Before I forget: for those of you who enjoyed reading the first two chapters of Willow the Vampire & the Sacred Grove, I’ve uploaded chapter three on the Sample Chapters page.
The animals I’m going to mention today have no business being in a blog titled Creatures of the Night, since they’re not nocturnal – but they possess a particular super-human power that links them with the vampire genre.
Vampires in modern fiction can transform into bats, rats, wolves or foggy apparitions; they can scale walls and mountain-sides whilst hanging up-side-down, fly through the air, jump several meters up into the air and hypnotise us with their stare. In folklore vampires can be anything they wish to be: babies, ghost-like ghouls, beautiful sirens who want to seduce us or devils that want to devour us whole.
In Joss Whedon’s superb TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dracula can even reform after Buffy has turned him to dust by staking him through the chest. Various methods for killing vampires are described in folklore as well as modern fiction, using a wooden stake through the heart and exposing them to sunshine being among the best known and most popular methods.
All vampires have something in common with tortoises, tuataras and parrots though, which has ensured their continued existence in our collective psyches: their super-human longevity. Living forever – or at least well beyond our allotted time – has been an enduring theme in literature.
Whilst nobody really knows how long whales, lobsters and other marine creatures actually live – we typically murder everything that moves before we have time to find out anything about the other living being – tuataras are known to live for more than 100 years. As lizards they are the oldest “living fossil” on Earth, having survived for 225 million years. They saw dinosaurs come and go, witnesses our ape-like ancestors desert their arboreal nests and take to the grasslands and were present, when white invaders landed on the shores of the Maori’s homelands.
The tuatara has a unique arrangement of teeth; in a single row in their lower jaw fits snugly between two rows of sharp teeth located in their upper jaw. The word “tuatara” stems from the Maori language and means “crests on the back”, since the tuatara is an inhabitant of New Zealand and has a dorsal crest to be proud of. Their powerful claws dig small burrows during the day, when the tuatara needs to protect itself from the mid-day heat.
Tuataras continue to grow until they are 35 years old – indeed, some tuataras have been known to continue growing until they are 50 – and have been known to live for 120 years and more. Parrots typically outlive their owners and have to be included in the owner’s will to ensure they’ll have a home, after the owner has died. As for tortoises, we still don’t know for certain how long some of their order can live.
Our own mortality and the uncertainty of the existence of an afterlife are a powerful motive for conjuring up creatures of the night like vampires. My own cancer was partly responsible for my wish to finally complete my Willow the Vampire novel…something to leave behind after my demise…in the absence of any super-human powers like being able to re-assemble myself after I’ve been “dusted” by the NHS!
There are two types of tuataras, one that is threatened with extinction with only 400 specimen left in the wild on North Brother Island (genus: the Sphenodon guntheri tuatara) and more than 60,000 individuals of the Sphenodon punctatus living dotted around in 30 island habitats off the north-easterly coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Unlike humans, the tuataras’ sex is determined by the temperature at the time of incubation. Both varieties belong to the reptile order of Rhynchocephalia.
In the animal kingdom super-human powers are the norm, not the exception. From the highest jumper, the flea, to the fastest land mammal, the cheetah, animals are far better adapted to the world around them than we are…Wouldn’t it be great, if we used the one and only truly unique feature we have, our laughter, to do something GOOD with it? Now that would truly amount to a super-human power, wouldn’t it?
…but instead of using our unique ability to laugh about our lack of super-powers, we are seemingly intent to wipe out anything that makes us feel jealous.
Just as well our lifespan isn’t anything like the tuataras’ or the common vampire’s (genus Vampiricus bitey-puss)!