Vampires


Occasionally, I have the opportunity to make a total fool of myself in public whenever someone mentions pop culture vampires.  I make a fool of myself because this invariably leads me into a rant about fictional monsters that were only invented in the last 300 years (the term “vampire,” anyway, has been around that long, though vampire-like monsters have been around since the beginning of stories).  I look the fool because no one else seems to take seriously this most vile of monsters anymore.  This is totally acceptable, since they are make-believe and definitely aren’t going to suddenly pop up to steal away your teenage daughter’s heart (literally or figuratively).  However, I thought that by writing down my argument, I can send people here rather than ranting like a madwoman in public.

Vampires, like most other monsters created by man, are an expression of a basic human fear.  Fear of the Dark and Death are expressions of fear of the unknown.  Werewolves are the fear of the “beast within,” so to speak.  Zombies are a fear of another’s dominion  over you or loss of personal identity (depending on the type of zombie).  Vampires are at the top of the chain, seemingly, when it comes to monsters.  Most modern interpretations define them as the perfect hunters for mankind and it isn’t the speed, the strength or the sharp teeth that will get you.  Vampires have a penchant for making you want to be caught.  Vampires are the embodiment of temptation.

How do I know?  Well, it is a bit obvious if you look at the fact sheet.  In most modern stories (that I’ve come across), the vampire is inhumanly attractive and other mere mortal characters are drawn to it physically or emotionally.  The sexual allure of vampires speaks to age-old sanctions on prolific sexuality in society.  Dracula, written in the late 1800’s during the notoriously chaste Victorian Era, has several examples of indecent behavior perpetrated by the vampires (Jonathan with the Brides, Lucy with Dracula and the seduction of Mina, not to mention eating with people of the opposite gender).  It seems, especially in modern vampire stories, you can’t have vampires without sex and lust is the chief of temptations among people.  In fact, vampires seem to live by the Seven Deadly Sins.  Lust is the obvious one.  Then there’s Wrath (we’ve all seen angry vampires), Pride (another obvious one), Greed (always on the hunt for instant gratification), Envy (remember, they were human once and preying on people is frequently a means of punishing humanity for still being human), Gluttony (also pretty obvious) and Sloth (they sleep all day).  Some of those are a bit of a stretch, but that doesn’t change the fact that vampires are sin incarnate.  In their lifestyle and behavior, they are constantly exhibiting what humans would be like if given the chance at eternity on Earth.  They’d have very few scruples, lots of sex and drink (not…wine) at every opportunity.

Also, if you consider how you defend against and dispatch a vampire, you will see how they embody the human fear of temptation.  What are the most sure defenses against vampires (that don’t sparkle)?  Religious icons.  (This is an area where I disagree with the vampire mythology, but only because I believe the power of God and Jesus doesn’t reside merely in two crossed sticks but in the faith of the believer.)  And how is a person supposed to ward off temptation?  Faith and prayer, but not flagellation (because that’s just silly).  Most of the mythology was written when people were mighty superstitious (horse shoes over doors, leaving out milk for the faeries, etc).  The belief that the cross would protect you from evil (even if you were a non-believer by today’s standards) harkens back to the charms used for similar purpose by pagans, witches, druids and most other religions in human history.  The fact that vampires are deterred by these items (crosses, Bibles, churches) lets the reader know that they are evil and frequently destroys the glamorous image that the vampire was projecting.

The next stage is destroying the vampire.  Once again, old superstition comes into play here.  The best way to take out a vampire is sunlight.  Why?  Because evil can’t abide sunlight (because sunlight is pure and represents goodness, life, etc).  Which everyone knows is ridiculous.  The sun isn’t good or evil.  It’s just the sun.  Lots of evil people have spent their entire lives not bursting into flame (e.g. Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, etc).  Believing that daylight will protect you from evil is along the same lines as wearing a cross makes you a good Christian.  Just last week, in my sleepy little Podunk town, a guy tried to rape a girl at her car in the parking lot of the community college.  At noon.  In broad daylight.  With students everywhere to witness.  Tell me that isn’t messed up.  But I digress.  Destroying vampires with sunlight is supposed to represent how evil they are, thus any attraction to them we feel is temptation toward evil.  (Interestingly enough, the other methods for dispatching a vampire would work on a human too: stabbing the heart, chopping off the head, though I’m sure stuffing the mouth full of garlic, garlic being a symbol for purity and healing, post-mortem is completely unnecessary).

I think it’s pretty plain that vampires are evil and that the attraction of humans to them is an extremely clever evolution of hunting techniques (though it isn’t unique, there are several carnivorous species that use pheromones, like the Venus fly trap, to attract their prey).  Plus, the whole drinking blood thing is definitely against Old Testament laws (the ones that say blood is unclean and that’s why women are evil).  There’s also the immortality factor.  The major reason Christians aspire to be Christ-like (besides that warm fuzzy we get) is to go to heaven (and spend eternity with Christ).  Which makes vampires a blasphemy as well.  Vampires are immortal, yes?  That means that they found a path to immortality that isn’t through Christ (BIG no-no) and they frequently use that Earthly immortality to do very bad things (i.e. lots of sex with pale ladies in lace nighties and the occasional bag-full-o-babies for the vampire Brides).  That sacrilege makes them just about the worst monsters ever.  And that can teach a valuable lesson, which is the other reason we have monsters in the first place.

What is it that vampire mythology tries to teach us?  Giving in to temptation never does anyone any good.  You’ll either die immediately or be turned into a vampire and die when the plucky hero defeats your many (flimsy) defenses and plunges a wooden stick in your aorta.  Then all your riches will be plundered by the village mob, drunk with violence, and your body will turn to dust and blow away (unless you’re Dracula).  Vampires also teach that evil is a choice, part of the curse of free will.  A major tenet of the mythology is that vampires may not enter a home unless invited (based on superstition that the home is a safe place).  This may seem silly, but it does have relevance.  Essentially, man was given free will.  The Devil was given the job of tempting man.  Man chooses to do evil or resist, but it is always his decision.  Evil cannot burst into your home (soul, heart, chakra, whatever) without an invitation.  This is true on many levels and many perspectives.  It is also what trumps the “Devil made me do it” defense.  The Devil can’t make you do anything unless you let him.  It’s what makes evil so evil.

Now, you might be wondering “Why, God, why did I start reading this?”  Or, then again, you might be curious as to why I get into this rant in public, what my trigger is.  I’ll tell you, if you haven’t guessed it: Twilight.  Don’t object.  Don’t scoff.  Not yet.  I read the books, twice.  I found them enjoyable reads, though not something that would ever find its way onto the same shelf as my favorites.  At the time of reading, I could identify with the lead character somewhat.  Then the movies came out.  That killed all interest for me (bad acting, bad scripts, bad cinematography, need I go on?).  The movies were not the worst part.  I can forgive bad movies because they happen all the time.  It’s the fans that sicken me.  (I don’t get the Team Edward/Jacob thing.  If you’ve read the books, you know who wins.  Duh.)  They think it’s so romantic that a lecherous old monster is interested with a teenage girl.  Ugh.  But the highest crime of the series is imbedded in the books themselves.  Stephanie Meyers vampire mythology is, frankly, crap.  Most vampire mythology has them being very secretive because if the world found out about them, there would be a lot more mobs knocking at the castle door.  Secrecy is essential because vampires are vulnerable to humans!

The Twilight vampires have no such worries.  They can only be killed by other vampires (and the non-European werewolves, for some reason).  Their skin is like marble, without any vulnerable areas through which to plunge your trusty stake.  Neither are they in danger from fire (it won’t even mess up their awesome hair) nor repelled by garlic nor religious icons.  Most damning of all is that instead of bursting into unholy flames in sunlight, they sparkle.  Yelch.  Add that to their Superman powers (speed, strength, monkey tree climbing skills) and their numerous special abilities (telepathy, telekinesis, premonitions, etc) and they are at the tip-top of the food chain.  Which all sounds pretty good for the vampires and begs the question, “Why do you keep your existence secret?”  They have nothing to fear from the mobs of puny humans.  They should just cattle the human race and be done with it.  Instead, they threaten their own kind with dismemberment for any indiscretion that causes undo attention from the meat.  Because, you know, that would ruin all the fun, or something.

But, okay, maybe they are vulnerable to nuclear weapons and that’s why they want to keep themselves secret.  Maybe farming people would just ruin the taste.  That doesn’t excuse the greatest sin perpetrated by the Twilighters.  You have eternity.  You are virtually invulnerable and immortal in every way.  You can do anything you want because (apparently) all vampires are exceedingly rich because time makes you prosperous rather than more and more broke.  What do you do?  Of course.  GO BACK TO HIGH SCHOOL!  Por que?  Did anyone ever learn anything in high school that wasn’t to do with “how not to get flushed down the toilet?”  I get wanting to further your education, but seriously?  That’s just creepy.  It’s like the alumni who keep coming back to high school to hang out with the faculty cuz all their friends have graduated.  Ick.  Go to college and stop philandering with the jail bait, okay?

That is my rant, so far.  I probably missed some key points (please point them out for me, this is one of my favorite debate topics, if you can’t tell).  I know some people (Uno, I’m talking to you) who will say that this is silly because it’s fictitious and there really don’t need to be any rules.  I say, if you want a good story, you have to make your monster plausible.  You make him scary but flawed or you will ruin the suspension of disbelief.

For more Vampire reading:

Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” is a great place to start.  (The movie Nosferatu [1922] is a surprisingly creepy plagiarized version of it and the movie Shadow of the Vampire is based around that.  I recommend both.)  If you’re not up for reading the novel (which can be dry compared to modern interpretations) check out the Marvel graphic novel adaptation.  It’s pretty accurate and full of pretty pictures to hold your attention longer.

Anne Rice is pretty infamous for her “Vampire Chronicles”.  They aren’t my favorite, but she does tell a good story.  You can also watch Interview with the Vampire, which is an excellent movie, in my opinion.

Terry Pratchett has a few excellent vampire-themed books in his Discworld series that are worth reading (specifically “Carpe Jugulum”).

Christopher Moore’s Vampire series is one of my absolute favorites (“Blood-sucking Fiends”, “You Suck” and “Bite Me”).  Really funny!

The best vampire book I’ve ever read is “Sunshine” by Robin McKinley.  I can’t get enough of it!

If you have any reading suggestions (for Vampires), post please.  I’m always on the lookout for new series.  (I’ve read some of the Sookie Stackhouse and Anita Blake novels and am not really a fan.  Any other suggestions are welcome.)

I must make an amendment.  The vampires I’m most knowledgeable about are the modern vampires most easily recognized as the descendents of Dracula.  However, I have just learned that there was an earlier portrayal of an aristocratic blood-sucker written by John William Polidori in 1819.  His description of a beautiful and dangerous upper-class predator was supposedly based on his close acquaintance and notorious rapscallion George Gordon, Lord Byron.  Thus, Lord Byron was the first contemporary vampire, which seems to fit his reputation quite nicely.

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14 Comments

Filed under Ramblings

14 responses to “Vampires

  1. Good gracious, this is long.

  2. you neglect that the only reason those literary traditions for vampires exist is because people started wanting to fictionalize them. previous to bram stoker, vampires were different by region and the only things they had in common was a lust for blood and undeath. fears of vampires and other undead go back as far as we have written account, which goes a long way to explaining a lot of interesting burial rites, such as the roman habit of putting bricks in the mouths of plague victims or the mouth full of garlic, etc.

    hell, even creating a vampire was different from region to region. i’m told that in a part of transylvania, one could become a vampire just by having your pumpkins rot.

    and before Stoker, not all vampires were alluring sex gods who represented the seedy underbelly of repressed desires. there’s one that never even left the coffin to feed, his/her spirit went out to feed at night and the tell-tale sign of vampirism was an undecayed corpse in a coffin of blood upon exhumation.

    and let’s not even start with asian varieties of things.

    • You have several excellent points. I much prefer the Pre-Dracula vampires because they weren’t about (primarily) sex. They were ghouls and creepy and often completely insane royalty (that woman that bathed in the blood of up to 800 virgins, ick). I guess I got focused on the post-Dracula fictionalized vampires you see in books and movies in the last hundred years. Mostly, it’s because that’s the only type of vampires people seem to remember now. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to study much of Eastern mythology (they don’t offer an Eastern Civ class at the college). You are still kind of proving my point (that I don’t think I elaborated enough on) that vampires represent a basic, universal human fear. It’s just harder to pin down specifically what fear because, like you said, the monsters varied from region to region.

      • lady bathory is the lady who bathed in virgin’s blood.

        and i’m not trying to disprove your point about the whys and wherefores of vampire mythology, just that vampire stories and fears are a lot older than 300 years. we have been afraid of what lurks in the dark since we knew what the dark was, and it’s only been recently in human history that we’ve been taking all these memes of unknown fears and coalescing them into single stereotypes and giving them rules.

        and the primary reason the twilight vampires are so unlike vampires anywhere else is because Meyers deliberately ignored and refused to learn anything previously written about them and started with a fresh slate. i still don’t understand why the heroine had to be a teenager though, it could’ve probably worked at any age level under 25

        also, as culture changes, so does the things that vampires represent. while there’s a ton of sex and sexiness involved, the fear there is different these days. since the 80’s, vampires became more like STDs and vicious parasites — also playing on the sex fear — and with twilight, it seems to be the idea that sex is dangerous, even after marriage.

        but for a real study in horror culture and changing attitudes, look at zombies.

        • Seriously. I bet you could wax poetic on some zombie lore, eh? Oh, I hope one day I attend a college that offers a class on monsters. There is so much to learn!

      • psh, i never went to school for monsters, i read books.

  3. Anonymous

    Ahhh, Sunshine. . . that was a fantastic book. Do you think the author will follow up with a second? Let me know if you hear anything about it! No comment about the rant itself, I heard it from you in person on no less than 5 occasions! (And if I have terrible grammar please ignore it, no college and high school was a very. . . very. . . very long time ago!)

    • Anonymous

      This was Brandi by the way. . . will figure out how to log in next time. . .

    • Thanks, honey. Glad you remembered. You one of the people I was thinking of when I wrote it (cuz you always knew how to get me started!). I do hope she does a sequel but last I checked the website (oh, years ago) she didn’t have any intention of carrying it on. Definite shame, unless she maybe does something from that universe or similar. I haven’t really fallen for any of her other books, but Sunshine was simply brilliant.

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