Sunday, March 05, 2006

Vampires and the nature of immortality – how popular entertainment offered the vampire true immortality. Part 3

Bram Stoker, on the other hand, weaved a tale of a Methuselah rather than an immortal, though Stoker actually refers to immortality,

“When they become such, there comes with the change the curse of immortality. They cannot die, but must go on age after age adding new victims and multiplying the evils of the world.”

Dracula - Bram Stoker 1897

Yet in Stoker’s mind the vampire could die, despite the previous quote, and rightly so for otherwise the fight against the vampire would be pointless. To a degree, however, it was not death that Van Helsing’s crusaders offered the vampire but escape. To Stoker, it seems, the immortal aspect of the vampire was the person’s soul, trapped within the flesh and corrupted.

“I know, and you know, that were I once dead you could and would set free my immortal spirit, even as you did my poor Lucy’s.”

Dracula - Bram Stoker 1897

We should also remember how horrifying the concept of the vampire must have been to the overwhelmingly Christian Victorian readership. In Christian mythology the soul departs the body and the body is interned into the earth. The belief was that the bodies of the deceased would be restored during the last days. It is worth pointing out that the Catholic church banned the concept of cremation until 1963 as to burn the body seemed not only pagan but against Christian dogma.

"Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again: but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise again incorruptible. And we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption: and this mortal must put on immortality.”
I Corinthians 15:51-53

The body and soul would then be reunited. In the vampire there was a creature who did not truly die, in fact the soul, according to Stoker, was trapped within the body and corrupted. The vampire seemed to have a form of immortality and this immortality could only come from one source, the devil. In the novel Count Dracula is a pupil of the devil, having been schooled in the Scholomance, the devil’s own academy.

“They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due.”

Dracula - Bram Stoker 1897

The mockery went further when we consider that the long existence of the vampire was granted through blood. Christ offered his followers ever lasting life via the communion of bread and wine, the wine representing the blood of the divine. These creatures could offer the same via the blood of the mortal. The similarities between the vampire myth and Christian dogma have been explored and exploited in the novel “The Last Days of Christ the Vampire” by Eccarius, in which it is revealed that Christ himself was a vampire.

Despite the allusions to a devilish immortality, Dracula, in the original novel, is killed and yet it is Dracula, as a vampire, who has truly gained immortality. Dracula has had more films based around him than you can shake a stick at, not to mention novels, short stories and comic strips/graphic novels. However it is not his immortalization in popular media that I refer to. This is the source, not the cause, of his immortality. The Hammer films illustrate how Dracula developed a taste for immortality as much as the life blood of the voluptuous, not to mention a violent allergy to sunlight he never possessed in the original novel.

Hammer began their depiction of the Count with the marvelous “Horror of Dracula” (1958). This film was at least loosely based on Stoker’s novel, despite the fact that Dracula met his end by being exposed to sunlight. We jump “Brides of Dracula” (1960), due to its lack of Dracula, and go straight to “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” (1965). In this Dracula is resurrected by a servant, Klove, cutting a victim’s throat open and allowing the blood to poor onto Dracula’s ashes. Dracula has returned and he now has a power that Stoker never hinted at, resurrection. This is the true immortal; he can now cheat death, rather than simply delay it. This pattern goes on through the subsequent Dracula movies produced by the studio. At the end of each film the count is defeated and his death is visited upon him, and in the next film he is resurrected be it via a blood ritual or black magic. In “Dracula AD 1972” (1972) we actually see Dracula die twice, there is the expected death at the end of the movie but the prologue to the film sees a coach chase and Dracula’s demise at the hands of Van Helsing and the spoke of a carriage wheel.

By making the Count immortal Hammer kept their franchise open, they could return to the subject of Dracula at will. It is also worth pointing out that they did enjoy using his ashes as the medium of resurrection. The use of Dracula’s ashes to resurrect him is neatly alluded to in the Mel Brooks movie “Dracula Dead and Loving it” (1995), when the pile of the Count’s ashes have a smiley face drawn into them. It is worth asking the question, does the power of resurrection truly lead to immortality? After all, the Count spends much time actually dead. I believe the answer has to be yes, after all, Dracula is able to escape death again and again.

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