Vampires Don’t Make Sense

Vampires don’t make sense.

That seems like an extraordinary thing to say, doesn’t it? Here? Before this reading audience? By someone who collects vampire films, has books and books and books on the subject (fiction and non), writes regularly on the subject? But bear with me.

First, consider blood. It is over ninety percent water. Nutritionally, the only ‘food’ in it are red blood cells, white blood cells and a handful of other tiny cells. Each of which are also mostly-water. The vast majority of organisms on Earth that consume blood (like humans) at all do so while grabbing chunks of meat and eating that. Most, like humans, cannot digest the red blood cells. Cilia within the intestines are the wrong size and shape. As a result, the blood we do consume passes out of our system undigested. So look at creatures that do feed exclusively on blood–ticks, bed bugs, leeches and the like. One of the largest and the only real mammal to do so (i.e. with a skeleton, hair, warm-blooded, etc.) is the vampire bat. Remember this mammal is one of if not THE largest creatures to feed on blood. It’s body is the size of a mouse. Add in the wingspan and behold a creature as long as a domestic house cat’s tail. And how much blood does this creature consume? Roughly half its body weight every night–after which it sleeps for hours in order to digest (which includes releasing fairly copious amounts of urine).

Translate that into a vampire. I weigh around two hundred pounds. Around that. Doesn’t that mean I would have to swallow one hundred pounds in blood every single night were I a vampire?

Actually, no. It would be a lot more due to the inverse-square law. Quite simply, the interior of anything always has more area than the exterior. Don’t believe me? Measure a a square six inches on each side. That means its exterior is 24 inches. But its area is six times six–thirty six inches. As things increase in size, the difference increases at an ever-growing rate. Apply this to food consumption and you start to see the problem. The bigger something grows, the more vast their food requirements. In order to keep things sane, evolution usually slows down a larger creature’s metabolism. Hence elephants and their two-year pregnancies! Elephants, who spend most of every day eating, are also not predators–they can afford a much slower metabolism.

This means to maintain my level of activity (or more, because I’m not a predator either–biologically homo sapiens are omnivorous scavengers) I would need to consume at least one hundred fifty pounds of blood each day at least! Since a gallon weighs about eight pounds (actually a little more) that means a vampire my (quite ordinary) size would need to consume an average of eighteen gallons of blood each night. Imagine drinking eighteen gallons of milk Just think about that. Now factor in the fact that blood makes up only about seven or eight percent of the complete weight of a human being. In my case (rounding off) that means about 16 pounds. But a vampire will need about ninety times that to survive. Every single day.

Now turn to sunlight. Leaving aside the fact that folklore suggests nothing about vampires being harmed by sunlight, and the fact that moonlight is exactly the same thing and that every single star is a sun–is there any example in nature of a being exposed to sunlight and combusting into flames?

Well, no.

Plenty of critters don’t like sunlight. Some find it blinding. A whole bunch get sick and eventually die from it–usually due to skin cancer. Plenty of conditions among human beings cause extreme sensitivity to sunlight, even causing pain (the wonderful ghost story “The Others” is built around this). Individual with albinism are often photosensitive. But the only thing that makes a living organism–which in a human’s case is move 75% water–burst into flames is some kind of accelerant. Gasoline. Napalm. Kerosene. Silver nitrate. Something like that.

And don’t get me started on shape-shifting. Look at a caterpillar. Now look at a butterfly. You know what it takes to turn one into the other? Force-feeding, coupled with a cocoon left undisturbed at least two weeks, sometimes as much as five years. In the process the creatures undergoes a slow metamorphosis. Please note nothing larger than an insect does anything like it. Why? See the inverse square law above. Above a certain ratio, an organism cannot practically consume enough fuel to manage something like this.

Or fangs! Look at almost any image of a vampire victim’s throat. Two gaping wounds, that for some reason barely bleed anymore even though they look really deep. Often piercing either the jugular vein or carotid artery. Either one should result in what’s called arterial gush–a spray of blood that reduces the victim’s blood pressure to nothing in less than two minutes unless they receive immediate medical attention. No way Lucy Westenra should have survived even on such attack. Apart from the fact one wonders where marks from the rest of the vampire’s teeth might be, another practical question comes up. Imagine putting your mouth up to a garden hose. Now, in a quarter of a second or so, turn that hose pressure up to FULL BLAST!

Yet there is a simple way to get around all of this. Very simple. Obvious even. Not only simple and obvious, it is even traditional as well as seemingly intrinsic to the whole genre. Curiously, some fellow vampire fans dislike using it. Why might be a fascinating subject for an essay one of these days. The answer?

Magic. Vampires are supernatural beings. They are magic. They use magic. You might as well apply science to basilisks or hippogriffs as explain vampires according to natural law (although Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan get full props for almost pulling it off in “The Strain” trilogy). In fact, authors can use the above as neat examples of evidence to convince medical doctors that they’re dealing with vampires–because what is happening shouldn’t be possible. Likewise, if what a vampire gets from blood is mystical (bits of life or life energy or the victim’s soul, etc.) then they don’t need to devour dozens of adults every night!

Magic. Embrace it, my fellow vampire fans. Really.

By david

David MacDowell Blue blogs at Night Tinted Glasses.  He graduated from the National Shakespeare Conservatory and is the author of The Annotated Carmilla. and Your Vampire Story (And How to Write It) as well as a theatrical adaptation of Carmilla.


  1. There’s a strong tendency to recast vampires in a scientific and secular mode, with vampirism transmitted not simply like a virus but via a literal virus or some other pathogen, vampires scoffing at crosses (the opposite of Hammer vampires thwarted by any old makeshift perpendicular lines), and vampires incapable of doing seemingly less plausible things like turning into mist (but for some reason the scientifically inexplicable invitation trope has made a comeback). This scientization of vampires goes back to I Am Legend and even in some respects Dracula with its fixation on blood disease (zeroed in on in Maddin’s and the ’06 BBC versions).

    The only scientifically plausible ‘vampires’ are deluded maniacs like in Delpy’s The Countess (never mind its historical accuracy). And thankfully the porphyria myth seems to be fading (or is it?). That said, attempts to describe vampires in ‘scientific’ terms are often entertaining.

  2. As much as I tire of the “burn up in sunlight” cliché (which was brilliant in 1922’s “Nosferatu”, but overdone since), this could be tied in with spontaneous human internal combustion, occurrences of which are very rare, but documented and verifiable. In a scientific sense, UV radiation could theoretically be the agent that triggers spontaneous combustion in the vampire’s body.

    Blood is 90% water
    Cucumbers, lettuce, green peppers, asparagus, cauliflower, spinach and broccoli are all more than 90% water by weight. It’s the other 10% that makes the big difference. Eating a mixed greens salad is not the same as drinking a glass of water, even though the salad is 90+% water.

  3. So, the fact of needing an accelerant is interesting. Perhaps, vampires are extremely sensitive to heat, and sweat some type of accelerant like nitroglycerin (sort of like dynamite) and if they come into contact with anything hard, it causes them to ignite or (more scientifically) explode. The blood thing is also scientifically explained. I think of it kind of like a computer and a few programs. The input (blood) is taken from the internet or other file/folder (the human) and is then 7-zip’d or win-RAR’ed (changed into a useable form i.e. mods in Minecraft) and the file is opened and used the way it was supposed to. The obtaining of it is more tricky. I like how in Darren Shan’s books, the vampires took blood from areas were it wouldn’t kill but it they wouldn’t have to suck, like vampire bats. As Dracula said in the grim adventures of Billy and Mandy, “scrape and lick.” Really, the whole biting the neck thing, always seemed a little childish to me. This is just ramblings of what I hope to include in my book. LOL, sorry

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  6. amazing article, and it answered some of the questions ive been wondering for a while now, i hope you do more articles like this one.

  7. To feel the magic in fictional characters like vampires, readers must be willing to suspend their beliefs in reality. For them it’s the journey, the escape, the lust and horror they seek in trade. To feel the fear the monster brings as it hunts, attacks, drains — that savage beast of beasts. Or maybe it’s to show the deepest of loves that man has ever known that the vampire brings to the story we crave. The vampire character offers so many ideas to a storyteller.

    But to try and make sense of such a character is like standing on the edge of a black hole and trying to see through it to the other side. If we are to make logical sense of vampires and betray our suspended beliefs, we must look far beyond the theories you suggested. We need to consider where the ideas for such characters come from. Think of spiders and mosquitoes from the insect world, think of other dimensions, think of mind control and viruses. Did you know that parasites are known to control the minds of animals — to make them do what the parasite tells them?

    There are a lot of things we do not know, let alone understand. The easiest way to deal with the vampire character (I think) is to leave it alone as a fictional character and let our suspended beliefs enjoy the many stories it provides. There’s enough magic in this character to last many lifetimes.

  8. Vampires or those who hold the belief they are something other than humanoid – in an energy or blood (prana) way – don’t consume blood to eat as in eating food. It’s either a fetish called sanguinarian – lifestyle, or it’s an observed energy imbalanced and a “vampire” or Strigoi, which is an elemental shamanic being will feed through Chakras in the body, which is the energy body in question. A True shaman isn’t technically “physically here” or grounded on Earth, they are of the elements they feed on – air, flame/fire, storms, ley lines or raised, sacred energy, including chi, sakem, or pranic in blood or sexual fluid.

    That is why lores, movies and tv get it wrong.

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