Primer: Vampires

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In Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, vampires are pale, fanged creatures who create no reflection and cast no shadow.  The count is immortal, with enhanced strength and senses, with the power to shape shift into a wolf, a bat, dust, and fog.  Decapitation, a stake to the heart, or fire can kill him, but not sunlight — in fact, he’s strengthened by the midday sun.  Surprised?
Vampires are classic monsters, easy halloween costumes, and pop culture sex icons.  Throughout their history in literature and folklore, there’s not much consistency as to what makes a vampire.  Their traits, rules, and powers often vary from story to story, even things as established as pale skin, pointy teeth, or drinking blood.
In traditional European folklore, vampires were splotchy, unattractively bloated, leaking blood and bodily fluids from the nose and mouth.  Their nails were overgrown and they were thought to attack by night so that in the day they could retreat to their coffins.  If these vampires sound a lot like decomposing corpses, it’s because they are: suspected vampires were exhumed and inspected, and since bodies were often buried as soon as possible, what we now know to be usual signs of decomposition were seen as supernatural events.  The buildup of gasses in the stomach looked like a bloated gut after a night of feasting.  The desiccation of skin made nails appear longer and claw-like.  Frightful peasants formed a narrative around these unsightly corpses and the notion of vampires were born.
The Count in Sesame Street is purple-skinned, enjoys sunlight, sleeps in a bed at night, and casts a shadow (though still has no reflection).  There’s no implication that he drinks human blood.  His entire character is based around a fairly obscure vampire trait of arithmomania, the compulsive need to count, which is found in the original folklore but not Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice, Buffy, D&D, or Twilight.
Stephenie Meyer’s approach to vampires in Twilight has been widely mocked.  They’re pale, but lack fangs.  The main characters of the series are “vegetarian vampires” and drink animal blood instead of human blood.  Sunlight doesn’t hurt them but does cause their skin to conspicuously sparkle.  But Stephenie Meyer does her research: most of her vampires are gifted and possess one special talent cribbed from other vampire mythoi.  The main couple both possess telepathic links, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  One has telekinesis, like Nosferatu and Anne Rice’s vampires.
To be a vampire, you don’t have to drink blood, have fangs, or be pale.  The only thing that’s clear about vampires is that they’re cryptids without necessary distinctive traits.  If you really love counting, who knows?  You might be one too.
-Rachel Hsu