Vampires have captured our imagination for centuries. Béla Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula has defined the appearance of the creature in all manner of media, while more recent works in film and literature have updated the undead bloodsuckers to something more modern while retaining the same level of complication and deadliness. Dracula, however, wasn't the first vampire novel, even if it is widely considered to be the most definitive. Here's a look at just a handful of the influential and popular entries in the genre.
Read about Arthur Conan Doyle's early ventures into science fiction with Professor Challenger.
Christabel, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1816
This Gothic work is actually a poem, but Christabel is a rather notable entry in the genre. The maiden Christabel rescues a woman in the woods, Geraldine, who claimed to have been attacked by a group of men. The piece, intended as the first of three poems, never mentions the term ‘vampire,’ but carries with it a number of the hallmarks: the importance of a threshold, and how the strange woman gains strength overnight as Christabel weakens. The poem would go on to inspire such authors as Edgar Allan Poe.
The Vampyre, John William Polidori, 1819
We talked about the year without a summer with Mary Shelley’s trip to Geneva, and the contest that inspired the small group of authors to write ghost stories. Her Frankenstein wasn’t the only story to result from that event; Polidori penned the novella The Vampyre, which fused together the various elements that would be recognizable as a separate genre.
Varney the Vampire, James Malcolm Rymer, 1847
Rymer serialized Varney the Vampire in a series of cheaply bound booklets before collecting the story into a massive volume. Dramatic and overly sensational, the collected book was nonetheless a further refinement on the various Vampire tropes, becoming a major influence on future novels.
Carmilla, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 1872
There’s some allegation that Le Fanu’s story owes much to Christabel and, indeed, there are a number of similar elements: a woman, Laura, comes across Carmilla, who seems to feed upon her during the night. Eventually she learns the woman is a vampire, and travels to Styria with a band of experts to kill the monster.
Dracula, Bram Stoker, 1897
An acknowledged fan of Le Fanu’s book, Stoker went on to write the definitive novel of the genre, Dracula. Written as journal entries of a solicitor named Jonathan Harker, the story follows him as he’s ensnared by the violent and dark Count Dracula. The count later invades England as Stoker capitalized on reverse-colonization fears like the work of H.G. Wells. The story has been immensely popular since its publication, with numerous film adaptations that have only carried the character of Dracula on to modern audiences.
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson, 1954
Matheson’s post-apocalyptic I Am Legend has also enjoyed cinematic treatment, inspiring three films (The Last Man On Earth, Omega Man, I Am Legend), but largely departs from the traditional Vampire model in favor of a different sort of story. The story’s central figure, Richard Neville, finds that he’s the only person left after the world’s human population is turned into the undead. The novel in turn influenced George Romero, of Night of the Living Dead fame, and Stephen King, who would in turn write his own vampire novel.
'Salem's Lot, Stephen King, 1975
King’s own novel 'Salem’s Lot takes the idea of the Vampire into small town America, where a vampire infestation begins in the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine. As the town is overrun, recent returnee Ben Mears works to fight back the infestation. Influenced heavily by Dracula, the story was conjured by King when he began thinking about what would happen if the Count himself arrived in modern day America.
Interview with the Vampire, Ann Rice, 1976
Rice’s first novel takes the entire historical context of the vampire and puts it to work, following the vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac over the course of his life, from his creation two centuries ago to the modern day. This novel introduces a contemporary version of the creature as Rice uses the story to examine the mind and motivations of a vampire, exploring their torment and hunger.
Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris, 2001
Harris’ Southern Vampire Mystery series has enjoyed blockbuster success as of late with the HBO show True Blood adapting the novels for the small screen. Further drawing on the contemporary idea of a vampire by rooting them in the modern day and facing modern issues, the series has continued to evolve the idea of the Vampire
Twilight, Stephenie Meyer, 2005
Love it or loath it, after Dracula, Twilight and its follow-up novels have become an incredible popular set of stories, furthering the integration of the Vampire into the modern era. This time the vampire is cast in a different light: a tragic figure. While the book continues to divide audiences, it’s clear that it will continue to be an influential work moving forward.