Blood, Fire, and Pillars of Smoke: The Rise of Vampires in Pop Culture
By Rona Sharon,Author of Royal Blood
As popular themes go, vampires may very well win the prize of "most commonly resurrected." You may love them, hate them, or are trying very hard to ignore them, but surely you have wondered at least once what made the damned princes of darkness so bloody interesting.If you prefer "real world" storylines and are observing the phenomenon as a baffled bystander, you might be interested to know that thousands of years before achieving mass popularity in movies such as Underworld and Twilight, and TV series like True Blood, vampires had manifested in pagan mythology, monotheistic demonology, and spiritual rituals.
Throughout history, vampire myths appeared in nearly every culture. From the ancient Middle East (Mesopotamia, Judea, Egypt), these archetypical baddies invaded Europe, where they found fertile soil in Slavic paganism, and also materialized in Africa, Asia, and the Aztec Empire.
Curiously, the earliest vampires were females -- violent dark goddesses like the Sumerian Lilitu, the Egyptian Sekhmet, and the Indian Kali, all possessing immense supernatural forces. These vampiric goddesses had both the powers to create and to destroy, to give birth and to devour.
In the Dark Ages, tales of vampires sparked public hysteria. Corpses were exhumed and stabbed. It had taken the vampire various reincarnations, through the Hebrew Talmud, Arabian Nights, Boccaccio's Il Decameron, and eclectic poetry to reemerge as the suave ageless nobleman.
This 19th century "makeover" was a direct outcome of the violent volcanic eruption in Indonesia in 1815. The Judgment Day atmosphere caused by dark skies and a frosty summer inspired Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, as well as plays and operas starring the alluring vampire lord.
From this point on, the revenants' star was on the rise and shining ever so brightly with each literary, musical, or theatrical piece conceived (oftentimes as a result of consuming laudanum) in their honor. Lord Byron, Edgar Allen Poe, and Alexandre Dumas, to name a few, contributed to their eternal fame, but it was the Irish novelist Bram Stoker's Draculathat had the mightiest impact on the imagination and cast the glory of the bloodthirsty count and his court in perpetuity.
Evidently the public's fascination with vampires is not an original fad. The vampire is the most popular fiction character of all times. What is it about vampires exactly that appeals to so many people? And why, being familiar with this totally fictitious half-man, half-monster icon, people are still happy to spend their time on movies, books, and TV series that feature vampires?
Entertainment and escapism come to mind. As much as we are riveted by "real world" plots, sometimes the brain needs to zone out in fantasyland. This explanation is plausible, but it fails to prove why the vampire in particular outperforms any other fantastical creature.We should keep in mind that the vampire has only recently assumed the role of the compelling, gothic, martyred, seductive, gorgeous, off-limits, struggling, sympathetic, romantic outcast in love with a human. The slick hunk in black leather pants, driving a sports car in a metropolis by night, was not the bloodcurdling image that had haunted the graveyards of our ancestors.
Granted, the spooky effect has value. Sexologists believe that scary moments stimulate the libido and therefore couples may bond effectively having watched a horror movie together. However, while this theory is bound to stick in your memory, it does not offer sufficient evidence, either.Vampires, whether pale and beautiful or ghoulishly foul, have always been identified with death, blood-drinking, and sex, feeding on emotions such as love, guilt, dread, desire, pity, and sadism.
Far be it from me to undertake psychoanalyzing why we are obsessed with death, blood, and sex. In my capacity as a historical novelist, I choose to explore the mysteries of the human psyche through stories in the hopes of understanding why we were put on this earth and how we may improve our lot in life. Ironically, as I study the tapestry of man's fleeting existence, I see how the fruits of one generation's labor -- art, science, architecture, etc. -- are reaped by its successors.Now, a vampire -- omnipotent, never-aging, and immortal -- may travel the centuries unscathed, unconstrained by a deadline in his pursuit of enlightenment and happiness. Would he or she be a cheerful voyager or one cursed with loneliness? Then there is the future to consider. What if the world and/or mankind are doomed to a cataclysmic end? Would anyone care to witness that?
Vampire symbolism is tied in heavily with the awareness of the powers of darkness, chaos, and the occult -- ancient mysteries that add a chilling dimension to the rich layers of history and cast a question mark on the future. Doomsday prophecies made for an absorbing read as I was doing research back in 2007 for Royal Blood, my Tudor Vampires novel. Here's an example:
"Awake, ye drunkards, and weep . . . For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion . . . Sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand . . . And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come."– Book of Joel
The vampire -- a human lookalike possessed of superior abilities, as well as frailties, dependent on man for sustenance, multifaceted and obscure -- remains an enigmatic figure. Friend or foe? Through him, we get to experience latent fancies and scenes in which the secrets of creation are unraveled. Thank heavens for fiction, I say. The world, I predict, has not seen the last of the vampire crazes. The undead are here to stay, our prolific imagination will undoubtedly continue to produce them, and even the most discriminating realist may yet cross over to the dark side.
©2009 Rona Sharon, author of Royal Blood
Rona Sharon is the author of critically acclaimed historical novels of intrigue, passion, and danger. Her latest, Royal Blood, is a tale of lust and violence in the treacherous Tudor Court. From her home on the Mediterranean Coast in Tel Aviv, surrounded by thousands of years of history, Rona brings her passion for culture and travel to her writing and never fails to deliver a story that carries a punch . . . and a dagger.
For more information please visit http://www.ronasharon.com/
For more information please visit http://www.ronasharon.com/