February 4, 2004

Gotthammer Mike has, in the quite recent past, received concerned emails from youth pastors who have issues with his 'vampire links'. In case it's not abundantly clear exactly who said pastors are referring to, allow me to clarify: it's me.

The idea triggers an intriguing parade of emotions through me in response. There is a surge of pride that my little crypt could cause such ripples amongst the Christian fundamentalists. There is a flicker of guilt for the same reason. After all, I was raised in church. Cut my teeth on the pew, so to speak. To now assume the identity of the undead is somehow a righteous affront to everything I was taught in my formative years. And yet the pride is greater than the guilt by far. Then there is the twinge of anger. For no monster this side of Frankenstein is so misunderstood as the vampire. What am I to do with this march of conflicting feeling? Examine it, of course. Thus I have decided to delve into my own assumed history to better understand vampires and, through such exploration, to form an idea of why they so stir the ire of the church at large.

The word 'monster' springs out at me from the above paragraph. Are vampires truly monsters? I turn to the dictionary for assistance. The Merriam-Webster Online dictionary defines the word as follows:

Main Entry: vam-pire
Pronunciation: 'vam-"pIr
Function: noun
Etymology: French, from German Vampir, from Serbo-Croatian vampir
1 : the reanimated body of a dead person believed to come from the grave at night and suck the blood of persons asleep
2 a : one who lives by preying on others b : a woman who exploits and ruins her lover

Interestingly enough, Merriam and/or Webster do not define vampires as monsters. In their words a monster is "an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure" or "an animal of strange or terrifying shape". Vampires are not animals. Actually they're nothing at all if you want to get technical. They're the undead. They are nosferatu. Merriam-Webster has no listing for nosferatu. Neither do any of the other dictionaries I checked. But Encyclopedia.com has two listings and both are related to Hollywood directors. Vampires, then, if we follow the supposition through to it's inexorable conclusion, are part of film lore.

If only it were that easy to dismiss vampires, bemoan the hand-wringing religious zealots. They're quite right that it's not that simple. "The word vampyre entered the English language in 1732, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, perhaps derived from the Turkish word for witch, uber, and transformed in Slavic languages as upior, upir, oupire, upyr, and, penultimately, vampyr and vampir." [excerpted from Vampires: Encounters with the Undead by David J. Skal, 2001]

Not monsters, not alive, but certainly preying on our consciousness long before Hollywood gave the good Count Dracula his infamous slick hair and flowing cape. Vampires are part and parcel of the mythology that comprises both our dreamscapes and dread of the supernatural. There's more to the undead than just sucking blood. Don't believe me? Wait and see. We're far from finished this dark journey, my pretty mortals...

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