Vampires – Morbid Fascination or Our Quest for Immortality?
Ever since the publication of John Polidori’s The Vampyre, followed by James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney, the Vampyre, Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and, most famously, Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the nineteenth century we’ve been infatuated with the undead. The only real life vampires currently stalking earthly prey are Desmodus rotundus (common vampire bat), Diaemus youngi (white-winged vampire bat) and Diphylla ecaudata (hairy-legged vampire bat), yet today no trip to the cinema or the local library is complete without the fanged ones making an appearance – the myth of the vampire continues to hold us in a thrall.
What is it about this particular fiend that is so endearing? Since the days of the ancient Egyptians the vampire myth has been in and out of fashion. Old Norse sagas told around the Viking camp fires mention vampires’ activities and even the good William of Newbury couldn’t help listing their antics in his Historia Rerum Anglicarum, a work covering the period between 1066 and 1198. In his book From Demons to Dracula, the Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth author Matthew Beresford argues that it is our fear of death which helps the vampire to re-invent himself.
Is it really our fear of our own mortality or is it our wish for eternal life, or more importantly, our obsession with eternal youth that facilitates the fanged fiend’s enduring appeal? When teenagers resort to cosmetic surgery to iron out the first blemishes inflicted by nature and time, does it really come as a surprise we admire the undead vampire, a creature who never ages, never succumbs to ailments or needing Botox treatment? The vampire has come a long way from the days of Dracula and Nosferatu. Gone are the dinner jacket and cape, the long claws and bat-like features.
Today’s vampire is hip and trendy, sporting the latest fashion accessories and to-die-for hairstyle. The success of authors such as Anne Rice (Interview with a Vampire) and TV series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, not to mention the latest TV hit True Blood, do throw up some interesting questions. Would we really like to be eternal? Are ever-lasting youth and beauty worth paying the ultimate price for, namely the surrender of our souls?
The thought of living on and on must surely be a terrifying one – or is it? Hollywood actors are already resorting to ever more bizarre means of keeping their youthful appearance. With modern medicine keeping us alive for longer and longer, we are getting closer to extending our natural life span far beyond that originally intended. We may not queue up to drink blood, but our obsession with youth and eternal beauty is not so different from the bloodlust of those single-minded, soulless fiends. We must both extract life force at all costs, the vampire by sucking blood, the modern human by using a plethora of beauty treatments and surgery. If one argues that we are at our most lively and energetic when we’re young, the fascination with vampires becomes clearer still.
Vampires do not have to fear the consequences of their actions; they don’t suffer hang-overs, get lung cancer or need to worry about safe sex. A life lived to the full, even if it’s only an after-life, must be most appealing to a creature with an average life span of just 70 years, if we’re lucky.
Perhaps it is not our fear of dying that keeps us under Dracula’s spell. Maybe it’s the vampire’s alternative to our human, humdrum existence?
An ever-lasting party and an eternal teenage existence, that’s what the life of a vampire promises. No wonder the myth has endured from old Egyptian scrolls to modern day cinema, from Victorian melodrama to 21st century TV.
Who wouldn’t be tempted to sell their soul for eternal fun?
NB: this article was published at http://scienceray.com under my name