Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Literary vampires have roots in two distinct folkloristic traditions: the Greek notion of the seductive Lamia and the various Eastern European superstitions regarding cannibalistically inclined reanimated corpses. Most of the latter resemble the revenants of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) far more than the aristocratic Dracula of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), which cleverly combined elements from John Polidori's caricature of Lord Byron in The Vampyre: A Tale (1819 chap) and J Sheridan Le Fanu's account of the lamiaesque "Carmilla" (1872) with selected folkloristic trappings. Dracula became the archetype of the vampire of occult fiction, but that figure retained considerable fantasy interest by virtue of the sensuality which it inherited, partly from lamia stories like Théophile Gautier's "La morte amoureuse" (1836) and partly from the awesomely ambivalent Byronic charisma possessed by Polidori's and Stoker's villains. No matter how hard writers of Horror tried to confine vampires to straightforwardly monstrous roles, this charismatic quality could not be entirely suppressed, and it became increasingly flagrant in the Cinema as standards of censorship were relaxed (see Vampire Movies). In addition, the vampire's qualified Immortality became increasingly unconvincing as a form of damnation, and such tentative experiments as Jane Gaskell's The Shiny Narrow Grin (1964) were followed a decade later by a spectacularly sudden bouleversement of attitude in Les vampires d'Alfama (1975; trans as The Vampires of Alfama 1976) by Pierre Kast (1920-1984), The Dracula Tape (1975) by Fred Saberhagen and Interview with the Vampire (1976) by Anne Rice, which together proved to be the forerunners of, arguably, the most prolific outburst of activity in the history of imaginative literature.

Rice's bestselling series became the flagship of a huge fleet of studies in exotic Existentialism in which the practical problems and moral predicaments of vampires came under intense scrutiny. Although some of these stories are so comprehensively rationalized as to be sf, the vast majority belong more to fantasy than Supernatural Fiction; such horror as they generate is deployed as perverse glamour rather than fearful repulsion. Lilith is sometimes invoked as a symbolic ancestor-figure of the separate species, gifted with problematic immortality, to which most modern vampires are deemed to belong. The most significant examples of this Revisionist Fantasy include the Varkela series (1979-1983) by Susan Petrey (1945-1980), Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's series begun with Hotel Transylvania (1978), Suzy McKee Charnas's The Vampire Tapestry (1980), Geoffrey Farrington's The Revenants (1983), Barbara Hambly's Immortal Blood (1988), Nancy A Collins's Sunglasses After Dark (1989), Freda Warrington's A Taste of Blood Wine (1992) and its sequel, Brian Lumley's Vampire World sequence, Storm Constantine's Burying the Shadow (1992), Poppy Z Brite's Lost Souls (1992), Lucius Shepard's The Golden (1993) and Tom Holland's The Vampyre: Being the True Pilgrimage of George Gordon, Sixth Lord Byron (1995). Many of the stories in Ellen Datlow's anthologies Blood Is Not Enough (anth 1989) and A Whisper of Blood (anth 1991) consciously explore the erotic implications of the vampire motif, while those in Love in Vein (anth 1994) ed Brite with Martin H Greenberg take such explorations to calculatedly perverse extremes. Less earnest exercises in revisionism – whose status as fantasy is even more assured – include The Partaker (1980) by R Chetwynd-Hayes, Dracula's Diary (1982) by Michael Geare (1919-    ) and Michael Corby, and Suckers (1993) by Anne Billson. [BS]

see also: Transylvania.


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.