"But there was no reflection of him in the mirror"
The shadow of Nosferatu (1922, Murnau)
Public DomainThe shadow of Nosferatu (1922, Murnau) - Credit: Film Arts Guild/wikimedia commons

This is an interesting feature of vampire mythology. Though vampires and vampire-like creatures can be found in many cultures, and arguably date back to ancient times, Bram Stoker’s vampires draw heavily on Eastern European folklore. According to many European accounts, the soul-less nature of the creature means that it can neither cast a shadow nor create a reflection. Bram Stoker’s initial notes, written on Lyceum Theatre notepaper, reveal how this folklore may have influenced some of his early ideas for the features of his villain:

“could not Codak him – comes out black or like skeleton corpse”

“No looking glasses in Count’s house – never can see his reflection in one – no shadow?

“Painters cannot paint him. His likeness always like someone else”

 

Bram Stoker may also have been influenced by the ideas found in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), in which a painting reveals the true monstrous nature of the ever-youthful and beautiful man.  The Picture of Dorian Gray on Book Drum.

The cover page of Varney the Vampire (1845)
Public DomainThe cover page of Varney the Vampire (1845) - Credit: wikimedia commons

 

However, this aspect of the vampire myth is not universal, even in European tradition. In fiction, too, different authors have chosen to embrace or ignore it: in Dracula, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Discworld and Being Human, vampires have no reflection; in Anne Rice’s vampire novels, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, True Blood and many others, they do.

Interview with the Vampire on Book Drum

Twilight on Book Drum

 

Many other vampire features and characteristics vary wildly from one fictional story to another. A large number of the ‘traditional features’ modern audiences have come to expect from vampires are actually derived from older fiction, such as Dracula (1897), Varney the Vampire (1845-7) and Carmilla (1872), rather than the folklore. It may be tempting for readers to claim that ‘proper vampires’ should behave or look certain ways, but there really is no fixed, distinct definition of what a vampire is.

A list of vampire traits in folklore and fiction