|See the end of the post for Adele Geras's |
poem inspired by this picture
There are vampiric legends all around the world. I made a list of some of my favourites when I was writing Vampire Dawn - including the Ashanti vampire, Asasabonsam, which hangs from trees by the hooks it has in place of feet and drops onto unsuspecting victims passing below, and the southeast Asian Penanggalan, a disembodied female head that flies, trailing its entrails behind it. They make your bog-standard turn-into-a-bat type European vampire look pretty tame.
I wondered why there are vampire legends all over the world.Usually, when something crops up everywhere - like flood legends - there's a good reason rooted in fact. With my fiction brain in, I hoped it was because there really are or were vampires. People have thought this until pretty recently. There was even the Highgate Vampire scare in 1970 (the Highgate vampire has an appreciation page on Facebook). But that was just a scare and a vampire hunt. In 1892, the unfortunate Mercy Brown became the third member of her family to die of tuberculosis, not an uncommon fate at the time. Locals believed she was a vampire and, when her brother Edwin fell ill, had her dug up. Her body had not deteriorated at all, confirming once and for all that she was a vampire. The vampire hunters cut out her heart, burned it, and mixed the ashes into water which they gave Edwin to drink (a traditional way of ridding a victim of the influence of a vampire). Edwin died two months later, of TB rather an attack of raging vampires. That was in Rhode Island, where you might have hoped people would know better by 1892.
I settled on the grief, anger and resentment that accompany bereavement. The vampire preys first on their nearest and dearest. The victim stays alive, but in only a semi-live state. The vampire/dead one sucks the life out of the surviving mourners. The survivor might long to join the dead one. The survivor feels sapped, destroyed, tormented by the dead one. They might feel hatred towards the dead one, but at the same time remain drawn to them. Only when the dead one can be well and truly nailed and accepted as properly dead can the survivor shake off the haunting and get on with life. And some don't - some do follow their loved ones to the grave.
Vampire stories give us a way of encapsulating the parts of grief we don't like to acknowledge, cloaking them in a form we are allowed to hate and shun. They give us the right to say 'stay in your grave, leave me alone'. There are other stories that do the same - The Monkey's Paw is one - but vampires provide an established and universal metaphor for the fear and hatred we can have even for the dead we loved, a way of acknowledging those feelings without guilt. Of course, we've picked up vampires and run with them, and I doubt any modern vampire writer would say that's what they're doing. I wouldn't have done.
Well, that's my vampire theory. Please tear it apart now and drive a stake through its heart.
Adèle Geras has sent this wonderful poem of hers, inspired long ago by the top of the two pictures here, and given me permission to share it with you - for which I am extremely grateful.
Mother, on first acquaintance
he is not to my taste.
(Put him in the Yellow Room.
Gather me into my garments.)
His coat glitters like cockroaches.
His boots contain nightmares.
(Pull the flat maids out
from between grey sheets.)
His fingernails are white;
(At eleven o'clock the family portraits
open their mouths to scream.)
Wallpaper absorbs and disperses
the shadow of his hat.
(I am wearing a bustle.
I am wearing a corset.
I am wearing a hat
with a veil; with a black veil.)
Tears leave stains
at the bottom of teacups.
Sighs become cobwebs.
Mother, have you seen them?
Mother, is it rude to speak of them?
There, there, thrusting between his shoulderblades
he has a pair of ribbed and leathery wings.
(He will spread them.
They will mask the light;
groan and flap like an umbrella
in an ecstasy of wind.
They will fall into dry folds
when he is done with them.)
Put him in the Yellow Room.
Let me consider.