The following is the speech I did for my “Speak with Knowledge” project while earning my Competent Toastmaster award. The point of the speech was to be able to read a speech effectively, which is why I chose to use a lot of quotes. This speech was written circa 1989, so it is a little dated … vampires in film and literature have changed a bit over time.
“I thought that I was asleep …. it began to dawn upon me that the air was heavy, and dank, and cold. I put back the clothes from my face, and found, to my surprise, that all was dim around. The gaslight which I had left lit … came only like a tiny red spark through the fog, which had evidently grown thicker and poured into the room. Then it occurred to me that I had shut the window before I had come to bed. I would have got out to make certain on the point, but some leaden lethargy seemed to chain my limbs and even my will …. The mist grew thicker and thicker and I could see now how it came in, for I could see it like smoke — or with the white energy of boiling water — pouring in, not through the window, but through the joinings of the door. It got thicker and thicker, till it seemed as if it became concentrated into a sort of pillar of cloud in the room, through the top of which I could see the light of the gas shining like a red eye. Things began to whirl through my brain just as the cloudy column was now whirling in the room, …. as I looked, the fire divided, and seemed to shine on me through the fog like two red eyes, …. Suddenly the horror burst upon me that it was thus that Jonathan had seen those awful women growing into reality through the whirling mist in the moonlight, and in my dream I must have fainted, for all became black darkness. The last conscious effort which imagination made was to show me a livid white face bending over me out of the mist.”
Thus was Dracula’s first attack on Mina in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The legends and myths of the Vampire have inspired and terrified us all since the beginnings of civilization. Tales of blood sucking monsters can be found from many cultures, in many eras. The Irish believed in the Dearg-dul (pronounced “dragdul”). The Malays believed in a fiend called the penangulan, which takes possession of women, turning them into witches and compelling them to fly by night and satiate a vampiristic craving for blood. Vampirish creatures are mentioned in The Arabian Nights, alluded to in The Odessy, and the Mayans worshiped a bloodsucking bat god.
The two most important themes of vampire folklore are the sharing of blood and sexuality. Both of these themes are intertwined with people’s beliefs of right and wrong, of what is unclean and what is pristine.
Everyone who is familiar with vampire lore knows of its need and desire for blood. Blood is a vampire’s nourishment. It is what keeps it “alive” — so to speak — and that which keeps it youthful. but what is not so commonly made aware, it is through the sharing of blood that a vampire mates. In Bram Stoker’s version, Dracula forced Mina to drink his blood, thus making her “flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, kin of my kin.” She was made his wife by the ritualistic sharing of blood.
If you’ve seen the movie The Hunger, it was in the sharing of blood that the young scientist became a vampire.
It is believed that if on loses enough blood to a vampire and dies of the blood loss, one becomes a vampire, as well. Blood has been believed to be linked to the soul. If a vampire removes enough of your blood, it has taken possession of your soul.
This sharing of blood also ties in with sexuality. “My blood is pounding in my veins” is a common way of expressing passion. Although many Hollywood movies have stressed the violence of a vampire attack, sexuality is the most important part of vampire lore.
Kissing is often used as a metaphor for the bite of a vampire. In Rocannon’s World by Ursula LeGuin, Roccannon came across the “Winged Ones,” a feared race of “angels.”
“There were nine of them, grouped regularly, three and three and three at even intervals, around a large pale bulk that Rocannon peered at awhile before he made out the muzzle and the open, empty eyes. It was a windsteed, alive, paralyzed. The little delicately carved mouths of the nine Winged Ones bent to it again and again, kissing it, kissing it.”
This passage pales in comparison to Stoker’s description of Jonathon’s near miss with a vampiress:
“In the moonlight opposite me were three young women …. All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips …. The fair girl advanced and bent over me till I could feel the movement of her breath upon me. Sweet it was in one sense, honey-sweet, … but with a bitter underlying the sweet, a bitter offensiveness, as one smells in blood …. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate, voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat …. I closed my eyes in the languorous ecstasy and waited — waited with beating heart.”
Stoker’s work is considered a romance. Many recent vampire films also show, or allude to, this side of vampirism: The Hunger’s love scene, Frank Langella’s wonderfully romantic portrayal in the 1979 version of Dracula, George Hamilton’s comical Love at First Bite. The list goes on.
The vampire has been and will be with us always. It lives in our fear of the unknown. Although common sense tells us that it is only a legend, there is always a doubt. “I Am Waiting and Watching for You” is the epitaph on Nellie Vaughn’s tombstone in Rhode Island. She was widely believed to be a vampire, and died in 1889.
Maybe the vampire is like Big Foot, constantly eluding us. Maybe, like gremlins have been said to do, they hibernate through unfriendly times. Who can tell? Perhaps what Mina says in Stoker’s Dracula, is true. “There are such beings as vampires; some of us have evidence that they exist …. the teachings and the records of the past give proof enough for same people.” Maybe you should keep a watch for those glowing red sparks that float in the fog.
The Essential Dracula by Raymond McNally & Radu Florescu. Mayflower Books, New York City, 1979.
The Book of Vampires by Dudley Wright. Dorset Press, New York, 1987.
Three Hainish Novels by Ursula K. Le Guin. Nelson Doublday, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1966 (for Rocannon’s World), 1996 (for Planet of Exile) and 1967 (for City of Illusions).