33
$\begingroup$

The vampires in my setting have varying powers and weaknesses based on the magical grade of their blood. While the two higher-grade vampire types can survive in sunlight with no issue beyond losing access to some of their powers, for the two lowest grades, the celestial energy of the sun (not UV light, specifically the energy generated by the sun) disrupts their magical "biology" so much that they will quickly suffocate when exposed to sunlight.

But the weakest of the four grades has an even bigger problem. Not only does the sun's celestial energy kill them when directly exposed to it, but as long as the sun is even in the sky, even while they're indoors, they are rendered completely unconscious until the end of civil twilight next sundown.

I quickly realized this would be a good way to justify the "sleeping in a coffin" part of the vampire lore. Being completely helpless and almost indistinguishable from a fresh corpse as long as the sun is in the sky, they'd probably want the place they sleep to have some extra safeguard against exposure to direct sunlight in case something unexpected happens during the daytime while they sleep. So right before sunrise, they'd lock themselves in a sealed container. A coffin could easily suit that purpose.

But here's the issue: why would they pick coffins specifically? Why did it become tradition for the weakest vampires to sleep in coffins as opposed to, say, chests, or other similar containers that they could fit inside? What advantage did they have over the other options that made them so ideal for vampires to use as a bed?

$\endgroup$
13
  • 32
    $\begingroup$ what other common container do you think a person could fit in comfortably. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 8 at 17:45
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ A box in which a body is buried is called a coffin. The exact same box used for sleeping is a cot-side bed, or maybe a cramped box bed. Which is to say, how can you say that the box in which they sleep is specifically a coffin when it is not used for a burial? It's not as if coffins are distinguishable from ordinary boxes. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 8 at 19:27
  • 34
    $\begingroup$ There's your answer : "Being completely helpless and almost indistinguishable from a fresh corpse". The coffin is disguise. If people find a "corpse" sitting in a chair, they move it. Prepare it for burial. VERY possibly carry it outside in the sun to the mortuary. If they find a "corpse" in a coffin, they say 'so sad, wonder when the burial is",and leave it alone. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Feb 9 at 6:38
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @AlexP one could argue the coffin shape is fairly unique. Don't confuse a coffin with a casket. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 9 at 6:40
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ What's your justification that you prefer a bed? It's just "the way we are used to doing it". $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 12:12

18 Answers 18

58
$\begingroup$

Least Likely to be Broken Into

Sure, you can cram yourself into a trunk, or build a huge chest where you could stretch out and sleep comfortably inside... but then what? Your house/castle/lair has a huge, locked storage container. A thief sneaks inside your castle and starts rummaging about. "A-ha!" he thinks, "Surely this overly-large chest has wonderous treasure inside!" Being a skilled thief (or an unskilled one with a hammer) he quickly breaks into your large chest... and finds you, the vampire. Oops! You're weak, you can't do anything, he kills you. Curses!

or....

You set yourself up in a coffin. Something simple, you're not a real powerful vampire and you don't want to draw attention to yourself anyway. Or maybe it's ornate and your civilization just doesn't do the whole "Grave goods" thing. Thief breaks in. He's looking for treasure. He wanders down to the catacombs... and sees your coffin. Wooden, probably has a smelly/nasty/rotting corpse in it. At best a worthless skeleton. The thief moves on. Or never goes down to the crypt to begin with because hey, who keeps their good jewelry in the crypt anyway? Thanks to your clever decision to sleep in a coffin, you live until nightfall and teach the thief a once-in-a-lifetime lesson about rummaging around in castles that don't belong to him!

Sure, as time goes on a professional vampire-hunter is going to open the coffin to see if a vampire is in there, but it hides you from randos. There's also a good chance that the tradition sticks before vampire hunters are even a thing, and by the time they DO exist your vampires figure "well they'll open anything you could stick a body in anyway, so might as well stick with tradition!"

TL;DR: Of all the mobile things you can stick a body in, a coffin is least-likely to be opened by someone.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 39
    $\begingroup$ All great, but you missed one thing: If the thief does break into the coffin, he finds ... a body! He may not think, "oh, that's a vampire, I have to stake it". He may just think that whoever put that body in that coffin might be coming back into the building any time and he really should check if he left the oven on back at home. $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 1:50
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Rich people tend to get buried with jewelry, so any thief would actually open the coffin first - at least those who don't fear the dead. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Feb 9 at 8:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Maybe hide a bucket of rotting rats underneath as well, for some enhancement of the illusion. Would the smell bother a vampire, I wonder? $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Feb 9 at 11:29
39
$\begingroup$

Assume that your culture has a strong taboo against tampering with corpses, or with closed coffins. One simply does not do that unless one is the undertaker with the explicit go-ahead of the priest.

And if the coffin is accidentally (or "accidentally") opened, the interloper sees something much like a corpse, makes the ritual warding gesture against disturbing the corpse, and leaves everything exactly as it used to be. Or the vengeful, restless ghost of the deceased will come after them and drive them mad.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ And, considering that vampires are a thing in this setting, the "vengeful ghost" part might be VERY real as well! $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 13:27
28
$\begingroup$

Brand-New Vampires Are Broke.

You’re a brand new vampire. You wake up 6 feet under in a coffin. You’re probably hungry. You’ve got whatever clothes you were buried in, a six foot box, and possibly a pillow. You’ve got until sunrise to dig to the surface, find dinner, and locate a safe place to spend the next day. If you just stroll back into your old life, that might not go so great. What to do?

If you didn’t destroy the coffin on your way out, then that thing is the best asset you’ve got right now. You fit inside. It’s probably lightproof. It’s kinda portable. Take it with you, find a quiet spot in the woods or in an abandoned building, and at least you’ve got a chance of making it through your first day.

As you progress through your first year of undeath, you gradually upgrade your living conditions. The coffin becomes a fallback plan, in case you end up too far away from home with dawn approaching.

Eventually, it is totally unnecessary. You have enough money and other assets to live a more comfortable and secure life. Your vampire powers have gotten stronger, and being caught out in the dawn is no longer the utter catastrophe it once was. You’ve grown.

Basically, a coffin is a vampire’s version of those plywood spool endtables you had in your very first apartment.

$\endgroup$
10
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ week 2 and vampire is longingly looking through the ikea catalogue at storage solutions to replace the coffin $\endgroup$
    – jk.
    Feb 9 at 8:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like the idea, but I don't think I've ever seen a vampiric transition that involved someone being "dead" long enough to be buried - it might depend on your flavor of vampire, but I don't think there's usually a period of being an inert corpse during which a soon-to-be vampire could be buried. Escaping from a grave would all but require destroying the box, too. $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 14:10
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @NuclearHoagie Classical stories about vampires all talk about them coming back to life after being buried. Many last rites still observed today are based on the idea of making sure that the dead stay dead after you put them in the ground, and staking a vampire in the heart originated as a practice of nailing people who might come back into their coffins; so, that they can't get out. If you want a more modern example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer almost always showed vampires coming back after being buried. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 9 at 14:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is a very creative answer, and I like it, but you're going to have to break at least the lid of the coffin to escape it. Mythbusters did an episode about Kill Bill and Uma Thurman's coffin escape that shows the lid gets demolished in the escape. There's just too much dirt above the lid for it to swing or otherwise open. You have to beat your way through it. $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 17:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ No problem, Nosferatu II rips his way out of HIS coffin, but he's in a graveyard! Find a fresh grave and evict the occupant! $\endgroup$
    – chiggsy
    Feb 13 at 17:58
21
$\begingroup$

Because it is a COFFIN

The specific container called a coffin has several unique advantages for the vampire.

  1. Its shape is immediately recognized by all people of all western cultures. Note this is a coffin not a casket or box or trunk.
    enter image description here
    Coffins have one purpose only: to contain a dead body while it is prepared for, transported to, and interred for burial.

As opposed to Casket:
enter image description here
Caskets also contain the dead, but they are intended for viewing. The vampire would be unwise to rest in a container that almost literally has a label on it that says "body here for viewing purposes!"

  1. People EXPECT to find a dead body in a coffin! In almost any other container, a body is suspicious and invites attention from police, doctors, reporters, and sundry other busybodies. Finding the "dead" vampire in the coffin would not be a surprise at all, the only possible question could be the coffin's location and destination.
  2. Every culture (that bothers honoring their dead, which is virtually all) has a taboo against disturbing the Dead that are being prepared for burial. Simply by being a coffin, the body inside is offered all the protection of honor-your-dead without having to expose the corpse.
  3. As it is a coffin, it is destined for burial. Even if some overzealous people actually interfere, they might bury it with body and all in an unnamed grave. A corpse in a coffin has already been sanctified, no nosy priest is going to pray over it and spray it with Holy Water. Coffins do not get cremated, they get buried. The vampire would really appreciate this distinction! And even that is unlikely, as obviously a body in a coffin is not "an abandoned dead", because someone has taken great expense to prepare it for burial.
  4. If the vampire needs to travel: A corpse in a box, or an apparently recent dead corpse just sitting there, is a very suspicious thing!! But a body in an expensive coffin, being transported, is obviously just being transported to its 'home' cemetery.
  5. If the corpse(vampire) was not in a container, it would appear to be some person that has recently died, and who had not yet been attended to. This rapidly invites a procession of Police, Doctors, Reporters, and various other busybodies believing they are attending a normal dead person. Inevitably the corpse will get transported to a morgue. As the vampire is only inert it is 100% certain to be daylight outside! The corpse gets carried outside, meets the sun, and the poor vampire gets a bad sunburn. The busybodies could also include the nosey local Priest, and with his crucifixes and Holy Water and Last Rites and such anti-vampire propaganda!
$\endgroup$
9
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ Good points, but "coffins do not get cremated, they get buried" is a common mistake. Actually, the coffins are normally cremated together with the bodies. See e.g. beyond.life/help-centre/arranging-a-funeral/…, funeralcompanion.com/coffin-cremation $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 8:39
  • $\begingroup$ Very good answer, some details: (3) the taboo isn't a guarantee but it does help, so the answer should mention it's just one of the things you do to survive. (4) Actually coffins do get cremated. It's not a big issue because preparations would typically take more than a day, so if you awake and find footprints around your coffin you know you have to move it. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Feb 9 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ @HonzaZidek Isn't the bulk of the ash actually from the coffin rather than the remains? $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 15:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ For most cremation (at least around here, I havent performed many in 'forrin lands'), the coffin is removed, and substituted with, really, a fancy cardboard box. The container must be absolutely free of metal. As for the ashes? Wood goes bye-bye. So does flesh, smaller bones, etc. the residue is due to the larger bone structures, and the teeth, not fully burning. That, and the crematorium director griping about the gas budget and turning it off a wee bit sooner than ideal. Families get maybe 1/20th of the remains, the rest is dumped. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Feb 9 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ Note that the distinction you make between a coffin and a casket isn't universal. German doesn't even have two distinct words for it (both would translate to "Sarg"), and I'm pretty sure very few people in germany would understand the difference. Most people are buried in boxes you call a casket. $\endgroup$
    – Polygnome
    Feb 9 at 22:31
10
$\begingroup$

The process of becoming a vampire involves dying and returning to "unlife". The coffin is part of the process, so there's always a symbiotic? (not sure if that's the best term) relationship between a vampire and its coffin. Note that for the more traditional sort of vampire, the coffin also has to contain some of the native soil in which the vampire was originally buried.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ I think you were looking for the term "symbolic", but I suppose symbiotic works in a lot of ways too! $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Adam Specker: No, I meant that the process of becoming undead involves the coffin (and perhaps the earth of the graveyard), so that there the vampire has a dependence on them. Rather like being addicted to a drug, or a diabetic needing insulin. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Feb 11 at 18:37
9
$\begingroup$

The vampires need a contained that both a) fits an adult human body comfortably and b) is completely opaque to the sun. A lot of other containers like shipping crates are made from multiple slats of wood or have openings due to defects in their manufacture that let in small amounts of sunlight. For a human just using them to store things such a defect is trivial, but to a vampire it would be lethal. Better to have a container one knows is completely blocked from the sun.

As to why coffins, specifically, most other storage containers that fit these criteria can't comfortably hold a human body. Those that do require the person to often contort themselves in weird positions, which would result in muscles becoming stiff or aching when the vampire actually wakes up. So why not just get a container that is actually built for a human body to lie in in a supine position?

$\endgroup$
1
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This may be time/culture dependent. If we're talking about "modern" times (last century or so), this works, but going back longer, it used to be that most people slept in box beds, which were probably at least as light-tight as your typical coffin (which used to also be made of wood slats). If we're talking about a recent(ish) development, however, "because they're practical" is a great answer. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 8 at 18:11
9
$\begingroup$

Justifying coffins in a believably, or at least cool, way.

Two approximation to the problem: practical and psychological.

Practical

Most vampires already have the coffin. Different versions exists, but in Dracula (1992), one "newborn" vampire woman didn't awake until past her burial.

They already have it, and they discover it just fits their special needs. Common people don't fear sunlight, so their beds don't provide a solution. Coffins provide a solution.

There is this old tale from vampire folklore. In it, a not so smart vampire asked a carpenter for a very specific bed. The next week, a vampire hunter ended its "life". If you ask for a "vampire friendly bed" you are leaking information. Asking for a coffin is completely normal. Even a luxury one, it only means you are rich.

Vampires, specially "newborns" (turned humans), come with very primitive urges to attend. They don't have the motivation to enter a shop, and kindly ask for a vampire optimized bed. Also, most of them don't have any money. This depend of your world, of course. And, as said, they already have the coffin. So, during day, they return to it, it has sense for them.

Psychological

It's the place where you were supposed to sleep. And you awakened there. We can say some may have a strong connection with it. A "newborn", this is, a human turned vampire, may not completely see itself as alive. In their minds, sleeping in a coffin seems natural.

They know they aren't supposed to return. They feel a bit culprit. And when not culprit at least out of place.

Vampires aren't happy with their situation. At least turned ones without a master that teach them to see the advantages. They may come to rest each sunrise hopping to never awake again.

Note that different versions exists. We can allow for humans turning into vampires or not. While the last deviates from the most classical folklore, and takes away one of the most powerful tools for storytelling that vampires have to offer.

And what about pure bloods? Those born as vampires. If allowed in this world. Well, they just copied what became a common practice, while enjoying some practical benefits as said in the practical part.

$\endgroup$
7
$\begingroup$

You mention the power of the sun is magical, not just UV radiation, and that it penetrates through walls. So, other boxes simply do not keep them safe from the sun's magic because they lack any magic to keep the sun from going right through it.

Your vampires need a magical barrier both opposite and equal to the life giving power of the sun to protect them. So, there is a dark magic associated with coffins specifically that you can not get from another box.

There are a few ways to approach this. Maybe it is the coffin that the vampire was buried in when he died; so, his own human soul still resides there to protect him from the sun's power, or maybe they create coffins for mortal men as magical traps for the souls of the recently departed to power their protection spells, or maybe it is just because the coffins have been tainted by death, that they have this protective quality. Some options are more restrictive than others so just pick the one that makes the vampire's rest place just the right amount of limiting for your story/setting to work.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ I really like this answer. It might be just the "natural consequence" of the creation of a vampire, that the container they were buried in becomes magically infused and thus offers a barrier from the sun's magic. $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 13:35
6
$\begingroup$

Agoraphobic Vampires

Agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces.

I have a very mild case of it myself, walking on the tarmac at an airport can set it off but I'm generally okay otherwise.

Your vampires have it much worse. They really really don't like being able to see long distances if they can avoid it.

Consequently, they can't go out in daytime or they'll get triggered by being under an endless sky. Never mind that they might catch fire and turn to ash if they do.
So your vampires are at their most comfortable at night, when their night-vision allows them to see only short distances in the dark.

When they sleep, they need to be in the smallest space they can find. Their coffin is familiar, it's confined, it's safe. They'll naturally use it as long as they can.

Without access to their Safe Place, the vampire will seek other small coffin-like spaces, like wardrobes, under beds, garden sheds..

Whether the nocturnal tendencies of the vampire are the cause or consequence of this Agoraphobia is up for debate, but the result is the same.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

Blood-based Cultural Transfer

One of the common tropes about vampires is that they can absorb the memories and/or experiences of the humans they drink the blood of. However, what they may not realise is that over the millennia, they have begun to be subconsciously influenced by the many generations worth of memories they have taken in. Their love of coffins is an example of this imprinting. While humans view coffins as a symbol of death, finality, sorrow and such, the concerns of the undead are often the inverse of the living. Thus these vampires come to view coffins as a place of refuge and rest, warmth, happiness, etc. They look upon coffins the same way cats look upon boxes.

Those who didn't learn to love the coffin and tried to use other such containers for their power naps would be selected out of the vampiric gene pool by evolutionary pressures(see other answers). Vampires in far away places might also have adapted to their locale by sleeping in funerary longboats, or giant urns, or stone lions that were secretly constructed hollow. This allows for some variation in practice, should you desire such a thing

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

Gendarmes. The vampires sometimes need to move from place to place. They have other vampires, or humans if need be, carry them during the daylight hours. But to do that, they need some container. And if the gendarmes see somebody carrying a trunk, rolled up carpet, wagon covered in a blanket etc. and get nosy as they are prone to do and find a comatose cold person with a non-beating heart, well, that's probably trouble for whoever was doing the carting, not to mention for the vampire who wakes up with a Y-shaped incision the next evening.

No, the only container they're going to believe is being used to carry a body that is legitimate in nature, is a coffin attended by some somber pallbearers.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

That's how they did it and that's how they want to keep it.

If they can go out during the night and not the day (even indoors), it's because even though thin walls of wood or stone can't stop the sun celestial energy, it is blocked by the Earth earthly energy. So to survive, a vampire needs to get underground during the day. (A coffin on the surface wouldn't protect them, they would still burn)

Then, even underground, they still need to sleep because the ground on top of them is very thin and they are still weakened. So they need a secure place, hidden and protected where they won't be bothered nor attacked.

And in the old days, if you need to get underground fast, somewhere safe where you won't be eaten by rats or wild animals, where nobody will go looking ?

A crypt ! It's the perfect place. Just go to the next cemetery, remove a body and have a good night ! If you are rich and live in a castle, it's even easier, you can use your family crypt in the basement.

And that's how they did it in the old days at least.

Now, it's easier to build big basements and there's also that new technology that blocks the Celestial energy. But don't forget that vampires being immortals, 99% of their population are more than 100 years old and old habits die hard. If companies plan to sell them their new bed, they pretty much have to make it look like a coffin.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

If this is a world building question, and you want a lore reason why:

What if vampires only maintain their power if they return to their final resting place. This means they would be tied to their orginal coffin and highly protective of it. This also kind of flows with the old Dracula thing that he had to have his dirt carried with him, literally needing to bring some of his burial place with him.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Nice first post, I'm surprised no one thought to write this answer before. Please take the tour and when you have a bit of spare-time, read-up in the help center about our strange ways. Welcome to Worldbuilding TallonAM. Just one slight improvement to your answer might be made by the addition of a link to a source, but it's not strictly necessary in this case. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 17:51
3
$\begingroup$

Handles!

If you're being hunted, as vampires so often are, you can't afford to let your guard down. You have to be watching for threats at all times, and be ready to flee when the situation gets too dangerous. Your lower-grade vampires are naturally easy targets for hunters because they can't operate during the daytime. Since they can't flee on their own, the higher-grade vampires need a way to evacuate their more vulnerable brethren when they're immobile.

Coffins are an effective, easy solution for this. Not only do they seal the vampire away from the daylight world, they also come equipped with handles and are designed to be relatively easy to lift and carry. Need to transport more than one? They stack efficiently in the back of a cart or wagon, lying down or upright. You can even move them by hand truck in a pinch. Place several on roller dollies, link them end-to-end, and pull them along like a train. Coffins give you the optimal balance of easy portability and storage density.

There's even enough free space left in an occupied coffin for the occupant to stash some of their important belongings. That way if they have to be relocated while they're asleep, you don't have to worry about locating and packing their stuff. It's an evacuation capsule and a footlocker in one.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Core Concept

Vampires require a magic bond to something that symbolizes the death of their previous life; as seen in the eyes of who they used to be. To reject the death of their previous humanity means breaking the bond of undeath as surely as a stake through the heart.

Extensions

This means vampires never retain their previous human personality completely. To be a vampire means to be reborn as a different being even if their physical past was shared by another.

"Symbolizes the death... ...as seen through the eyes of who they used to be" still allows some flexibility, (or impossibility), of options depending on the culture's death rites. The symbol is presumably coffins because the culture buries their dead in coffins.

This rule can apply to the story of Dracula, who needed both a coffin and some of his original burial dirt as symbols of his death.

Optional

The different level of vampires could allow them to take on more of their humanity if they are stronger. The strongest vampires might seem very close to human and the weakest might be extremely bestial.

Sometimes vampires have the trope where the more lives they feed on, the stronger and less bestial they get. This could be because all those lives help sustain their humanity while at the same time enforcing their magic bond to death.

It is possible that the object that is bonded with could define very different sorts of vampires, which could explain why a culture that sends their dead down to the watery depths might still have vampires of a sort that are not bothered by water, but have some other weakness instead. (Assuming the weakness of running water exists otherwise)

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Being goth as heck is a mark of Vampire Pride.

Sure, there may be some sad, pathetic vampires who are uncomfortable with death and still try to act human. But death is the defining characteristic of vampire existence, and fully and openly embracing the inescapable reality of death is believed by many vampires to be the key to being a proud, strong, and mentally healthy vampire.

Consequently, sleeping in coffins, dressing like you're ready for a funeral and decorating your home with memento mori are common elements of vampire culture.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

It's comfortable

Coffins (at least some of them) often have cushioning inside. If you're a vampire, you might insist on it. When was the last time you saw a regular old chest with cushions? Do you like sleeping on hard, bare wood or stone? Why do you think a vampire would like it any better? Vampires sleep in coffins for the same reason you sleep on a bed with a mattress and pillows and blankets. They just have the additional need for protection from sunlight, so a coffin is just a bed with a lid.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Jewish vampires sleep in plain pine boxes. $\endgroup$
    – arp
    Feb 10 at 20:58
0
$\begingroup$

The first vampires were buried like all the human dead before them and for however long, no-one noticed anything odd.

Since vampire generally seem to come from noble blood-lines, they tended to be buried in well-made coffins, with quilted silk or satin lining so when some awoke, they felt quite comfortable in their new surroundings. Further, they could close the lids for a a bit peace and quiet…

With a few followers to serve as bearers, coffins would also provide a perfect cover for travelling near or far.

Then why would they want any other sleeping arrangements?

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.