Jock versus goth. Fur versus fang. Savage versus suave. The werewolf versus vampire war is one of the most enduring and iconic rivalries in pop culture — and for good reason. These creatures are natural antagonists: the outwardly ragged, animalistic nature of the werewolves is in direct contrast to the vampires’ rigid composure and often aristocratic disposition. But where did this narrative of contention begin? Let’s trace the roots of the age-old vampire-werewolf feud and explore some of its most influential iterations throughout history.
Brief Origins of the Vampire and Werewolf Myths
The vampire myth can be traced back to at least the Bronze Age and potentially even further. Throughout history, different cultures have conceived various versions of this blood-sucking being: the edimmu for instance, which come from Assyrian culture, are vengeful vampire-esque ghosts that prey on the living. These assorted fables set the foundation for contemporary vampire lore, but the mythology wasn’t popularized until much later.
It was during the early 1700s that the vampire legend began to gain more traction as the tale of Peter Plogojowitz spread across Europe. After his death, Peter allegedly returned home demanding food from his son, who was then found dead along with nine other townspeople. When rumors of Peter sucking the blood from his victims started to circulate, his body was dug up, and the townspeople were horrified to find his body undecomposed with fresh blood ringing his mouth. They drove a wooden stake through his heart and burned him alive to kill him — for good this time.
The origins of the werewolf myth are shrouded in uncertainty, but many scholars point to The Epic of Gilgamesh as the first identifiable iteration of the modern werewolf. In this ancient Sumerian poem, the protagonist, Gilgamesh, rejects a suitress who turned her prior lover into a wolf.
As with the vampire myth, the werewolf legend gained popularity in the 1700s after a 14-year-old French girl named Jeanne Boulet was mauled to death. Throughout the 1760s, more than 100 similar killings took place. This, combined with rumors of a bullet-proof, bipedal beast, led locals to believe that a half-man, half-wolf monster was afoot. Although evidence of this creature was never found, the rumors continued to spread, forming the basis of the werewolf myth as we know it today.
When did the conflict between werewolves and vampires begin?
One of the earliest depictions of the conflict between werewolves and vampires comes from the 1948 horror comedy film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, in which The Wolf Man, played by Lon Chaney Jr., and Count Dracula, played by Béla Lugosi, have a face-off that ends in their mutual demise. This movie was one of many additions to the Universal Classic Monsters series, which included various supernatural horror films released from the 1930s to the 1950s.
The 2004 horror action film Van Helsing, starring Hugh Jackman in the titular role, paid homage to this series of movies, drawing particular inspiration from the 1941 film The Wolf Man, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The climax of the film contains a fierce battle between Dracula and Van Helsing, who has been infected with the lycanthropy curse. Taking on his new werewolf form, Van Helsing engages Dracula in a brawl, which culminates in Dracula’s defeat.
World of Darkness, a series of tabletop role-playing games created by Mark Rein-Hagen and initially released by White Wolf Publishing between 1991 and 1995, can also be attributed as one of the popularizers of this trope. The first game in the series, Vampire: The Masquerade, introduces players to the “gothic-punk” version of the modern world in which the game is set, as well as the game’s rendition of vampires (also referred to as Kindred). In this universe, vampires are characterized by their blood-thirstiness, immortality, weakness to sunlight, and the predatory urges that all vampires must fight against to maintain their basic morality.
The second game in the series was released the following year in 1992. Titled Werewolf: The Apocalypse, this game built on the lore established by its predecessor, this time introducing its interpretation of werewolves (also referred to as Garou). In the game, lycanthropy is an inherited trait that manifests during adolescence, awakening a werewolf’s latent abilities. These werewolves are characterized by their righteousness and commitment to protecting the world from humans and supernatural creatures alike, who the werewolves see as contributing to the total societal collapse referred to as the “apocalypse.” One of their most fearsome foes is the vampires, who, in the werewolves’ view, are a parasitic force on the world.
These depictions of the vampire-werewolf conflict, which spanned diverse mediums and therefore reached a broad audience, helped to proliferate the trope in popular media.
Iconic Portrayals of the Vampire-Werewolf War
In recent years, this trope has been replicated in a multitude of books, films, and television shows. Arguably the most popular of these iterations is Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Published in 2005, Meyer’s debut novel, Twilight, is a YA fantasy romance about teenager Bella Swan, who finds herself in danger when she falls in love with 103-year-old vampire Edward Cullen after moving to the ostensibly dull town of Forks, Washington. There, Bella also befriends Jacob Black, a charming boy-next-door type who is revealed to be a werewolf in subsequent books in the series.
The conflict between the vampire and werewolf communities of Forks — as introduced in the second installation in the series, New Moon — is long and bloody. In the present, the only thing keeping the fragile peace between them is a treaty that mandates that the two groups shall live in harmony so long as the Cullen family does not bite and turn a human — a stipulation complicated by Bella’s relationship with Edward and the ultimatum made by the Volturi (essentially the vampire monarchy) that Bella must either become a vampire or be put to death because of the danger she poses to their secret.
By the end of the series, the Cullens and the Quileute pack come together to face off against the Volturi, but their tenuous relationship is a major source of tension throughout the books. This conflict is exacerbated by the angsty love triangle between Edward, Bella, and Jacob, a throughline that the film adaptations heavily lean into.
While Twilight might be the most recognizable retelling of this narrative in recent years, there have been countless reinterpretations throughout the trope’s long history. In 2003, the first of the Underworld films was released. Combining action and horror elements, the movie examines the friction between vampires and werewolves through the lens of the story’s protagonist, Selene — a werewolf-hunting vampire who faces a moral dilemma when her human love interest is bitten by a werewolf. Subsequent films in the series delve into the idea of vampire-werewolf hybrids, which further complicates the divide between these two groups.
As seen in both Twilight and Underworld, a popular sub-trope of the vampire-werewolf war is the vampire-werewolf love triangle. This trope is touched on in Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, in which vampire Simon is caught in a love triangle with werewolf Maia and Shadowhunter Isabelle. In this universe, vampires and werewolves are once again natural enemies, adding an extra layer of suspense to the love triangle.
Sometimes the vampire-werewolf animosity applies not to the species as a whole, but to two individuals whose personal differences are magnified by their disparate natures — in this case, the spat usually arises over a shared love interest, as is the case in Penny Dreadful and True Blood.
Other supernatural TV shows have expanded upon the vampire versus werewolf trope by opening the clash up to include a plethora of supernatural species. In The Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals, for example, discord exists between the vampire, werewolf, and witch factions living in New Orleans, entering a fresh contender into this historic battle. Similarly to the Underworld series, this show also deals with the politics of vampire-werewolf hybrids and what this new breed means for the relationship between the warring groups.
The list of books, TV shows, and films in which this trope appears is endless — a testament to the immense popularity the vampire-werewolf war has garnered over the years. Though the heyday of supernatural media may be over, it’s hard to imagine a trend as enduring as this ever truly dying out. For now, we’ll have to wait for the next story to tackle this trope and reignite the iconic battle between these two supernatural behemoths. When that moment comes, which side will you be on?
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