Knowing my obsession with the vampire, a writer friend tossed me an engaging question … does the vampire have a soul? Traditionally the vampire was considered a soul-less creature, having lost its soul to eternal damnation by becoming a blood-drinking monster. I expect someone will remind me that vampires are … not … re
al, so what’s there to talk about? And they are so right. But I can’t help my idiosyncratic leanings. My head long ago floated off my shoulders and hovers in the clouds. No, I do not believe in vampires (or ghosts, witches, zombies, demons, etc.), but as a fantasy writer, I find the things that come out of the human imagination fascinating, especially that alluring and dangerous monster, the vampire.
We’re familiar with Dracula, (published in 1897), but Bram Stoker did not invent the vampire or the vampire tale. He created Dracula based on the historical Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia known as Vlad the Impaler, and East European folklore, primarily Romanian. That same folklore was used by John William Polidori in his creation of the deadly, cruel, day-walking vampire Lord Ruthven in The Vampyre (1819); also by Sheridan Le Fanu in writing his seductive vampire Carmilla, (Carmilla (1871), and by James Malcolm Rymer, creator of Varney the Vampyre or Feast of Blood (1845-47), (also attributed to Thomas Preskett Prest, but now thought to be the work of Rymer). All were part of the sensationalistic literature of the vampire, a myth that pre-dates the rise of monotheistic religions and can be found in nearly every culture around the world. When there is not a logical explanation or when one cannot be found for one phenomenon or another, people tend to create one—that’s how we get folklore. The folklore of the vampire was born from ignorance and superstition about the dead and dead bodies. It’s not only nature that abhors a vacuum; the human mind isn’t too fond of it either.
The English clergyman and vampirologist Augustus Montague Summers, states in The Vampire: His Kith and Kin: Throughout the whole vast shadowy world of ghosts and demons there is no figure so terrible, no figure so dreaded and abhorred, yet dight with such fearful fascination, as the vampire. Additionally, he reminds us: There is no more terrible tradition than that of the vampire, a pariah even among demons.
A pariah even among demons. Wow. That’s a damning statement, and begs the question, does the vampire have a soul?
The soul can be interpreted as that part of us where resides our mercy, our pity, our compassion, our capacity to connect with others. We can love with all our soul and hate with all our soul too. You’ll hear it said of someone who seems to lack compassion, “She has no soul.”
We have no proof that the soul exists, that there is an amorphous entity inside us that can be called the soul, but we feel we have something more within us, don’t we? We express ourselves as if the soul does exist: “Bless my soul.” “Save my soul.” “She’s a dear soul.” “God took his soul.” (Better than the alternative!) “He sold his soul.” “All Souls Day.” In the Holy Bible, the soul is a prime subject.
There are vampires who have a soul and vampires who do not. The canonical vampire’s soul was considered damned for all eternity. In the Francis Ford Coppola film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), the iconic character was more than willing to give up his soul in vengeance against God, swearing to never die and live in defiance of God for all time. In the television series Angel (1999), Angel, was the vampire with a soul (given back his soul as a curse to never know happiness.) When Angel loses his soul, he becomes Angelus, a soul-less demon vampire from Hell. There is Saint-Germain, the compassionate and caring heroic vampire in Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s series of novels, first introduced in Hotel Transylvania (1978). Saint-Germain definitely has a soul.
“If this is about my soul,” Bella Swan declares in Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance New Moon. “Take it! I don’t want it!” But we know Bella’s soul stayed with her even through her death and revival as a vampire. Edward Cullen tells Bella his soul is damned so never mind. But the Cullens are most compassionate, foregoing the traditional vampire’s diet of human blood in favor of the blood of animals. I’d say the Cullens have souls, but the Volturi—not!
Anne Rice’s romanticization of the vampire in her series of novels, The Vampire Chronicles, beginning with Interview with the Vampire (1976), altered the iconic view of the vampire as loathsome and evil, a soul-less creature by virtue of its murderous existence, killer of the innocent. Anne Rice presented the vampire as a beautiful, irresistible, predatory being tortured by its existence (You can’t be tortured by your existence if you don’t have a soul.).
Whether we can prove it or not, we think we have a soul. The vampire was once human, so the vampire has a soul too. The soul doesn’t get up and walk out after the vampire’s victim is given the Immortal Kiss. However, the other side of the coin is damnation. The vampire may retain his soul, but according to tradition, it is lost to redemption.
No longer a repulsive, soul-less creature in contemporary books, television, and films, the vampire has become an elegant being dealing with the issues of immortality and attempting to reconcile its undead existence within the realm of Life, and yes, contemplating the dilemma of its soul.