I was once a big fan of vampires. As a child growing up in the late 1970s and 1980s, I
begged my parents to let me watch anything on TV that had a vampire in it. This included the well-known vampire movies, those starring Christopher Lee, and of course ‘Salem’s Lot. But this also included the odd and oft-times campy appearances of vampires. I’m talking lesser known movies like Vampire Circus (1972), the classic series Dark Shadows…heck, there was even a vampire story in an episode of BJ and the Bear. This last example notwithstanding, these creatures embodied everything that made horror so, well, horrifying: they were irredeemably sinister, and operated outside of human understanding. Images of shadowy creatures with bright eyes and blood stained teeth lurking in the darkness kept me up many nights, wishing desperately for the sun to rise so I could get some sleep.
But something has happened over the years, and it’s not just that I’m getting older. Vampires aren’t what they used to be. Somehow vampires have transformed from this:
Please don’t take this the wrong way. I am not in any way criticizing the writers or the fans of books, and the similarly themed movies and TV shows, such as those you see above. But let’s be honest…if it weren’t for the word “vampire” stamped across these, I would have been sure that I’d been misdirected to the Romance section by Amazon’s search engine. And of course, it’s not just books. Shows like True Blood and the Vampire Diaries, plus (of course) movies like Twilight, have turned the vampire into something that it shouldn’t be: boring. I am not passing judgment on the literary or entertainment qualities of any of these books or shows. I can’t, since I have never bothered to read them. And before anyone tosses out the “then how do you know they’re boring if you’ve never watched/read these” argument, I have a couple of things to back me up. First, you have to be either blind or incredibly insincere if you try to argue that vampires haven’t really changed over the past 20 years or so. Second, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. Vampires are everywhere now. At least, what passes for them these days. While I’m all for the creative treatment of just about anything, I’m just going to say what’s really on my mind: vampires can’t be heroes. They’re the living dead, they feed on blood, and they are unholy and incapable of love. There…it’s out.
Now, I love Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. Her works are examples of incredible creativity and powerful storytelling that demonstrates that there are no absolute rules in literature. However, I think Anne Rice did for vampires what Tolkien did for fantasy…she defined it so completely that most writers that have tried to emulate her (and these are legion) usually pale in comparison. But more significantly, I think what has happened since Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles publication is that the whole idea of a more “human” vampire has redefined the creature. Where once the vampire was defined by words such as “horrible,” “dark,” and “terrifying,” now it is “passionate,” erotic,” and “beautiful.” In my mind, in the world of horror, the vampire doesn’t need to be more human. The best horror is when the human struggles against inhumanity. Once upon a time, the vampire was the archetypal villain. We learned more about our protagonists as they struggled against the inconceivable horror of the vampire. Now, the vampire is simply a human who happens to be dead and has a substance abuse problem. One could argue that what has actually happened is that the vampire has been split into two different sub-genres…one classic, and one romantic or adventurous. If so, it makes no difference. The book shelves, various TV series, and movies have overwhelmed the image, and now I think the vampire has lost its edge. In short, it has become a sexual bore.
I’m sure there are plenty out there that disagree with me. I hope I haven’t offended anyone. I am hoping that I can generate some interesting discussions on this, though. What do you think? Is the vampire dead? Well, more dead? Or is this vampire genre more nuanced and fulfilling than I’ve portrayed?
I’ll continue this discussion a few days, when I publish my completely inaccurate, totally subjective history of the best and worst in vampire lore.
Not to put down what I write but I totally agree. I enjoy writing about savable vamps, but I like the rest of them to be a extra evil serial killer. I can’t stand all the romance novels with vampires and other mythological monsters.
For me, my “saved” vampires are an analogy to our own struggles with our sin. We can’t escape it just like they can’t escape their need for that which they used to be.
What little romance I have is to show the power of love, not lust.
But, I will say this, it makes me hesitate or even cringe at getting associated with these other works.
Thanks for sharing.
I actually thought about your work (in a good way) after I posted this. I knew that, as I voiced my displeasure at the current popular image of the vampire, I’d essentially be tossing out the baby with the bathwater. In fact, I know that when I stated “vampires can’t be heroes,” I was placing myself on the losing side of an argument between arbitrary rules and the creativity of writers. So I know that my position will be riddled with inconsistency. Anne Rice is one exception to my rule (at least, she is with Interview and Lestat…I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the other parts of her Chronicles). Your stories actually represent another exception…the idea of salvation. Salvation is a powerful idea that says the irredeemable can be redeemed. Done right, this can be a powerful allegory. I’m not too thrilled when this salvation is achieved through mundane notions of earthly love. But salvation through something greater, now that’s potent stuff. So please keep doing what you’re doing. The creativity of a gifted writer like yourself can carry such a powerful message through any mechanism, and the vampire as sinner is definitely a tale worth telling.
Awww, thanks so much. I’m flattered you thought of me while you we’re writing it. I find forgiveness seems to be a powerful motive for redemption. Thanks for the encouragement.
And, I think I’ll go put on my facebook status that I got compared to Ann Rice as one of the few good vampire writers. 😉 Interview with a Vampire is one of the best ever.
You’ve picked up on something which has been annoying me recently in this post, which is that if you try and look for a paranormal book, all you can find is ones like those featured in your post. Topless man posing, or hugging some half comatose woman from behind. Like you, I don’t begrudge that those kinds of books exist, just that people are starting to think that is all a paranormal novel is.
And vampires should be scary, and at least a little evil. I think it’s possible to have a vampire as the hero, but they should still have that darkness about them. It’s for that reason that I can’t stand Twilight (but fair enough anyone who likes it). Vampires should not whine or sparkle. They’re not vampires, they’re just pale teenagers.
That’s a terrific insight: “pale teenagers.” I think you’re right on there…I have noticed that a lot of the popularity of the vampire in popular culture comes from young adult literature (Twilight being Exhibit A). I’m guessing that there’s some kind of appeal for a dark, conflicted being with sex appeal. I can (sort of) understand it, too. Unfortunately, this angst-ridden vampire with the six-pack abs and bedroom eyes has a way of popping up, it seems, in almost anything dealing with vampires. Which is frustrating to those of us that place more stock in the mysterious, horrifying nature of the creature.