de Vos: A royal bloodbath
March 18, 2016
Amazon lists over 11,470 books under "Vampire Romance". It baffles me that this genre continues in popularity. Why would anyone fall for a leech that drains them dry and then tosses them away like an empty Red Bull? It's no wonder people chase after them with hammers and stakes.
1897 was a banner year for vampires. Bram Stoker wrote Dracula and Rudyard Kipling wrote The Vampire in that same year. The Vampire is a powerful poem about a woman who drained his friend then threw him in the gutter. Kipling describes her as, ". . . a rag and a bone and a hank of hair", a line picked up later in songs by Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt and others.
1897 also saw the barely-famous Sir Philip Burne-Jones' most-famous painting titled The Vampire, a lurid portrait of a scantily-clad woman straddling an unconscious man.
What was happening in 1897?
The furor was a smoldering Italian stage actress named Stella Campbell. Stella wadded up a big pile of crumpled men at the foot of her career. She was a vamp; aptly many called her a vampire. The two words, vamp and vampire, come from the same East European roots but they're subtly different in meaning. One leaves you in despair and penniless, the other leaves you in despair and bloodless.
Stoker's Dracula quoted Deuteronomy 12:23: "The blood is the life." Much like your average hedge fund broker, he sucked the vitality out of everyone in Transylvania before making his corporate inversion to London where he enjoyed the businessman's lunch . . . wait, make that the businessmen for lunch.
Vlad Dracul was ruler of Hungary in the late 1400's, so renowned for his bloody savagery that he earned the nickname, "Vlad the Impaler". He was the model for Stoker's "Dracula". But it was Vlad's distant cousin, the Transylvanian Countess Erzsébet Bathory, who put real meat on the legend.
In 1610, Bathory was arrested for the torture and murder of more than 600 young girls, but she was confused by the charges. In her mind, the torture and murder were a royal necessity: bathing in virgin's blood kept her young. She had been ignored by the king and his court while her victims were servants and townspeople, but her plan for eternity went awry when she began torturing and murdering the royal family.
The rules keep changing about dispatching a vampire. Tried and true, of course, is the traditional stake-thru-the-heart. After that, there are lots of variants. Silver bullets are a good bet. Or do they only work on werewolves? Do crucifixes scare them away or make them angry? Will holy water truly sizzle up a vampire like battery acid? Many deep-cleavaged, B-movie actresses have met an untimely demise over these very confusions.
So you nail one in the aorta and you've got an undead dead. Ignore the triple-negative and quickly bury the damned thing upside-down. A comprehensive scan of extant source material (Netflix) reveals this to be an effective way to defang vampires. The trouble is: you're hardly beyond the shadow of the tombstone before getting shouldered aside by a hunchback with a shovel.
Incidentally, in 1614, the Countess Bathory died in a windowless dungeon. Her body was buried in the family mausoleum on the Bathory estate. Fast forward to 1938, in an attempt to finally quiet the legends, her crypt was opened.
It was empty.