Misinformation abounds regarding vampires. I propose to go back to some of the principle sources of our current information, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Camilla by Sheridan Le Fanu and The Vampyre by John William Polidori as well as a few of the more recent and reliable, although unfortunately most of the more recent work is derivative….
Today I wish to consider the impact of light upon the vampire.
That the vampire is sensitive to the sun no one doubts, but as to how sensitive or to what particular element of the sun… well that does not seem clear.
But first let us consider our texts and try to sort out fact from fiction. Most people consider all three of these sources as fiction but yet we have reason to believe all derive from something real. Dracula purports to be a series of journals written by the various major players in the adventure. But critics have pointed out how unlikely that a person in the middle of a vampire attack would note the many details as these people. Mina Harker seems to have a bizarre ability to specify accurate detail while experiencing extreme situations - a good woman to have at your back in a fight! But it seems likely that the details come from the additions added by Bram Stoker rather than the validity of the originals.
Camilla does not claim to be a journal nor a first person narrative, but it does portray the vampire with such accuracy that I can only imagine that Le Fanu had some degree of direct contact with one or more vampires. The Vampyre is by far the oldest of the three tales and appears based upon real events experienced (or observed) by the author.
— But can a vampire go out in the sun or not?
In many recent accounts, vampires immediately explode into flame and disintegrate to dust upon entering the sun. These further propose that the vampire will burn upon entering light coming through a glass window. In the otherwise quite good movie, Let the Right One In, we have vampires exploding into flames when exposed to light filtered through a glass window. If true, imagine how ‘simple’ to create a ‘vampire zapper’ that works much the same as a bug zapper - pull the trigger of a hand held UV emitting device and ZAP! no more vampire….
But glass filters out a good bit of UV (ultraviolet) radiation from the light entering from outside and we must consider how sensitive the vampire really is to UV radiation. Even if they explode on direct contact with the sun, the process should be less violent through a window. But if sun through a window has the same impact as direct sunlight, we have to suspect light itself is the culprit not UV radiation.
So, if the vampire is sensitive to light itself and not primarily to the UV radiation, then to what is it sensitive? What makes it explode into a ball of flame in the light of day? If not UV then why would not the vampire at least smolder in the presence of a bright full spectrum light bulb?
There can be little doubt that most recent tales - both written and on DVD - are inaccurate about the impact of the sun, though Buffy, the Vampire Slayer came pretty close with its image of Spike running through sunlight with his trench coat over his head (although he does have smoke beginning to swirl around him as he sprints…) and yet he stands in the shadows of a bright day with complete comfort. Nor can I remember Spike being much concerned with light from a window - but then not much concerned Spike!
A few of the more recent works have also tried to think this through. The Gates, a recent American TV program, has the vampires wearing sun screen - but then makes the egregious error of having them go without UV shielded sunglasses - in which case we would anticipate they would explode/ burn from the inside as the UV radiation entered their retinas if they had such a hyper reaction to sun. The show also has the vampires being burned by sun filtered by a glass window. Yet the vampire’s belief in the efficacy of their sunscreen seems complete. So, perhaps the burns shown to occur from window light are a dramatic exaggeration and they fear not so much exploding in the sun, but the damage inherent in hyper-sensitivity to the sun.
Camilla seems to ‘get it right.’ The vampire is sun sensitive in the way people with really pale skins may be - but to an extreme degree, having zero melatonin. They will always ‘burn’ in the sun. And healing from sun damage seems slow and not always complete. The vampire goes into the sun at extreme risk. But a few seconds, even a few minutes will likely do no horrid harm. They will not explode into flames - although, again we must consider the slow and incomplete nature of healing of sun damage that plagues the vampire. No rational vampire will risk accumulated damage by the sun.
A little sun exposure here, a bit more there and pretty soon the vampire has debilitating skin (and perhaps organ!) damage that may take, not days (as with a human sun burn) but years to repair itself. Imagine a sunburn that lasted a decade!
As reference to this fact, I refer you to the semi-documentary series called V and produced by the BBC a few years ago. It’s not entirely correct, in that it overemphasizes (again for dramatic effect?) the impact of sunlight through a window, but in many ways it is among the best work done in years (and not unlike Camilla I have to wonder if the writers/ creators have had direct experience with the vampire community?). I certainly recommend this series to the serious researcher.
It is important to always remember the vampire is a predator and historically has hunted at night. It’s predilection for nocturnal hunting probably relates to humans tending to be maximally active during the day while the shadows of darkness and reduced crowds at night (especially in the large cities favored by most vampires - Ann Rice gets this aspect correct) create an ideal hunting ground for the vampiric hunter.
2000 years ago Rome was arguably the most densely populated city in the world - upwards of a million people lived there (the densest population in Europe for the next 1500 years!). This, most likely, allowed for the growth of a large hunting population - and not just of vampires…. It seems likely that many vampires hunted this city only to have to disperse as the city began to depopulate by the beginning of the 4th century.
Keep in mind that predators such as the vampire have hunting territories (often of a fixed nature) and for any one predator there must be sufficient prey for that predator to survive indefinitely.
But here I am drifting into tomorrow’s considerations: Concerning vampires, Pt. 2 Longevity and hunting.
Jim FitzPatrick, 2010 09-09