Friday, February 5, 2010

In A Glass Darkly

Vampires and their reflections

As I write about vampires in my fiction, I tend to use some mythologies that'll suit my character, twist other myths to serve my needs, and discard stuff that doesn't work for the story.  Recently, my vampire heroine paused before a mirror to admire her reflection—and I stopped typing.

Could she really see herself?  I hadn't decided whether or not I wanted to incorporate that myth.  I know the myths about vamps and their reflections varies, so I thought to do a little research and see what I could find.

Blame it on Stoker.

Dracula got a little pissy at the sight of mirrors.  Guess the dude didn't want to be reminded of what could never be his.  Yet it certainly must have cured him of vanity (re: that awful white croissant bun hairstyle in the movie starring Gary Oldman).  Perhaps vampires can't see their reflections because it would reveal their lacking mortality?

Some mythology states that vampires could once be killed by silver (didn't the werewolf myth morph from that original vampire myth?) and so, as mirrors were once backed with silver, that is the reason they cannot see their reflections.

Of course at a party where the walls are lined with mirrors, no reflection would prove a dead giveaway to others.  Beware of strangers who do not cast reflections.

I like the idea of a vampire who is unable to see his reflection in a silver-backed glass, yet can easily see it in a pool of water or perhaps even window glass.

Another belief is that mirrors reflect the soul, and vampires, being undead (some of them, anyway) have no souls.  This belief works nicely with the belief that it's bad luck to break a mirror (you'll break the part of your soul captured within in) and why mirrors are covered when someone has died in the house (to prevent their soul from being captured).

Now, for every author, there is a different kind of vampire. Some vamps can see their reflections, some cannot.  I loved the use of the mirror in the Nightwatch movie (can't recall if it was used in the actual book).  In the movie the vampire can make himself invisible, and in one scene set in an abandoned house there is a mirror on the wall.  The only way the hunter pursuing this invisible vampire can see him is to catch his reflection in the mirror.  Sneaky invisible vampire stalks up behind you—turn and glance in the mirror to see the creature just ready to club you—spin around and stake him.  Nifty use of the reflection myth.

In the recent Daybreakers movie vampires did not reflect, but of course their clothing did (sometimes stories forget that the clothing has no reason not to reflect) so when the lead vampire pulls up in his car, we see his shirt and suit jacket sitting in the driver's seat, but no head.  Cool.

What about you?  What myths about vampires and their reflections have you heard about?  What books featured that myth?  What books put a twist to it and really surprised you?


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SandyG265 said...

My favorite vampire story involving a mirror is Spider Glass by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. It is a St Germain story about a mirror with a spider's web and spider in it which can only be seen by someone with no reflection

Toni V.S. said...

A great blog!

I was always told the vampire had no reflection because he had no soul and the soul was what reflected in the mirror.

There's a great scene from Tales of Hoffman where the hero sells his soul and looks in the mirror and his image slowly disappears.

Remember the ballroom scene in Van Helsing? Dracula and the gypsy princess dancing and only she is reflected? Great, especially when he dips her at the end of the dance.

I have a scene in Murder in Old Blood where the vampire hero stands before a mirror attempting to see his image. He's just been chastised for thinking he's handsome and he replied that he hasn't seen his own face in over 800 years. Told that if he concentrates hard enough, he can see his image, he does just that and see's a man's barely visible, transparent head and shoulders in the mirror but when he raises a hand to touch it, it disappears, and he's left almost exhausted from the effort.