Vampires and Sunlight

In all fairness, this has been addressed before by one of my fellow vampire enthusiasts, David MacDowell Blue. A recent discussion on Twitter, however, inspired me to revisit the topic. Exactly where and when did the whole thing about vampires bursting into flame or crumbling into ashes in direct sunlight begin? Where did it come from? It would seem to have been, at least largely the creation of F.W. Murnau, who used it for NOSFERATU. But did he make it up whole cloth? That’s what I want to know.

Poring over the collected folklore, vampires weren’t bothered by sunlight back in the Dark Ages. (Almost a pun, there. Almost.) In DRACULA, Bram Stoker has his vampire Count walking around in the sunlight, but mentions that vampires aren’t as powerful in the sunlight. (Except at noon, when Dracula becomes stronger. Weird, right?) So was there already some tradition of vampires at least being weakened in the sunlight, or did Stoker just make that part up? This bears further investigation. (At this juncture, the only thing I can state with absolute certainty is that, whether they crumble into ashes or traipse around just fine in the sunshine, vampires do NOT sparkle.)

I expect it all has to do with humans’ instinctive fear of the dark. Also, the “encounters,” whatever they really were, that inspired and fed the fear of vampires tended to occur at night. Blame it on Night Terrors? Sleep Paralysis? Nightmares? Whatever the case, they happened at night, which evolved, I suspect, into the trope of vampires only being active at night, which led to the belief that they were afraid of the sunlight, or weakened or harmed by it. That’s my theory.

By TheCheezman

WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS, specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced, and directed (and occasionally acted in) over two dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and True Crime genres. He obtained a doctorate in Occult Studies from Miskatonic University and is an active paranormal investigator. Is frequently told he resembles Anton Lavey. And Ming the Merciless. Denn die totden reiten schnell!

1 comment

  1. I would basically agree with your analysis. In Bram Stoker’s original novel, Dracula is seen walking around in broad daylight- his powers are weakened by sunlight but it clearly NOT fatal
    at least for him- any more for Carmilla in the 1872 novella or MIna Harker in the 2003 film The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Another stereotype of the vampire is the creature’s reputed cadaverous pallor(hardly surprising as vampires like zombies are the living dead) and their aversion to holy objects or things. In Sheridan Le Fanu’s character, the narrator, Laura notes that this is simply a melodramatic device, Carmilla(although disliking things like hymns and prayers) looks pretty much like any living person( as we see in the 1970 film The Vampire Lovers_) and Mina Harker in the conclusion of the League Of Extroardinary Gentlemen is as indifferent to crosses(like Marvel character Morbius) as she is to sunlight which should logically burn her body to ashes when she attends Allan Quartermain’s funeral!

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