Monster Culture Series
Beauty is a powerful entity in human society. When one possesses beauty, one also possesses power. Humans are attracted to beauty and people frequently attribute good qualities and feelings of trust to someone they deem attractive or beautiful when assessing them based on their looks alone. It is no wonder then that humans have taken to writing and telling stories about beautiful monsters. The opposition is attractive and a frightening oxymoron of sorts that draws the reader into the story.
Known for their beauty, vampires are one of the legends that come from this tradition. They lure their prey to their death, their beauty often serving as the bait. Legends and stories of vampires consistently attribute great quantities of strength and various otherworldly powers to them. But given all their abilities, in many literary traditions, vampires cannot see their reflections. If a vampire could see a reflection, then he or she would have to come face-to-face with his/her own true nature or altered humanity.
In literature, beauty was traditionally ascribed to the heroes and heroines. The villains wallowed in hideousness for their inner-ugliness was reflected in their external appearances. The Greek myth of Narcissus challenges this tradition. Narcissus was a beautiful man, a pivotal example of humanity. And he knew it. He was proud and cruel to women. To punish him, the goddess Nemesis made Narcissus fall in love with his own reflection. He would sit by a pond and stare at himself day in and day out. Eventually, he died. The significance of this tale lies in the trap. In love with himself, Narcissus falls prey to himself. It becomes a cautionary tale, warning the audience against pride and using their advantage over others.
More than just mirroring an image, ones’ reflection has a deeper meaning. The concept morphs as time passes and the significance of a vampire’s inability to see his or her reflection goes beyond the simple and narrow-minded experience of beauty. A vampire cannot see a reflection because they cannot reflect upon who they have become. A reflection would remind them of their former humanity. It’s almost as if a reflection makes them human. And now, they hunt humans for sustenance. In theory, it would drive them crazy with guilt to contemplate it. But, an expression of guilt would again make them human. Therefore, a vampire’s inability to see his or her reflection reflects a deeper inability to face their former humanity and the cruel brutality that the continuation of their current existence entails. To see your reflection is then to see yourself in true light, excluding the story of Narcissus of course.
If a vampire were to see his or her reflection, then he would see his true nature mirrored back at him. He could take no pride in what he saw and therefore could never be a narcissist. Of course, you have to remember that this all hinges on the fact that a human is writing the story which makes it bound by the influences of the humanity and inherent prejudices of the writer.
The more modern vampire stories have turned many vampires into tortured romantic souls precisely because they can see what they are. While these modern vampires take on more human emotions and qualities than their ancient counterparts, it is interesting to note that even the “good” or romantic vampires remember little of their previous lives. This seems to be a modern substitute for the lack of a reflection. It downplays their former existence in the same way that the lack of a reflection separates a vampire from his or her former life.
The literary restraints placed upon vampires keep them distanced from their humanity because it is impossible for any creature to span two species. The lack of a reflection does not allow the vampires from older literary traditions to contemplate their own existence and suggests a lack of awareness of humanity in the same way that the modern vampires remember little of their former lives. Thus, in whatever literary tradition you choose, the significance of something as inconsequential as a reflection becomes the crux upon which an entire tradition hangs and proves the inability of vampires to be narcissistic due to a lack of humanity.
Monster Culture Series Part II:
Reanimating the Zombie: A Case Study
Monster Culture Series Part III:
Taming the Beast Within: A Case Study