Vampirism. An Evolution from Myth to Societal Hype

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2013

10 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. The origin of the myth of vampirism

3. The literary vampire in his beginning: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

4. Dracula goes Hollywood
4.1 The first filmings: The vampire as monster
4.2 Vampirism meets pop-culture: The Twilight – hype

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Every vampire fiction reinvents vampires to its own needs.

You take what you want. – Joss Whedon[1]

The Vampire – most commonly known as „a living corpse or soulless body that emerges from its grave and drinks the blood of the living.” (Dundes 1998: 47) Ever since, they exist in human belief, nevertheless each and every one of them represents different cultural aspects. During the ages the image of the vampire underwent a massive change. Simply regarding the different genres in which the cinematic vampire appears it becomes clear that those changes are primarily based on the changes in society. The concept of the vampire, as Joss Whedon states above, has been reinvented to the needs of their times.

The following is aimed at describing these changes and exploring their causes by analyzing the vampire’s characteristics in its relation to the respective cultural background. First, the origin of the vampire myth will be discussed. Furthermore the most popular literary character originating from the Gothic horror genre, Count Dracula by Bram Stoker, will be examined to point out the changes of the vampire image as well as the cultural message behind the figure Dracula. The paper will take an additional look at the development of the concept of the vampire and the underlying cultural trends by analyzing the early cinematic vampires Count Orlok from Nosferatu and Dracula by Tod Browning.

Finally, the work will create a reference to the present image of the vampire by analyzing Edward Cullen, the protagonist in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. The result of the analysis is intended to reflect the changeableness of the vampire concept as well as show to what extent the vampire can be used as a medium to represent the respective societal needs, trends and changes.

2. The origin of the myth of vampirism

As well as the creature itself, also the origin of the concept “vampire” is a mystery. From a linguistic point of view, a common theory of the origin of the word “vampire” lies in 1047 AD, in “a document referring to a Russian prince as ‘Upir Lichy’” (Melton 2011: xxi) which can be translated as “wicked vampire”. (Melton 2011: xxi) However, the precise origin of the term is unclear, but it can be stated that from here, the word evolved into other languages, such as Serbian, Hungarian or German, and appeared in English at first during the 17th century, which is “remembered as the era of the vampire epidemic”. (Kallen 2011: 5)

Aside from the unclear etymological origin, also the concepts of vampires differ significantly from each other depending on the respective culture. In ancient Greece, early writings document “the existence of three vampirelike creatures – the lamiai, the empusai, and the mormolykiai.” (Melton 2011: 305) Every single of them was known for drinking blood. None of them were considered undead. They were either goddesses or at least of noble birth. Another variation of the vampire-belief can be found in Bulgaria. Here, vampires were, contrary to the early Greece belief, revived undead beings which were created by imposing a violent death or “by the inability of the soul of the deceased to find peace.” (Konstantinos 2004: 29) According to Konstantinos, also an improper procedure of a traditional burying ritual could cause the creation of a vampire. Bulgaria’s neighbour country Romania on the other hand, believed in two different vampire-categories. They were divided into strigoi vii which are living vampires also considered as witches “who can leave their bodies to attack others” (Konstantinos 2004: 30), and strigoi morti which can be defined as the traditional vampire as we know him because “they leave their graves at night and feed on the blood of the living”. (Konstantinos 2004: 30) Later on, the vampire belief also hit Western Europe. During the 12th century for example, the English historian William Newburgh “recorded several stories of vampire activity in England”. (Russo 2008: 37) Here, vampires were also characterized as blood-drinking creatures, returning from the dead.

In general it can be stated that folkloric vampires “include a wide spectrum of revenants and demonic beings, who have supernatural powers and characteristics and drain the vitality or blood from the living” (Guile 2005: 289) Reasons for the appearance of those angst-inducing beliefs can primarily be found in the human socio-culture, which represents “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”. (Oxford Dictionaries online 2013) By nature, people feel the need to explain things. And as Gerard Cheshire states: “In cultures where illnesses and diseases were not understood scientifically it was only natural to presume that someone had cast a spell on them or done something unspeakable to them.” (Cheshire 2011: v-vi) In addition, every folkloric vampire, regardless of its cultural belonging, represents the human fear of the death. Thus, it needs to be noted that the belief in the vampire myth developed from a kind of animism, a pre-enlightened explanation of the world which reflected the fears, the spiritualism, and the ideology of the respective culture in previous times.

3. The literary vampire in his beginning: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

It is not a novelty that the content of myths changes over time just like the society does in which they are passed on. The most popular example which affected the content of the further transmission relating to the vampire-myth is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Written and published in 1897, towards the end of the Victorian era, and inspired by Vlad the Impalar, also known as Vlad Drăculea, a historical figure who cruelly ruled Wallachia from 1456 to 1462, Stoker created the literary figure of Count Dracula and “imaginatively connected Vlad’s taste for bloodshed with vampirism and named his nineteenth-century vampire after the fifteenth-century ruler.” (Wyck Good, van 1997: 408)

But Stoker did not only create one of the most famous vampires in the history of literature by starting the “tradition of the sophisticated vampire who preys on beautiful women, does not [...] appear in a mirror, [or] has the ability to shift his shape into a wolf or a bat”. (Burnham Bloom 2010: 146) He also reflected the Victorian culture. Bram Stoker’s novel places, next to the bloodthirsty count, a strong focus on the aspect of sexuality. During a time when sexuality was repressed and decried, Stoker’s Dracula constitutes “the representative of sexual excess, [who] has a mesmerizing effect on upon woman, freeing them from moral constrains which inhibit their sexual passion.” (Reed 1988: 64) In “Demon-lovers and Their Victims in British Fiction”, Toni Reed points out an explanation by Burton Hatlen who said:

Denied by Victorian society an opportunity to express their sexuality openly, Lucy and Mina find in Count Dracula an ‘objective correlative’ of their lost sexuality; and blindly, unconsciously they give themselves to their demon lover. (Reed 1988: 64)

Next to this desire of sexual independence, Stoker also illustrates the fear of the consequences of this sexual abandon due to the Victorian Christianity. When Dracula bites the women in the neck, they are powerless “until he has completely exhausted their wills; once they are under his command, they too become sexual deviants who seek to seduce and conquer others.” (Reed 1988: 64) Or even worse: He turns his victims into vampires and prevents their souls from being released. Thus, Count Dracula reflects the longed-for expression of primeval needs as well as the fear of living those needs and get in conflict with the Victorian Christian value system.


[1] cited by Joss Whedon, American screenwriter and producer, creator of the television vampire series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) and Angel (1999–2004)

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Vampirism. An Evolution from Myth to Societal Hype
Free University of Berlin  (Institut für Englische Philologie)
Cultural Studies: Life after Death
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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vampirism, evolution, myth, societal, hype
Quote paper
Agnetha Hinz (Author), 2013, Vampirism. An Evolution from Myth to Societal Hype, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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