Friday, 18 May 2012

Vampires Across the Globe

It is difficult to make a single, definitive description of the folkloric vampire, though there are several elements common to many European legends. Vampires were usually reported as bloated in appearance, and ruddy, purplish, or dark in colour; these characteristics were often attributed to the recent drinking of blood. Indeed, blood was often seen seeping from the mouth and nose when one was seen in its shroud or coffin and its left eye was often open. It would be clad in the linen shroud it was buried in, and its teeth, hair, and nails may have grown somewhat, though in general fangs were not a feature.--

Anjeli Xavier, my protagonist in The Scarlet Omen, comes up against Malaysian vampires (Pontianak) on her adventures. They’re not as cultured as your everyday European vampire and certainly not as charming. The Pontianak don’t just leave a person drained yet whole. Not ones to waste, they eat whatever they can. In my novel, I’ve tried to keep it as authentic as possible to set my vampires apart from their Western counterparts but I’ve also attempted to beautify the whole process so as not to turn some Western stomachs into nervous contortionists. Let’s hope that I’ve succeeded.

I don’t want to give away too much about Lady Suriya and her blood drinkers, so let’s have a look at these ancient creatures from other parts of the globe.
Some international similarities: blood drinking (duh!), the undead, corpses that show little sign of decay, dislike for sunlight, origins as demons, can be destroyed by sharp objects, very pale skin (with the amount of blood they drink they should actually glow healthier than the rest of us, right?!), fangs, arithmomania (the need to count things—in Asia it’s rice, in Europe it’s poppy seeds), immortality, contagious bite.

Some interesting differences:
European vampires: well-groomed, sophisticated, brooding, alluring, rich, afraid of anything Christian.
Africa: iron-toothed, tree-dwelling, changes into insects or birds, ability to summon thunder and lightning, eats nail-clippings of the nobility (oh, come on!).
South America: practices black magic, takes the shape of a fireball, lives as a hermit during the day.
India: a head encircled with intestines, takes over corpses
Japan: can detach its head and travel away from body
Philippines: butterfly tongue and wings (don’t be deceived; these things are not cute!)

I find it fascinating that almost every culture has its own version of night demons. Vampires are as old as time. Is there then some truth to their existence? Or were they just made up to keep little children from wandering at night and naughty young women at bay? The Mesopotamians wrote about flesh eating creatures long before Brahm Stoker introduced us to the Count. The Ancient Greeks were discussing cannibal monsters way before Polidori raised his quill to create The Vampyre. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I grew up believing in all sorts of things. I’ve shed a few of the silly beliefs but have kept equally as many. There are things that we can’t see and things that we will never be able to fathom. If hundreds of cultures all believe in the same thing and have for thousands of years, who are we to say otherwise? I personally can’t imagine a real life Dracula but I wouldn’t put it past a few demons or fallen angels to have started a millennia-lasting cult by suddenly taking a liking to human blood (not to mention the occasional virgin or falling drunk into a nearby coffin and sleeping the day away). Legends do arise from truth, even if they get twisted down the line into handsome strangers with widow’s peaks who like their steaks practically grazing on the garnish.

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