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A Short Guide To Vampires

Ask anyone and they will tell you that to protect yourself from a vampire you will require: garlic, a crucifix, holy water, and a nice big, pointy stake. Somehow this particular figure of evil has come to pervade our modern consciousness.

The name Dracula is synonymous with vampires. Though not the first literary vampire, Bram Stoker's Count along with a mixture of folklore and historical fact is the basis for much of our current image. Dracula (son of Dracul) was historically Vlad Tepes, a 15th century Romanian prince famed for his cruelty to his enemies (disposing of 25,000 Turkish civilians) and hailed as a national hero by his subjects. However there is no record of any association with vampirism. The Tansylvanian countess Elizabeth Barthory who tortured and killed at least 600 girls more closely resembles Stoker's villain. She is alleged to have bitten her victims on the breast or neck and used their blood as an elixir of youth.

From 'Dracula' (1897), and earlier literature such as Polidori's 'The Vampyre' (1819) and 'Carmilla' (1872) by Sheridan le Fanu the vampiric figure has crossed into different genres. It made film stars of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee and provided the basis for classic cinema like 'Nosferatu', along with the rather less classic 'I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle'. Now the revenants have gained fame again in the cult TV programme 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'.

The enduring attraction of vampire stories lies in their themes of sex and death which have universal appeal combined with the ability to adapt over time. While our human fear and knowledge that death is final is challenged, vampire stories have also proved compatible with gay overtones or tales of predatory females. Even the physical appearance of the vampire has undergone a transformation. In much of the literature as well as folklore it takes a repulsive form forcing anyone who is a witness to recoil in horror. Yet now we have the handsome sophisticate as played by Tom Cruise (Interview With The Vampire, 1994) who entices potential victims with his charm.

To the left we include a selection of classic vampire tales to give you a 'taste' for the genre.



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