Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Last of the Vampires

One very unusual pre-DRACULA vampire short story, "The Last of the Vampires" (March 1893), by Phil Robinson, first published in THE CONTEMPORARY REVIEW, features a "vampire" portrayed as a bizarre animal that may or may not have near-human intelligence. The tale has affinities with the "lost world" genre of Victorian fiction, in which a European, British, or American explorer discovers locations, cultures, and/or animals unknown to "civilized" societies. A German professor comes upon a remote South American tribe that sacrifices victims to the "vampire," and he determines to take the specimen home with him at all costs, preferably alive.

The story's frame narrator, who introduces the case, cites several different perspectives on the discovery of "the skeleton of a creature with human legs and feet, a dog-like head and immense bat-like wings." Sometimes called "the man-lizard of the Amazon" and sometimes described as "a winged man with a dog's head," the creature resists unequivocal classification as either human or animal. Eventually part of the skeleton disappears from the museum where it is stored, leaving no tangible proof of its existence. The frame narrator explains the skeleton's origin by the tale of the ambitious professor's determination to capture the last of the "vampires." The scientist behaves like a typical nineteenth-century European colonial expansionist, confident of his superiority over the superstitious natives. He guides his canoe along the river into the vampire's cave, wounds the monster, binds it, and travels downstream with his "trophy...the last of the Winged Reptiles." The cave-dweller's cooperation with the tribe's sacrificial rites hints at possible intelligence, but the professor never raises this question.

What he sees when he first flashes a light into the cave is "a beast with a head like a large grey dog" and " large as a cow's." It dislikes sunlight, lives on the blood of mammals, and has huge, batlike wings and a long neck. The professor identifies it as a "great bat-reptile of a kind unknown to science" and "a living specimen of the so-called extinct flying lizards of the Flood." It feeds on its prey by enfolding the victim in its wings and inducing paralysis. In between fighting off the creature's attacks, he gloats over his captive. He is "devoured by only one ambition--to keep it alive, to let Europe actually gaze upon the living, breathing survivor of the great Reptiles known to the human race before the days of Noah." He cherishes this dream, not for the benefit of science, but for his own aggrandizement. In the midst of his endless journey down the river, ravaged by fever, he consoles himself, "But in Germany I shall be famous. In Germany with my Vampire!" To him the creature is not only a mere animal, "a hideous beast," a "winged kangaroo with a python's neck," but his personal possession. He doses the vampire with his entire supply of quinine, leaving none for himself, not out of regard for its welfare, but to preserve the trophy on which his ambition depends. As the frame narrative at the beginning foreshadows, his expedition ends in disaster rather than triumph.

"The Last of the Vampires" is reprinted in VAMPIRE (1985), one of Peter Haining's many horror anthologies. This volume contains several stories not easily found elsewhere. There are a few secondhand copies on Amazon, and it would be a worthwhile addition to any vampire fan's library. (Use the "Advanced Search" function, because the title is so generic.)

I analyze "The Last of the Vampires" at greater length, along with many other short stories and novels, in my nonfiction book DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN:

Different Blood

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

1 comment:

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