The Twilight Saga has whipped up a frantic fervor in fangirls, opening doors to female fandom while sticking incessant and neverending thorns in the folks who want Bella and Edward to go far, far away. But it's also brought up a pretty interesting argument: What makes a vampire? I teased about the notion yesterday when I wrote about the Daybreakers PSA; however, can we really define what makes a vampire beyond sharp teeth and a thirst for blood? And if we can, what is necessary and what can be finagled?
Vampires have been around forever in some shape or form, flying through the worlds of folklore and darkness before shuffling into their modern guise of pale, 19th century blood drinkers. In 1819, John William Polidori presented The Vampyre ushering in this idea of the mysterious man entering high society, seducing young women with vampiric charm. "In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a wanner tint, either from the blush of modesty, or from the strong emotion of passion, though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions, and gain, at least, some marks of what they might term affection." From then on, no lady was ever safe.
Yet while Polidori helped set the stage, the fame belongs to Bram Stoker who, at the end of the century, released Dracula onto the world. From a world begetting Bathory and Vlad the Impaler, a web of vampiric abilities were born, bred from his own creative mind and the folklore that came before. The Count possessed eyes that would flame red with "triumph," and a body that would not reflect in mirror, one that was able to age or de-age, and couldn't pass a threshold uninvited. Dracula also possessed super strength, the ability to hypnotize and control the mind, being safe from death not delivered by beheading or stakes to the heart, gravitational defiance, weather control, and of course, shapeshifting. He doesn't like garlic and religious iconography like holy water and crucifixes, has a hard time with running water, and must rest in Transylvanian dirt.
Stoker created such a definitive view of the vampire that most of us think we know what makes a vamp, but it's still a game of pick and choose, just as it was to Bram. We don't see many vamps with hairy palms, and we love F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, even though it rips the gothic lust away and leaves a husk of a man, hunch-backed and hideous, while simultaneously ushering in the idea of death by daylight. Bela Lugosi's Dracula brought on the iconic image. Christopher Lee's Dracula could not shapeshift nor grow younger. Hammer Films added the lesbian, same-sex element.
And by the late '70s, notions of vampirism, same-sex attraction, and intricate gothic romance were revitalized with Anne Rice. Garlic, stakes, and crosses went out the window. The aspects of the dangerous sun remained, although with great age and blood comes the ability to survive even that. There's no shape-shifting, only some powers of flight, and a sense of hard frailness was added to their bodies with reflective skin that loses its human qualities over the years.They read minds, some can bring on fire, kill through special powers... Her vampires became a yin yang between sensitivity and scares, softness and power. And they all came from an evil spirit entering the body of Queen Akasha of Kemet.
And then the '90s ushered in a new waves of vampire bred from Young Adult fiction. Christopher Pike's The Last Vampire series expanded on Rice's world, life in the daylight coming from thousands of years of life, and vampires bred from a spirit entering an unborn child. And with L.J. Smith and The Vampire Diaries, sun-acceptance became linked to the powers of lapis lazuli. Vampiric blood healed as well as ushered death, and true change took more than just a bite-bite lusty scenario. And of course, the idea of good and bad vampires -- strength coming from human blood, but life being possible from animals. Likewise, her Night World series brought up vampire lamia, that blood drinkers who could be born or made.
From this world came Joss Whedon's Buffy. Out of crazy demons came half-human demons. He merged the ideas of gothic beauty with Nosferatu horror, the sexy vampires turning into wrinkly-faced killers when the teeth elongated for attack. Sunlight was only harmful directly, and allowed vamps like Spike to avoid sizzles under battered blankets. Vampires had no souls, but could be given them back through hard trials and gypsy curses. Becoming the undead would also mean getting down to a basic part of one's inner make-up, which might not be realized, say, Vamp Willow's bisexual twist. And, one can't forget, the inevitable learning of Vamp Fu.
And with a new millennium comes Stephenie Meyer's vampires. Of course, her focus isn't on the vampire, but rather the romance, so her vampires are framed by her story. They sparkle, which might seem ridiculous, but definitely reflects Rice's translucent skin (as well, Meyer's older vamps have similar skin changes). They too can step out in the sunlight, and have no distaste for religious iconography or susperstition. Meyer's vamps have special gifts that are exacerbated when they're turned (mind-reading, electric shock, seeing the future), and they are much harder to kill -- it must be by dismemberment and fire. Like others before them, they can live off animals. And lastly, rather than vampiric blood, they have venom that will vampirize those who are not drained dead.
So what is it that makes a vampire? Does one need a certain number of the previously created vampiric aspects? Is sunlight really the definitive key? So many over the years have challenged that notion. I would say blood is key, but is anything else essential?