Sunday 20 May 2012

The Truth About Vampires

Here's a piece of trivia for you: you can tell a real vampire by their teeth. Or rather, you can't which is how you can tell whether they're real or not. Popular culture has vampires with huge fangs for their canine teeth. Bullsh*t, if you'll pardon my French, and one of the things that ticks me off in vampire fiction - that and the way people think of Dracula, as if the poor bloke hasn't had enough bad press.

Most animals with fangs do indeed have them for canines. Indeed, that's where the word canine comes from: teeth like the fangs of a dog. But that's because most most animals with fangs use them for ripping and tearing and doing as much damage as possible. That's really not practical for a vampire; even if they might sometimes tear a throat messily out, vampires want the ability to make neat incisions - and they do, in most fiction, leaving two neat holes, in spite of their wholly unsuitable teeth. And even supposing the vampire was content to simply tear out a throat, he couldn't. An animal with a muzzle can, but with a human-shaped face, you just try bringing your canines to bear on something that won't fit in your mouth.

The clue is in in the word. Which of your teeth would you use for making an incision? How about your incisors? And nature bears me out: the only animal that has teeth and feeds entirely on blood has razor-sharp pointed incisors.

Real vampires bite you with their front teeth.

In fact, a lot of what the stories say about vampires is untrue. Some of it is half-truths and misunderstanding, and much more could reasonably be termed balderdash, or indeed something a little less printable.

To start with, a lot of their powers and strengths are grossly over-exaggerated in popular culture. That's not to say they don't have them - most of them, at least - but just that they aren't the virtually indestructible, godlike superbeings you're probably used to.

But don't be disappointed. Real vampires have plenty of frightening abilities. The ability to exist, for starters. There's no need to believe in magic or the supernatural, or even to suspend disbelief of soft science, to believe in them; they're real. I think one of my housemates might be one, and I'm almost serious about that. The funny (or possibly worrying) thing is, a lot of the things that looked like they might cause problems with the science just fell into place; things I had no idea were the case just turned out to be. With every bit of research I do, vampires as I envisage them seem more and more plausible. And I have a bad track record with this; things I think I've made up nearly always turn out either to have been written about by someone else, or to have happened in real life. And I'm 99.9% sure no-one's written about vampires with a principle similar to mine.

Then, they have the ability to not be bl**dy obvious. Vampires can tell each other, but humans can't. If you knew what to look for, you could at least tell who definitely wasn't, but you could only really be certain who was on a much closer examination than any vampire is likely to allow you. Even their teeth aren't obviously different from a human's; the incisors are sharp, and angled so that they meet in a point, but the angle is slight, and you couldn't be sure they didn't just have slightly crooked teeth. Your best friend could be one, and unless they told you, you'd never know.


  1. My novel has a vampire who has small fangs but those he turns (all young virgins) do not. They simply chew and gnaw. His powers vary from popular culture and past movies, novels. Hope to be finished this year...

    1. Sounds really interesting. Let me know when it is.
      So was he born a vampire, or somehow became one in a different way than them?