Reading the Vampire

Blood Clot under microscope. Image from

I’ve just written a short essay on Dracula. It’s a scene study and had to include a comparison between a passage from a book and a scene from a film. It didn’t have to be an adaptation of the book, but whichever book and film I chose they had to have some relevance to each other.

It’s only a couple of years since I read Dracula for the first time, I did a blog post on it here, and knew that Coppola’s film version was a little bit different, including a love story that didn’t appear anywhere in the book.

That was my starting point. I was going to write on the changes in characterisation of the vampire between Stoker’s evil monster, meant to repulse the reader, and Coppola’s anti-hero who invokes sympathy in the viewer. Instead, I ended up writing a comparison of the blood transfusion scenes and how they related to fears and anxieties present at the Nineteenth Century fin de siècle that emerged again during the late twentieth century. That’s the thing about close reading – once you start, a simple analysis can lead you down all kinds of roads until you end up with something entirely different from what you initially thought the text/film was about.

As a result, it became an essay about contagion, sexual danger, syphilis and AIDS. The connection, of course, is the vampire as a symbol of disease and plague transmitted through blood.

In class, we’ve looked at how the vampire has changed over time from aristocratic monster, ravaging the countryside whilst feeding on the blood of peasants (Stoker’s vampire was based on Vlad Dracul whilst Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian vampire, Carmilla, has leanings towards Countess Bathory) to sparkly, teenage, lovesick puppy. We also watched Jim Jarmusch’s strangely mesmerising Only Lovers Left Alive. The ‘good stuff’ (blood that can only be obtained through dealers that work in hospitals) appears to be a narcotic substance in an unspecified dystopian future where human blood is contaminated with an undisclosed disease and the vampires refer to humans as zombies.

This means, of course, that I can see very well where my own little vampire romance novel sits on the timeline and there’s definitely no hint of a glisten, a twinkle or even a shimmer. Nathan Blackwood has a job, a social conscience and a coffin full of secrets. Whilst I’ve taken a more traditional view of the vampire, the aversion to sunlight, the need for blood etc, I have introduced some contemporary elements. Incidentally, both Carmilla and Dracula could tolerate daylight, but their powers were diminished, so perhaps we shouldn’t consider this a traditional a trait after all.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter


Mathematical Models on Vampire Population Strategies or How to Stop Your Vampires From Wiping Out Humanity

And the award for longest blog title goes to….

But seriously (really?) it’s a real problem.  The majority of vampire novels, Stoker’s included, don’t consider the logistics of vampire to human ratios or how long it would take their vampire populations (the predators) to wipe out humanity (their prey) – around a 165 days for Dracula in case you’re wondering. You might be surprised to find that this has actually been worked out by a number of academics who have published papers on their findings (see links at the bottom of the post) and as I’m currently in the middle of writing a novel with vampires in it it suddenly looked like a good idea to waste an afternoon reading them. Also, I’m always on the lookout for a possible dissertation subject that will make my Academic Advisor roll his eyes.

These maths equations are mesmerising…

Most of these papers use a Lotka-Volterra system (1) that gives equations for working out how natural world predator-prey populations change or adapt over time. We know that fluctuations in one population affects the other, a reduction in prey results in a reduction in predators, but also, in the natural world, predators (lions, tigers etc) and their prey (antelopes, buffalos etc) both have a finite lifespan that results in natural death, whereas vampires live forever, so the model has to be altered in order to compensate for this and other certain variables.

One paper (2) uses a very simple equation to work out how long it would take for the entire global human population to be wiped out entirely. They begin with one single, solitary vampire and a human population of over 500 million and calculate that if vampires only fed once a month, we would all be dead (or undead) within two and a half years. Their reasoning falls down however, because they assume that every human being fed upon will turn into a vampire. As a result vampire numbers increase exponentially and humans reduce exponentially.

But we know that not all bitten humans turn, nor do they all die.  And vampires are still rational thinking beings (mostly), capable of understanding that if they eat or turn their entire food source it’s going to cause problems for their own survival. Something normal human beings don’t seem to be able to grasp, given their continuing destruction of the planet they live on – but that’s an argument on a different subject.

A more sophisticated model by Hartl and Mehlmann (1980) (3) introduced the birth rate of humans and the death of vampires by vampire hunters, as well as optimal rates of feeding that showed vampires would have to manage their resources if they were to survive. Appalled by what he saw as the authors attempt to help vampires “solve their intertemporal consumption problem” (4), D Snower wrote a paper in which he proposes that a human labour force be put to work producing stakes with which to destroy vampires, the more vampires that exist the more stakes are needed. However, he does not seem to take into account that stakes (depending on which vampire infested universe you happen to be in) could be used more than once. In Buffy for example, one human could kill any number of vampires which turn to dust on staking, whilst in other milieu vampires can be revived after a stake is removed from their chest.  He then goes on to prove, through some mathematical equation I can’t possibly hope to understand or explain, that wiping out vampires completely would not be good for the human race!

Finally, a paper published in Applied Mathematical Sciences in 2013 (5) used the same nefarious reasoning as paper 2 to show that in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles it would take Lestat and Louis 48 years to eradicate humans from the world, but again they forget that Lestat was not the only vampire in existence when he turned Louis. There is no mention of Armand, the Theatre de Vampires or Marius, Pandora etc etc, their reckoning is wrong.  Ok it’s only a hypothetical mathematical model, but I say if you’re going to do something based on a fictional world you should at least do it right. They then came to the conclusion, using Meyer, Harris and Kostova’s books,  that certain conditions would result in a peaceful co-existence of vampires and humans where both species could survive in a world not too dissimilar to our own. The balance was fragile though, and any deviation from the appropriate conditions might bring the whole thing toppling down.

At the end of the day, all of this only matters if you think fictional worlds should conform to real world science – which I don’t. Or at least I don’t believe that real world science has all the answers which certainly helps when you write about angels, fairies, demons and vampires. In Persephone Reborn I intend keeping my vampire population in check by using a system of human/vampire co-operation in which some humans are aware of and work for and alongside vampires while the majority of humans are oblivious to their existence. In addition, at some point in the past, an organisation called The Covenant came into being for the sole purpose of regulating vampire numbers and ensuring they abide by a set of rules that, should they be broken, will have dire consequences. Of course, there’s always someone, somewhere, willing to break the rules…

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter


2. Cinema Fiction vs Physics Reality Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi

3. The Transylvanian Problem of Renewable Resources by R. Hartl and A. Mehlmann

4. Macroeconomic Policy and The Optimal Destruction of Vampires by D. Snower

5. Mathematical Models of Interactions Between Species: Peaceful Co-existence of Vampires and Humans Based on the Models Derived from Fiction Literature and Films  by Wadim Strielkowski , Evgeny Lisin  and Emily Welkins





Why Whitby?

the river esk flowing through the coastal town of whitby with the landmark abbey standing on top of the hill

the river esk flowing through the coastal town of whitby with the landmark abbey standing on top of the hill by

Having finally read Bram Stoker’s Dracula I have to say I’m a little disappointed and am left with several questions.

The story is told through diary entries and letters and telegrams sent between characters. We start with Jonathan Harker’s description of his journey to Transylvania, a business trip for the firm of solicitors he works for, on acquiring some property for the Count. His situation quickly becomes desperate as he becomes a prisoner in the castle and soon catches on that Count Dracula is not what he seems. We leave Harker, trapped and in mortal danger and go to Whitby where Mina and Lucy are taking a short holiday and the story then begins to bounce back and forth between the various characters. This soon begins to annoy as it makes for very disjointed reading. Although the entries are in chronological order, for the most part, the constant jumping from one person’s point of view to another leaves you with a sense that Stoker could not decide who the book was really about or indeed who’s story it is. The only person whose point of view is not expressed is the eponymous character, Dracula himself.

None of the characters, except Dracula, could tell the whole story by themselves, so why did Stoker do this?

Did he want us to feel buffeted about by the events, as if in the storm that brought the Demeter to Whitby? Or could he just not decide whom should tell it? Was  Dracula’s too dark a mind for him to enter and narrate from? Or did he fear that readers would sympathise more with Dracula if they had heard his reasons for his actions? – after all the vampire has become a symbol of romance, though Stoker never portrays Dracula this way.

A bigger question is why Dracula headed for Whitby with his fifty boxes of earth and didn’t just go straight to London and Carfax, regain his strength and youth and then integrate into London society, if this is what he had been planning to do. In film adaptations we are told that Dracula  believes Mina Murray, later Harker’s wife, to be the reincarnation of his long dead wife. There is nothing in the book to suggest this, in fact he treats Mina with as much contempt as he does everyone else. Apart from Stoker’s affection for Whitby there seems no reason  other than coincidence, that brings the characters in to contact with Dracula.  And yet the action was deliberate as he has already arranged for the boxes to be taken from Whitby to London. Would he be able to avoid customs checks here, is there no place closer to London to do this and why not use bribery as he does elsewhere? If anyone has an answer please let me know.

Again, on the subject of Whitby,  why does Dr. Seward travel all the way to Whitby to ask Lucy to marry him rather than asking for her hand whilst she is at home in London. Did the overseers of lunatic asylums generally go flitting about the country willy-nilly, leaving their patients in someone else’s care?

And then there’s Harker, who realises quite quickly that he is being held prisoner,  but rather politely refuses to bring this up with his host. I think after he realises the Count knows that he knows he might as well say something, but doesn’t. It’s all rather frustrating.

There are so many character flaws and plot holes that I wonder why the book has become such an icon of vampire mythology. After all, this was not the first book on the subject as you can see from this excellent timeline by Roger Luckhurst.

Before Bram: a Timeline of Vampire Literature | OUPblog.

I’m glad I persevered and finished the book, there are some lovely descriptive passages, particularly of Whitby, a place I’ve always loved, but feel its place as a classic has been tarnished in the reading of it.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter