This article is more sarcastic than my recent articles...mostly because I find this topic incredibly stupid. If you don't feel like reading my rant, then you can mosey on over to our malaria blog; it is very factual. I assumed that you needed no explanation of vampire respiration. I thought that anyone with common sense could clearly perceive the answer. Either I was wrong or the world is full of unthinking humans.
Stories about vampire breath (or lack of it) have puzzled the populace, and discrepancies between stories have created confusion about whether vampires can and do breathe. The short and simple answer is: Yes, vampires do breathe. But, of course, a more complicated answer exists.
Let's start with the fictions and then move to the facts. Novels often address the topic of vampire breath and respiration, but the reports of kind of breath, reasons for breathing, and even the ability to breathe are wildly different. In Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, vampires do not need to breathe. They can swim very fast under water because they never need to take a breath, but they must remember to breathe in order to look human. Don't put too much faith in Meyer's version of vampires...they also glitter in the sun.
Meyer is not alone in her creation of anaerobic [anaerobic: active in the absence of free oxygen] vampires. In his book 13 Bullets: A Vampire Tale, David Wellington asserts that "Vampires didn't breathe, of course." Of course, why would "dead things" breathe? (Wellington 242).
If vampires are dead things and therefore do not breathe, then why are fictions filled with reports of rancid breath from the mouths of vampires? In a description that I vehemently resent, Matthew Bunson describes the foul odors a vampire. "Its stench from the dried blood of victims was almost as horrible as its hideous breath, described as the smell of a charnel house" [charnel house: a vault where corpses are stored] (Bunson 9). "Vampire bad breath is a trait noted by others as well. Montague Summers in The Vampire: His Kith and Kin asserts that a vampire's breath is 'unbearably fetid and rank with corruption, the stench of the charnel'" (Stoker 354). The idea of putrid breath proceeds unchallenged through fiction for so long that eventually it morphs into a ridiculous weapon. Darren Shan says that "vampires can breathe out a special kind of gas, which makes people faint" (Shan 12). Let me tell you, a vampire will only exhale a noxious gas if it is first inhaled.
But sometimes, the "vampire's breath is quite different from the unalloyed halitosis of Dracula" and similar stories (Stoker 81). Like all romanticized stories of vampires, the vile weapon transforms into an enticing and alluring attribute. Sometimes it is gentle, beautiful, and warm (we'll have to discuss the oral temperature of vampires at a later time). Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat says, "We breathe the light, we breathe the music, we breathe the moment as it passes through us" (Rice 273). You wrote quite a poetic line, Ms. Rice, but it would be a mighty trick for a vampire to breathe light or music.
Michelle Belanger adopts the idea of breathing the energy of the moment and translates it to the concept of a psychic vampire. She says, that the "vital energy" of a victim or a scene is "processed by the subtle body just as oxygen is processed by the physical lungs. In this way, breathing sustains the organism on both the physical and subtle levels". "Such an inhalation can seem to be sustained almost indefinitely, and there is clearly more to the process than simply acquiring air" (Belanger 111). So, psychic vampires breathe, but what about more sanguinarily-inclined vampires? Belanger indicates that "in most energetic systems," including vampires, "breathing brings vital energy into the body, just as it brings in air" (111). She claims that vampires do breathe and, in fact, need to breathe.
"Of course vampires breathe...You can't speak without breath," and very few vampires are completely mute (Hill 125). Very simply, without breath a vampire would have no voice. Voice is created by air moving across the vocal chords as it is propelled by the lungs. Every song, every syllable, every groan requires air.
So, do vampires breathe? Obviously, they either breathe or they all speak entirely in clicks. Which is more likely?
Anonuevo, Rechelle S. The Moonlight Serenade.
Belanger, Michelle A. The Psychic Vampire Codex.
Bunson, Matthew. The vampire encyclopedia.
Hill, Joey W. The Vampire Queen's Servant.
Rice, Anne. The vampire Lestat.
Stoker, Bram. Leslie S Klinger, Neil Gaiman. The new annotated Dracula.
Wellington, David. 13 Bullets: A Vampire Tale.