Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fangs N' Sunlight

Theresa's written an interesting little item on standardised vampire attributes, but I do have a coupla points of contention with it.

For instance, here's what she has to see about a classic vampire attribute:
Equally as common among the vampire are descriptions of long sharp teeth and nails, but this should not be surprising in the least to anyone. Vampires are often painted as being strict carnivores, and having the dull and rounded teeth and fibrous fingernails that we humans have would be of very little use to a creature that needs to be an efficient hunter and killer.
If one reads through folklore on the subject, as well as the various reports by Austro-Hungarian authorities, one finds nary a mention of elongated canines. This caused Jean Marigny to remark the following in Vampires: The World of the Undead (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994):
The overdeveloped teeth so dear to filmmakers are reminiscent of the werewolf's fangs but are an attribute that seems to have been invented by the literature of fantasy. In general, the vampire does not bite its victims; it prefers to get blood by sucking the skin's pores. (55)
To be fair, the stories aren't generally specific about blood being sucked through the pores, but as fangs were noticeably absent, this is a seemingly logical conclusion in itself.

As to her bit about sunlight...
People also assume that vampires are susceptible to sunlight and that their flesh will combust into inextinguishable flames if they spend even a moment in it. Although this is true for a scant few species of vampires, it is hardly the case for the larger portion.
I'm not really familiar with any (folkloric/mythical) vampire that disintegrated in this manner. Vampires were mainly nocturnal beings, that is true, and the occasional Russian tale had them needing to return to their tombs before sunrise. But, this was because they'd return to "death". That is, they'd revert back to being a corpse...only to rise again at night, anyway.

The whole death-by-sunlight thing was an invention of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922). Try and find a source prior to that flick in which vampires disintegrate by sunlight. Go on! I dare ya!

Indeed, the film was even more specific about this modern-day "lore":
One can recognize the mark of the vampire by the trace of his fangs on the victim's throat. Only a woman can break his frightful spell--a woman pure in heart--who will offer her blood freely to Nosferatu and will keep the vampire by her side until after the cock has crowed.
When this lore was incorporated into other vampire stories and flicks, this portion was excised.

The vampire literature of the 19th century had no recognition of this form of vampire destruction: Varney (Varney the Vampire, 1847), Carmilla ("Carmilla," 1872) and even the Count (Dracula, 1897) are all depicted walking about in sunlight.


Amee Vang said...

I just love this post. :D

Anthony Hogg said...

Glad you got a kick out if it, Amee!

However, I should point out that Theresa's got a new book coming out later this year, which might elaborate on her conclusions.

In the meantime, I stand by what I wrote.

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