40 days — Some vampires only live for 40 days. Others are immortal.
Aristocracy — Vampires 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).
Bats — Bats 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-Pierre-A 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”.
Bloodlust — An obsessive desire for blood (probably human). Blood drinking is not just a vampire thing. In classic chivalric romance, when the young man in the woods is captured by a fairy queen and taken away to a dangerous fairy land, the fairies may drink blood. Blood drinking is connected historically to ancestors as well as to fairies — it has been believed in the past that if ancestors are not fed carefully they will take revenge by drinking the blood of living members of the family.
Body parts — Severed 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 snatching — Body 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 Stoker — Stoker wrote Dracula as well as several other crappier stories. He was stage manager for famous Shakespearean actor Henry Irving in the 1870s.
Byronic vampire — He 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.
Camp — Some vampires are camp, which basically means a preference for reversal and a preference for artifice over nature.
Cannibalism — Vampires (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.
Carmilla — Considered 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.)
Chupacabra — Spanish 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.
Cloak — Modern 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.
Cryptobotany — Long 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.
Curse — Some 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 bitten by another vampire (similar to an infectious disease).
Dawn — Some vampires must return to their graves at dawn. This is why the Twilight series makes use of times of day.
Daylight — Noserferatu was the first vampire to be killed by daylight.
Dead wizards — Dead wizards are vampires.
Decadent Movement — This 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.
Disease — In 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.
Dracula — A 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.
Embrace — Sometimes this verb is used to mean the process of transformation into a vampire.
Erotic symbolism — In 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.
Fangs — Blood-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 Man — The Fatal Man is a male anti-hero archetype created by the founders of the Romantic school of literature.
Fatal Woman — The Fatal Woman is a female antihero 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 vampires-At 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 fatale — The 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 archetype. By 1900, the ‘vamp’ had become a cliche.
Fledgling — a newly spawned vampire (a word from Anne Rice novels)
Free will — Unlike 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.
Ghoul — in vampire subculture, a ghoul is a servant under a vampire’s supernatural influence or control
Glamour — The female Byronic vampire is the quintessence of glamour.
Golden Age of Supernatural Fiction — By 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.
Gothic — Against 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 robbing — The 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.
Knots — Vampires are supposed to be able to unravel any knot they come across.
Horla, The — “The Horla” is a short story by Guy de Maupassant about an invisible vampire (1887).
Incarnate —Embodied in human form, especially when it refers to a deity or spirit.
Insects — Vampires 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.
Jiangshi — A 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 Amoureuse — The most famous vampire tale of its era (published 1836) written by Theophile Gautier.
Leech — More 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 force — In 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 Ruthven — The 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 vampirism — This 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.
Naturalist — In 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.
Nosferatu — A 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.
Pallor — Vampires 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 Meyer came up with the invention of skin that sparkles under sunlight.
Plot — A 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.
Poe — Edgar 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).
Pontaniak — A female vampiric ghost in Malaysian and Indonesian mythology, said to be the spirit of a woman who died while pregnant. Also spelt pontaniac.
Pregnancy — As 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 vampire — Psychic characters are common in vampire stories — either the vampires themselves or the detectives might have psychic abilities.
Psycho sexual vampire — Psycho 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.
Reflection — In 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.
Romantics — The 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 scattering — If 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.
Sekhmet — Blood 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 son — Seventh sons are vampires.
Shapeshifter — The 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’.
Silver — Silver 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.
Sire — In common vampire usage, the sire is the the vampire who transforms another person into one of the undead.
Soul — Vampires 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 accounts for why vampires can’t see themselves in a mirror.
Submission — Decadent vampire novels are full of effeminate, submissive male heroes who enjoy being the plaything of a cruel, dominant woman.
Tolerance — Children’s authors tend to use vampires in stories to promote tolerance towards people from other cultures, or anyone different from the norm.
Topographical vampire — When 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.
Transubstantiation — Transubstantiation 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.
Transgression — Vampire stories are transgressive. They are about pushing boundaries.
Transylvania — Vampires 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.
Twilight — Twilight 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.
Vampire — The 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 anime — Japanese vampire animation as developed a large fan base among English speaking audiences. e.g. Vampire Hunter D (1985).
Vampire poetry — The 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 romance — A 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.
Vitality — If 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 Impaler — Cinema 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.’
Vrykolakas — This 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 magazine —Weird 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