- by Laura Resnick
I describe the newest release in my Esther Diamond urban fantasy series (and, no, you don’t need to read the books in chronological order to understand what’s going on) as a vampire book for people who don’t like vampire books.
Esther is a struggling actress in New York City who gets involved in various paranormal misadventures. In Vamparazzi, she is cast as a vampire victim in The Vampyre, a (fictional) off-Broadway adaptation of a (real) gothic classic that has heavily influenced how we imagine vampires. The theater where The Vampyre is staged is surrounded nightly by volatile vampire groupies and pushy paparazzi; and before long, there’s a mysterious murder by exsanguination…
But I digress.
When I started researchng Vamparazzi, I learned that most of what we “know” about vampires is the invention of film and fiction, and quite different from the folklore that inspired the earliest vampire fiction. So here we go–Ten Fun Facts About Vampires that you might not know… not even if you’re a devoted fan of vampire novels!
1. Recognizable vampire mythology goes back as far as ancient Babylonia and the Sanskrit tales of classical India. There were blood-drinking demons (known as lamiae) in ancient Greece and Rome, in the medieval Islamic world (ghouls and affrits), and in Renaissance Europe.
2. Various forms of vampire lore exist in Asia, the Pacific Rim, Africa, Central and South America, and Australia. The Slavic folklore of Eastern Europe is where much of our own culture’s concept of vampires originated.
3. In 1718, the Treaty of Passarowitz transferred control of large regions of Eastern Europe from the Ottoman Empire to the Habsburg monarchy. A decade later, the Austrian government started hearing for the first time about vampire epidemics in its newly-acquired eastern provinces.
4. The vampire epidemics of Eastern Europe became so widespread and notorious, and the gruesome anti-vampire activities they inspired were so alarming, by the early 1730s the Austrian Empire sent government officials to investigate. (These events play a crucial role in Vamparazzi.) You can read translations of those Austrian officials’ reports in Paul Barber’s Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality.
5. Unlike the witch crazes which had previously swept across Europe, vampire scares typically focused primarily on accusing the dead of evil behavior. So hunting and slaying vampires mostly involved digging up graves and desecrating corpses, rather than persecuting and killing the living.
6. In Slavic lore (as well as that of various other cultures), vampires are undead, i.e. dead but mobile and active. In some cultures, vampires are instead demons or creatures whose origins are entirely supernatural. And in some cultures, they may be evil spirits that invade a living body.
7. In all mythologies, vampires prey on living people (sometimes specifically on women, children, or babies), and in most cases, they drink human blood. They also often eat human body parts. Which body parts depends on which culture is telling the story.
8. Although staking vampires to “kill” them was common in some Slavic regions, it was often instead used as a method of immobilization. By driving a stake through the torso of a vampire to pin it to its grave, you could prevent it from rising to hunt and kill; this technique is employed on a vampire hunt in Vamparazzi.
9. In other regions, decapitation was considered the only truly reliable method of stopping a vampire. People in other areas considered cremation essential to prevent a vampire from rising (or from rising again), while still others believed that a vampire must be disposed of in water. Sometimes the heart of the vampire had to be cut out of a vampire’s body to “kill” it.
10. Staking became widely (almost universally) considered the way to kill vampires because it’s the method Bram Stoker decided to adopt for his 1897 novel Dracula, which became the most influential vampire fiction of all time.
But wait! There’s more! Since you can never know Too Much about how to stop the undead from becoming a real nuisance, I’ll be back here on Friday with Ten More Fun Facts About Vampires.
To read an excerpt from Vamparazzi, click here.