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29 January 2010

Modern Vampirism

If you’ve seen Twilight, you’ll remember the scene where Bella searches Google for information about the Quileute legend of the “cold ones”. As she quickly clicks through links, her computer screen fills with images of vampires of different names and cultures. This may lead people like me who have never given much thought to vampires to wonder about the truth of vampire legends.

While there is some debate over whether or not the websites Bella surfs are real, what is true is that the Quileute legend of the "cold ones" is something Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, invented. However the story of the Quileute people descending from wolves is an actual part of their native folklore.

Although vampires may not be part of the Quileute’s folk heritage, they are a part of many other cultures. The traits of these undead revenants vary widely from culture to culture as do the methods for identifying and protecting oneself from them.

Legends of blood sucking demons and spirits date back to ancient times but the word vampire did not come into use in the English language until the 1730s. The image of the modern vampire, pale, gaunt, and fanged, was born in Bram Stoker’s Dracula published in 1897. With that novel came the stereotypical image of vampires (sleeping shrouded in coffins by day, turning into bats, bursting into flames when exposed to sunlight, being warded off with garlic, succumbing to death from a stake through the heart) that has endured for over a hundred years.

Now Meyer has created a new vampire image for modern times. Edward Cullen and his family have psychic powers, superhero strength and speed, don’t ever sleep, glitter in the sun, and can be killed not by a stake but by fire. Some of the attributes in Meyer’s version of vampires contradict the stereotypes we’ve known. In a way, she’s written a modern legend of vampirism.


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