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.
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker is a well-regarded classic of horror literature. I’ve read this book about four times, now. The first three times through (years ago) I liked it, because I liked vampires and was very interested in the part this book played in the legends that have grown up around them. I walked away from the book thinking it was okay, but kind of tame by modern standards as a piece of horror fiction. This last time through, however, my view of this book has changed. It is a masterpiece.
I think in my younger years, I was too much enamored by sword fights and spell battles, the typical fodder of fantasy fiction. This book doesn’t really have much of that. It is all about a developing plot and building suspense. It is one part mystery, one part horror, not so much a fantasy action book. The prose throughout, although somewhat dated—it was written in 1897—is still remarkable and fluid. It’s a little difficult adjusting to the diary narrative, but once you do so, it is a remarkable read. Having read the story before, I pretty much knew what was going to happen. Even so, I enjoyed pretty much the whole thing. I picked up on a number of different aspects of the story that I don’t remember noting before (of course, it has been several years).
I’ve read here and there that this book is really all about sexual repression or what-have-you. I totally didn’t get that. The only elements that might indicate that, that I picked up on, where as follows: 1) the penetration of flesh by vampire teeth, which is true of all vampire stories. 2) Lucy Westenra kind of idly comments in one of her letters that she kind of wished she could marry three different men because she didn’t want to break any of their hearts. 3) Later in the story, a tacit connection is made between love and blood transfusions and Lucy winds up getting transfusions from four different men in an attempt to save her. Taking all these things together, I think you can interpret the work as promoting polygamy if you want to go that way, but I hardly think it is definitive. There is no connection whatsoever between romance and blood transfusions; maybe at the time it was written, it was thought that there was, but really? You’re trying to save a woman’s life. What else would you do? I’ve also read that the work promotes homosexuality. Throughout the work the male characters are described as “manly men” or something along that route by the other male characters (and the female characters). It’s kind of odd from a modern perspective, but I think that was largely the manner of speaking of the time period. It’s another: if you want to go that route, I think you can, but I, personally, did not think that that was the point Bram Stoker was trying to get across. I just thought it was a mannerism of the time period.
Basically, I’m kind of the opinion that all these literary critics and analysts go looking for things in the books they read, and whether the author intended the work in that way or not, the critics interpret it as they see fit. The critics also enjoy the “shock-value” of their interpretations of classical works. Once upon a time, our society would have been “shocked” by polygamous and homosexual themes being present in Dracula. That’s no longer true today, but by now, it’s become accepted that that is what Dracula is all about. Heaven forbid someone just write a cool story.
Anyway, the book’s great, but I think it was intended for a more mature audience. I don’t think a young adult audience would fully “get” it. I know I didn’t when I first read it. I’m not going to review the plot because I think most people know it already. The Francis Ford Coppola movie from a few years back followed the book pretty closely, although it kind of went with the over-sexualized theme and changed some of the characters around to suit that end. Whatever. If you don’t know the story, and you can put up with some of the older-style language (it’s certainly not as bad as say “Canterbury Tales,” but every once in a while the language may stump you), get the book and read it. It’s well worth it.
Before I part, I’ll list the cast of characters: Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker, Lord Arthur Godalming, Quincey Morris, Dr. John Seward, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Lucy Westenra, and, of course, the esteemed, renowned, and rapacious Count Dracula. There’s also three other unnamed vampire chics, and a host of minor characters spread throughout.
Anyway, I’ll give this book four and a half out of five stars.
This post originally appeared on Goodreads on 10/15/12.