REAL vampires don’t [insert thing here].

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research, and I thought I’d share some of the interesting tidbits I’ve come across as I create The van Helsing Legacy (which you can read free HERE).

Whenever new vampire media comes out, it’s common to see strongly-worded objections in the comments section of all the reviews – something along the lines of “A REAL vampire doesn’t [insert thing here].”

Common complaints include sparkling, failing to burst into flames in the sun, not being a corpse, being capable of, ah, engaging in hanky-panky with humans, being able to consume the blood of animals, being too pretty, being too ugly… The list goes on and on.

The reality, though, is that our idea of what a real vampire looks like is extremely recent. Even when Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula,” ideas of vampirism were only just beginning to consolidate. The folk beliefs from which our current ideas have grown are… shall we say, “loose” at best.

For example, in many regional traditions, the distinctions between a vampire and a witch are casual or even nonexistent. A witch might become a vampire after death, but she also might prey on other people even while she’s alive, sometimes by changing her form into some predatory animal or by leaving her body as a spirit and attacking people as they sleep. Whether or not she is considered a vampire before she dies depends entirely on which old person is telling the story. And of course, while this predatory creature usually seems to do her predatory thing at night, she usually spends her days trying very hard not to be burned at the stake, hanged, or stoned to death for witchcraft, all of which tend to be more immediately dangerous than sunlight.

The dead kind of vampire catches fire in the sun, though, right? Actually, no. There is no folkloric support for sunlight destroying vampires. That bit of our modern myth comes from the 1922 film Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens, and even in the film, it’s not the sun itself that kills Count Orlok, but the noble sacrifice of a pure woman. In folklore, it’s true that vampires usually do their nasty work at night, but many also attack humans in their sleep, which has been known to include daytime naps as well. Others simply vanish when the sun comes up, with no mention of what would happen if they stuck around.

But they can only drink human blood. Sorry, this one is recent, too. Traditional vampires do an awful lot of harassing livestock, and often took the blame for plagues among cattle and sheep. On the other hand, the monsters of folklore never go after livestock because they have any moral compunction against going after humans, as contemporary vampires often do. In fact, a European peasant was likely to be just as devastated by attacks against his livelihood as by attacks against himself, so killing his cows was certainly not a decision of mercy.

They do drink blood, though. Weirdly enough, not always. The stories lumped together under the ‘vampire’ umbrella cover all kinds of depredation, and not all of it centers on the blood of humans or of animals. Eviscerated livestock was blamed on vampires. Failing crops, dying trees, noises on the roof or in the chimney, disappearing money, dry wells, bad dreams, good dreams that made people feel guilty, unexpected pregnancies in unmarried women… Heck, vampires even took the blame for eating their own bodies. Essentially, if there’s any kind of trouble in the neighbourhood, you might have a vampire problem.

So the next time someone gripes at you about contemporary media getting it wrong, you can head them off with a “Well, actually…” The only real constant in folklore is that it’s constantly changing. I, for one, am interested to see how it changes next!

Further reading:
For an interesting and informative read, check out “Vampires, Burial and Death” by Paul Barber.

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Cover Reveal! Titan Magic: Body and Soul, by Jodi Lamm!

Well? Are you ready? Are you sitting down? Because this is a fantastic cover for a fantastic book.

Titan Magic: Body and Soul follows Lamm’s 2011 masterpiece, Titan Magic, which I reviewed a while ago. And Lamm has outdone herself. Trust me, I know – I had the honor of prereading this one, and it’s beautiful. It does follow Titan Magic, though, so you really need to pick up a copy of that one ASAP, the better to enjoy Body and Soul THE MOMENT IT COMES OUT (on 13 December, according to its Goodreads page).

Titan Magic (which also has a pretty fabulous cover) can be picked up in paperback or digital from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and digitally from Kobo.

Designed by Abigail Larson for Jodi Lamm’s upcoming release, Titan Magic: Body and Soul, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cover that fits the story more perfectly.

“Don’t fool yourself. Fool everyone else, but never fool yourself.”
When a young golem called Kaspar befriends a beautiful baker and her daughter, he wishes, for the first time in his life, to be more than just a counterfeit, wooden child. But such a simple wish comes at a high price, and Kaspar won’t be the only one to pay. With the few who can stop him distracted by their own dreams, Kaspar is free to set in motion a naive and gruesome plan. He hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed, though. He’s a powerful weapon left alone and ungoverned, and he’s already caught the eye of someone with an even more costly wish.
It’s gonna be intense!

Bother the Author

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Vampires, and an introduction to Daniel.

Daniel Leland has been bebopping around in my head (and objects fiercely to the use of that phrase, as to bebop is thoroughly beneath his dignity) since early 2005, when I myself was bebopping around on Gaia and discovered vampires.

Now, I had some vague notion prior to that discovery that vampires showed up shortly before Halloween time and then retired into the dark recesses of holiday kitsch to wait out the rest of the year. Vampires were seasonal. Being a cinema buff, I also had some vague notion that vampires looked a bit like Bela Lugosi and a bit like Max Schreck and would pop up out of a coffin as though spring-loaded if you were dumb enough to let them out. (I confess that I took Nosferatu perfectly seriously until that one scene, in which Orlok does indeed lever up out of his box like he’s lying on a hinged board. Then I cracked up.)

Gaia’s forums introduced me to a different sort of vampire. Actually, several different sorts. The first sort was the twipire, and I do reluctantly admit that I did read the entire Twilight Saga. (Not a saga, by the way. Terminology is important.) I’m actually not sure why; while I did find it fascinating and hard to put down, I never did actually enjoy it. To this day, I cannot explain that phenomenon. The second sort was the ricepire, which still confuses me greatly. I had already familiarized myself with the parallels between vampires and sex, thanks to Google searches, but Rice left me flummoxed. (I love her writing, by the way. I just can’t stand her books, if that makes any sense.)

Unable to see any real connection between Dracula, Orlok, Edward, and Lestat, I turned to the old stuff, because clearly, the new stuff hadn’t gotten its act together yet. That brought me to Varney, Carmilla, and a variety of divergent mythologies that only seemed connected by the idea of something stealing something from a human being. It was usually blood, but even that wasn’t a given.

Somewhere in there, I decided I was going to try to write a book again. It was high school, and this seemed like a good idea, despite the fact that my last attempt at a fully-fledged novel had petered out some time in second grade and involved a main character with silver hair and colour-changing eyes who rode a dragon and could talk to animals and might possibly have been part fairy and had a hidden destiny and a magic ring that could change her beautiful flowing gowns into silver armour…

Yeah.

Why I thought vampires would fix this problem, I have no idea. At any rate, I decided to be ironic about it.

New character:

Male. Okay. That fixes at least part of the awful self-insert problem.

Silver hair. But this time, it’s because he’s freaking old.

Colour-changing eyes… Still tricky. I’ll give him cola-bottle glasses so I can keep that, but no one notices. Now he’s half-blind and nerdy.

It was high school, so obviously he couldn’t be a normal person. The colour-changing eyes would make that a bit goofy. So he’s a vampire.

And he’s cranky.

Cranky, myopic boffinpire stuck eternally just past his midlife crisis. Oh, and he’s Catholic. Bingo.

Art by the incomparable Leah Reddington. He will beat you to death with that book.

I stole “Daniel” from a Bible opened at random (because y’know, Victorians and their biblical names…) and “Leland” from a Leland Stanford Junior College mug I had sitting on my bedside table at the time.  There’s a lot of complicated backstory to explain the inexplicable Scottish branch of the Leland family. Fortunately, history came through for me, and the way-back-when Leylands moved north to escape Elizabeth I’s persecution of Catholics. Win.

Daniel of 2005 was a lot more of a creeper than he is today. There was icky romance between him and a high school student, and he was sad and tortured and just needed someone to love. Fortunately, he and I both got over that, and now he’s just an angry, snide asshat who thinks he’s tortured but is really just a dripping ball of obnoxious self-pity. It’s more fun to torment him this way, because I know he can take it. And I just love good guys who aren’t good people.

His story is fleshing out nicely, now, with one volume published, a second undergoing formatting for publication, and a third in the first-draft stage. From that one character, I’ve managed to stretch out an entire mythology, and every secondary character who’s come along has insisted on a book of his or her own. Lenny, Sebastian, Jerzy, Aniela, Kim, Jadwiga, Aaron… I’ve expanded way past vampires, I’m pleased to say. There are many things mankind once knew, but has chosen to forget – volumes upon volumes of Lost Knowledge.

Slavic fantasy, please!

Don’t get me wrong; I love folklore in all forms, and I’ve put a lot of time and effort into researching the Western fairy, selkie, will o’ the wisp, hooded spirit, versipellis, jotunn, etc. But I feel like Celtic mythology (encompassing the English, Irish, and Scottish traditions) has largely dominated fantasy literature, with brief overtures from the Norse countries, and I can’t see any clear reason why. It’s interesting, of course, but I wouldn’t say that it’s MORE interesting than any other folkloric system.

Some of you in the know may be aware that The Cold and The Mora in the Mists, books three and five of the Books of Lost Knowledge, will be taking place primarily in (what is now) Poland, with forays into modernized segments of the Arthur legend. The Cold is all about vampires, and The Mora in the Mists is about a mora who narrowly avoided becoming a rusalka.

The thing is, I wanted to see how other authors have addressed the setting and the mythology, how the creatures have been presented and altered for modern audiences, and I have absolutely no idea where to look. Amazon is no help at all. So please, if you have come across any work of fantasy that takes even a part of its mythos from the Slavic world, give me a link.

Texts and ethnologies are helpful as well. You can never have too much research. 🙂