a notorious book of poems called Flowers of Evil. These poems inspired many literary works for years after. They were flamboyant and depraved. He was ordered to remove six of the most offensive poems from his book. Two of these were about vampires: “The Vampire” and “Metamorphoses of the Vampire”.
BloodlustAn obsessive desire for blood (probably human)
Body partsSevered body parts are a horror trope, used equally in vampire horror. “The Blood Fetish” by Morley Roberts (1909) features a severed hand which takes on a life of its own, absorbing blood. “A Dead Finger” by S. Baring Gould is about a man haunted by an animated finger. He is attacked vampirically after the rest of the finger’s body materialises.
Body snatchingBody snatching is the secret removal of corpses from burial sites, though bodies usually weren’t dug up out of graves. In Britain, bodies used to be kept in mort houses until the ground warmed up and could be more easily dug up. (They had no back hoes back then.)

A common purpose of body snatching, especially in the 19th century, was to sell the corpses to medical schools.

This crime fed vampire mythology of the day and was clearly on everyone’s mind. People worried about their bodies being dug up could order an iron structure in the shape of a coffin. This was called a mortsafe. The family might also hire guards, though guards could be bribed.
Bram StokerStoker wrote Dracula as well as several other crappier stories. He was stage manager for famous Shakespearean actor Henry Irving in the 1870s.
Byronic vampireHe is tall and gaunt, bordering on emaciated. He has a pale, spectral face. His demoniac eyes show he understands sin and passion. Those eyes seem to penetrate into the heart of his victim. He can read her thoughts. He has a wide mouth with thin, cruel lips. The lips are a brilliant red because he’s been sucking blood. They curl back in anger to reveal long, sharp teeth. He wears funereal black. His long black coat flaps about him like bat wings. In other words, he is irresistible. He has a magnetic personality and is sexually fascinating. He approaches his victims as a lover rather than as a predator. He lulls her into a false sense of security.
CampSome vampires are camp, which basically means a preference for reversal and a preference for artifice over nature.
CannibalismVampires (and also zombies) are supernatural creatures with cannibalistic tendencies, though as Anne Rice’s vampire points out, at least vampires only take your blood (and, okay, maybe your ‘vitality’). They don’t butcher you dead for your meat and leather.
CarmillaConsidered the greatest vampire story prior to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This novella was written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, published 1871. Carmilla revolves around a beautiful female vampire’s attempts to seduce a frail young girl. It’s a lesbian love story. The vampire part only comes in at the end. Psychologically, the story was ahead of its time. (Historically there are very few gay vampire stories featuring two male characters.)
ChupacabraSpanish for ‘goat sucker’, a mythological creature which kills livestock. The legend went viral in the 1990s after hundreds of dead farm animals were found in Puerto Rico, drained of their blood. Chupacabra tales soon spread around the world. People think they’ve seen the chupacabra but they’re probably seeing mangy dogs or coyotes.
CloakModern vampires often wear normal clothes but last century vampires were associated with a cloak. That cloak with the high collar was a workaround by playwright Hamilton Dean whose stage adaptation of Dracula meant he had to create some way of making it looked like the count vanished into thin air in front of a live audience.
CryptobotanyLong before Day of the Triffids, carnivorous plants existed in
Gothic horror, including in vampire stories. This subgenre was pioneered by Phil Robinson who wrote “The Man Eating Tree” (1881). In “The Story of the Grey House” guests stay at a secluded country mansion but are strangled and drained of blood by a demoniacal creeper growing among the shrubbery. Another is “The Purple Terror” (1899) by Fred M. White.
CurseSome vampires became this way because of a supernatural curse. Others became vampires via a disease route, perhaps inherited. Sometimes they become a vampire because they’ve been bittern by another vampire (similar to an infectious disease).
DawnSome vampires must return to their graves at dawn.
DaylightNoserferatu was the first vampire to be killed by daylight.
Dead wizardsDead wizards are vampires.
Decadent MovementThis movement was an influential force in European literature in the late 1850s. Its heyday was the 1880s. Vampire stories escaped straight Gothicism but became more sadist. Horror stories of this movement are obsessed with death and corruption and exploring abnormalities of sexuality. If Victorian society considered something taboo, you could probably read all about it in Decadent horror. The Decadents were morally influenced by Sade. They were thematically influenced by Poe.
DiseaseIn some vampire stories they spread disease. Vampire mythology is itself sometimes an allegory for the spread of disease. Diseases spread by blood are especially prone to this treatment.
DraculaA classic novel by Bram Stoker, epitomal vampire story and a best seller since it was first published in 1897. Associates an undead lord with a harem of female vampires. Count Dracula is a homicidal lunatic and human bloodsucker. This is the story that systematised the rules for vampire stories. This book is out of copyright and can be read freely online.
EmbraceSometimes this verb is used to mean the process of transformation into a vampire.
Erotic symbolismIn the repressive Victorian era censorship and strict moral codes prevented authors from writing erotic vampires (as the Romantics had done previously) so writers had to rely on a complex set of symbols to convey the same ideas.
FangsBlood-sucking vampires need to somehow puncture the skin so often have fangs. Fangs are the sexiest kind of teeth. Sometimes those are retractable or extend when feeding. Less attractive vampires might have shark or rodent teeth, or teeth like the inside of a leech’s mouth. The vampires in Twilight don’t have fangs but their teeth are sharp and coated in venom.
Fatal ManThe Fatal Man is a male anti-hero archetype created by the founders of the Romantic school of literature.
Fatal WomanThe Fatal Woman is a female anti-hero archetype created by the founders of the Romantic school of literature. She is more of a stock character than her male counterpart, because she’s the female equivalent of the Byronic vampire. She is an insatiable nymphomaniac even after she’s dead. She can be described in absolutes: absolutely beautiful, absolutely perverse, absolutely seductive. She is the quintessence of glamour.

Like the male Byronic vampire her mouth is slightly too large. She loves the smell of rot. She inhales it like it’s an expensive perfume. She’ll have long red hair, either groomed in an irredescent coiffure or worn loose, in curls like snakes.

When she drops her mask she is revealed to have the hungry visage of a praying mantis.

Of all the Fatal Woman characters, the female vampire is the most deadly. After Baudelaire wrote his infamous vampire poems, the Fatal Woman dominated the scene. In one of the poems, the narrator imagines himself surrendering masochistically to the kisses of a fierce female vampire. The Fatal Woman dominated vampire stories until Bram Stoker came along.
Female vampiresAt first, female vampires were rare. But as vampires became sexualised female vampires became popular. (All female monsters are at some point sexualised because sexualising a female monster is one way to subdue her. It happened to sirens, witches and so on.)
Femme fataleThe female Byronic vampire is your classic femme fatale, but femmes fatales go back way further than that. Cruel, sensuous women who like to destroy their lovers can be found in the literature of Antiquity and the Renaissance. But it was the Decadents (and later the Symbolists) who made her into an established type. By 1900, the ‘vamp’ had become a cliche.
Fledglinga newly spawned vampire (a word from Anne Rice novels)
Free willUnlike zombies, modern vampires have free will. They get to choose whether they are good or evil, depending on their individual choices. Some vampires are able to achieve a mutually symbiotic relationship with regular humans.
Ghoulin vampire subculture, a ghoul is a servant under a vampire’s supernatural influence or control
GlamourThe female Byronic vampire is the quintessence of glamour.
Golden Age of Supernatural FictionBy the start of the 1910s the golden age of supernatural fiction was drawing to a close. This subgenre of fantasy had been going strong since 1887.

During this period: the first volumes of M. R. James’s ghost stories, Algernon Blackwood masterpieces like “The Wendigo”, Stoker’s Dracula, Arthur Machen’s “White People” and Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw.

This period has been hugely influential on later cosmic horror e.g. Lovecraft said he was influenced by James, Machen and Blackwood.
GothicAgainst what we might think, the vampire was almost entirely absent from fiction written in the high Gothic style. An exception is “Wake Not the Dead” by Johann Ludwig Tieck (c. 1800).
Grave robbingThe crime of stealing valuables which have been buried with the dead. This fed vampire mythology. Grave robbery is far more common than we might expect. Archeologists have been regularly disappointed to find historically significant graves which have been previously done over by robbers.
KnotsApparently, vampires are supposed to be able to unravel any knot they come across.
Horla, TheA short story by Guy de Maupassant about an invisible vampire (1887).
Incarnateembodied in human form, especially when it refers to a deity or spirit
InsectsVampires aren’t always human. “The Feather Pillow” by Horacio Quiroga (1907) is about a young woman whose blood is gradually sucked out of her body by a monstrous insect hiding in her pillow. “The Electric Vampire” by H. Power (1910) is about a mad scientist who creates a giant electrically charged insect who feeds vampirically on human blood.
JiangshiA Chinese vampire, also known as a Chinese hopping vampire or hopping zombie. It is a stiff corpse dressed in traditional clothing. It moves by hopping about with its arms outstretched. Unlike Dracula inspired vampires they can see their own reflections but are terrified of them.
La Morte AmoureuseThe most famous vampire tale of its era (published 1836) written by Theophile Gautier.
LeechMore animals than you think might suck on your blood, though the leech is one of the best known. And like vampires leeches have a ‘dual nature’ in relation to humans — enough leeches could kills us, but they’ve also been used medically. Today they are still used in many parts of the world to help heal wounds and restore circulation in blocked blood veins. Fleas, female mosquitoes, ticks and lice also consume blood from living beings — less commonly known is a bird known as the vampire finch. There’s also a vampire squid. Mosquitoes kill the most people worldwide but the candirú is perhaps the scariest. It swims up your urethra. Then there’s the lamprey. Lampreys latch onto a host with hook-like teeth and gulp down its blood as it swims. Fish don’t have arms and have no way of getting a lamprey off.
Life forceIn some stories, vampires drain life-force. Commonly this is by drinking blood, but they might take some other bodily fluid or by frightening victims to death.
Lord RuthvenThe prototypal vampire, based on a real-life nobleman Lord Byron, created by Dr. John William Polidori, 1819, in a story called The Vampyre. Polidori was Lord Byron’s secretary and traveling companion. Lord Byron was flamboyant. The fictional creation Lord Ruthven was considered shocking in its day because writers didn’t normally write noblemen as monsters.
Mental vampirismThis is a type of vampirism where the villain gets into a victim’s head and steals their ideas e.g. The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck (1907). This novel is probably a satirical dig at Oscar Wilde.
NaturalistIn the 1700 and 1800s vampire stories got the high Gothic treatment. But in the early 1900s, on the European Continent, Gothic stories were looking outdated. Vampire stories were getting a more naturalistic treatment. A good example of this shift is “A Vampire” by Luigi Capuana (Italy, 1907). This story doesn’t feel at all like a tale of terror — it is more like a case study.
NosferatuA 1922 German silent film, which first brought Count Dracula to the big screen. (It was followed in 1931 by another Dracula film, this time starring Béla Lugosi.
PallorVampires are often portrayed as pale in an unhealthy kind of way. But in European folktales vampires had dark or ruddy skin. Parodies of vampires can be any colour (lavender if you’re on Sesame Street, green if you’re Count Duckula). Ordinary to pale skin is more common. Stephenie Mayer came up with the invention of skin that sparkles under sunlight.
PlotA traditional Gothic thriller vampire plot goes like this: Guests stay overnight at an abbey, formerly the bedchamber of notorious X (e.g. a knight). They wake in the morning exhausted with red marks on their skin. The hero discovers a secret entrance to an underground burial vault containing the coffin of the undead X. “The Stone Chamber” (1899) is a good example of this.
PoeEdgar Allen Poe explored the darker side of the human psyche with his subtle vampire tales. Meanwhile, other vampire writers were relying heavily on Gothic effects which were becoming outdated (thanks to Poe).
PregnancyAs if pregnant people don’t have enough rules to worry about, if a vampire looks at you in your sixth month, the baby inside will turn into one as well.
Psychic vampirePsychic characters are common in vampire stories — either the vampires themselves or the detectives might have psychic abilities.
Psycho sexual vampirePsycho sexual stories are about the psychological aspects of sex. A Nazi sympathiser was one of the first writers to create the vampire as a symbol of the psycho sexual impulse (Hanns Heinz Ewers). Partly for this reason, his work isn’t very popular today. Check out Alraune (1911) if you’d like to go there. For a less confronting insight into this archetype, check out the character of Raoul Duquette from “Je ne parle pas francais” by Katherine Mansfield.
ReflectionIn many older stories, e.g. Dracula, vampires have no reflection (nor cast any shadow). This trait is still sometimes used by modern storytellers e.g. Being Human, The Lost Boys, Van Helsing, but perhaps more often in vampire parodies e.g. Sesame Street, Count Duckula. Traditionally, vampires are transparent. Light passes through them. (They’re related to the concept of a ghost.) Vampires can magically make themselves visible to humans, but this ability doesn’t extend to reflections.

In modern stories, the ancient trait can be modified for modern technology — the vampire does not appear on film.
RomanticsThe Romantics were interested in the connection between love and death, and the way pain is sometimes linked with pleasure. They portrayed the vampire as an irresistible seducer. The vampire personified darkness and forbidden pleasures. He was a man and chose innocent young women as victims. He takes delight in corrupting them. He robbed them of their blood and their virtue.
Seed scatteringIf your vampire has to return to their grave before dawn, you can trap them above ground by scattering seeds. The vampire will feel compelled to count them and forget that the sun is coming up. This trait dropped out of fashion when vampires became sexy. This is not a very sexy thing to do.
SekhmetBlood sucking creatures exist in ancient myth. Sekhmet from Egyptian myth might one of earliest known vampires. She is a god with the face of a cat/lion who drank a lot of blood. In most depictions she is colored red. She was also a sun deity and had a dual nature — both good and bad. Apart from drinking blood she was also the goddess of healing. This is in line with much more modern vampiric creation in which a man doesn’t know if a femme fatale is going to seduce him or kill him.
Seventh sonSeventh sons are vampires.
ShapeshifterThe vampire is the ultimate shapeshifter. Versions of vampires are found in folklore from all over the world, making the vampire ‘the monster with 1000 faces’.
SilverSilver was traditionally seen as a ‘pure’ metal. Purity is abhorrent to supernatural creatures. Originally mirrors were made by laying a sheet of glass over silver. This perhaps accounts for why vampires are unable to magically make themselves visible in mirrors, even though they do have the magical ability to appear to humans ‘in person’, despite the fact that light passes right through them.
SireIn common vampire usage, the sire is the the vampire who transforms another person into one of the undead
SoulVampires are members of the undead so they have no souls. Back in the day, it was thought that mirrors reflected souls. Creatures without souls can’t be reflected in a mirror, which may account for why vampires can’t see themselves in a mirror.
SubmissionDecadent vampire novels are full of effeminate, submissive male heroes who enjoy being the plaything of a cruel, dominant woman.
ToleranceChildren’s authors tend to use vampires in stories to promote tolerance towards people from other cultures, or anyone different from the norm.
Topographical vampireWhen the setting behaves like a human-shaped vampire, sucking the life out of the human characters in some way e.g. the “Forbidden Corner” in “The Transfer” (1912) or the nature spirit of a snow-clad mountain/river/forest e.g. “A Descent Into Egypt” (1914), both by Algernon Blackwood.
TransubstantiationThis is a Christian concept. Eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ while keeping only the appearances of bread and wine. Vampire lore uses this symbolism.
TransgressionVampire stories are transgressive. They are about pushing boundaries.
TransylvaniaVampires became associated with Transylvania because of Count Dracula. Vlad the Impaler (Stoker’s inspiration) was born in Sighisoara, a Transylvanian town. Today the region makes use of this association in its tourism. Visitors can visit Bran Castle, which is kind of ‘Dracular-y’ but doesn’t have any direct connection to the book.
TwilightTwilight is a young adult series of novels by Stephenie Meyer, later adapted for film. This series was the beginning of a new resurgence in vampire enthusiasts in the early 2000s. Commentators draw parallels between Twilight and Pride and Prejudice.
VampireThe word ‘vampire’ has French, Hungarian and Turkish origins, perhaps starting with Turkish ‘uber’, meaning ‘witch’. These days we associate the look and feel of a vampire with Count Dracula. Bram Stoker cemented the vampire’s details with his super popular book. But in earlier times, ‘vampire’ meant pretty much any form of non-ethereal (corporeal) undead. For instance, Balkan werewolves were considered a subcategory of vampire.
Vampire animeJapanese vampire animation as developed a large fan base among English speaking audiences. e.g. Vampire Hunter D (1985).
Vampire poetryThe first vampire literature was poetry e.g. A Vampyre of the Fens (beginning of the 1000s) then Le Morte D’Arthur in the 1400s. (A lot of literature got lost in between)
Vampire romanceA subgenre of romance which is about intimacy rather than a disconnection between human and nonhuman. Obsession by Lori Herter in 1991 was the first vampire novel to be marketed as a romance rather than shelved with horror or fantasy.
VitalityIf you go to the doctor today she’s unlikely to ask you about your vitality, though medicine does talk about ‘vital statistics’ and so on. ‘Vitality’ once meant ‘life spirit’, ‘energy’, ‘general health levels’. Vitality is the mysterious life force that separated the living from the dead. Vitality could be sucked out of you by a supernatural creature.

A malevolent elemental might become palpable after absorbing an invalid’s ‘vitality’ e.g. “The Story of the Moor Road”. The Light of the Eye (1897) by H. Chaytor is about a man whose eyes have the power to suck out other people’s vitality, so the magic isn’t necessarily blood related..
Vlad the ImpalerCinema vampires tend towards good-looking these days but ‘good-looking’ wasn’t always the aim. Here is Stoker’s original description of Count Dracula, which is based on the story of Vlad the Impaler: ‘His face was a strong—a very strong—aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.’
VrykolakasThis is the undead vampire equivalent from Greek mythology. Drinking blood isn’t one of its main features. They don’t decay after death. If you ate the meat of a werewolf you might become a vampire. You wouldn’t have wanted to have red hair and grey eyes at this point in history either, because people would’ve assumed you were a vrykolakas. (In the West, red hair was more associated with witches.)
Weird Tales: The unique magazineWeird Tales was an American pulp magazine with higher than usual production values. The publication lasted 30 years from 1923. It was hugely influential and pioneered the development of the weird-fantasy story as a specialised form of popular fiction. It was the first all-fantasy magazine in the world. Vampires were a popular theme. The author most closely associated with Weird Tales was H. P. Lovecraft.

Header painting: Jules Adler – Transfusion of Goat Blood 1892

What Is Quality Children’s Literature? What Is Trash?

Children’s literature is often lumped into two broad groups: treasure and trash. The former is sometimes called ‘literary’, the latter ‘commercial’.

what is trash what is treasure

Many of the following are notes from Kid You Not Podcast Episode 2: ‘Quality and Trash

The concept of quality vs trash gets a lot of people quite worked up. Are these labels even helpful?


Continue reading “What Is Quality Children’s Literature? What Is Trash?”

The Evolution Of The Vampire In Fiction

Vampires Who Are Not Vampires

Vampires exist, even when they don’t. If it is not Twilight, chances are that it has literary significance. And if it does, the vampire figure is probably being used to hide a lot of sexual and societal undertones about chastity and selfishness. And even when a book has nothing to do with vampires, it would serve you well to identify vampires who suck others’ blood to survive.

Goodreads Reviewer

Vampires And Sex

Vampires are extremely sensual. They gaze longingly at the bare neck of a victim, and they are overwhelmed by their lust to bite the neck and suck the blood. In vampire stories like Dracula, sex equals death, and the blurring of the line between life and death leads to a sentence far worse than death, which is to live in an unending purgatory, roaming the world in the dark of night.”

— John Truby. The Anatomy of Story


See The Romanticization Of Hollywood Vampires from Nosferatu to The Twilight Saga from Prof Maria Lunk for the short version on YouTube.

These are notes from Romance And Vampires, lecture 9, Fiction for Young Adults by David Beagley, La Trobe University, podcast available on iTunes U

Can vampires ever be any good for young women?

See: How the vampire became film’s most feminist monster

Peter Cushing is shown in typical roles


There has been a huge amount of critical commentary on the Twilight series – serious academic commentary. Here is some of the best:

Silver, A. Studies In the Novel – these journals are not just YA journals. This one normally looks at adult, serious literature. Twilight is not good for maidens: gendered sexuality in the familyTwilight.

(Un)safe sex: romancing the vampire is from a movie journal, Cineaste.

Mercer, J.A., Pastoral Psychology Vampires Desire Girls and God.

Anne Klaus and Stefanie Krüger’s Vampires Without Fangs can be read in entirety from a home computer.

This looks more broadly at the development of the vampire as a character in literature, Journal of American Culture. (May be this one.)

An excellent book is  Bitten By Twilight: Youth culture media and the vampire franchise, a series of articles by different people.

Nayar, P.,  How to Domesticate a Vampire, from the journal Nebula, an Australian teaching journal., available freely online.

Hermeutics is looking at the separate parts in order to understand the whole.


a clutch of vampires


The Evolution Of The Vampire

How did the vampire become an outstanding character in fiction?

Until the 19th C the vampire existed as something to be feared. It was a revenant, coming back to haunt the living. The vampire is based on a real animal (a bat) which has a couple of fangs and lives on blood. Only trouble is, you can fit it in the palm of your hand. It usually feeds on slow moving grazing animals such as cattle. It’s quite a problem in certain parts of the world, where animals that are stabled are a lot of trouble because they can’t escape it. The bat flies down and nicks the animal with its incredibly sharp teeth, then drinks the blood that oozes out. But if there are a lot of them they weaken the host.

The Real Life Diseases That Spread The Vampire Myth

This animal is then linked to a real person in history: Vlad the Impaler. (1431-1476) He lived in Bulgaria and was a member of the House of Drăculești. In Bulgaria he is seen as a war hero. He is reputed to have killed tens of thousands of people.

In 1922 a movie called Nosferatu was made.  He’s not an especially good-looking character – he was meant to be an absolute monster. He was presented as a bit of a sad outsider, a bit like Frankenstein created by Mary Shelley. The monsterness wasn’t inherent in him – it was that society rejected him and made him an outsider. (Grendel in Beowulf is a similar example.) There’s virtually no literature that includes a vampire until the early 1820s, the time of Frankenstein.

Let The Right One In is a Swedish story about bullying. A boy in Sweden is being bullied mercifully at school. An odd girl appears around his housing estate and starts looking out for him. She has no parents and has a middle-aged man there but she’s obviously the one in charge.

The ending is classically understated, as often seen in Scandinavian cinema. It’s quite horrific. This movie depicts the traditional view of the vampire as a monster.

Yet in 1819, 1820 a slight evolution took place in the presentation of the vampire as a monster. The monster vampire became seductive. The Vampyre has a sinister, haughty aristocrat, with much physical beauty. Instead of blood and violence being the focus, this antihero has much physical beauty. He drinks blood but he is immensely charming. This is also the point at which the victims become predominantly female.

In 1872 Carmilla was published, in which the vampire is a female, though this is an exception. The human sexuality of this lesbian-esque story is very much in this particular vampire story. She still has the bloodlust and the unnatural strength and near indestructibility of the male vampires but this is the dangerous lover – the outsider who lures women away from their proper place, but who is defeated by the good, moral, upstanding man.

The vampire can be compared to the wolf – the seducer wolf in Little Red Riding Hood and other stories. This is heading into the bad-boy lover genre, parodied in Grease. The vampire is the extreme example of that.

Bram Stoker was the writer to bring the name ‘Dracula’ together with the vampire story. He brings all the humanness of Vlad the Impaler to a monster.

Lately there has been another development in vampire literature. It follows the idea of vampire as seducer/seductress.

The Sympathetic Vampire

Anne Rice’s stories the Vampire Chronicles in the 1970s started this. LeStat and Louis are two vampires on a quest to understand themselves, understand the nature of vampireness and find out why they are this way. Why do people fear them? They philosophise, discuss and are presented as character who the reader is meant to understand. Rather than being monstrous, they are simply misunderstood.

This continues with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, particularly in the character of Angel, who is the love interest for Buffy, even though he is a vampire. His role is to go away and try and be good. The Edward Cullen character is developing in this way as well.

The Count is a children’s version. He speaks in an Eastern European accent and the outward appearance of a vampire but all he wants to do is count.

Count Duckula is a vampire duck.

The Little Vampire is a delightful movie. This family could be the prototype of The Cullens, simply looking for somewhere to live and be safe.

Being for children, there is no harm and no danger in these stories.

The audience is being asked to pity the poor misunderstood outsider. When the vampire changed from a monster into a sympathetic character, the audience of vampire literature changed from a largely male one to a female one, because the emphasis is now on caring and nurturing, with all the traditional stereotypes that go along with that.

It all comes together in Twilight. Twilight was almost waiting to be written. It didn’t just suddenly magically appear out of nowhere. It developed from a long stream of styles in literature.

The Author As One Of The Players

Rather than as a god-like creator, setting something up, with the reader taking everything the author says.

Stephanie Myer, born 1973, married at 21 and never worked in a major career role. She did work briefly as a receptionist but stopped paid work when the children arrived. She had never published anything before the Twilight novels. She is reasonably well educated but only through to high school. She is a copious reader and has quite deliberately structured elements of other stories in her book. She quite deliberately used parts of Pride and Prejudice in Twilight.

Now with the success of Twilight, Myer runs the commercial arm of her business which delivers Twilight, the movies, the spinoffs etc. Her husband has left work to look after the kids while she does all of that.

One of the key elements that keeps coming up about Myer: She is a member of the Mormon church. It’s a much larger movement in the USA than in Australia because it began in the United States. It’s a branch of Christianity, started by Joseph Smith near New York, who received, he says, a book from the angels which he translated.

Within that book of Mormon, looking largely at America as a centre of religious belief, and Native Americans as connected to the New Testament story of Jesus. Joseph Smith and his family said that God had given him a mission, that all the other churches had got it wrong and become corrupted. It was now up to him to change them and get back to being good.

Christian Primativist churches (of which Mormon is one) is a movement toward returning to earlier beliefs. Mormonism is based around the idea of ‘crusade’. It has a stated role to change things. All churches fit somewhere on that continuum, but in Mormonism this crusade part of the culture is clearly expressed.

How does this affect the commentary on Twilight?

The books are very, very sexualised. There is a huge emphasis on physical appearance, male-female interaction, desperately falling in love, the expression of the key characters’ sexuality. There is also a lot of violence. The very concept of the vampire is dangerous. The sheer physicality is there. Despite that, the morality (the right and wrongness) is very very conservative.

Abstinence is emphasised. The whole book is structured around unresolved sexual tension. Will I or won’t I? I want to. You mustn’t. Abstinence is the key to it.

It’s also heteronormative – standard boy-girl relationships. Similar appearance, similar age. White Europeans.

There’s also submissive femininity. The girls go along with what the boys suggest.

The vampires are worried about the souls, not only of themselves, but of the people around them, and whether they can be redeemed. Twilight is neither a horror nor a monster story; it is a love story. Morality revolves around interpersonal relations, not upon the diet of vampires.

In the story itself, what do we have that demonstrates those ideas?

Bella has virtually no agency. She can’t make choices and decisions that change the course of her life. It starts with her parents who split up. Bella is left to go somewhere. From then on she responds to Edward. She is reactive, not proactive to his suggestions. Is Edward a stalker? He lets slip that he hangs round her bedroom all night. He’s been doing it for a month before they’ve even started going out together. This is symbolic of him as the one controlling/supervising/demanding/initiating/concluding all of the actions. When she decides to go shopping and gets into trouble with some boys following her, of course he’s there. He’s the one who solves the problem of getting rid of other vampires. Bella almost sleep walks throughout he story. In moral terms, though, he is the one who won’t kiss her. He is the chaste vampire. In fact, she is seen as quite unreliable. She freely admits that she’d probably leap into whatever situation he suggested at the drop of a hat.

Myer has therefore been called anti-feminist. She romanticises an abusive relationship. This is a very unequal relationship. All of the red flags of an abusive, over-controlling relationship are there in the story. Bella is absolutely dependent upon Edward. He is there to protect her life, her virginity, her humanity.

Myer has disagreed with this. It’s all around Bella’s choice, and she’s the one who chooses Edward. “Her damsel in distress persona is only due to her humanity.” But surely that’s the feminist point – that she is being portrayed as human and therefore weak.

So what message does this send to readers about the moral capacity of girls to make their own choices?

They require a strong male to protect her.

The sin is in the girl, and requires a strong boy to protect her from herself. (There are places in the world where women are not allowed to leave the house without a male protector. We see this as incredibly wrong yet surely this is what Edward Cullen is doing here.)

The ordination of women in Catholic Churches – this is a theological argument.


A couple of books later, when finally Bella and Edward do get married, have sex, and have a baby, Bella explodes and childbirth kills her. (This being a vampire story, they live happily ever after.)



Emory University has a list of short videos about movies and pop culture on YouTube. Twilight Taboos: Breaking The Rules Of The Traditional Vampire is ultimately positive about the Twilight Series, and views this new reimagining of the monster as a ‘literary’ vampire in which anything is possible. The literary vampire is different from the ‘folkloric’ vampire, which is a monster, and the subtext is that we shouldn’t criticise Myer’s ‘sparkly vampires’ because we’re expecting creatures of the folkloric tradition.

The Great New England Vampire Panic from The Smithsonian

The 10 Best Vampire Novels No one Has Read from Barnes & Nobel

Revamped – How the Twenty-First Century Vampire Is Redefining Masculinity from Interesting Literature

10 of the Grossest and Most Grotesque Vampires from Folklore from io9

Vampire Movies — how many off this list have you seen? (Me: 2.5)

A list of books about vampires from Miami University database

The New England Vampire Panic was more recent than you might think, as explained by Stuff You Missed In History podcast.

Genetic mutation may explain the origin of ‘vampires’ talks about a blood disorder called erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP).