Vampires: Truth vs Fiction

Posted: March 21, 2011 by udoblick in Reviews, Southern Vampire Mysteries, True Blood, Twilight, Vampires
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The blood suckers are everywhere. Everybody is talking about vampires these days; in books, movies, magazine covers, TV and the Internet – lately, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that these pale skinned creatures are stalking us.

Those who aren’t enamoured with these fanged creatures of the night would no doubt wonder what it is about these creatures that inspire the current fascination. Similarly, those who are au fait with literary and cinematic vampire mythology are probably wondering at what point 2011 became the Year of the Vampire. Vampires, a seemingly highly adaptable species, can now be anything and everything. From the highly sexual charismatic vampires in the Southern Gothic universe of HBO’s True Blood, to the guilt ridden vampire John Mitchell in Being Human to the chaste sparkly creatures of Twilight, it seems that the modern vampire is quite comfortable being the trendy hero on our screens.

But was the vampire always thus? Undoubtedly, vampire like creatures have been around for some time, but much like fashion trends, undergo phases of popularity. Dating back to ancient folklore, most cultures have their own tales of some form of soul-sapping, life-drawing creature in either human or animal form. But it was Bram Stoker’s literary vampire, Dracula, which discreetly used sexual metaphors to sexualise the vampire into a male predator stalking a virginal maiden. Consequently, since Bram Stoker unleashed Dracula in 1897, this literary vampire has come to epitomise our impression of what a vampire is. The traits commonly associated with this alien nocturnal species include, for example, sleeping in coffins, sleeping by day and walking by night, and drinking the blood of humans.

Now that vampires have become very much part of our popular culture, it is tempting to ask if these creatures really do exist. As hard as it is to believe, some people do claim that real vampires actually do exist. Apparently, there are some medical conditions that mimic traits commonly associated with vampirism, for example, porphyria and catalepsy.

Those who suffer from porphyria, a condition often associated with vampires, are highly sensitive to light. Consequently, as a result of an imbalance of heme, porphyria sufferers also exhibit other signs associated with vampires, such as having bleeding gums and blood-stained teeth.

Catalepsy, a condition which affects the central nervous system, causes the patient’s heart rate and breathing to slow down to the point whereby the body become so immobile that they appear to have died. Before the advances made in the medical sciences, the unfortunate sufferers of this condition were often mistakenly assumed to have died and were either buried or embalmed.

Both of these conditions, while extremely rare, do not account for either the sexual terror or sexual anarchy associated with the vampire. For example Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare is the consummate image of sexual terror.  Ever since it was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1782, Fuseli’s The Nightmare has become an icon of sexual terror and the night horror. The painting depicts a young woman lying in a restless sleep while an imp sits on her stomach. The Nightmare made Fuseli’s name as an artist and established his name as a painter who delighted in shocking his audiences.

Fuseli’s The Nightmare has, for example, inspired writers, artists and film-makers from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) to Ken Russell’s Gothic (1986). The Nightmare has also provoked discussion about theories of sleep paralysis and nightmares. For example, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s International Classification of Sleep Disorders, isolated sleep paralysis, accompanied as they often are by terrifying hallucinations of demons and vampiric visitations, occur at least once in a lifetime of 40% to 50% of normal subjects.

The Nightmare has also provoked contemporary discussions about the veracity of those ancient folktales about our nocturnal vampiric visitors who prey on young maidens. 

Although sleep paralysis might provide an explanation of a variety of supernatural occurrences, providing the grounds for a number of beliefs about the supernatural, this phenomenon, along with the medical affliction of porphyria and catalepsy, this still do not explain how the vampire has evolved to a creature associated with uncensored sexuality of pure impulse and appetite or the Gothic Romantic idea of the troubled isolated and mysterious stranger who beckons to us from the margins of society.

But if I were ever forced to choose between having a real visitation of sleep paralysis and a visit from the True Blood vampires, I would unhesitatingly choose a visit from a particular vampire. Guess which one?


A version of this article originally appeared in


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