Fascination with Dracula and his bloodsucking brethren lives on
English faculty member Svitlana Krys enjoys reading horror stories—the genre intertwines at times with her research into the Gothic literary movement. When writing her dissertation on the origins of the Ukrainian Gothic, she studied a 19th-century novel (Marko prokliatyi, or Marko the Cursed) by one of Ukraine’s late Romantics, Oleksa Storozhenko, in which a vampire served as an important symbol.
“This vampire-like character becomes the venue to express or hide certain nationalistic expectations that couldn’t be said openly,” says Lana, who is also MacEwan University’s Kule Chair in Ukrainian Studies and the director of the Ukrainian Resource Development Centre. “My new research is going to look into the vampire myth and how it developed.”
That research will also help inform Lana’s new Winter 2016 course, “Readings in Speculative Fiction: The Vampire Myth.” Through her readings, as well as her research during the Year of China study tour, she has discovered a number of lesser-known myths about vampires from East European folktales and Asian cultures.
1. The vampire was a scapegoat
When a village couldn’t explain an unusual calamity or illness, the residents would blame a vampire. “The vampire would become a very convenient scapegoat,” says Lana. “Then they could have a ceremony where the grave of the suspected vampire was uncovered to pacify the people so that they would return the village to a peaceful state.”
2. The vampire was gullible
Forget the suave gentleman or the brooding teenager—early myths of the creature portrayed a gullible revenant who would prey on its living family members. It could easily be thwarted by sprinkling grain around its grave, forcing it to count every morsel until the sun came up.
Only when Bram Stoker’s Dracula reached public consciousness did the vampire character we recognize today begin to develop.
3. The vampire didn’t drink blood
Originating from a Slavic myth, the vampire sucked the spirit or soul of its victim—not their blood, and had nothing to do with bats, fangs or the 15th-century Wallachian prince, Vlad Tepes. When the vampire bat was discovered in Latin America, the gory imagery of the vampire feeding on blood entered the literary tradition.
4. The vampire’s journey from villain to anti-hero to hero and back again has been a long one
“Originally Dracula was very evil. He had a little bit of a positive side, but that wasn’t fully realized in the novel,” explains Lana. “Only with Anne Rice’s novels in the 1970s and ’80s do we see the emotional side of the vampire.”
However you feel about vampires—whether they’ve overstayed their welcome or you can’t get enough—don’t expect them to stay in the grave anytime soon. As Lana explains, the myth is a potent combination of an evil and immortality that attracts people and a power that—almost—cannot be taken away.
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