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We can all more or less agree that there are certain characteristics of vampires that are required to make them "vampires" instead of, say, zombies, but I'm unable to find a general list of vampire canon and which author/creator is responsible for inserting what. What I am able to find is various vampire canons for movies, series, and books (for example, there is a separate canon for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and Twilight--as an aside, must we really be forced to accept Twilight vampires as canon?).

Does a general canon for vampires exist? One that encompasses major works (tv/movies/books) which have advanced vampire lore?

I realize that this question may be considered unanswerable. If so, please go ahead and move to close if needed.

Thanks!

  • Part of your answer regarding differences between types of undead can be found here: What constitutes “true” undead – Thaddeus Howze Mar 13 '13 at 3:38
  • In regards to your aside about Twilight vampires: They're canon in the Twilight universe. There's no reason we have to accept facts about vampires in that universe as true for all vampires in other universes, though. – Anthony Grist Mar 13 '13 at 9:49
  • @AnthonyGrist - well, that goes for ALL Vampire universes. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 13 '13 at 13:25
  • @DVK It does, yes, but they seemed to have a particular dislike for the Twilight universe. – Anthony Grist Mar 13 '13 at 13:27
  • @DVK Teenage girls? I don't know how many of those we have using SFF though (I'd guess very few, and those we have may not be Twilight fans). – Anthony Grist Mar 13 '13 at 13:38
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TL;DR: NO. But kinda yes, in a weak form of clusters of frequent features.

Two of the most typical features include being somehow "undead" or "not alive"; and feeding on human blood and/or life force.


One way to look at this is to ask what a canon typically is:

Wiki defines canon thusly: Canon (Latin canon from Greek κανών "measuring rod, standard") may refer to any standard or convention.

Implied in this definition is that there's some body of people who are responsible for formulating the standard or enforcing the convention.

This is even more clear if you consider that canon in literature hails from religious term, which is defined as "Canon law, the body of laws and regulations made by or adopted by ecclesiastical authority"

So, on that level, there is and can be no canon, since there exists no formal body to define what a "correct" vampire is, or somehow hold SFF creators responsible to hold to that canon. As an extra downside, the origin of vampires lies in folk legends of very varying cultures, so they are inherently divergent.


But may be there some sort of "organically grown" canon, e.g. some features that are "universally" accepted to be "vampirical", even if there's no formal enforcement/definition?

But no. Your question states: there are certain characteristics of vampires that are required to make them "vampires" instead of, say, zombies - that is not really true.

Some vampires drink blood, some "life force".

Some are nocturnal, some are not.

Some are Christianish (e.g. related to Satan, afraid of crosses/sliver), some from non-Christian mythology exhibit neither.

This is exhibited both up and down the creation timeline - wildly different "vampirish" folk tales from assorted cultures in the past, and even more wildly different vampire reimaginings in modern culture, from Stoker, to Nosferatu, to "Librarian 3", to ahem Twilight.



Having said that, there are certain sets of features that are shared by many (yet not all, and not necessarily even majority) of portrayals of vampires. The following heavily borrows from Vampire@Wiki and List of vampire traits in folklore and fiction@Wiki, so for a real complete list you should stop reading this answer and instead read those 2 full Wiki articles:

  • Life status

    • Undead.

      Many vampires are "undead", in a sense of not having a "life". Sometimes that means no soul, sometimes being immortal. Sometimes a vampire died a mortal death before becoming one, but usually the mortal doesn't die to be turned into undead. Most vampires (but by no means all) are some sort of undead or another.

    • Long lived. This is frequent but varies. Could be effectively immortal unless killed. Could be aging very slowly. Could be reborn/regenerated.

    • Frequently based off of cemetary/coffins.

    • Nocturnal.

      This is very frequent in portrayals. Usually either in conjunction with, or as a direct consequence of, the later-discussed issues with sunlight.

  • Origin story. There are several "typical" ones.

    • Mutations of humans

    • Humans infected with some pathogen (usually communicated via bite)

    • Separate species that looks humanoid

    • Animated dead bodies (for varying reasons).

    • Descended from a cursed person (Vlad Tepes, Judas Iskariot)

    • As a subset of mutation or infection, being part bat.

  • Feeding on humans.

    • Pretty much all vampires feed on humans. Most of the time, either in a literal sense (by drinking blood), or in figurative (drinking "life force", sometimes via blood). Sometimes the feeding is 100% fatal, sometimes it can be as non-fatal as milking a cow.

    • Frequently able to exert some sort of mental control on humans to facilitate feeding, either hypnosis, or ability to "call" the victim to them, or mind control, or supernatural sexual attractiveness in a smaller sets of canon (I would say Twilight but personally I find their vampires to be the opposite of attractive).

    • Often, the need to feed on blood is an irresistible force (e.g. a hungry vampire has no control over itself).

    • Due to this feeding, usually portrayed as actively malevolent in general. E.g. feeding on virgin maidens, doing other non-blood-drinking evil, consorting with or serving other Dark Forces.

  • Appearance/physiology.

    • Pale skin. Many vampires are portrayed as having a pale skin (frequently in conjunction with being nocturnal as discussed below). However, that is not necessarily true in all cases. "Underworld" vampires are not especially pale.

    • Fangs. This is very frequent, due to needing to drink blood in many cases. But the fangs can be permanent or extendable.

    • Superior strength. Frequently, vampires are portrayed in a superheroish way (stronger, faster, better reflexes than humans).

    • Sometimes, superior senses.

    • in-vulnerability, or super-healing.

    • Ability to fly - frequently in things influenced by "bat" type of vampires.

    • Unable to be reflected in a mirror. Definitely far from universal, but frequent. Stems from being "undead".

    • More frequently, not casting a shadow. This seems to be a similar kettle of fish to nocturnality/fear of sunlight.

  • Weaknesses

    • Sunlight. This is very frequent, but varies from being instantly fatal, to being incidiary, to merely painful, to hurting eyesight, to no effect.

    • Silver. Much less frequent.

    • Wooden steak through the heart. Seems to be of Christianish origin to me (e.g. stemming from using the cross as a weapon) but not sure.

    • Garlic. More frequent than silver, but not universal

    • Holy water/blessed objects. Obviously, stemming from Christian cultures' folklore, especially the idea of a cross or holy water.

  • 2
    you forgot glittery. – KutuluMike Mar 13 '13 at 16:28
  • @MichaelEdenfield - "frequent features". Glittery is a very infrequent one, only present AFAIK in one work. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 13 '13 at 16:40
  • Actually, @DVK-on-Ahch-To there are two works with glittery vampires: goodreads.com/book/show/12844699-libriomancer – Donald.McLean Jul 24 '17 at 20:40
  • @Donald.McLean - i'm more afraid of clicking that link than if it was TVTropes :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jul 24 '17 at 20:56
  • It's a series of books in which some characters have the ability to reach into books and pull out things (usually physical objects, such as the Holy Grail, or phasers). But sometimes, characters from the book manage to affect the person doing the pulling. The universe has vampires from many different series, including the Twilight books. I found the first book to be quite fun and have the rest of the series on my TBR pile. – Donald.McLean Jul 25 '17 at 14:03
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Classical vampire mythology is probably closest to what you're asking for, but at the time it developed in eastern Europe, each village tended to develop its own and there are many inconstistencies. With the many modern adaptations (where, in some, they're neither undead nor particularly malevolent) it only becomes more complicated.

So my considered opinion is that no such general canon exists.

One final note: (Three Star) Gen. Cannon would be a hell of a name for an anti-hero vampire.

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