Vampire mythology: from terrifying to glittering

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By Amanda Mischke, Contributor

One of UNO’s School of Communication professors has been doing some intriguing research on the evolution of vampires, from the legends of Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, and Lestat to the Cullen family of “Twilight.” In 2010, Dr. Adam Tyma presented an essay that addressed the purpose and advancements in vampire mythology throughout history, which he intends to get published next year.

Tyma admits he has had a passion for mythology in general since he was young.

“I’d always been particularly drawn to vampire mythology,” Tyma said. “It started off with the stories, and then as I developed a better understanding of what culture was, I started studying the cultures that the stories came from and why vampires existed in those cultures.”

He wrote most of the history in his essay from memory, starting with the vampires in Greek literature and then moving on to those in Celtic lore and Japanese mythology. At that point, he started seeing the connections between those cultures and began studying them. He read “The Vampire Chronicles” in their first reboot in 1976, and remembers while watching the movie, he thought, “Yes! This is perfect.” It really reignited his interest in vampire mythology even though he’d always had a soft spot for it.

In his essay, Tyma said that the notion of vampires was originally intended to be taken as cautionary tales. Things that repelled vampires were to be considered beneficial by society. Allergies to sunlight were a warning to not go out late at night—sunlight was only for those who were pure of heart. The signature vampire bite, as well as their ability to transform into bats, advised others to avoid creatures that often carried fatal diseases at the time (rats, bats, vermin, plague-infested fleas, etc). The seductions of the vampire—to corrupt their victim’s self and their soul—led society to fear the spreading of disease, so much so that those who were considered to be seducers or even the seduced were regularly put to death or occasionally locked away until they were considered pure again.

So why don’t we see these attributes characterizing our current vampire mythology as much as they used to? Simple.

“The use of the myth is gone,” Tyma said. “We no longer need to worry about syphilis. We no longer need to worry about Porphyria’s disease.”

Advancements in medicine and sanitation, as well as our entrance into the information age, meant we no longer had a use for these admonitions. Instead, we possibly look at the vampire as preferred living.

“The old vampire myths have been modified and turned into, ‘I want to shimmer in the sun, and be tall, skinny, and hot…and brooding perpetually,'” Tyma said.

Does that mean the darker, fear-driven vampires have been banished to the shadows, forever to be replaced by their glitter-skinned descendants? Tyma predicts that the old vampire mythology will in fact vanish for a while, but return after being thoroughly reconceptualized.

However, he argues that you can still use vampire mythology to understand class culture and the idea of high class versus low class.

“That comparative narrative has existed in creature mythology forever,” Tyma said. “The vampire was always considered high society/high born. ‘Underworld’ presents that. Even ‘Dracula’ presented that. He was a count. He was royalty. Werewolves are always considered of the earth. If you go and look at werewolf lore, we see them being very much driven by the moon. They are very much earth creatures and vampires are very much air creatures. Go back 5,000 years and you’ll still see that, so it very much becomes a cultural-class issue. It reflects the culture that exists now, good or bad.”

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