- Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil
Much has been written about the history of the vampire in folklore, literature and film in recent years, but with this edited volume, Peter Day traces the vampire from its early origins in folklore to its most modern reincarnation [End Page 518] as a metaphor for the human condition in one volume. To accomplish this, Day has organized in two parts a total of fifteen essays (Part I: "Legends of the Vampire," and Part II: "Vampires for the Modern Mind") that address the cultural-historical beginnings of the vampire, how it functions in literature, film, art, and even legalese as a metaphor for the human condition. As Day states in his introduction, "vampires have proved to be incredibly adaptive survivors, flourishing in the media and thriving in the popular imagination of modern societies" (ix). The vampire is clearly an icon of horror that has endured for centuries, some might argue for millennia, and several contributors refer to Nina Auerbach's seminal work on the enduring image of the vampire, Our Vampires, Ourselves (University of Chicago Press, 1997) when they reference her observation that vampires reflect the cultures that they inhabit (6). However, what distinguishes the vampire from other monsters—whether in folklore, literature, art or film—is that the vampire has a recognizable, if not an often beautiful, human form. As several contributors to this volume mention (for example, Pete Remington), the vampire often demonstrates very human characteristics, such as regret and depression about its monstrous nature, which distinguishes it from other monsters in literature, art, and film.
Day begins his volume with an essay by Elizabeth Miller, who has published extensively on Bram Stoker's paradigmatic vampire novel Dracula (1897). In her essay, Miller clears up misconceptions about Stoker's approach to writing his novel by presenting the likely sources for Stoker's vampire. She makes it clear that Stoker "did not base his vampire story on legends connected with the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler" (3), but that he simply used the name, because he discovered that the word "Dracula" means "devil" in Wallachian. Though Miller does mention that the vampire entered western European literature in the eighteenth century in Germany, she associates its origins in German literature with the onset of Romantic literature toward the end of the century. In fact, the first vampire poem in German literature, "Der Vampir" by Heinrich August Ossenfelder, was published in 1747.
Several contributors to this volume address the cultural-historical origins of vampire beliefs in their essays in Part I. Darren Oldridge investigates the historical construction of belief in his essay, asking the question: "If perfectly rational, well-educated people could accept the existence of roaming corpses three hundred years ago, why is the same idea inconceivable today?" (83). He explores this problem by borrowing a concept from the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, which posits that "people make sense of things around them in the context of a 'system of belief'" (83). Considering the plethora of vampire literature that addresses its origins in southeastern Europe and its [End Page 519] representation in nineteenth-century British literature, Phil Bagust's essay on the history of the Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine, is a refreshing exploration of the demonization of this animal, which was the world's largest carnivorous marsupial. In his essay, Bagust demonstrates how vampiric traits, such as a preference for attacking the jugular vein of an animal and devouring particular organs such as the liver as opposed to the whole carcass, were applied to the Thylacine in an effort to demonize it and officially sanction its persecution. The result is that its vampiric image has endured in popular culture.
Peter Mario Kreuter's essay is not so much an actual critical investigation of theories surrounding the etymology of the word "vampire," as it is an emotionally-laden defense of his own claims in his book Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa. Studien zur Genese, Bedeutung und Funktion. Rumänien und der Balkanraum (Weidler, 2001) [Vampire belief in southeastern Europe...