Staff Musings

October 30, 2007

Vampires – Why?

Filed under: Horror — carricee @ 10:53 pm

I went to my neighborhood’s farmer’s market this morning, and was surrounded by the comforting, warming fruits of the fall season. Squashes, eggplants and sweet potatoes that have fed all year on the leavings of past veggies and leaves and other carbon-based life left the stands and went into my bag, for me to feed on this week.

See, with Halloween coming up, Robert suggested I should write a post on vampires, and since I’m a weirdo, I decided I should do some research first. So now I’ve been thinking about and reading about vampires for three days straight. So, fall vegetables make me think of death and feeding on life, and such. It’s ridiculous to go to a farmer’s market and think about vampires (except Bunnicula, of course)!

Robert’s idea was for me to talk about different vampires in books and film – not about how they relate to farmer’s markets. There are hundreds, if not thousands of depictions, all with differences large and small that could (have, actually) keep me writing for days. Vampires in myth and folklore have been around in some aspect in nearly every culture since the beginnings of recorded history. The mythos is what Jung would call part of our collective unconscious – that the psychological idea of the vampire is part of the human experience.

Of course, the first big vampire novel was Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Stoker was the first writer to make the vampire more than a shambling, blood-sucking monster. See, prior to him, vampires in myth and belief had been more akin to how we think of zombies today, except they liked blood instead of brains. Stoker turned the vampire into a romantic figure – charming, intelligent, stylish, but who nonetheless murdered people and (which was worse to the Victorian’s?) stole the virtue of many a young lady. He created the idea of the vampire as a sensual, pleasure driven being we see many of them as today – yet Dracula, despite his lust for sensual pleasures and a gothic aesthetic, still gives the reader the image of death and decay, despite the promise of everlasting life.

Dracula was made into several films, the most famous of which stars the legendary horror actor Bela Lugosi. Yet, despite the popularity of Stoker’s new image of the vampire, we didn’t see a huge amount of work being done on them until the last 30 years. Authors such as Chelsea Quinn Yarbo, Tonya Huff and Stephen King have all written, with great skill, about different vampires, but the big one came in 1976 – Anne Rice, and Interview with the Vampire.

One of the first novels to to be written from the vampire’s perspective, Interview struck a chord with people who didn’t feel they fit in. Always living apart from humanity, yet needing it; both to feed on and to assuage the terrible loneliness that comes with immortality, the vampire as created by Rice exerted a great pull on teenagers and others who have always felt alienated, as separate from the rest of their culture as the vampires in the novel are. Not only for the lonely; the romantic, brooding, and philosophical Louis in the book resonated with almost all who read it – and many of those who didn’t enjoy him particularly immediately fell for Lestat, Louis’ passionate and destructive creator. The aesthetics created by Rice also fed into the lore. Crumpled velvets, southern gothic, Parisian cabaret have all wormed their way into our cultural consciousness as part of what it is to be vampire.

Lestat’s passion for life also began to dispel the stench of morbidity and decay associated with the vampire image, for, despite him being essentially dead, it’s been nearly impossible for any reader to think of such a vibrant and chaotic character as a symbol for the grave. In fact, Lestat’s ecstatic grasp on life, so different from Louis’ melancholy, is one of the reasons so many young people searched for ways to emulate him.

In 1991, White Wolf, Inc. expanded on Rice’s idea of the vampire as a tortured soul and created the role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. The game was a huge, immediate hit among role-players, and brought lots of new people into the world of pencils and dice. LARPing, or live-action role playing, or, dressing up like your characters and running around in the woods or wherever, was incredibly popular with this game. White Wolf has continued the series and the current edition of the game is called Vampire: The Requiem. White Wolf games are well-known for the attention they put into their rulebooks; not only will you find the basics on how to roll your dice, make up your character, and beat each other over the head, their books are always beautifully designed with compelling narratives scattered throughout. Drawing on myth, alchemy, folklore, science, and the literary canon, the books inspired a new generation of creative thinkers.

These three books, Dracula, Interview with the Vampire, and Vampire: the Masquerade, led us to the explosion of vampire fiction we see today. The most popular romance novels feature vampire lovers, and of course, the horror section has no shortage of blood-suckers. Buffy and Anita Blake were only the first two women to be known as hunters of the vampire, (quite the twist on the mythos), many others have followed in their wake. It seems that we (the collective we) are turning the vampire myth on its head every time we want something different from it. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. Everything we’ve given to vampires – beauty, power, charm – we have ended up taking away. The power to rob young women of their virtue has been replaced by young women with stakes and witty comebacks – not to mention, women now seem to be robbing vampires of their virtue, at least from the few steamy vampire romances I’ve read. The elusive mystique of the vampire isn’t quite the same anymore. Are we losing interest? Is this the downslide of the vampire myth?

I don’t think so. The symbols of vampire are too universal, too powerful. The immortal, nearly all powerful being who lives off of our life essence – an anti-christ, a killer of babies and innocents in a velvet cape and top hat -has too strong a hold on our psyche. Jung believes the vampire is made from parts of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge – so we give them monstrous form. Perhaps as our forms, or our collective societal ideals change, what we find monstrous changes too? Or perhaps the vampire has simply been released from our subconscious and is being allowed to play in the world at will? Now that’s a fine twist on eternal life.

Maybe now I’ll be able to concentrate on vegetables.

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