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Ruthven *Was* First – But He Always Comes In Second

Dracula casts a shadow so large that it is impossible for any other vampire to get out from under it. He wasn’t the first. He wasn’t even the second. Ruthven, star of John Polidori’s THE VAMPYRE, can be said to be the first “modern” vampire, although even that is probably a slight overreach. The point at which the vampire transitioned from the medieval smelly, zombie-like reanimated corpse into the polished but predatory vampire we all think of today when we hear the term is difficult to nail down completely. It didn’t happen all at once. (See Gottfried August Bürger’s LENORE, published in 1774, for an example of a possible intermediary piece.) Then, after THE VAMPYRE, there was Sir Francis Varney, another vampire much in the same vein. (See what I did there?) Dracula didn’t show up until decades later.

Why is it, then, that the others pale in comparison? They feel like Dracula rip-offs, even though they came first! What is it about Stoker’s character that makes him so much more compelling, so *real*? Is it the fact that he was based (somewhat) on a real person? No, that can’t be it, as Count Dracula established his preeminence before most people knew there had been a *real* Dracula. To what, then, can we credit it? Who knows? The character took on a life of his own, one that would likely surprise his “creator” if the latter knew of it. I can think of only two other vampiric candidates who can even come close in terms of popularity and saturation, in terms of being “over” (wrestling/carnie-speak) to Dracula: Barnabas Collins from DARK SHADOWS and Anne Rice’s Lestat, in that order. (Graf Orlock of NOSFERATU doesn’t count—heh—because he *is* Dracula, just with a name change.)

Doesn’t matter who was first. Dracula will *always* be the king of the vampires.

TheCheezman • December 23, 2018

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