Though I read and enjoy a lot of vampire fiction, one trope that has become common enough to be accepted as fact managed to elude me for several weeks… and that was vampire blood as having special properties.
That drinking a vampire’s blood could turn a person into a vampire was grounded in stories at least several hundred years old, but this was something different–the most common trait was that if a human consumed a vampire’s blood, it could transfer power, enhance senses, or heal someone.
Of all the topics on my list of things to cover, the supernatural properties of vampire blood in media also ended up being the most difficult to research. Part of the difficulty appeared to be that no matter where I looked, there was no clear historical foundation for it. And yet virtually every vampire book I picked up that was published in the past five years relies on this as a story element. So where did it originate?
Historically speaking, there is merit for the idea that blood contains power. In ancient times, consuming organs the conquered was believed to allow one to absorb additional strength or traits from the consumed; in some cases, it was thought to apply to animals, as well. The belief eventually spread to include blood, as well, and the practice was long-lived. As recently as the 17th century, English women believed they could increase their fertility by drinking the blood of defeated enemies.
Yet despite its historical significance, it didn’t overlap vampire lore until much more recently. In fact, it’s the most recent addition to vampire myth I’ve encountered in my research–younger than me, even. The earliest indicator there might be something more to the power of vampire blood that I discovered was in 1988, in Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned, where Daniel is given a vial of Armand’s blood; if Daniel were to break the vial, other vampires would sense Armand’s power within the blood.
But that still only applies the additional power to the vampires themselves, giving humans no benefit from it. This now-common trope implies vampire blood is beneficial, offering properties such as healing, which is a little younger still.
The earliest appearance of this feat belongs to The Vampire Diaries in 1991, and that appears to have been the breaking point. From that moment forward, it became a common theme in vampire media, appearing in a number of bestselling vampire books, both novel and television versions of True Blood, and on and on.
If it appeared in literature prior to that, it wasn’t enough to make waves. But only ten years after that appearance in The Vampire Diaries, it had become a commonplace addition. Today, it might as well be a vampire staple, as I rarely see books that don’t include a nod to it in some form.
Alas, I prefer my vampires to be slightly more traditional. Accepting a lot of standards set forth by Dracula and eschewing much of what’s newer, this is one that doesn’t quite permeate my writing. While the vampires in the Keeper’s Kin universe can gain power from consuming the blood of other vampires, that choice was birthed out of the old concept of consuming rivals to receive a portion of their strength.
Next time, though, we’ll discuss the history of vampire blood as a reagent for creating new vampires–and other methods of turning, as well.