Monstrum

S1 E3 | FULL EPISODE

Post-Dracula Vampires: From Anne Rice to Twilight

Stories of blood-sucking monsters have been around for centuries. But the one who have outlived them all is Dracula! Revisit the Count and other vampires he inspired in this episode of Monstrum

AIRED: November 05, 2018 | 0:08:09
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TRANSCRIPT

Stories of blood-sucking monsters are universal and have been around for centuries.

There’s the Greek Lamiae, the Chinese Jiangshi, and the African Asanbosam, to name a few.

But let’s focus on the one who has outlived them all, whose monstrous legend lives among

us even today - Count Dracula.

I’m Dr. Emily Zarka and this is Monstrum.

The stories of blood-sucking monsters constantly shifts to reflect the culture and issues of

its time.

For instance, there are real-life diseases with symptoms similar to the traits found

in some vampires: sensitivity to light, a sudden decline in health, even the desire

to bite other people.

So, before we understood concepts like viruses and germs, creating a fictional explanation

makes a lot of sense.

Also, if you look at the sharp teeth and long fingernails of the typical western vampire,

and how they use these to attack their prey, the vampire becomes a metaphor for a human’s

capacity for great violence.

Vampires often appear humanoid and primarily attack humans, so associating their violent

attacks with the violence we see in the real world is easy—because both predator and

prey look like us.

We can find this monster in folklore, legends, and literature long before the word “vampire”

appears for the first time in English around 1730.

However, it wasn’t until the Irish author Abraham ‘Bram’ Stoker wrote his 1897 novel

Dracula, that the characteristics of this creature became widely recognizable in the

modern world.

Stoker actually started outlining the novel in 1890, years before he even encountered

the name ‘Dracula.’

We know this because he wrote notes, a lot of notes.

Emily Gerard’s book of Transylvanian superstitions The land beyond the forest and Reverend Sabine

Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-Wolves were two books which clearly inspired him.

He clipped newspaper articles, recorded tombstone inscriptions, and transcribed ship captain's

logbooks to make his narrative more realistic.

He was also influenced by Victorian theatre, including his friend and employer - the actor

Henry Irving.

It is most likely that he read the name “Dracula” for the first time in William Wilkinson’s

book An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia while on vacation with his family,

after he had already started writing the story.

In tradition with a lot of Gothic literature, Dracula is a member of the aristocracy, which

also explains the dramatic castle setting, and the Count’s great wealth of “old gold.”

In his memos, Stoker combined many existing literary and folklore traits that we now see

as typical vampire characteristics: no reflection in mirrors, never eats or drinks, has enormous

strength, and the ability to see in the dark.

It was already accepted that vampires could turn others into the undead, have large canine

teeth and pointed nails, and be vulnerable to garlic and wooden stakes.

But Count Dracula was the first vampire to have all of these traits.

And influenced by werewolf legends, Stoker gives Dracula the ability to shapeshift into

a bat, a wolf, or mist, a first for vampires!

Seven years of making vampire notes paid off, and when the book was finally published, it

was a critical and popular success.

The 1922 movie Nosferatu, which tells the Dracula story with a few names changes, was

not authorized by Stoker and came dangerously close to copyright infringement.

Stoker’s widow even tried to have the film removed from public circulation.

The controversy surrounding the film increased the popularity of both the book and the Count

himself.

The prevalence of Dracula movies in the 40’s, inspired a 16-year-old Richard Matheson, to

contemplate his own version of a vampire tale: he wondered quote “if one vampire was scary,

a world filled with vampires would be really scary.”

Matheson published I am Legend, in 1954, telling the story of the only apparent human survivor

in New York City after a vampire plague infects the population.

Matheson’s vampires become monsters not from a bite or curse, but because of the Vampiris

virus.

This is one of the first times the metaphor of vampirism as a disease is explicitly stated.

Urbanism, immigration, sexual transmitted disease, politics, corporate greed, capitalism,

racism, sexism, the fetishization of youth— these are only a few of the things vampires

have represented.

In 1975, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot modernizes Stoker’s original story.

King admits he was inspired by Dracula, as well as the divisive political atmosphere

at that time in the United States that in King’s own words gave him a quote “fear

of the future.”

Fun fact: thanks to the window-scratching scene in the tv-movie version of Salem’s

Lot, the first monsters I remember being really scared of were vampires.

Which, given that I am now an expert in the undead, is so perfectly ironic I could die.

And then reanimate.

It wouldn’t be a post-Dracula vampire episode if I didn’t mention the two names that made

the modern vampire “sexy”…Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Stephanie Meyer’s

Twilight series.

In 1976, the publication of Interview with a Vampire introduced the world to the beautiful,

soulful Louis, whose cold dead heart is still capable of love and regret.

Rice gave us the first reluctant vampires in literature, those who were more concerned

with self-identity and morality than any previously portrayed.

[Clip ]

Then in 2005 , we were given the brooding, abstinent, “vegetarian” Edward Cullen

in Twilight.

Meyer makes turning someone into a vampire the most romantic thing you can do because

it ensures you and your true love will be together forever.

Also, vampires now sparkle.

Thanks for that.

Other vampire stories reframe the undead monster in exciting ways.

Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories features a black, feminist vampire heroine who uses

her undead life to explore her education and her sexuality while helping to create progressive

change in society.

Octavia Butler’s Fledgling features vampires who actually engage in symbiotic relationships

with those they feed from.

The narrative addresses themes of polyamory, intimacy, race, and genetic experimentation

through the eyes of a black female protagonist.

In contrast, Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain trilogy gives us parasitic worms who inhabit

living human bodies, and whose failure to value human life makes them monstrous even

without their need for human blood.

Even though all modern vampire stories have their roots in Stoker’s original Dracula,

each one is unique in its interpretation.

As times change, so do vampires.

The vampire reflects the culture and time of its creation.

I wonder what form they’ll take next?

Who is your favorite literary vampire?

Let me know in the comments.

I’m partial to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Eli from Let the Right One In.

The Great American Read is a new series on PBS about our love of reading.

It all leads up to a vote on America’s favorite novel.

Stream the episodes on-demand or head to pbs.org/greatamericanread for more info.

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