Tuesday, June 29, 2010

They Saw Dead People

Starting tonight at midnight, all across this great country of ours, people will be lining up at movie theaters for the film version of Eclipse, the third in the series of "Twilight" novels by Stephenie Meyer about highschooler Bella and her true love, the pale, caring, sensitive vampire, Edward.

Edward may cause swoons and palpitations among the many devoted "Twilight" fans, but he would be virtually unrecognizable as a vampire to those among whom the stories of such beings originated, as explained by Michael Sims in a recent -- and quite vivid -- article in the Chronicle Review. The peasant folklore that gave rise to the tales of such creatures was based on a fear of the dead, and a first-hand knowledge of their remains. Sorry, Bella, but accounts of your loverboy's forbears were based on experiences with rotting corpses. Furthermore, there was no need for vampires to increase their number by sinking their fangs into the living (a relatively rare motif). A large number of people were thought to face such a cursed life after their natural deaths, including drowning victims, suicides, heretics, grumpy people, those who talked to themselves and redheads. Those last three groupings suggest I may very well be headed towards a state of vampirism myself.

Perhaps Edward Cullen is the appropriate vampire for our modern, antiseptic age, where the unpleasant parts of life and death are hidden away as much as possible. For better or worse, we've come a long way from an earlier time when vampire tales had a subtext summed up by a scholar quoted by Michael Sims: "All the dead are vampires, poisoning the air, the blood, the life of the living, contaminating their body and their soul, robbing them of their sanity."

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