Take yesterday. Minding my own business one minute, the next I was just a conduit for my muse to brain dump this onto me. And it's something I bet you thought you'd never see. I an essay!
I haven't written one for ten years since uni, and never intended to again, but this one came out of the blue. And see? I even gave it a nice academic title (and it's still less poncy than 'Science fiction's representation of the extension and violation of the human body by cybernetics and cyberspace', which was my degree proposition essay).
I am a bit worried that it's pointing out the obvious, but I'll share. maybe we can all have a nice chat about it.
‘Dem Bones: Ritual Magic and the Physiology of the Jossverse Vampire by Bogwitch
While hacking my way through a mineshaft of unholy creatures on the PS2 game Baldur’s Gate, it occurred to me why fighting skeletons bothers me so much (my childhood fear of them not withstanding).
With no or little flesh to speak of, the integrity of a fighting skeleton must be held together by a spell, right? A spell that has been necromanced by some outside force. So why are they always among the weakest of creatures in RPG’s? One whack with a +2 Flaming Sword of Destruction and they’re a pile of bones ready for the Charnel House.
That doesn’t make any sense though, does it? Short of crushing them to powder, nothing physical should stop them. The spell holding them together couldn’t be very good, could it? Unless they were meant to be destructible; a cheap spell for cheap troops. Hmm.
Which brings me to the vampire.
We actually know very little about the physiology of the vampires of the Jossverse, beyond the fact that they don’t breathe, their heart doesn’t beat and that a demon inhabits the body of a freshly dead victim. They become a vampire through a simple ritual of bloodletting; the vampire bites and drinks the victim’s blood, in return, the victim drinks the vampire’s blood. This, of course, is a spell, of a sort, with an exchange of lifeforce between the living and the dead. (You’ll notice that I’m avoiding the soul issue here. As a devout atheist I have no theological background to drawn on as a basis for a theory, and I don’t know the scientific standpoint).
So where am I going with this?
Over the years I have asked myself a series of questions about these vampires, such as:
Where does all Spike’s food go when he eats it?
If the vampire’s body is dead, how does its brain still function?
Where does the demon reside?
Why does Jossverse vampire turn to dust?
Why do they appear to breathe when it isn’t necessary to keep the brain alive?
How does a vampire bleed? (There can only be a certain amount of blood in the victim to start with. Assuming the vampire drinks it all (which I’m not convinced they do, it doesn’t seem to take them long to gulp 8 or so pints down), the vampire that rises should have no blood in it (which explains why it’s ravenous with bloodlust). So how does the blood they drink, enter the blood stream through the inactive digestive system to enable them to bleed at all?
The sample answer to all of these questions is magic. The Jossverse is a magical universe, and it can be argued that all demons are magical creatures (although not all magical creatures are demons. Nor are all demons automatically Evil, Doyle for example). They are all imbued with some kind of magic.
I postulate then that the body of the vampire is kept animate by a magical spell, which is cast during the death of their host by the vampire that killed them, thus ‘summoning’ the new vampire into the body. The spell maintains the ‘whole’ vampire, body and demon, through the drinking of blood. As we all know, blood is heavy with magical symbolism, as Spike pointed out in The Gift, ‘blood is life’. They need it, as it maintains the ‘spell’ of the vampire (I’d also argue it is also ‘warmth’, the only warmth they’ll ever feel, but there is no actual evidence for that, it is just a bit of whimsy on my part). Therefore, the heart of the vampire does not beat. The organs do not function. There is no need to intake oxygen through breath. Food disappears into a digestive system that cannot digest and is erased by the spell in time. Blood seeps into the body through magical osmosis, not through an anatomical process as it would in a living being. The demon thinks, the brain does not, or the brain is kept functioning by the demon’s presence (I suppose only The Initiative would know that). The body does not return to its former state, it crumbles to dust as the demon is driven out. Which all leads on to another question; why would a stake through the heart kill a creature whose heart does not beat?
Ritual is the powerhouse of Jossverse magic. Even Willow, a tremendously powerful witch perfectly capable of performing magic off the cuff, tends to resort to ritualistic magical practices. I’d guess this is for stability and greater predictability of results. In the hands of the inexperienced, a spell could blow up in the caster’s face, do something entirely different to the purpose of the spell or not work at all. For vampires to survive and reproduce, the spell would need to be foolproof, and therefore bound into a ritual.
So to answer my previous question, the stake through the heart doesn’t dust the vampire due to physical damage, it’s the conclusion of the ritual that created the vampire, the completion of the magical circuit. The body is consumed as the spell breaks and the whole is gone.
Like the skeletons of Baldur’s Gate, they return to the dead.