Andy Boylan recently made a discovery that challenged my views on pre-Stoker vampire-into-bat transformations.
My assertion—not just mine, but Dracula scholar, Elizabeth Miller’s, too (Miller 2006, 16)—is that Stoker invented one of the most popular “folkloric” characteristics associated with vampires: they could change into bats.
Christopher Rondina recorded a pre-Stoker mention from the Providence Journal‘s March 21, 1892 issue for his book, Vampire Legends of Rhode Island (1997)—but that turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by Rondina, himself (Hogg 2011a; 2011b).
I also came across what seemed to be a pre-Stoker reference, myself, in Richard F. Burton’s adaptation of the Baital Pachisi, a collection of Indian folktales dating back to the 11th century, which he titled Vikram and the Vampire (1870)—but that turned out to be a dead-end, too, as the text referred to corpse possession with nothing overtly vampiric about the “vampire’s” behaviour (Hogg 2011c).
However Boylan’s discovery is much more concrete. His article discusses a story in William H. G. Kingston’s Tales for All Ages called “The Vampire; or, Pedro Pacheco and the Bruxa.” Boylan (2014) summarises it thusly:
The story uses a basis of Portuguese lore, and the author sets out the lore before the main story begins. Bruxa are female, possessed by an evil spirit and the daughter of a Bruxa will become one in her turn.
However, a woman who is sinful may become Bruxa, a transformation that involves signing a contract (presumably of diabolic origin). The Bruxa are ordinary women during the day but become a supernatural entities at night and their main activity seems to be luring travellers off their path and into danger. However they may then return home and suck the life blood from their own children. The victims are described as being “marked with punctures”. (Kingston , 1863, p. 11)
Kingston, describing the attack on their own children, suggests they have “black wings”. (Kingston , 1863, p. 10) Whilst suggesting the wings mentioned in the earlier mentioned story and play were bat wings could be seen as a modern conceit, in this case I think it logical to suggest that they are bat wings as Kingston also explicitly tells us that Bruxa can transform into owls and “gigantic bats”. (Kingston , 1863, p. 10)
Boylan’s citations refer to the reprint of the story in Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Richard Dalby’s anthology, Vintage Vampire Stories (2011), but the original version is also available via Google Books (Kingston et. al. 1863, 72–80).¹
There’s no arguing around it: Boylan’s found a pre-Stoker reference to vampires changing into bats. Here are key quotes from the original text, establishing the link:
She [the Bruxa] is similiar in her propensities to the Eastern Ghoul or Vampire. Indeed there can be no doubt that she was introduced into Portugal by the Moors during the time that they held sway in the country. (72)
When darkness overspreads the world and the rest of the household are wrapped in slumber, they noiselessly rise from their couches, and after joining the orgies of their sisters in crime, are transformed into the shape of some noxious creatures of night—owls or gigantic bats. (73)
The passage is also accompanied by the following illustration:
There is even a connection between the Bruxa and the Slavic vampire’s tendency to hunt down their loved ones:
After their orgies and these long wanderings on the wing, they, with vampirish hunger, fly back to their peaceful homes, where, in calm repose, sleep their innocent offspring. Though feeling a human loathing for this terrific task, their horrible propensities overcome their material love, and seizing on their babes, their black wings fanning them to repose, they suck the life-blood from their veins—dreadful fate! conscious all the time that they are destroying the only ones they love on earth. (74)
And while I have discussed the methods by which vampires drained their victims, seemingly without fangs (Hogg 2013), the Bruxa appears to have that covered, too:
When they have thus murdered their own children, they enter the cottages of their neighbours and friends whose sleeping infants they in like manner deprive of life, and often when a child is found dead, livid and marked with punctures, the sage women whisper to each other with fear and trembling, “A Bruxa has done this,” casting eyes of suspicion on each other, for no one knows who the Bruxa may be. (74)
Blood-drinking. Bat transformation. Published before Dracula (1897)—this find ticks all the boxes. Now, we can remove the mantle from Stoker: he clearly didn’t invent the notion of vampires changing into bats.
But not so fast.
Firstly, the Bruxa in question certainly shares “propensities to the Eastern Ghoul or Vampire”—but not all of them. As the passages reveal, the Bruxa is not undead, but a living person. Its “orgies” and flight tendencies have more in common with Medieval witches (bruxa is Portuguese for “witch”) and the Greco-Roman strix, “a bird of ill omen that fed on human flesh and blood” (“Strix [Mythology]” 2014).
Indeed, bruxa‘s derivation, brujería (witchcraft), also plugs into the mythology of the strix:
There is no sound etymology for this word, which appears only in Portuguese, Catalan, Galician and Spanish (other romance languages use words derived from Latin strix, –igis, originally an owl or bird of evil omen). The word may be inherited from a Celtiberian substrate or it may derive from the Latin plusscius, –a, um (> plus + scius), a hapax attested in the Cena Trimalchionis, a central part in Petronius’ Satyricon. Pluscia could have arisen from rhotacization of the /l/ and voicing of the /p/, pluscia> pruscia> bruscia> bruxa (Portuguese)> bruja (Spanish). (“Brujería” 2014).
The bird element is also key here, as the story of Pedro Pacheco—which apparently took place in, or was at least set in during the Medieval era²—concerns his pursuit of a “strange bird” (not a bat); without a single mention of his blood being sucked.
The bird wasn’t even an undead transformed. The story concludes with a fisherman finding Pacheco many miles away from his home town, amended with the speculation that “some, indeed, going as far as to hint to each other that perhaps his wife was the Bruxa who so cruelly beguiled him” (Kingston et. al. 1863, 80).
That said—undead or not—the strix could have a place in the vampire’s development in some capacity:
The legend of the strix survived into the Middle Ages, as recorded in Isidore’s Etymologiae, and gave both name and attributes to the being referred to as striga in Latin throughout central and eastern Europe. In Romanian, strigăt means ‘scream’, strigoaică is the name of the Romanian feminine vampire, and strigoi is the Romanian male vampire. (“Strix [Mythology]” 2014).
For the record, the strigoi is actually the Romanian word for ghost (indeed, the Romanian word for vampire is vampir)—and there are certainly no mentions of it turning into a bat that I’m aware of; certainly not before Stoker wrote Dracula.
In that spirit, perhaps it’s now a matter of refining my assertion. As Boylan established, there definitely was a pre-Stoker precedent for living vampires changing into bats (specifically, the Portuguese bruxa). And by vampires, I’m referring to folkloric beings that supped on the blood of the living—just to make that clear.
With due fairness, though, Boylan (2014) did allude to another pre-Stoker source in his article, also connecting vampires with bat transformation—
The book was first printed in 1870 and is a portmanteau of stories, the wraparound concerning a creature called a baital, which Burton describes as a vampire but also describes as hanging from “a bough, like a flying fox, by the toe tips,” (Burton, 1870, p. 46). More explicit is the Preface to the 1893 edition by Burton’s wife (and editor) Isabel Burton who states, “The Baital-Pachisi, or Twenty-five Tales of a Baital is the history of a huge Bat, Vampire, or Evil Spirit which inhabited and animated dead bodies.” (Burton, 1893, p. xi)
—but the “Vampire” in question isn’t a bloodsucker. So I’ll refine my assertion: it seems Stoker was the first writer to represent a vampire—an undead, bloodsucking corpse—changing into a bat. In that respect, he retains his title to inventing an original trope.
While researching this blog post, I came across a listing for another William H. G. Kingston book in WorldCat—which seemingly published “The Vampire; or, Pedro Pacheco and the Bruxa” a year before Tales for All Ages‘s 1863 publication date.
Here is WorldCat’s contents listing for William H. G. Kingston’s Tales for Old and Young of All Classes, (London: William Kent, 1862):
The brothers, a tale of the Canadian border.–The crew of the Rose, by Martin Doyle.–The printing press; or, Use and abuse, by S.E. de Morgan.–The vampire; or, Pedro Pacheco and the bruxa, a legend of Portugal.–The bushrangers, a tale of Australia.–The force of conscience, a tale by a naval chaplain.–The spirit of the storm.–The bogies of Glen Bogie.–The miraculous tree of Guimaraens; a legend of Portugal, by Father Manoel.–A tale of a rat, by M.F.–A short yarn; Captain Trollope and the Glatton. (“Tales for Old and Young of All Classes [Microform, 1862]” n.d.)
William H. G. Kingston (1814–1880) was a prolific writer and “from 1850 his chief occupation was writing books for boys, or editing boys’ annuals and weekly periodicals” (“William Henry Giles Kingston” 2014).
If the WorldCat entry is correct (its contents are identical to Tales for All Ages‘s), I wouldn’t be surprised if the story was published even earlier, buried away in his voluminous output.
¹ Which Boylan kindly shared with me via Facebook on March 30, 2014.
² The story takes place when “the thunders of the Vatican were launched against the whole nation [Portugal] in consequence of the marriage of Princess Theresa with her cousin Alfonso, King of Leon. At that time there lived near the town of Aveiro, situated on the shores of the Atlantic, a sturdy farmer, Pedro Pacheco by name.” (Kingston et. al. 1863, 74). “Alfonso, King of Leon” was Alfonso IX of León (1171–1230)—who married his cousin, Theresa of Portugal, in 1191.
Boylan, Andy. 2014. “Stoker and the Bat.” Vamped, April 5. Accessed March 30, 2014. http://vamped.org/books/stoker-bat/.
“Brujería.” 2014. Wikipedia. Last modified December 15, 2013 at 23:09. Accessed April 5, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruxa.
Hogg, Anthony. 2011a. “Bats Where They Don’t Belong.” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist, January 25. http://doaav.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/bats-where-they-dont-belong.html.
———. 2011b. “Rondina Responds.” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist, January 26. http://doaav.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/rondina-responds.html.
———. 2011c. “Three Discoveries.” The Vampirologist, December 30. http://thevampirologist.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/three-discoveries.html.
———. 2013. “The Fischer Mystery.” The Vampirologist, August 26. https://thevampirologist.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/the-fischer-mystery/.
Kingston, William H. G., S. E. De Morgan, Martin Doyle, and others. 1863. Tales for All Ages. London: Bickers & Bush. Accessed April 5, 2014. http://books.google.com.au/books?id=XwgGAAAAQAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s.
Miller, Elizabeth. 2006. “Getting to Know the Un-dead: Bram Stoker, Vampires, and Dracula.” In Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil, edited by Peter Day, 3–19. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
“Strix (Mythology).” 2014. Wikpedia. Last modified March 1, 2014 at 08:17. Accessed April 5, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strix_%28mythology%29.
“Tales for Old and Young of All Classes (Microform, 1862).” n.d. WorldCat. Accessed April 5, 2014. http://www.worldcat.org/title/tales-for-old-and-young-of-all-classes/oclc/4280904.
“William Henry Giles Kingston.” 2014. Wikipedia. Last modified March 28, 2014 at 21:30. Accessed April 6, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Henry_Giles_Kingston.