Before the early 1990s, the idea that vampires had a weakness for silver was usually laughed off as the result of confusing vampires and werewolves. Twenty years later it’s a facet of the vampiric condition that’s become fairly established by some of the heavies of the genre, including:

  • Kim Newman (Anno Dracula series): Godfather of the Undead
  • Laurell K. Hamilton (Anita Blake series): Urban fantasy pioneer
  • And in many other popular series (True Blood, The Strain Trilogy, Blade)
It’s hard to dismiss something when so many big names are on board. Especially when some of their works are famous for including a wide variety of vampire “bloodlines,” but in which silver is a universal weakness.
So where did this start and why is it catching on?
Here are a few options:
The Mystical
Alchemists have always believed in a connection between the moon and silver. Two of English literature’s original vampires, Lord Ruthven and Sir Francis Varney, both use the light of the moon to heal their wounds and return them to life. Varney, it seems, even engages in this activity more than he does in blood-drinking. Whether or not it would make sense for silver to somehow negate this effect, neither is said to have an aversion to silver.
The Cultural
The voice of literary criticism, which I usually ignore, has a different thought. Until the 1970s, mostly due to the influence of Anne Rice, the universal weapon against vampires from every bloodline, country, or race, was religion. Sometimes it depended on the religion of the vampire in life, sometimes not. In some books only Christian symbols work, in some any symbol, when wielded with faith, had power against the undead.
Not so much anymore. Whether because of a general religious skepticism, a sensitivity toward non-denominational writing, or an inclination toward more “natural” vampires, religious symbols are far less effective today than in years past. Silver provides a less-loaded weapon that can be used by anyone, but is also a little harder to find than putting two sticks together into a cross (like Peter Cushing in Horror of Dracula).
But then, what does it say if, as a genre, writers of vampire fiction are moving their faith from religion to a precious metal?
The Biological
This is the approach I’ve been taking with the Van Helsing Medical Center, that many of the assumed weaknesses of vampires (sunlight, garlic) don’t apply to vampires themselves, but to the disease that causes vampirism.