A Short History of Vampire Literature (complete 9/08)

A deeper discussion of Vampire Mythology

A Short History of Vampire Literature (complete 9/08)

Postby librarian_7 » Sun Aug 02, 2009 5:21 am

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Disclaimer—This article surveys a great deal of material, and there will be many topics I simply am not be able to cover in it. Apologies in advance if I miss your favorite vamp…you can rebut me on the discussion boards.

From Lord Ruthven to Mick St. John: 200 Years of Vampires

PART ONE


When Mick says (in “No Such Thing as Vampires”) that maybe vampires are back in style, I think he has it all wrong. Vampires have never gone out of style. Since they began to appear significantly in fiction, almost 200 years ago, there has been a steady stream of vampires in the public consciousness. After all, vampires are notoriously hard to kill, whether in folklore, literature or film, although their death has been frequently reported.

Basil Copper, writing in 1973, lamented not very prophetically that the difficulty with the vampire story was “investing old themes with new life” (109).

Three years later, in 1976, Anne Rice came on the vampire scene with Interview with the Vampire, which became a runaway bestseller.

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Nina Auerbach, in her insightful 1995 study Our Vampires, Ourselves, closes by foreseeing, if not the death of the vampire, the end of the vampire cycle of the 1970’s and 1980s (192). She suggested that vampirism was “wearing down,” and the vampire was in need of a “long restorative sleep.” In truth, what we have seen over the past thirteen years, contrary to this prediction, is that the vampire theme was only gaining strength throughout the 1990s, and continues to be an oddly vital force in popular culture.

A few examples of this—over three seasons from 1992-1996, Forever Knight brought a tormented, sympathetic vampire to television.

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In 1996, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino revitalized the vampire movie with From Dusk til Dawn,

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and a regrettably short-lived tv series Kindred: the Embraced aired, based on the popular role playing game from White Wolf, Vampire: the Masquerade.

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In 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer began its seven season run,

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followed in 1999 by the successful spinoff, Angel.

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Meanwhile, novelists were churning out vampire tales, and the public was buying them. Patricia Altner’s 1998 Vampire Readings is an annotated bibliography which focuses on fiction produced since 1987, although it does cover significant earlier works, and has a listing of over 250 novels, and provides a partial list of the vampire fiction published post-1990, although this does not include anything since 1997. Anne Rice, Laurell Hamilton, P. N. Elrod, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro are just a few of the novelists currently continuing to add volumes to their various vampire series. And we’ll talk about romance novels a little later.

IMDB lists almost 322 films, tv series and video games with a keyword of “vampire” between 2000 and the present.

So I think we can safely say that the vampire is secure in his hold on the imagination of the public. Why is that? Why should the unhuman figure of the vampire continue to hold sway?

There are probably many reasons. For one, our fictional vampires are cool. They tend to be beautiful, hip, eternally young, often wealthy, and sexually irresistible. The tag line for the 1987 movie, The Lost Boys, put it succinctly: “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire.”
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Nevertheless, I believe that the main reason the vampire has become so entrenched in our collective imagination is his chameleon-like ability to change with the times. While maintaining some basic characteristics, vampires (and the vampire writers and filmmakers) are able to meet the challenges of adapting to each new generation.

Say you’re writing a vampire story. You need your vampire to fly? Or not to fly? Sure, why not? He needs to be a hero? Fine. The embodiment of all that is evil? That’s all right, too. Whatever serves the purposes of the story.

The reason that Copper thought that the vampire was old hat in 1973 was that he was not seeing the innate flexibility of the creature. Like Cleopatra, “age cannot wither [him], nor custom stale, [his] infinite variety.”

From the beginning, authors of vampire tales have taken the characteristics of the folkloric vampire, and changed and honed these as they needed to make the vampire a better villain, or a better hero, or whatever was necessary at the time.

To explore this idea, it may be useful to look--very briefly--at the attributes of the traditional vampire of legend, and also at the history and characteristics of the vampire as it has evolved in popular narrative.

While the vampire as a folkloric concept has far older roots, it bears little resemblance to its literary cousin.

Over the decades, there have been several excellent and in-depth studies of the folklore of the vampire. Montague Summers led the way with his 1928 volume The Vampire: His Kith and Kin.
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This rather strange work pulls together vampire folklore from around the world, and finds vampire motifs dating back to Babylonian times.

A more recent study is Paul Barber’s excellent Vampires, Burial and Death (1988),
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which takes traditional, mostly European folklore on the undead and considers possible sources for the tales in the physiology of bodily decay. I do have to warn that this may not be a book you wish to peruse while eating; it does contain, as the author himself notes, “a great deal of dank and distressing material on forensic pathology” (viii). Barber gives a number of examples of folktales involving vampires, many of which are also found in Summers. One characteristic of note, which does not involve the actual attributes of the undead, is the remarkable resemblance many of these stories bear to the hallmark of modern urban legends: they are said to be true stories, even though the narrator was not actually present for the events in question, he/she has it on good authority that this is the way it really occurred. Maybe in the next village over.

Let’s look at a short South Russian folktale, as related by Barber:

An old man dies and they buried him. But a day later a healthy youngster died, then again a young innkeeper, and so each day another person died in the village. Finally the only son of a rich peasant died. The peasant could not get over this and went to the priest and told him that someone was eating the people of the village, and that it was certainly the old peasant who had died first. They must dig him up and render him harmless. The priest allowed this. Now the peasant went with three others to the widow of the vampire and said, “Come along, little mother, because we’re off to dig up the old man.” They took a large piece of cloth from her and went with her to the churchyard. They dug up the grave and behold! The vampire sat there, supported on his hands, with a blood-red face, for he had already sucked out a great deal of blood from the people. When the wife saw that, she spat out, “You are to disappear; don’t get up again and don’t move!” Then they pulled him out of the grave, cut him into pieces and tied him in the cloth. Then they threw him onto a thorn bush, set this on fire, and burned the vampire. Hereupon a strong wind arose and blew after them, howling, all the way to the village. (67-68)


Now, what are some of the characteristics illustrated here?
In this traditional tale, as others, the vampire is “undead,” certainly, and prone to rise mysteriously from his grave and suck the blood of innocents; however, we do not see many of the accoutrements of popular fiction and film. This is a peasant, buried perfectly normally in hallowed ground. He is not some exotic nobleman in evening dress making small talk at cocktail parties and seducing nubile young females. The intrepid vampire hunters of fiction are replaced with a couple of locals, laying the revenant with brutal practicality by destroying his corpse. There are no epic battles, no stakes through the heart, no crosses and holy water.

This story, as most of the folkloric stories of vampires, more closely resembles the standard zombie-movie plot. The walking dead man is given no personality, no cognition, just a mindless ravening hunger that is taken out on those who knew him before death. This is not to say that every folkloric vampire tale is so simple, but the focus of most rests with the elaborate ways by which vampire graves may be found, the methods for recognizing the vampire in his coffin, and the various gruesome ways of both dispatching the vampire and making certain he will not rise again.

As J. Gordon Melton states in The Vampire Book: “By the end of the nineteenth century and through the twentieth century, using a definition of the vampire drawn from European folklore and mythology, ethnographers and anthropologists began to recognize the existence of analogous beings in the folklore and mythology of other cultures around the world. While these entities from Asian, African and other cultures rarely conformed entirely to the Eastern European vampire, they shared significant characteristics and could rightly be termed vampires or at least vampirelike entities.” (94)

Obviously, the world-wide phenomenon of vampires or vampire-like beings in folk-lore means that there are many cultural differences in the reported causes of vampirism, as well as the strengths and vulnerabilities of the undead. On the other hand, what vampires share from culture to culture (indeed what causes these beings from disparate cultural traditions to be similarly labeled as vampires) are the basic characteristics of being 1) dead humans that have returned from the grave and 2) that they attack and suck blood from the living as a means of sustenance.

Some of these folkloric elements have been carried over into popular fiction, but since the majority of contemporary vampire novels, etc. focus more on the subjective experience of being a vampire, and less on the vampire hunter, they are currently less central to the vampire tale. If anything, fictional vampires are even harder to kill than their folkloric counterparts, especially since in addition to unnatural strength and reduced physical vulnerability, fictional vampires are usually gifted with high intelligence and cunning, and a long history of evading destruction by enthusiastic but unskilled amateur vampire slayers. But more about that later.

End of Part One
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (paper by Librarian_7)

Postby seamus3333 » Sun Aug 02, 2009 12:42 pm

Cool, intelligent and beautifully written! Sitting with my chin in hand, mesmerized, waiting for more. Bravo!
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (paper by Librarian_7)

Postby Fishy » Sun Aug 02, 2009 1:22 pm

Lucky,
How I enjoyed reading through this extremely interesting Part One of your Paper.

The research you did must have been enthralling - and taken quite some time. All that effort produced something you must be very proud of. When you find something you love, and you have the capacity to use it in your work - it's a dream. Being able to encourage and educate others in your chosen field - this is the best job in the world. I know.

You are a fountain of vampire knowledge, and an inspiration. Can't wait for part 2.
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (paper by Librarian_7)

Postby darkstarrising » Sun Aug 02, 2009 11:32 pm

Lucky,

thank you so much for posting this....

So many have so prematurely buried the vampire, both literally and figuratively....yet still, we are drawn to this figure time and again.

What has changed since the time of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' is that the vampire can be a creature we sympathize with. Not always, but it seems more and more, the tragic aspect of the vampire's existence is what is focused on. We are to sympathize with the vampire, not condemn him. On top of that, the physical attraction has been enhanced by having (at least in movies and TV) physically attractive actors portray them. The gargoyle appearance of Nosferatu has been replaced with a cool, sexually attractive entity. This only enhances the desire to sympathize.

Even in recent literature, Anne Rice's description of Lestat and Louis present images of attractive men, now living the life of the undead.

So what is our ultimate attraction to the vampire today? Is it the tragedy of their existence or the sensuality of their form? Either way, I'd say that the reign of the vampire in the public's interest will wax and wane, but it will never go away.

Looking forward to the rest of the posting.
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (paper by Librarian_7)

Postby librarian_7 » Mon Aug 03, 2009 4:03 am

Disclaimer—This article surveys a great deal of material, and there will be many topics I simply am not be able to cover in it. Apologies in advance if I miss your favorite vamp…you can rebut me on the discussion boards.

From Lord Ruthven to Mick St. John: 200 Years of Vampires

PART TWO


Characteristics of the Vampire

In order to understand the ways in which the contemporary fictional vampire departs from the older stereotypical vampire of literature, it may be instructive to look at the vampire in its traditional narrative manifestations.

In the literary sense, then, what is a vampire? And what are the elements that make the vampire so instantly recognizable, yet so adaptable, and how did these elements develop?

The vampire stereotype of film and fiction began to be established in the early 19th century, and had become completely codified by the early 1930’s.

The vampire today is so common and so readily recognized that it can be easily adapted and transformed into a harmless figure of fun. Countless cartoons and television commercials have borrowed Dracula’s image, as well as the breakfast cereal Count Chocula,
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the Count from Sesame Street,
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and spoof movies such as Love at First Bite (1979),
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The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) (subtitled, Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck),
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and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995).
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Some the key elements (and this is a fairly lengthy list) that provide a basic template for the vampire are:

1. drinks blood
2. has fangs
3. immortal and of great age
4. sleeps/dies/lies dormant during day, walks at night
5. spreads vampirism through the exchange of blood
6. no reflection
7. requires contact with native soil
8. very difficult to destroy can only be killed by a stake through the heart, sometimes only a stake of a specific wood (or direct sunlight)
9. exotic nobleman/woman (often with an intriguing accent)
10. evening wear, cape
11. transforms into bat or other animals
12. sleeps in coffin
13. can command wild animals (wolves, bats, rats)
14. reacts negatively to religious symbols
15. must be invited to enter a dwelling
16. allergic to garlic

Typical plot elements/ characters include:

1. the appearance of a mysterious stranger, who turns out to be more than he appears

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2. a damsel in distress, irresistibly and almost fatally drawn to the vampire

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3. a young man, usually the romantic interest for the girl, who must be taught to kill vampires so he can rescue her from a fate worse than death

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4. wise old Dr. Van Helsing—the expert who appears to explain everything, and to provide the means by which the evil vampire can be dispatched.

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This provides a basic template, a formula which in and of itself is fine, and has provided the basis for many novels and films. Much like the detective story—if every detective were Sherlock Holmes, we probably would not see so many crime detection novels, tv shows and movies. And if every vampire were Dracula, the occasional movie would probably suffice to keep the concept…undead. Yet the vampire has continued to attract writers and filmmakers who take selected elements, recombining and adapting them to create new vampires, and new stories. In life, as in art, new vampires are created from the blood of old ones.

How did the template develop? Contrary to common perception, the standard vampire of fiction did not spring fully formed from the forehead of Bram Stoker. Let us consider next the development of this model.

End of Part Two
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (updated 8/2)

Postby wpgrace » Mon Aug 03, 2009 4:21 am

Oh Lucky! How cool is this?

Eagerly awaiting the rest of your paper... and devouring every word... :clapping:
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (updated 8/2)

Postby moonlight_vixen » Wed Aug 05, 2009 4:01 am

I've enjoyed reading this so far! Can't wait for the next part that you'll post! :thumbs:
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (updated 8/2)

Postby allegrita » Wed Aug 05, 2009 7:31 am

Lucky, this is absolutely wonderful. Fascinating--not just for vamp fans, but also for ethnologists and folklorists. What a great job! I'm really impressed. And I agree with Fishy--what a lovely vocation you have, where you can do research like this as (at least a peripheral) part of your job. :hearts:
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (updated 8/2)

Postby wollstonecraft61 » Wed Aug 05, 2009 7:49 am

This is fascinating! I eagerly await Part 3 to see how our modern versions of vampirism were derived. :dracula:
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (updated 8/2)

Postby bluedahlia3 » Wed Aug 05, 2009 12:55 pm

Thank you for part two. :dracula:
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (updated 8/2)

Postby librarian_7 » Wed Aug 05, 2009 9:02 pm

Disclaimer—This article surveys a great deal of material, and there will be many topics I simply am not be able to cover in it. Apologies in advance if I miss your favorite vamp…you can rebut me on the discussion boards.

From Lord Ruthven to Mick St. John: 200 Years of Vampires

PART THREE




History of the Popular Vampire

The literary vampire is a relatively recent creation, first appearing in John Polidori’s “The Vampyre,” a novella born in the famous rainy summer of 1816 at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva.

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Polidori claims that Lord Byron, John Polidori, his traveling companion and personal physician, Percy Shelley, his then-girlfriend Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley and her sister Claire Clairmont had all ended up for a stay at Lake Geneva, where the cold and rainy weather limited their activities.

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(Scene from Bride of Frankenstein, recreating the Shelley/Byron party)


After they had been reading some German tales of the supernatural, Byron suggested to the group that they each try their hand at penning a ghost story. Mary Shelley’s story turned out to be Frankenstein, but the others abandoned their efforts quickly. Polidori, however, had kept a detailed synopsis of Byron’s story and developed it into a novella published under Byron’s name in 1819.

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Portrait of Lord Byron


Assumed to be the product of a very famous poet, the story attracted considerable attention, and sparked a number of vampire plays in France, which later jumped the Channel back to England with Planché’s The Vampire; or, The Bride of the Isles.

The vampire of Polidori’s tale, Lord Ruthven (and yes, it’s pronounced Riven, despite the spelling) established the model of the aristocratic vampire. He is a titled, sought after guest at high society parties in London, and delights in seducing and ruining beautiful young women. He requires, “to enhance his gratification, that his victim, the partner of his guilt, should be hurled from the pinnacle of unsullied virtue, down to the lowest abyss of infamy and degradation.” The similarities of Lord Ruthven to what his detractors said of Byron himself are striking.

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Portrait of Byron


Theatre aside, the next most significant addition to vampire literature is James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire, an endless “penny dreadful” published in weekly installments in 1846-7.

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While the writing is, to say the least, turgid, its popularity was such that for many years it was not thought to be completely extant: the many copies of the weekly installments had literally been read to pieces over the years. Complete versions were not available until the 1970s, and even then there was confusion about the author. Some editions continue to attribute it to Thomas Prest. Sir Francis Varney is a completely dreadful creature, who attacks young women as they sleep, and is described as having eyes like polished tin —perhaps the first, but certainly not the last, vampire to be depicted with silver-white eyes. (Or at least eyes that change color when the vampire is unleashed.)

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Salem’s Lot


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The Lost Boys


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Forever Knight


And you didn’t seriously expect me to leave out Josef and Mick, did you?

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Both “The Vampyre” and Varney established the model of the aristocratic, bloodsucking fiend who preys primarily upon young women. This theme was continued, in a more perverse fashion, in Sheridan LeFanu’s 1872 novelette, Carmilla,

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Scene from a movie version of Carmilla, starring Ingrid Pitt


which concerns the encounter of a young woman with a vampire who turns out to be her ancestress. In this story, with its striking lesbian overtones, we see the development of the stereotypical vampire in Carmilla’s nocturnal habits, her transformative powers, and her coffin resting-place.

And this brings us to the foundation novel of the vampire genre. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897.

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Dracula first edition


The plot of Dracula is too well known to bear repeating here, but it should be noted that the novel contains virtually every element now associated with the most conventional of vampire traits, with a very few exceptions.

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Stoker’s king vampire, for example, is not limited to nocturnal predation. He is able to function in the daylight, although his strength is severely limited during the daylight hours.

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Gary Oldman as Dracula, in Bram Stoker's Dracula[i]


The fascinating story of how [i]Dracula made the transition from novel to drama to film is recounted in David J. Skal’s Hollywood Gothic (revised edition 2004). It was over this period of transition, from the rodent-like revenant of the unauthorized 1922 film, Nosferatu,

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by way of the Balderston and Deane stage play from which the 1931 movie of Dracula was taken, which saw Dracula as a character make his final metamorphosis from a nasty folkloric revenant with hairy palms, bad breath and dubious style into the suave, charming figure, who always appears in white tie and tails, and would be socially acceptable in anyone’s living room.

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Bela Lugosi set the gold standard for the count, although his success in the role typecast him into horror movies of variable quality for the remainder of his career. For moviegoers everywhere, he was Count Dracula, and it is his indelible image that is the basis for all the caricatures of the count seen throughout American popular culture. In fact, the prevalence of showings of old monster movies on television in the 1950s and early 1960s contributed to the mainstream recognition of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula, for example as parodied in the tv series, The Munsters.

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Between Dracula and the late 1950s, outside of the movies, the vampire languished in the at-that-time marginalized fields of horror and science fiction, and most of the vampire literature produced at the time was in the form of short stories that were little read outside the main readership of these genres.

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A new resurrection, however, came through the Hammer Films series of vampire movies, many featuring Christopher Lee as Dracula, released between 1958 and 1974.

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While the Hammer films are noted for their graphic violence and more overt sexuality,

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the vampires they portray are quite rigid in their observance of the traditional literary template for vampire powers and characteristics, with the notable exception that in order to bring back Dracula after his seeming destruction at the end of each film, they were forced to be fairly creative in reviving the venerable count, dripping blood on his ashes, having a bolt of lightning strike his coffin, having his blood drunk by another in the course of a magical ritual, and so on.

End of Part Three

Next: The Rise of the Heroic Vampire


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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (updated 8/5)

Postby wpgrace » Wed Aug 05, 2009 10:03 pm

Oh, this just gets better and better, Lucky!!! :flowers:

And Varney the Vampire... I'm sadly seeing a large purple vamp singing insipid children's songs...

And THANK BOB you did not leave out Josef and Mick in the eye demonstration (as IF!)! They are just the most beautiful vamps ever, aren't they???? :heart:
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (updated 8/5)

Postby moonlight_vixen » Thu Aug 06, 2009 5:42 am

This is awesome! And no, I did NOT expect you to leave out Josef and Mick :laugh: I love the pic at the end, by the way!
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (updated 8/5)

Postby francis » Sat Aug 08, 2009 4:52 pm

Just came back from vacation and found this. How cool! Lucky, you are the expert on everything literature and I'm so enjoying what you did with the vampire genre. It's totally fascinating.
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Re: A Short History of Vampire Literature (updated 8/5)

Postby darkstarrising » Sat Aug 08, 2009 7:07 pm

Lucky,

thank you so much for sharing this with us....this is extremely intriguing and educational....you've filled in a great many 'holes' in the history of the development of the vampire in literature and how the original premise has changed over time.

Looking forward to the next installment. :flowers:
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