The Domestication of the Vampire

[written by writer and reviewer, Sharon Ring]

I’ve been wondering how we made it from this,

Fear me!

to this.


As we’ve moved through Vampire Awareness Month I’ve been reading each blog post with great interest. I wanted to understand how vampire fiction has evolved from its earliest days of folklore to eighteenth century poetry, into nineteenth century gothic novels and through into modern cinema and literature. I also wanted to understand how each person who contributed and commented throughout the month perceives the vampire on a more personal level. Just what is our fascination with these creatures, why does the myth persist and why are vampires, as far as I can tell, the most oft-used fictional genre monster? Seriously, how does the vampire, more than any other fictional creature, manage to successfully reinvent itself through the generations?

Before I get any deeper into this train of thought, let me tell you a little about my own introduction to the world of vampire fiction, both literary and cinematic.

My first vampire book was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, read at the tender age of eleven, and the first vampire movie was the TV miniseries of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, watched at around the same age. Both tales affected me deeply although they troubled me in quite different ways. What connected them however, despite the seventy-eight year difference in each story’s creation, was the presence of the evil predator in our midst. It seemed to me at such a young age that this “presence of evil” was the most vital aspect of the vampire mythology: all things considered, I still believe this to be the most important part of any well-told vampire tale.

It's me again...

Back to the present day. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly Neil Gaiman talked about “what vampires get to represent”. His point of view is that with each generation of readers and movie-watchers the vampire is given a fresh role to play, a role that reflects the morals and ideals of the world into which this new incarnation arrives. I have to agree with Gaiman on this to a certain extent; the movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read about vampires over the years have definitely moved the creature through a number of subtle and not-so-subtle changes. Looking at the overall picture, from the earliest fictional vampires right up to the present day, we can see how societal attitudes have shaped our depiction of the creatures. Repressed sexuality and gender inequality in Victorian times, xenophobia throughout both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the sexual revolution of the post-war western world, have all served to define the creature who stalks the pages of the vampire novel or who broods on the big screen.

Inevitably, and mostly for the good, this leads to huge differences in interpretation of the vampire myth. In both books and movies there appears to be a vampire for everyone: you can still find the predatory, murderous vampire if you look hard enough but most of what you’ll find out there, in mainstream cinema and paranormal romance novels particularly, seems a poor imitation of what most of us consider to be the “real” vampire.

Today’s most popular vampire, Edward Cullen, is a rather insipid looking, generically handsome brooding teenager. He attends school to give the impression of a “normal” life, in daylight no less. Not sunlight, mind, sunlight is dangerous. Why, we wonder? Will he smoulder and burn, disintegrating before Bella’s eyes? No, he fucking SPARKLES! Yes, he sparkles, and it just wouldn’t do to be seen sparkling now, would it? I’ll say no more on Twilight for a moment, lest I begin to smoulder and burn myself.

Where's that Cullen bloke? I'm hungry!

Vampires for the grown-ups don’t do much better. The most popular vampires out there now for adult readers and television watchers – True Blood – based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I like True Blood and I’d be a hypocrite to pretend otherwise. It has its fair share of gore and not all the vampires in it contain their bloodlust, far from it. Still, despite my fondness for the show (not the books, they’re bloody awful), I have got to say that True Blood is little more than vampire candy floss.

What we’ve done, ladies and gentlemen, in our endeavours to reinvent and re-imagine the modern vampire, is made him a little too much like ourselves. Gone is that sense of the true outsider, we’ve replaced that with a bunch of moody teenage vampires. Gone is the dangerous sexual predator, he’s been usurped by the caring and sharing vampire boyfriend.

We have domesticated one of our most feared monsters, made him (and her) handsome and pretty, with human emotions and a whole new way of life that allows them to enjoy a little intimacy with the human race. Their previous elusive and disturbing qualities are now diluted to the point where they may as well now be us, albeit with a vague aversion to sunlight.

In the same Entertainment Weekly interview, Gaiman says, “… it kind of feels like now we’re finishing a vampire wave; at the point where they’re everywhere.” I hope he’s right. When we’ve reached a point where vampires sparkle in the sunlight, it’s time to call it a day, at least for a while. Stick the vampires back in their coffins, hammer a few extra nails into the lid and don’t let them back out to play until they’ve re-grown their fangs and washed off all the glitter.


The Cullen Paradox

[written by author, Louise Morgan]

Edward Cullen has no bed.

Edward Cullen's room, 'Twilight'

It’s a small thing – a plot point, really – and yet if anything sums up the vampires of Twilight, that’s it.

These are nu-vampires. The Lost Boys ride motorbikes, Edward Cullen drives a Volvo; the vampires of Near Dark spend their time in sleazy bars and motels while the Cullens play baseball. So, somehow, regardless of the number of times Edward Cullen warns Bella he could kill her (and that he’s actually having a bit of bother in stopping himself) you can never quite bring yourself to believe him. Mostly because he drives a Volvo.

The thing is, vampires like David and Severen never needed to tell you that they’re dangerous. It’s apparent with every move, every look; to paraphrase Drusilla, they reek of death. In a good way, of course. The Twilight vampires, by comparison, are strangely anaemic.

Let’s get back to Edward’s bed, so to speak. It’s a throwaway point in the film, used to emphasise his otherworldliness: what could be more alien than a man who never sleeps? But it’s not just that, is it? Like the “vegetarianism” of the Cullens, it’s a signal that the two appetites we most associate with vampires – blood and sex – don’t come into play here. Edward, despite his protests, is safe. He behaves as a gentleman who wants to protect Bella from harm, from the world… from himself; whether she likes it or not. Interestingly, the “bad” vampires of Twilight are the only ones who express any real sexuality at all: tracker James is described as Victoria’s “mate” – as though they are feral in all respects, not merely because they feed on humans.

The Cullens, then, are quite the opposite: Carlisle is a doctor – that most respected of small-town professions. They have a large, airy house and project the image of a close-knit family. And they go to school. Remember the wall of graduation caps in the Cullens’ house: when did the Lost Boys’ motto of “sleep all day, party all night” become “never sleep, get good grades”? No wonder Edward is so reluctant to consider Bella becoming a vampire: for all his talk of becoming a monster, he’s clearly more worried about condemning her to an eternity of double maths.

Graduation caps in the Cullen house, 'Twilight'

Like Edward’s missing bed, this lies at the heart of the Cullen paradox: here are a group of vampires who seem to go against everything we associate with that word: no blood, no sex… and far from being the outsiders we expect, they set up home, build lives and cling to them for as long as they can (“The younger we start out in a new place, the longer we can stay there”). No wonder we find them so frustrating.

But are we all treating Twilight too harshly? After all, this is essentially a teen (or “young adult”) phenomenon that has crossed over into the mainstream: can we really expect to judge it by the same criteria as films like Near Dark or The Lost Boys? In the case of the former, perhaps not: but for The Lost Boys – aimed at teens, featuring teenage characters, it seems entirely reasonable… and yet in a side-by-side comparison Twilight comes up wanting. Its vampires are unsatisfying, missing that spark – that mesmerising, seductive something. They’re interesting, but to me, they’re not really vampires: at least, not ones I could easily recognise. I’m not sure they even have fangs.

Regardless of what you or I might think of Stephenie Meyer and her creation, Twilight has sold over 2 million copies… and it’s fairly safe to assume that the Cullens are here to stay. A whole new generation has been introduced to the concept of vampires through these books and films; with new ideas, new rules and new mythologies. Whether they can ever grow to love them remains to be seen.