Science and the Vampire

I believe I’m overdue for a silly vampire post. So, here goes …


A thought I had once upon a time concerned the relationship of science to the nature of the vampire. In the beginning, the myth of the vampire was spawned from the mists of superstition and ignorance. It had no scientific underpinning. Often the vampire was depicted with a sinister spiritual aspect: in Christian cultures it was a force of darkness and an agent of the devil. However, somewhere in the latter half of the twentieth century the myth began to evolve into something else. In an increasingly technological world where science has explained whole swathes of nature and what we experience a need was seen to give the vampire a more scientific underpinning to make it more plausible, if you will. Once upon a time, the bite of a vampire inflicted a curse on its victim that transformed said victim into a vampire himself. Now, in many stories, the curse has been replaced by a virus. A human becomes infected with the virus when he or she is bitten. Once upon a time, a vampire had a whole slew of special abilities bestowed upon him by Satan or whatever forces of darkness were involved: a vampire could transform into a bat, or mist, or wolf; he could control the weather and the mean creatures of the earth; he could pass through the narrowest of cracks; and he had the strength of as many as twenty strong men. To go with such abilities, the creature had very specific weaknesses: she was repelled by holy objects like the crucifix; she could be destroyed by running water or sunlight; she could be sealed in a coffin with a rose. And there were at least several more. The strengths and weaknesses of the vampire were so many, it would be easy to miss one or two in a litany of such. Anyway, nowadays, most of the strengths and weaknesses have been eliminated in the attempt to make the vampire more “scientific.” Repulsion by holy objects? Please. Immersion in running water? Even the undead must bathe. Transforming into a bat? Good luck. The mythical has been replaced by the science of today. Now, authors are concerned with reasonable limitations and causal explanations. How did the original vampire come to be? Was he a product of evolution? Well, he must have been. But was it a gradual change, or the result of a cataclysmic anomaly like a special virus (again with the virus)? Interesting question. Of course, each author will give his own twist on the vampire tale. But I think the scientification of the vampire is becoming more common.


And … and … I object! Okay, perhaps object is too strong a word. I just wish to announce my preference for the vampire of myth. Give me the vampires that can transform into wolves and bats, and can summon storms or rats. I want a fighting chance with a cross or other holy object. Call me old school. Call me outdated. But I believe the vampire that threatens your very soul to be more horrifying than one that simply changes your living condition.

What do you think?

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About atoasttodragons

The author, Matthew D. Ryan, lives in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the continental United States, famous for the Battle of Plattsburgh and the ever-elusive Lake Champlain Monster, a beastie more commonly referred to as Champy. Matthew has studied philosophy, mathematics, and computer science in the academic world. He has earned a black belt in martial arts.

16 responses to “Science and the Vampire”

  1. worldsbeforethedoor says :

    I whole-heartedly agree. I like myth, the unexplainable. I like vampires that are mostly evil and can be turned by good or holy things. I like the superstitions around them instead of the science. The hard part as an author is picking and choosing their strengths and weaknesses. They need to be scary, hard to kill, but not impossible. If you use all the old myths they get really easy to kill. A little rise, water and a stake and their done for. It’s the picking and choosing that makes the vampires interesting. 🙂
    I get tired of trying to put science in everything.

    • atoasttodragons says :

      One option available is to make them grow stronger with time. In my novel Drasmyr, the head vampire is a thousand years old and not slain by sunlight. His weaker underlings, though, are.

      • worldsbeforethedoor says :

        That is a great idea. You can also do the opposite like Robin McKinley did in Sunshine where the older and more vile they are the more they can’t stand even moonlight and starlight. 🙂

      • atoasttodragons says :

        Ooh! That’s pretty cool, too.

  2. Megan says :

    I think writers should have fun with their vampires. Sure, you may want to explain why and how they do things humans cannot (run at nanosecond speed, heightened senses, read minds, etc.) but to make them more human-like takes the fun and myth away. Just don’t make them sparkle and father children 😉

  3. Archard says :

    I like some of the reasoning behind the more common “supernatural” aspects such as the nails and hair growing. However, a little air of mystery is what makes these things so wonderfully appealing.

  4. Alex says :

    This reminds me of Hellsing, in which Dracula, with inordinate amounts of mystical bs powers, slaughters vampires created Nazi occult scientists. If anything, it serves to illustrate the power difference between mystical and sciency vampires.

    • atoasttodragons says :

      I’m not familiar with that movie/comic/story? I saw the movie Van Helsingborg with Kate Beckinsale and “Wolverine” guy, but I think that was a completely different storyline.

      • Alex says :

        Comic. Van Helsing was granted knighthood and founded a royally sanctioned order of vampire hunters. After being defeated, Dracula was bound in servitude and imprisoned until Van Helsing’s granddaughter released him. With his help, the order fights against Nazis who hid out in South America and used occult science to turn themselves into vampires and werewolves and decide to start WWIII. The story climaxes with London burning, bombed by Zeppelins, werewolves and vampires running through the streets, and a three way battle between the undead Nazis, militant catholics (who’ve seized on an opportunity to punish protestant England), and Dracula.

      • atoasttodragons says :

        Sounds interesting.

  5. Chris Harrison says :

    I like the idea of trying to work out the science of the vampire and tied myself in knots trying to figure out how you can see a vampire, but not its reflection! For me vampirism is not about good versus evil, but a vehicle to look at other aspects of life such as the opportunities presented by immortality. If I were to make a criticism of the contemporary vampire myth there’s too much clan/warfare/thousand year conflict type stuff. C’mon, these people have real lives just like the rest of us don’t they? (Or do they!)

  6. meganorlowskirussell says :

    Sparkly vampires are not nearly as scary. They make me giggle.

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