Why vampires? Book looks at science behind monsters

Thu Nov 8, 2012 8:16am EST
 
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - The suave and sensitive Edward Cullen of "Twilight" may be the norm for vampires these days, but fictional monsters such as Dracula originally sprang from the fear of inexplicable diseases and the mysteries of death in the natural world.

So argues science journalist Matt Kaplan in "Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite: The Science of Monsters," an examination of monsters around the world and throughout history - the science behind their origins, and why they matter to us even now.

"When our kids ask for monster stories around the campfire, they are behaving in a way that is not dissimilar to lion cubs," Kaplan said in an email.

"Lion cubs play fight so they can test out their skills in a safe place where nobody is going to get maimed or killed. Monster stories serve a similar purpose, they allow us to face our worst fears without the risks that are normally associated with them."

Some are simple. The Kraken tales of mammoth monster squid, along with the Leviathan of the Bible, are most likely based upon the existence of real creatures such as whales.

The terrifying Medusa of Greek myths, with her hair made of snakes and a gaze that could turn things to stone, may have been distantly connected to the idea of fossils for ancient people, with the snakes in her hair an example of pure fear.

Though mentions of vampire-like creatures exist as early as ancient Greece, it took hundreds of years for tales of the creatures to gradually evolve into the haunting undead of more recent history.

Accounts of people found in their graves with blood on their lips and their stomachs seemingly full, as if they had just eaten, may be explained by simple decay, with gas buildup throughout the body sometimes pushing blood up from the lungs. Elongated canine teeth and fingernails was due to skin shrinking after death and pulling away, making both more prominent.   Continued...