Vampire Legends Linger for Centuries

"Twilight" has made vampires hot, but their legend has lingered for centuries.

March 26, 2009 — -- The legend of the vampire actually goes back centuries and exists in some form or another in almost every culture.

In fact, some people believe the first vampire story was in the Bible.

Why did people believe they had so much power and did they really exist?

Vampires move under the cloak of darkness, the undead rising from their graves to prey on the innocent by sucking their blood, according to the image of vampires that has captured our imaginations and been reinvented in stories, legends and films for centuries. Many imagine vampires lurking in the woods, preying on small towns and villages in the hours between dusk and sunrise.

Vampires are back again in "Twilight," but now they've been reinvented as lovesick, romantic and only slightly dangerous.

"Twilight" stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.

The "Twilight" series has created an almost cultish following among tweens.

"They want the vampire to be glamorous and romantic now," said Anne Rice, best-selling author of vampire novels. "They don't want a monster that they can't relate to. They want to see that human side of the vampire."

Rice said the notion of vampires is almost irresistable to the human psyche.

"The vampire is just a powerful metaphor for the outcast in all of us, for the monster in all of us, for the predator in all of us," she said.

Vampires often are equated with Romania and Count Dracula, but in fact, Bohemia, in today's Czech Republic, was critical to the rise of the vampire legend. Almost every cemetery in Prague is teeming with stories.

A favorite story is about the no-name vampire buried in one cemetery who lured victims with his music.

"He begins to gather a crowd and over time, people would notice neighbors were still disappearing and they never knew if the sounds were of the accordion or the victims' screams," said Ty McGee, a guide of ghost tours in Prague.

Small towns and villages struck by disease and death were breeding grounds for vampire lore.

"Everything from a crop failture to the plague to infant mortality would be explained away by one of these tales, something like, 'The vampire did it,'" said Thomas J. Garza, a professor at the University of Texas who teaches about Slavic and Eastern European cultures, among others.

While no empirical evidence exists, the legends live on in part to explain a subconscious fear of death.

"The vampire will always be a character with whom we identify in our own mortality and in his or her own immortality," Garza said.

Rice agrees.

"The vampire is never going to go away," she said. "There will be more and more revivals. We're going to have continued romance with the vampire."

It's that romance and fascination that also helps fuel tourism, and not just in the graveyard tours and the dark forests of Eastern Europe. The small town of Forks, Wash., the setting for the "Twilight" book series and movie now sees 100 tourists a day.