What hasn’t been done with vampires?
Good question. They are perhaps the most widespread and varied species in urban fantasy aside from werebeasts, and to a lesser degree fantasy. In fact, it seems that we can’t go into the urban fantasy genre without tripping over vampires—Ilona Andrews, J.K. Rowling, Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Allyson James, Michael Scott, Anne Rice . . . the list goes on.
One of the advantages to the inclusion of vampires is that there are a lot of traditions around the world to play with. Some have even toyed with multiple kinds interacting in their worlds. Looking at global traditions, vampires can be living or undead, born or made, blood-feeders or emotion drainers. They appear as mindless beasts and sentient beings. They serve roles as antagonists, killers, violent destroyers, and interesting protagonists. They are used to explore the effects of eternal life, the morality of feeding on other animals, humanity’s place in the food chain, and the treatment of food species. Because of their wide usage, they have become somewhat clichéd now, perhaps, but it seems that they have more or less run their course as a popular trend.
In folklore, vampires appear around the world. There are too many varieties to fully discuss, but they vary from undead to living blood drinkers to emotion drainers to sex feeders. Some are corporeal, others are spirits. Most are nocturnal, but some are not. A few Balkan cultures claim that vampires come from dead werewolves (and vice versa). Other cultures in the area say they are hunted by werewolves. Beheading and fire are common methods leading to their demise. Stakes, garlic, holy items, and a host of other means of harming them vary by time period and culture. The idea of vampires dying in sunlight also varies widely, but none sparkle.
Tolkien briefly mentions vampires in the Silmarillion, describing them as spirits capable of taking a bat form. They are tied to Melkor and Sauron, but little is said about them.
Perhaps the most iconic vampire in Western culture is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Interestingly, although he is claimed as the source of many vampire traditions, most of those ascribed to him are not in fact in the book. For example, Stoker’s Dracula can go about in the daytime, in full sunlight, without being destroyed, although he does lose access to his paranormal powers.
Charlaine Harris employs some common types with her undead vampires (Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series). The look like pale humans, unless they fed recently. They are incredibly fast, strong, and tough. The have a fairly strict hierarchy, and are immortal. They are also vulnerable to sunlight and silver.
Ilona Andrews’s vampires, on the other hand, are mindless undead driven by an instinct to feed and destroy. This is their natural state, unless they are piloted by necromancers (The People). Then they mimic the pilot’s voice and expressions.
Michael Scott (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel) presents his vampires as living, immortal beings. They are Elders, the original residents of Atlantis. Most of the ones presented in the book come from the post-Atlantis Next Generation. They feed on emotions, effectively draining their source of one emotion for a time, auras, or memories. Only a few do so via drinking blood (Dearg Due), and those are ostracized by the other vampiric clans.
For the sake of argument, and this piece, werebeasts will be defined as beings capable of changing between human and animal shapes—possibly, but not necessarily, including a hybrid. There are several other possibilities, with roughly 10,000 years of folklore to work with, but limiting to the above will help here.
Even with that limit, werebeasts provide a full gamut of options. Even so, there will be “purists” who claim tradition, but most “traditions” referenced by modern individuals come out of 19th century literature and early-20th century film. Such traditions include silver vulnerability, moon based transformation, bite transmission of lycanthropy. These are not exactly traditional in the bigger picture of history, so there is a lot of “do as you please” with the species.
In stories, the werebeast often represents the border between the wild and the civilized, man and beast. They often serve to show how fragile the boundaries are, to reinforce and police social codes/morality, and to give protagonists monstrous enemies or cuddly friends. Often they are employed—such as Rowling’s Lupin—to question social structures.
Folklore around the world is exceptionally varied when it comes to werebeasts. However, they are almost always a predator or domestic species, usually mammals. Occasionally an arachnid or reptilian appears. Most modern “traditions” don’t appear in the folklore. Transformations can be forced or unforced, clothing usually does not change with the werebeast, and they generally have no special recuperative powers (ex. regeneration). Most have two shapes—human and animal. Those in the folklore can be real change or psychic projections. They are a mix of good, sympathetic beings or evil man-eaters, depending on the era and story.
As one might expect, Tolkien briefly includes werewolves, as evil spirits inhabiting wolf bodies. Little is said about them, but they are associated with Melkor and Sauron in the Silmarillion.
Jack Williamson (Darker Than You Think) introduces his psychic werewolves, who are projections of the spirit in a non-corporeal form. These entities are able to manipulate chance and are vulnerable to both silver and fire.
Rowling’s werewolves use multiple traditions, both modern and old. Ignoring the movies and only focusing on the books, her werewolves have human and wolf shapes. They can transmit their condition via bite (a post-germ theory element) and only change at the full moon. Unless they are under the influence of the wolfsbane potion, they are maniacal beasts in wolf shape.
Charlaine Harris’s werebeasts change shape at will and take multiple bites to infect a person. Most are born. The born werebeasts have only human and animal shapes, but bitten weres have human and hybrid only. The books show wolves, tigers, and panthers, with the potential for others to exist.
Ilona Andrews’s werebeasts have three forms with no forced transformation. They are highly regenerative, but can go feral if too badly injured, and silver negates their regeneration. Her werebeasts represent many mammal species including wolves, bears, bison, rats, honey badgers, hyenas, and tigers.
Michael Scott shows multiple species of werebeasts including wolves and boars. They all appear to have been created by Hecate and all have Gaelic species/clan names.