Another post on vampires? Actually, today, I’m taking a little detour. I’m not going to write about vampires so much as one of the defining characteristics of them: immortality. A vampire, whether it is Dracula, Lestat, or Lucian val Drasmyr, is generally considered immortal provided he or she is not slain by some pesky human or the victim of some other fatal twist of fate. With that in mind, I want to examine immortality. Why is it so appealing? Or, better yet, is it really appealing?
Clearly, at some visceral level, immortality is appealing. That’s usually one of the temptations to become a vampire (“Become as I. Strong. Immortal …). Writer’s wouldn’t use immortality as bait for us poor mortal humans unless some part of us pined to last forever. I think this is largely a result of the natural fear of death. Even if you are religious and believe in an afterlife with sunshine and flower-filled fields of leisure, you certainly don’t know it will be as you think. No one does. And because of that, there is always a threat of total annihilation as one contemplates one’s future death. The fix for such is, of course, to not die. And obtaining immortality somehow—be it through a vampire’s bite, or what-have-you—is a way to avoid death. Immortality, then, is a balm for the human condition. We fear death. We seek to avoid it. And so we set up elaborate fancies in which we imagine we will never die.
But is immortality all it’s cracked up to be? First, what are the positives? For me, I like to learn. I could learn advanced physics, and math, and a bundle of other disciplines that have always intrigued me. Curious about the nature of Infinity? You’ll have ample time to read up on the subject. Quantum Mechanics? All in due time. Intellectually, it would be great for the first few centuries or so. Then, I suspect, boredom would sink in. How much can you learn, how much can you know, before it all just devolves into meaningless drivel? I’m forty years old and some days I’m already tired of life; I can’t imagine what it would be like when I’m 4000. Yikes!
Worse, still, is the question of company. Would being the only immortal on the planet be worth it? If all the people you knew and cared about died, would it be worth it? I’d say no. That would be depressing in the extreme. Talk about loneliness. Soon you would become an introvert simply for your sanity: it would be too painful to befriend somebody, just to watch them die a few years down the road.
Finally, the last negative of immortality concerns the afterlife. If there really is one, and it really is quite nice, then becoming immortal would deny you such an experience. And that would hardly be good.
As most of my readers know, I’ve written a dark fantasy novel about a vampire entitled “Drasmyr.” Talk of vampires almost always engenders talk of immortality, because that’s usually considered one of the advantages of being a vampire: they don’t die of old age. In my novel, the vampire is one thousand years old. I’ve read/seen other works where the vampire in question is 6000 or 10,000 years old or what-have-you. Generally, the age seems to be limited to several thousand years. I’ve never seen anything about a 5 million year old vampire or anything like that. But why not? There is no physical reason why a vampire could not be that old, if vampires are gifted with immortality.
I suppose one reason is that human civilization—or the historical record of such—only goes back several thousand years. Vampires are usually associated with civilized man. They are a tale of terror for those who huddle together on the edges of the night, thinking they are safe in their home, surrounded by others similarly secure. As vampires can appear human, though, this security is an illusion; a vampire can infiltrate a city or village and strike with ruthless savagery.
Likewise, according to most traditions vampires come from humans; they are the result of a human being bitten by a vampire, dying, and transforming into a creature of the night. In order for this to happen, there need to be humans around who can be bit. It makes no sense to have a vampire that’s been around since the dinosaurs, because there were no humans around at that time.
Basically, I think 1000 to 10,000 years is the sweet spot for a vampire’s age (Dracula, of course, was only 400 years old—he’s outside the sweet spot, but he’s cool anyway). This gives them a good sense of timelessness, basically dwarfing a human’s lifespan without being too ridiculous about it. There is still that sense of a connection between themselves and their prey, for once, a long, long time ago, they were human themselves.
Anything above 10,000 years, in my opinion, is just excessive and runs the risk of starting a bidding war on vampire ages. My vampire is 20,000 years old. My vampire is 50,000. Oh yeah, mine is 300,000,000. Hmmph… 5 Billion. Two Trillion… at which point we have vampires older than the universe. In the end, age is just a number for one of the undead; what really makes them cool is the powers they wield and their respective personalities.
This will truly go down as one of the critical questions answered in the early twenty-first century: Can a vampire starve for lack of blood. The obvious answer is: It depends on the particulars of the vampire myth in question.
Let’s look at “Dracula,” for a moment, a book I’ve recently read. When Jonathan Harker first encounters Count Dracula in his castle he is an old man, although a very sprightly, spry, and strong old man. It is only after he travels to England feasting on the blood of the crew of the Demeter that he regains a youthful appearance. From this it seems to be apparent that he can go without blood, or at least, far less blood than he would like for extended periods of time and the ill effect he suffers is aging. In the book, he’s roughly four hundred years old. What, then, is the logical consequence of him going without blood indefinitely? I think it is reasonable to surmise that he would continue to age until he ultimately passed away, dying a vampire death of old age. So, as far as Dracula is concerned, this may be an alternative way to slay him: keep him confined and unfed for eternity; eventually he will die.
Although this is true of Dracula, I don’t think it is true of the vampire queen, Akasha, in Anne Rice’s novel “Queen of the Damned.” It’s been a while since I read the book, but I remember the vampire queen awakens from a slumber of several thousand years. If she can go that long without feeding and suffer no ill effects, it seems likely she can go on forever.
I have not read “Twilight” (although I saw the last movie) so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on it. It seems reasonable that they would die a Dracula-type death as well as they do seem to rely on the blood for nutrition purposes.
But isn’t that what all vampires do? They rely on blood for nutrition? I’m not sure. When they are undead, do they really need nutrition as we understand it? Or is the act of consuming human blood better understood as an act of horror meant to inspire fear and trembling? That goes with the myths in which the vampires are evil creatures of darkness. In such a case, blood consumption might not be necessary for survival as nutrition might not be its ultimate motivation.
Okay, lastly, I’d like to consider Lucian val Drasmyr, from my novel, “Drasmyr.” In the book, he is confined to a library for five hundred years during which he is a vampire thirsting for blood, but forcibly restrained from consuming it. He does not age, nor suffer ill effects despite the fact that he is not feeding. So, it would seem that he wouldn’t die without consuming blood either. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret, this very topic actually comes up in the next book, “The Children of Lubrochius.” More is to be said on this, but I won’t give away what is planned for the book. So, I will have to leave you there, wondering and full of curiosity.
In “Dracula,” Bram Stoker’s grand masterpiece, Count Dracula is roughly four hundred years old, if I recall correctly. In my own novel, “Drasmyr,” Lucian val Drasmyr is about one thousand years old, give or take. I have seen films and stories where the vampire is as old as 10,000 years old. Clearly, vampires “live” longer than humans, but what is the significance of their extended lifetimes?
At some level it may just be a yearning on our part for something timeless and immortal. Such makes what the vampire offers (virtual immortality) that much more enticing. He can take away our death and suffering, end our pain. But how does the vampire see his own immortality?
Part of that can be understood by looking at how a vampire ages. The process, of course, differs somewhat with every story. In “Dracula” our illustrious Count aged like a mortal man (or something like that) when he did not get his fill of blood. Count Dracula is a very old man when Jonathan Harker first encounters him in his castle—although he is strong and spry for such an “old man.” Later, in London after he has sated much of his appetite, his iron-gray hair has turned black, and he looks like a man in his prime. This raises a number of interesting questions, but I want to remain focused on just his aging. Clearly, Bram Stoker’s vampire does age, he just has a handy mechanism to reverse it.
Another common theme in vampire lore is that vampires grow stronger with time. So, the older the vampire, the more powerful he is, and the more difficult he is to destroy. This theme was implied in “Dracula,” but I don’t think it was ever explicitly stated. In fact, at one point Van Helsing said the Count had the brain of a child, but a very clever one, or something to that effect. Still, Dracula was the master of three other vampires in his castle. There are two possible reasons for this; either he made the other vampires, or he was simply the eldest. Both seem plausible and neither seems mutually exclusive.
Today’s vampires have taken old age to grand new heights. In “Vampire Hunter D,” an anime film from the late 80’s, early 90’s, Count Magnus Lee is 10,000 years old. As such, he is virtually indestructible. He rules his clan of vampires with an iron fist. At his age, he’s actually gained telekinetic powers, among other things. But at a certain point does not adding a few more thousand years onto the age of your vampire seem tiresome? I mean, really, we get the point. The thing won’t die.
Still, I find the aging vampire and the powers such bestows upon it an interesting facet of the vampire’s multi-faceted persona. It provides a rich and malleable measure to differentiate vampires from one another and keep them unique at the same time.
With the popularity of vampires among society today, this actually becomes a question worth asking. Once upon a time, most people would have answered with a resounding “No!” Why, you might ask? Let’s discuss that. At that point in time, humanity’s definition of a vampire was very different than it is today. Once upon a time, vampires were creatures of the night; Dracula was their progenitor; and Satan their lord. Ahh, yes, the times of yesteryear. This old, traditional vampire was all but immortal; they could only be slain by a wooden stake through the heart, running water, or sometimes sunlight. They were incredibly strong and had a host of special powers like the ability to change into a bat, or mist, or a wolf. But to remain strong and immortal they had to feed on human blood. That is, of course, one point against them, as most people probably don’t want to make a diet of human blood. But that’s not the worst of it.
In the West where Christianity was once quite strong there has always been a strong connection between blood and religion. At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his apostles, “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall have Eternal Life,” and he promptly gave them bread and wine; the bread being his flesh, and the wine his blood (there is debate between Catholics and Protestants whether the bread/flesh and wine/blood connections are intended to be taken literally or symbolically, but that is straying off topic here). The important thing here is that Christ wanted you to consume his “blood” in order to be saved. I’m not an expert on theology or Judaic tradition so I may be getting in a little over my head here, but I seem to recall that blood was an important aspect in sin offerings. So, as far as Christianity is concerned, the blood of Christ served to “wash away” one’s sins; consuming Christ’s blood is a way to accept that and gain entrance to Heaven (like I said, I’m not an expert).
Vampires, on the other hand, are a complete perversion of this. They (in the West) were minions of Satan. They consumed blood and granted Eternal Life, as well, but the life they granted was an accursed abomination. It was an eternal, physical life in this “fallen” world filled with sin. Depending on the tradition, a human can become a vampire either by being bitten by a vampire, or by consuming a vampire’s blood. In the latter case, the perverted connection to Christianity is stronger. Here, the victim, instead of consuming Christ’s holy blood consumes the blood of the vampire, the unholy blood of Satan. Thus, it is a reversal of Christian Salvation. As a result, the victim is cursed to walk forever as an undead creature of the night to be forever repulsed by all things holy. Here, the price of becoming a vampire is your very soul.
I just made all of that up. How’d I do? J
Anyway, the obvious conclusion to the question: “Would you want to be a (traditional) vampire?” should be a resounding “No!” for all clear-thinking individuals.