Teeth: vampire tales

edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

The editors would like to thank Anne Hoppe, Merrilee Heifetz, Jennifer Escott, Heinz Insu Fenkl, Howard Gayton, Ellen Kushner, and Delia Sherman for their assistance with this book.

For the fantastic Merrilee Heifetz



Okay, let’s admit it: Vampires are hot. Not only hot as in “irresistibly attractive,” if your amorous taste runs to dark and dangerous (or, in the case of Twilight’s Edward Cullen, rock hard and glittery), but also hot as in “spectacularly popular” in all forms of media today. There are vampire films, vampire TV shows, and so many vampire novels on the shelves that some bookstores now give them their own special section. There are vampire bands, vampire styles, vampire internet forums and journals, and even a fringe subculture of people who claim to drink human blood. Magazines tout the “new vampire craze” that has “suddenly” taken teen culture by storm. Fact is, this craze is nothing new — it’s been raging for at least two centuries, ever since Lord Byron and his friends (who were in their teens and twenties themselves) created the first “vampire bestseller”. and in the process gave birth to the genre of English Gothic literature.

But first, let’s look at the vampire’s origins in the ancient tales of myth, for in this form, Edward Cullen’s ancestors are very, very old indeed. Although the word “vampire” derives from the legends and folk beliefs of the Slavic peoples, vampirelike creatures can be found in the oldest stories of cultures all around the globe. Bloodsucking spirits of various kinds populated the early legends of Assyria and Babylonia, for example. Some of these foul creatures were human in origin: They were the souls of the restless dead, condemned by a violent death or improper burial to haunt the lands where once they dwelled. Others were supernatural, such as Lilitu, whose tales were once known throughout Mesopotamia. Lilitu had been a sacred figure in Sumerian goddess mythology, but over time she devolved into a fearsome demon, famous for seducing and devouring men. Hungering insatiably for the blood of infants (especially those of noble lineage), she prowled the night in the form of a screech owl, hunting down her next victim.

Likewise, the vampires of Central and South America were usually female figures. Sometimes dangerously seductive, and sometimes birdlike and hideous, they were generally the ghosts of women who had died childless, or in childbirth, and who now haunted the landscape thirsting for the blood of living children. Many of the tribes of Africa also had stories about vampirelike beings with a penchant for blood that was young and fresh. The adze, in the tales of the Ewe tribe, could appear in the form of a firefly or as a misshapen human with jet-black skin. It lived on palm oil and human blood; the younger its victim, the better. The obayifo, in Ashanti tales, was a malevolent spirit who inhabited the bodies of seemingly ordinary men and women, causing them to hunger obsessively for the blood of children. They hunted at night, when they could be detected by the phosphorescent glow from their anuses and armpits.

The ghul, a particularly nasty vampiric demon in old Arabian tales, was a shape-shifter who dwelled in the desert and preyed upon travelers. The ghul robbed and slayed its victim, drank his blood, feasted on his rotting corpse, and then took on the dead man’s appearance as it lay in wait for its next meal. In India, cemeteries were the haunts of all manner of vampiric spirits who preyed upon the living; they were the malevolent souls of those buried without the proper funeral rites. China, too, had an extensive tradition of revenants caused by improper burial procedures; the ghosts created in this manner ranged from deadly bloodsucking, flesh-eating creatures to those who were merely melancholic and annoying. Rice, not garlic, was the most effective means of keeping Chinese vampires at bay, for they had a strange compulsion to count. Throwing rice at the ghost compelled it to stop; it would not move again until each grain was counted.

Russia and the Slavic-language countries of eastern Europe had the highest concentration of vampire tales of any region of the world, but other kinds of bloodsucking beings were not unknown in the rest of Europe. The bruxsa of Portugal, for example, was a seductive bird-woman (similar to Lilitu) who seduced unwary men, drank the blood of babes, and practiced all manner of witchery. The mullo of Romany Gypsy tales was the animated corpse of a man or woman who had died violently and unavenged (or, again, without a proper burial). There were stories in which the mullo lived undetected for a span of years and even married, but always some strange aspect of his or her behavior would eventually give the game away. The strighe and stregoni of Italy were sorcerers who ingested human blood to enhance their powers in the working of black magic. They also sucked the life essence out of crops and animals and were greatly feared. Italy was unusual in having tales about good vampires as well: the stregoni benefici, who worked white magic, assisted in funerary rites and protected the populace from the harm caused by their more malevolent kin.

The folklore of the British Isles contained a variety of flesh-eating revenants and ghouls, and even a bloodsucking fairy or two, but vampires themselves did not arrive on English shores (or in the English language) until the eighteenth century. In 1721, English newspapers reported that a series of savage vampire attacks was terrifying the good citizens of East Prussia. “Vampires,” newspaper readers now learned, were dead people who would return to life to prey on the blood and flesh of the living — either because the dead person had sinned terribly against the church (by practicing occult magic, for example) or because an improper burial had allowed an evil spirit entrance into the body. Soon more vampire attacks were reported all across the Hapsburg Monarchy, kicking off a mass vampire hysteria that raged through eastern Europe for the next two decades. Suspected vampires were hunted down, graves were dug up, and suspicious corpses were staked, until the Hapsburg empress Maria Theresa finally put a stop to the whole crazy business by passing strict laws prohibiting the exhumation of graves and the desecration of dead bodies.

The Eighteenth-Century Vampire Controversy (as this strange slice of history became known) went on to inspire a number of famous German poems — including “The Vampire” by Heinrich August Ossenfelder and “The Bride of Corinth” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — which were huge hits in their English translations. Poetry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a much bigger deal than it is today — everyone read poetry (everyone in the literate classes, that is), and the most popular poets had fans just as avid as Stephenie Meyer’s or Neil Gaiman’s are now. The most popular of them all, the English poet Lord Byron, left a trail of swooning readers in his wake, as mesmerized by his dark good looks and his scandalous life as by his poetry. Although he was not the first English poet to put vampires into verse (that credit belongs to Robert Southey), it was Byron’s rock-star fame and glamour that gave vampires a new glamour of their own: first when he used vampire lore in his epic poem “The Giaour” in 1813, and then, a few years later, when he conceived a horror story about an English aristocrat turned vampire. That vampire is the great-great-granddaddy of the vampires we know and love today.

Like everything in Lord Byron’s life, the story had a curious twist. In 1816, at the age of twenty-eight, Byron gathered a group of friends together at a villa in Geneva, Switzerland. The company consisted of Percy Bysshe Shelley (the not-yet-famous poet, age twenty-four), Mary Shelley (his wife, the not-yet-famous novelist, age eighteen), Claire Clairmont (Mary’s stepsister), and John Polidori (Byron’s friend, physician, and possibly lover, age twenty-one). Bored and kept indoors by rain, they’d been reading a collection of German horror tales together, which inspired Byron to challenge each of the others to write their own horror story. For his contribution, Byron began a tale about two Englishmen traveling in Greece. One of them dies mysteriously, the other man returns home to London. where he runs into the friend he’s just buried and discovers he’s a vampire. Byron never actually finished the tale — it exists only in fragmentary form — but he talked about it extensively with the others, while John Polidori quietly made notes in his private journal. Later, Polidori took up those notes and, without Byron’s knowledge

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