What is a Renfield?

Let's start right in at the beginning then, with the first Renfield. At least, the first Renfield who was actually called by that name. He is a character in Bram Stoker's classic, _Dracula_, who is somehow psychically linked with the vampire.

Cast of DraculaR. M. Renfield, aged 59 years, is a patient in Dr. Jack Seward's sanitarium when first mentioned in the novel. He is obsessed with his own mortality, and is trying to prolong his life by ingesting the lives of other creatures. He cultivates flies, some of which he eats and the rest he feeds to spiders. The spiders are also cultivated, some being consumed directly and the rest fed to sparrows. Renfield desperately begs for a cat or kitten, but when his request is refused, he eats the sparrows (whole and raw) himself. Renfield is not a vampire, and was formerly a solid member of the privileged class. Though not an aristocrat himself, he moved in the social circles of the minor nobility, and must have been of sufficient financial means to handle the expenses that would entail.

Renfield passes through periods of complete sanity, and is remarkably erudite, well-mannered and logical when in full control of himself. When the madness is upon him however, he can be incredibly devious. His tie with the vampire is not one of master and servant. Rather, he is a disciple who longs for the immortality the vampire seems to offer. Dracula is not truly interested in Renfield though, and merely uses him. When the lunatic becomes troublesome, Dracula breaks his back and Renfield dies. There is never any explanation in the novel for the psychic link or Renfield's obsession. He does function in the story as a forerunner to the arrival of the Master Vampire much as John The Baptist served as a precurser to Christ.

In "Dracula" (1931) with Bela Lugosi, Renfield is a solicitor who, once bitten by the vampire, becomes his slavish servant. His fascination with consuming other lives is a direct result of his pre-vampiric condition. (Although Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker never show any interest in eating small creatures after they are bitten.) Dwight Frye, who plays Renfield, set the standard for lunatic laughter with his "hee hee, hee hee, hee hee." This is where the concept of Renfield as a servant/guardian to the vampire really begins.

In the 1979 comedy "Love At First Bite," Arte Johnson plays a hilarious Renfield who is his Master's valet and protector. Renfield's loyalty is absolute, and the Master, although he abhors Renfield's eating habits, appreciates the devotion. Renfield is evidently immortal like his Master, although he is not a vampire and moves easily in the daylight.

The film "Dracula" with Frank Langella (also 1979) continues the theme of Renfield as servant to the Master. This time Renfield is the caretaker of the semi-ruined estate Dracula leases. A difficult and inadequate employee until bitten, he becomes obsequious and grovels to his Master thereafter.

Generally, the character of Renfield offers some comic relief to any retelling of the tale of Dracula the Vampire. The idea of eating insects, especially flies and spiders, is repugnant to most audiences. They are not threatened by Renfield, but they can laugh while being repulsed at his activities. A nice touch to the story, don't you think?

So, do you have any more questions? Do I actually eat flies and spiders? Well, what do you think? Do I seem like the kind of person who would hunt around behind file cabinets looking for spiders? Do you really think I would leave out a trail of honey to trap ants for a snack? Oh yes, and those lovely imported Australian grubs...so fat...so tender...

Excuse me, I see that it's already past sundown and I have gone on much, much too long. And how rude of me not to have asked you to stay for dinner with us.

Us? Oh, you thought I lived alone? No, no, I live here with a very dear old friend. He's wonderfully charming and will want to meet you.

You say you'd rather not? Oh, but I insist. It will only take a moment, and I really think he's going to like you. Oh yes, yes, I'm really quite sure he'll be pleased with me for introducing you to him. You're just the kind of person he enjoys...

You may be a Renfield if...

  • You find yourself hoping the waiter will bring you a soup bowl *with* a fly in it.
  • You're angry with your cat for catching the moth you were eyeing.
  • You see butterflies outside your window and think, "Oh boy. Dessert!"
  • Your favorite hors d'oeuvres are "Bacon Wrapped Roaches" and you throw away the bacon.
  • Shopping at "Avian Emporium" for small birds has replaced shopping at Safeway.
  • Your say you like sashimi, but you mean live goldfish, not sushi.
  • You cultivate spiders in the corners, but compete with them for flies.
  • You tape PBS Specials on Australian Aborigines and watch the scenes of them eating grubs over, and over, and over...
  • You ride a motorcycle along farm lanes with your mouth wide open.
  • You visit barns and stables, "to browse and pick up a few things."
  • You love washing your windshield after long trips, saving the liquid and scrapings for a soup later.

Source: Originally posted to the VAMPYRES list by Davis


A fantastic back-story

For those interested in finding out more about Renfield, pick up a copy of The Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula by Tim Lucas. This novel features appearances from many of the original characters from Stoker's book, and offers a fantastic look into the childhood of Renfield, and his assent into becoming Dracula's evil minion.

Fanged Films

USA, 1966
USA, 1992
Stephen King's Sleepwalkers / Sleepstalkers

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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