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The Vampyre of the Fens

There is a poem titled, “The Vampyre of the Fens,” which is so revered that countless sources cite this work as the first Anglo-Saxon record of vampires in literature. In my research I have come across numerous websites, books, and articles that claim “The Vampyre of the Fens” as being a treasured relic. Yet what I could not find, no matter how deeply I searched, was the actual text or any part or section of it.

Having said thus, I persisted to find the truth behind our beloved historical artifact. When you type “The Vampyre of the Fens” into a google search engine, the first thing to pop up is a PDF file titled “MAQUETA MISCELLANEOUS.” I highly recommend that any respectable vampire lover read this article. I will however, paraphrase the eleven-page article originally published in Miscel‡nea: A Journal of English and American Studies [Vol. 32 (2005)] for those of you too pressed for time.

The article is actually titled, “The Old English Poem ‘A Vampyre Of The Fens’: A Bibliographical Ghost,” by Eugenio Olivares Merino from the University of JaŽn. Merino composed the paper while studying at Yale and was given a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports. Suffice to say, it’s an extremely reputable and trustworthy source. In his paper, Merino cites several well-known sources who plainly claim that “The Vampyre of the Fens” is the Anglo-Saxon literary origin of the vampire, which Merino then goes on to dispute.

One of the original sources citing “The Vampyre of the Fens” is the book Vampire and Vampirism published in 1914 by Dudley Wright, an English author and folklorist, whose works largely revolved around legends and ancient religions (Freemasonry included). Strangely enough, any biographical information regarding Wright is incredibly hard to come by. If any of you out there happen to chance upon something more that I’ve discussed here, please do fill me in, because I found Wright to be just as elusive as the original poem.

When addressing Wright’s assumption of the existence of such a poem, Merino plainly states, “The veracity of this claim is demolished by the fact that students and scholars of Old English literature well know that such a poem does not exist” (89). He goes on to further cite The Vampire Encyclopedia where it claims that the “first poem of the undead in the isles was…otherwise unknown” (85). Using the grant money for his research, Merino is able to pinpoint the first reference to such a poem in an 1855 issue of “Household Words.” The article, which assumes the existence of such a poem without hesitation, has no title and was supposedly written by an English man named Edmund Ollier, who died a year later. In his study, Merino supposes that Ollier was either simply playing on the current vampire/monster ‘fad’ by claiming such a source existed, or simply misattributed the characteristics of Beowulf1 as a description of a vampire2.

Although I do not claim to be any sort of expert on the subject, I am a vampire lover in league with those striving to research the source of vampire lore and legend. Being so, it is often difficult then to admit when I’ve found an error in our common beliefs regarding vampires. I am, however, a realist, and in my humble opinion, knowing the truth (although extremely frustrating at times) is better than remaining deceived. Nevertheless, let me know if you prefer to be well informed, or if you’d rather be left in the dark on these sorts of issues.

As far as “The Vampyre of the Fens” is concerned, I must plainly state that the poem is a complete fabrication, and the likelihood of finding such work is impossible.

1 Beowulf a character in an anonymous Old English epic poem by the same name composed in the early 8th century; Beowulf slays a monster and becomes king but dies fighting a dragon.

2 Beowulf, ll. (739-45)

The text reads:

“Nor did the creature keep him waiting / but strucked suddenly and started in; / he grabbed and mauled a man on his bench, / bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down his blood / and gorged on him in lumps, leaving the body / utterly lifeless, eaten up / hand and foot.”

By Veritas

Veritas is a faerie child, switched at birth and left with wonderful parents in a small shack deep in the hills of West Virginia. He believes in magick and hopes to inspire readers lured into the enchanted path. Occasionally, he'll post contributions from other authors so drop us an email if you're interested.

5 replies on “The Vampyre of the Fens”

Even more so when you read those lines in Beowulf: that is clearly a description of someone getting eaten, not their blood being sucked!

Flipping back to the Household Words article, which features the earliest use of the term “A Vampyre of the Fens” I’ve been able to find, shows that the poem in question was clearly a byproduct of Chinese whispers. The article, you see, doesn’t actually refer to a poem of that title, but merely mentions “an old Anglo-Saxon poem on the subject of a Vampyre of the Fens”. Wright transformed that line into “an Anglo-Saxon poem with the title A Vampyre of the Fens” and other authors have repeated his error ever since.

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