The nosferatu do not die like the bee when he sting once. He is only stronger; and being stronger, have yet more power to work evil. This vampire which is amongst us is of himself so strong in person as twenty men; he is of cunning more than mortal, for his cunning be the growth of ages; he have still the aids of necromancy, which is, as his etymology imply, the divination by the dead, and all the dead that he can come nigh to are for him at command; he is brute, and more than brute; he is devil in callous, and the heart of him is not; he can, within limitations, appear at will when, and where, and in any of the forms that are to him; he can, within his range, direct the elements; the storm, the fog, the thunder; he can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat—the moth, and the fox, and the wolf; he can grow and become small; and he can at times vanish and come unknown. How then are we to begin our strike to destroy him?
– Dracula, Bram Stoker
Everyone knows that vampires blood sucking corpses with long white fangs. The only way to kill a vampire is a stake through the heart or by exposure to the sun. After all, that’s how they killed Dracula, right?*
Not so fast. While Bram Stoker used a lot of myths when he created the vampiric Count, he also created a few. Movies and books have added on to the “lore” surrounding the undead. A lot of what we know as truth about vampires in Western culture when you research it isn’t.
Let’s start with sunlight, the supposed bane of a vampires existence. Except Dracula walked around in sunlight weakened, but unharmed. Most vampires in European lore did. Only in 1922 with the release of Nosferatu did sunlight become the way to kill a vampire. Until then, beheading the corpse was the standard method.
But what about stakes through the heart? Some legends held that vampires didn’t need permission to come in your house like Dracula did. Pinning them down was an obvious solution to keep them in their graves. They didn’t have to be wooden stakes. Other cultures used stakes in other portions of the body like the legs or the mouth. Aside from stakes, other options to keep the vampire in their grave were burying them face down, so they would dig their way downwards when they attempted to rise. Other methods involved leaving seeds for the vampire to count, knots to untie, or decapitating the corpse or rearranging the bones so it could not walk.
And those long, wicked fangs that reflect moonlight? They are a Victorian idea first mentioned in Varney the Vampire, but they were described as “fang-like” teeth. Poldori’s The Vampyre, written in 1819 and considered one of the first Western fictional vampire stories, didn’t mention fangs. Nor did any of the legends. True fangs like the ones described in recent literature didn’t appear until the 1950s.
So take heart. While the undead might not be destroyed by stakes or the sun, at least they won’t be plunging razor sharp fangs into your neck.
I’m participating in the Snarkology Blog Hop. Come back tomorrow for another post.
* Spoiler Alert** In the novel, Dracula wasn’t staked. He dissolved after Quincy Morris stabs him with a Bowie knife while Jonathan Harker cuts his throat. Considering how Van Helsing insisting on staking Lucy Westenra and the three Brides, he doesn’t make a big deal of how Dracula was dispatched.
** The novel is over a century old. Does it really need a spoiler alert?