Vampires. What can you do with them?

3 Nov

The following thoughts plaigerise freely and have no particular academic standing.

Obviously there were vampires in classical literature, but they weren’t all that interesting, so we’ll ignore them.

For long enough vampires were part of East European folklore, and then they started to pop up in Gothic literature, hence Lord Ruthven, Varney the Vampire and, probably pick of the bunch, Carmilla.

And then Bram Stoker said, ‘Let there be Dracula’ and the world changed. All of a sudden we had a fusion of folklore and Gothic vampirism.

It’s also worth noting that, although we tend to see Dracula as a period piece, it clearly wasn’t at the time of writing. If you’ve actually read Dracula, you would probably have been struck by the extent to which Bram Stoker refers to what would have been cutting edge technology, ie electric search lights, chorale hydrate, hypnotism, phrenology, phonographs and even some nascent attempts at forensic psychology.

It’s also worth noting that for Bram Stoker, Victorian London was the here and now. He was bringing an exotic, occult monster into his own backyard and grounding him in the mundane realities of life. (All a bit ungothic when you think about it).

From this perspective, you could say that Stephen King was essentially doing exactly the same thing in Salem’s Lot, except that for him the here and now was small town New England in the mid seventies. This is not to say that Salem’s Lot is no more than a rip off, it’s definitely worth reading if you’re into the genre (Although the ending’s a bit weak in my opinion). But I don’t think Stephen King was really doing very much in terms of extending the genre.

Interestingly there had already been attempts to move the genre on prior to Salem’s Lot. Notably Richard Matheson’s  I am Legend, first published in the 1950s, which has been adapted into films under the same title and also as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston.

Essentially what Matheson was doing was moving vampires over to a more scientific basis. In a way, you could see this as anticipating Whitley Strieber’s The Hunger. What Strieber also did was to write much of his novel from the vampire’s point of view, albeit in a 3rd person narrative.

I think the next major contribution would have been The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. She not only wrote from the vampires point of view, but also in a 1st person narrative, taking you right inside the vampire’s mind. Unfortunately, I don’t very much like being inside the minds of her vampires, they whine too much.

I don’t have much to say about the Dark Romance phenomenon, mostly because I haven’t read any of it. I did see one of the Twilight films and I can’t say it made me want to read the books.

Obviously I’m not a traditionalist, I like to see the genre moving on, but honestly, vampires who glitter in the sunlight? Please. Everyone knows they burst into flames, or at the very least collapse into sawdust. As for the whole “my boyfriend’s a vampire, ain’t that cool” thing, well I’m sorry but I prefer my vampires to be at least a little bit predatory.

Having said all this, I do approve of the secularisation of vampires. All that hissing at crucifixes might have worked in a predominantly Christian society, but in a multi-faith, multi-cultural society, I think certain realities have to be faced.

Essentially we have two possibilities. Either you take an ecumenical approach and have vampires equally repelled by emblems of all faiths, or you have to secularise and chuck the crosses and Holy Water out.

This incidently raises a question. Coming from a more or less Christian background I’m well accustomed to Christians using crosses to fend off evil, but I’m not sure that Jews would do the same with a Star of David, or Moslems with a crescent.

Perhaps there’s an interesting cross cultural study to be done here in which various methods of warding off evil in different faith groups are compared and contrasted.

Any takers?

Incidently Christopher Frayling has written at far greater length (And academic rigour) on this subject in Vampyres Lord Byron to Dracula. Unfortunately, as the title suggests, he stops with Bram Stoker.

Sequel please, anyone?

So to return to the question in the title.

What do you do with vampires.

Well, as I’ve suggested above, I think you have to start from a secular, if not scientific basis. Much though I respect the work of Richard Matheson and Whitley Strieber, I think there’s always going to be a problem with producing a scientific basis for vampires, unless you want to debunk them completely and have a porphyria suffering serial killer (Check out CSI Crime Scene Investigation for an episode that did precisely that).

Probably the best thing to do is to ground the vampire in real life (as in Bram Stoker/Stephen King et als) Maybe avoid the more extravagant occult features, ie turning into bats etc and beyond that ignore the science.

Beyond that, I think it’s interesting to think about how vampires, if they did exist, would fit themselves into human society, as I’m sure they would.

The sociology of vampirism? You kind of get hints of it in the Blade films and also in Underworld, but I’m not sure anyone’s gone into it in any detail.

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8 Responses to “Vampires. What can you do with them?”

  1. Lucille Hunter 04/01/2012 at 4:00 pm #

    I actually quite like Rice’s whiny vampires. Some might say that making vampires less cold-blooded killers and more conflicted head-cases makes them less frightening, but I like the idea of an immortal blood drinker who hates himself like Louis or throws tantrums like Lestat. I have some affection for Lestat though so maybe I’m biased.
    As for the Twilight saga, well, I could rant all day about everything wrong with Stephanie Meyer’s writing. Honestly, I think she introduced the fantasy aspect, the vampirism, just to have an excuse to make Edward really, really pretty and “dangerous” at the same time.
    I wrote about vampires myself once, at the tender age of fourteen or fifteen or so. My writing back then wasn’t particularly good, as you can imagine, but my vampires were less fantastical, more deadly, and they used their centuries of accumulated wisdom to have power and influence within society. Except for the main character, who was young by vampire standards, and just liked to mess around and eat people. Ah, my teenage brain.
    There was still something good about that main character of mine, although I can’t put my finger on it. Something enigmatic, although I don’t know if I intended to write him that way or if it just happened by accident. I reincarnated him, sort of, in later writings. He wasn’t a vampire of course, but I gave him a biting fetish as a homage to the original version. No one would get the joke except me, but I write for my own amusement anyway.

    • fekesh 05/01/2012 at 11:30 am #

      Maybe I was a bit harsh about Anne Rice. I liked ‘Interview with the Vampire’ and I do agree that she made a significant step forward in the genre, which I’ve written about more extensively elsewhere. On the other hand I waqs much more ambivalent about ‘The Vampire Lestat’. I described it to a friend as ‘sick but compulsive’, meaning that I found it disturbing in a way that I really didn’t like, but I kept on reading anyway. After that I moved on to other authors.
      Having said that, one of my favourite guilty pleasures is the film version of ‘Queen of the Damned’. I think they invented the word ‘louche’ for Stuart Townsend’s performance.
      (The first time I saw the film, he reminded me a lot of Brandon Lee in ‘The Crow’, a film I would recommend if you haven’t already seen it. I think you’d like it).
      I was interested in what you said about your writing. I like your idea about vampires influencing human affairs. Particularly since it’s a feature of a story I wrote myself.
      For some reason I’m attracted to characters who live for centuries. Hence the vampire thing. I did briefly flirt with the idea of writing about fallen (or at least semi-fallen) angels, but then I saw a film called ‘The Prophecy’ and found that someone had beaten me to it. (The film features Christopher Walken as a psychotic angel Gabriel, how could I resist?).
      I suppose you could say that I also write for my own amusement, but with me that’s not altogether a matter of choice. I’d gladly write for other people’s amusement if I could get anyone to read my stuff and I’d be more than willing to write for money if I could persuade anyone to pay me. (No luck yet, but I’m still working on it).
      It’s kind of depressing when you’re a corruptable bum and no one wants to corrupt you.

      • Lucille Hunter 05/01/2012 at 2:00 pm #

        I love The Crow. There was a TV series of it too, and I used to watch it faithfully, even though I was pretty young when it came out and it was quite dark, although not quite as heavy as the film. In fact, I watched a lot of dark stuff when I was young, including the television series of Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn, which was very gory and very messed up.
        I like characters that live for centuries too. I’m not sure why, maybe it gives me a chance to make them even more multi-faceted. The most recent immortal-ish character I wrote was a (very grumpy) wizard/necromancer type character in my Epic Fantasy Saga. Also, no one told me fantasy is so hard to write. I mean like, creating an entire new world with magic and races style fantasy. I’ve attempted to write decent introductory chapters about five or six times now. I didn’t half-ass it that much either, I created continents and languages and histories with timelines and wars and religions and I even drew maps, fantasy book style (here’s one: http://i.imgur.com/CAX6e.jpg although in “current” book it’s since all been changed and stuff for storytelling purposes, needs redrawn), so much planning! Yet I still feel I’ve not done enough planning. But I can’t give it up because the characters are in my head demanding to be written. 😛

      • fekesh 06/01/2012 at 11:59 am #

        I like your map. I went through a phase of trying to draw maps myself (preditably enough just after reading ‘Lord of the Rings’. All I managed to do was remind myself that I don’t have much artistic talent.
        I tend to find the hardest part of writing fantasy is making up names that don’t make you cringe when you use them. Tolkien obviously had the advantage of his background in languages. (I’m not much of a linguist either, but I know bits of Ancient Greek, Latin and a few words in other languages mostly from reading history).
        I think about the best fantasy stories I’ve read since ‘Lord of The Rings’ would be the ‘Tears of Artamon’ trilogy by Sarah Ashe.
        What I like about this trilogy is that Sarah Ashe does politics in a way that Tolkien didn’t. That is, she provides her characters with complex political/social/economic/religious motives. The kind of complex motives that drive human beings rather than having evil characters who are presumably driven by some existential need to do evil things.
        Jeb and George W Bush notwithstanding, there are lots of people who do evil thing who are not really ‘evil’ themselves. They might be arrogant, stupid, greedy or whatever but they don’t go down the ‘evil be thou my good’ route favoured by Lucifer. (It might seem like I’m slagging off Tolkien, I don’t mean to do that, I still love ‘Lord of the Rings’, all I’m really saying is that I thing Sarah Ashe has taken a necessary step forward from the starting point provided by Tolkien.
        She’s also shrewd in avoiding a Dark Ages/Medieval model for the world she creates. Her world includes flintlocks and steam ships and she scrupilously avoids having any character who is purely good or purely evil. She also brings a new twist to dragons.
        Anyway, I know what you mean about having characters in your head that have to be written about. I’ve got a couple of characters who’ve been floating around in the back of my mind who’ve been waiting for years (decades) for a story they can fit into.
        The really weird thing is that over a period of (many) years, I’ve actually come to look a bit like one of them. Maybe I should be looking for professional help.

  2. Lucille Hunter 06/01/2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Sarah Ashe sounds good. Fantasy wise I do recommend Scott Lynch and the Locke Lamora books. Like Sarah Ashe he avoids medieval/dark ages style things, the world he’s created is incredibly complex and really rather original and intricate. There’s a lot of politics involved and it too is very, very intricate. He bypasses the old good and evil cliches given that the main characters and heroes are actually thieves, albeit very smart, practiced thieves who involve themselves in elaborate, complicated con-games. They’re not the most easygoing of books, very plot-twisty and sometimes quite dark, but I really like them. The third one is due out March this year and if it actually does come out then I may squeal or something.
    Providing the character you now look like doesn’t have horns it can’t be that bad a thing, surely! Hopefully I will never end up looking like any of my characters because they are primarily men, and the few female characters are absolutely nothing like me. Not sure why that is, but it’s better than Stephanie Meyer and her ambiguous dark-haired heroine who she never actually described in any detail, so that all the teenage girls can project themselves into the role. Ugh.
    One day I’ll be able to have a discussion about literature/writing without throwing in a Stephanie Meyer jibe. One day.

    • fekesh 09/01/2012 at 3:28 pm #

      Aside from looking into it myself, I’ll have to let my pal know about Scott Lynch and Locke Lamora. Assuming he hasn’t already read them. He’s the one who told me about Sarah Ashe.
      Aside from being an IT dude, martial arts student, closet elf and an afficianado of the undead and alcoholic beverages, he’s also really into his fantasy, science fiction and general weirdness.
      I really think he should have his own TV series.
      As for Stephanie Meyer, I think she can probably survive the odd jibe. Think of it as a kind of cultural income tax for all the money she’s been raking in.

  3. stupidlittlegirl 20/01/2012 at 6:17 pm #

    I’m very into the Anita Blake: Vampire hunter novels, by Laurell. K. Hamilton, I like that she put some of her own twists on vampires, how vampire societies are run, and bases her stories on a reality where people are aware of vampires and they are legal citizens of the U.S. as well as a minority of other countries.

    Unfortunately in her later books, Hamilton gets carried away and the books become less about solving crimes and kicking preternatural ass and more about sex. But she has created a very interesting world and some interesting vampire traits.

    • fekesh 21/01/2012 at 7:34 pm #

      I’ve never read any of the Anita Blake books, but I think I’ve read a review of one of Laurell K. Hamilton’s more recent books somewhere and it seemed to make much the same point about her earlier work being much better.
      I’ll need to check them out. (I think that means adding her name to an ever extending list of author’s whose work I really need to have a look at some day).
      Thanks for the suggestion and the comments.

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