From the Publisher
“The best vampire novel I've ever read.” Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn
“Among the genre's few modern classics.” The New York Times Book Review
“Devastatingly powerful.… Savage and intense and brilliantly satisfying.… rich and impressive.… a serious, startling, and revolutionary work.” The Washington Post
“Probably the best vampire novel ever written.” Oxford Times
“A consensus classic, so recognized when first published in 1980.... It's a fascinating conception, handled with masterly skill. Nothing better has been done in this, er, vein since Bram Stoker's legendary Dracula in 1897. And, as a pure piece of writing, Charnas' deeply intelligent, disturbing novel may actually be the superior book.” USA Today
Read an Excerpt
The lecture hall was full in spite of the scarcity of students on campus this time of year. These special talks were open to the town as well.
Dr. Weyland read his lecture in a stiff, abrupt manner. He stood slightly cramped over the lectern, which was low for his height, and rapped out his sentences, rarely raising his glance from his notes. In his tweeds and heavy-rimmed glasses he was the picture of the scholarly recluse drawn out of the study into the limelight. But Katje saw more than that. She saw the fluid power of his arm as he scooped from the air an errant sheet of notes, the almost disdainful ease with which he established his dominion over the audience. His lecture was brief; he fulfilled with unmistakable impatience the duty set every member of the faculty to give one public address per year on an aspect of his work, in this case "The Demonology of Dreams."
At the end came questions from the audience, most of them obviously designed to show the questioner's cleverness rather than to elicit information. The discussions after these lectures were reputed to be the real show. Katje, lulled by the abstract talk, came fully awake when a young woman asked, "Professor, have you considered whether the legends of supernatural creatures such as werewolves, vampires, and dragons might not be distortions out of nightmares at all-that maybe the legends reflect the existence of real, though rare, prodigies of evolution?"
Dr. Weyland hesitated, coughed, sipped water. "The forces of evolution are capable of prodigies, certainly," he said. "You have chosen an excellent word. But we must understand that we are not speaking-in the case of the vampire, for example-of a blood-sipping phantom who cringes from a clove of garlic. Now, how would nature design a vampire?
"The corporeal vampire, if he existed, would be by definition the greatest of all predators, living as he would off the top of the food chain. Man is the most dangerous animal, the devourer or destroyer of all others, and the vampire preys on man. Now, any sensible vampire would choose to avoid the risks of attacking humans by tapping the blood of lower animals, if he could; so we must assume that our vampire cannot. Perhaps animal blood can tide him over a lean patch, as seawater can sustain the castaway for a few miserable days but can't permanently replace fresh water to drink. Humanity would remain the vampire's livestock, albeit fractious and dangerous to deal with, and where they live so must he.
"In the sparsely settled early world he would be bound to a town or village to assure his food supply. He would learn to live on as little as he could-perhaps a half liter of blood per day-since he could hardly leave a trail of drained corpses and remain unnoticed. Periodically he would withdraw for his own safety and to give the villagers time to recover from his depredations. A sleep several generations long would provide him with an untouched, ignorant population in the same location. He must be able to slow his metabolism, to induce in himself naturally a state of suspended animation. Mobility in time would become his alternative to mobility in space."
Katje listened intently. His daring in speaking this way excited her. She could see he was beginning to enjoy the game, growing more at ease on the podium as he warmed to his subject. He abandoned the lectern, put his hands casually into his pockets, and surveyed his listeners with a lofty glance. It seemed to Katje that he mocked them.
"The vampire's slowed body functions during these long rest periods might help extend his lifetime; so might living for long periods, waking or sleeping, on the edge of starvation. We know that minimal feeding produces striking longevity in some other species. Long life would be a highly desirable alternative to reproduction; flourishing best with the least competition, the great predator would not wish to sire his own rivals. It could not be true that his bite would turn his victims into vampires like himself-"
"Or we'd be up to our necks in fangs," whispered someone in the audience rather loudly.
"Fangs are too noticeable and not efficient for bloodsucking," observed Dr. Weyland. "Large, sharp canine teeth are designed to tear meat. Polish versions of the vampire legend might be closer to the mark: they tell of some sort of puncturing device, perhaps a needle in the tongue like a sting that would secrete an anticlotting substance. That way the vampire could seal his lips around a minimal wound and draw the blood freely, instead of having to rip great, spouting, wasteful holes in his unfortunate prey." Dr. Weyland smiled.
The younger members of the audience produced appropriate retching noises.
"Would a vampire sleep in a coffin?" someone asked.
"Certainly not," Dr. Weyland retorted. "Would you, given a choice? The corporeal vampire would require physical access to the world, which is something that burial customs are designed to prevent. He might retire to a cave or take his rest in a tree like Merlin, or Ariel in the cloven pine, provided he could find either tree or cave safe from wilderness freaks and developers' bulldozers. Locating a secure, long-term resting place is one obvious problem for our vampire in modern times."
Urged to name some others, he continued, "Consider: upon each waking he must quickly adapt to his new surroundings, a task which, we may imagine, has grown progressively more difficult with the rapid acceleration of cultural change since the Industrial Revolution. In the last century and a half he has no doubt had to limit his sleeps to shorter and shorter periods for fear of completely losing touch-a deprivation which cannot have improved his temper.
"Since we posit a natural rather than a supernatural being, he grows older, but very slowly. Meanwhile each updating of himself is more challenging and demands more from him-more imagination, more energy, more cunning. While he must adapt sufficiently to disguise his anomalous existence, he must not succumb to current ideologies of Right or Left-that is, to the cant of individual license or the cant of the infallibility of the masses-lest either allegiance interfere with the exercise of his predatory survival skills."
Meaning, Katje thought grimly, he can't afford scruples about drinking our blood. He was pacing the platform now, soundless footfalls and graceful stride proclaiming his true nature. But these people were spellbound, rapt under his rule, enjoying his domination of them. They saw nothing of his menace, only the beauty of his quick hawk-glance and his panther-playfulness.
Emrys Williams raised a giggle by commenting that a lazy vampire could always take home a pretty young instructor who would show him any new developments in interpersonal relations.
Dr. Weyland fixed him with a cold glance. "You are mixing up dinner with sex," he remarked, "and not, I gather, for the first time."
They roared. Williams-the "tame Wild Welshman of the Lit Department" to his less admiring colleagues-turned a gratified pink.
One of Dr. Weyland's associates in Anthropology pointed out at boring length that the vampire, born in an earlier age, would become dangerously conspicuous for his diminutive height as the human race grew taller.
"Not necessarily," commented Dr. Weyland. "Remember that we speak of a highly specialized physical form. It may be that during his waking periods his metabolism is so sensitive that he responds to the stimuli in the environment by growing in his body as well as in his mind. Perhaps while awake his entire being exists at an intense level of inner activity and change. The stress of these great rushes to catch up all at once with physical, mental, and cultural evolution must be enormous. These days he would need his long sleeps as recovery periods from the strain."
He glanced at the wall clock. "As you can see, by the exercise of a little imagination and logic we produce a creature bearing superficial resemblances to the vampire of legend, but at base one quite different from your standard strolling corpse with an aversion to crosses. Any questions on our subject-dreams?" But they weren't willing to drop this flight of fancy. A young fellow asked how Dr. Weyland accounted for the superstitions about crosses and garlic and so on.
The professor paused to sip water from the glass at hand. The audience waited in expectant silence. Katje had the feeling that they would have waited an hour without protest, he had so charmed them. Finally he said, "Primitive men first encountering the vampire would be unaware that they themselves were products of evolution, let alone that he was. They would make up stories to account for him, and to try to control him. In early times he might himself believe in some of these legends-the silver bullet, the oaken stake. Waking at length in a less credulous age he would abandon these notions, just as everyone else did. He might even develop an interest in his own origins and evolution."
"Wouldn't he be lonely?" sighed a girl standing in the side aisle, her posture eloquent of the desire to comfort that loneliness.
"The young lady will forgive me," Dr. Weyland responded, "if I observe that this is a question born of a sheltered life. Predators in nature do not indulge in the sort of romantic mooning that humans impute to them. Our vampire wouldn't have the time for moodiness. On each waking he has more to learn. Perhaps someday the world will return to a reasonable rate of change, permitting him some leisure in which to feel lonely or whatever suits him."
A nervous girl ventured the opinion that a perpetually self-educating vampire would always have to find himself a place in a center of learning in order to have access to the information he would need.
"Quite right," agreed Dr. Weyland dryly. "Perhaps a university, where strenuous study and other eccentricities of the active intellect would be accepted behavior in a grown man. Even a modest institution such as Cayslin College might serve."
Under the chuckling that followed this came a question too faint for Katje to hear. Dr. Weyland, having bent to listen, straightened up and announced sardonically, "The lady desires me to comment upon the vampire's 'Satanic pride.' Madame, here we enter the area of the literary imagination and its devices where I dare not tread under the eyes of my colleagues from the English Department. Perhaps they will pardon me if I merely point out that a tiger who falls asleep in a jungle and on waking finds a thriving city overgrowing his lair has no energy to spare for displays of Satanic pride."