Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who Defanged the Children of the Night?

As a storyteller, vampires have always been engaging subject matter to watch, write or read. Why, though? When I was little, I watched Christopher Lee’s interpretation of Dracula on telly. I remember being scared absolutely s***less. Here was this big, looming man with a funny Eastern European accent who got into your room at night while you were sleeping to drink your blood. Yet, mingled with this fear, was something else, a dark romance perhaps. Dracula struck me as a particularly tragic figure. Later, when fascination replaced my fear, I saw him as a man damned to eternal loneliness.

Fast forward a few years to Gary Oldman as Dracula. There’s no doubt. Gary Oldman made Dracula sexy with a darker element of desire. Yes, Dracula was still a bloodsucker but damn, he was hot. He still possessed a beastly side, though, perhaps more so than earlier interpretations. I won’t easily forget that dreadful bat thing he turns into.

Vampires were still a thing to be feared, yes, but not for long. Anne Rice changed all that with her terminally egocentric vampire Lestat and his pal Louis. Vampires went from being dark, dangerous creatures of the night to wangsty drama queens with a penchant for lace frocks and pretty boys. From being death-dealers they became objects of lust, the kind you sigh about then get all wispy-eyed. Still, kudos to Anne for her world-building, there’s still something altogether “preternatural” about her writing and the amount of times she uses that word.

Author Poppy Z Brite kicked off her career with the very memorable Lost Souls, which was definitely a return to vampires as hedonistic killers rather than wimps. She added some grit and debauchery with memorable characters such as Nothing, Christian and Zillah, who thought nothing of ripping out throats, sans the wangst. Sadly (and perhaps wisely) Poppy elected to move onto other genres but her standalone vampire novel is definitely a keeper for the genre.

By then you’d reckon vampires were done for in the media, right? Most editors and publishers are assured to roll their eyes and hiss when yet another vampire yarn drops into their inbox.

No, it gets worse. The romance genre cottoned onto the idea that supernatural creatures, including vampires, were actually, erm, dead sexy. With a diversification in the genre, avid readers received loads of treats with neck-biting boinkfests. The vampire’s role as killer and drinker of human blood was downplayed to that of a tormented lover looking for his soul mate. Eternal love replaced eternal damnation.

No matter how much the publishers clamour that vampire fiction is undead, should be buried six feet under or staked and left to sift to ashes in the sun, the fact remains that people still want new stories about vampires and people continue writing stories about vampires. As long as there’s a market, there will be a product.

I’m not going to talk about the Buffyverse here. To be quite honest, I simply haven’t gotten into that milieu, so I’m going to skip it and go onto the dreaded Twilight phenomenon. I had no choice but to read all four books so I could catch copy-cat authors before they hoodwinked an unsuspecting editor (me). To put it mildly, it was a load of co-dependent obsessive relationships tangled in a lukewarm plot. Wangst on, and not a single fang or exposed carotid artery to be seen. Edward makes Louis look like a cold-hearted bitch. There’s a lot wrong with this story but it goes beyond the scope of this article to tell you why. If you’re morbidly curious, google “Edward abuses Bella” and see what you get. You’ll be reading until next year, if you have the stomach for it.

On the opposite end of the scale, if you're looking to be truly terrified (and I must admit I didn't have the courage to sit through the film) there's 28 Days of Night. Those vamps make Dracula look like a kitten and certainly our dear friend Edward Cullen wouldn't stand a snowflake's chance in Hell against those creatures.

The Southern Vampire Mysteries are worth looking into. Although a fair romantic element still seems evident, there’s a standard urban fantasy milieu here which has far more grit than Twilight. Having watched True Blood, the TV series based on the books, I’ve found the setting to be quite entertaining, slightly tongue-in-cheek and quite a good treatment of the vampire genre. Oh, and the vamps have fangs and OMG! They drink blood.

Henry Fitzroy, ably portrayed by the rather filthy gorgeous Kyle Schmid, is Canada's answer to True Blood's vamps in the now-discontinued Blood Ties. Yes, I know it's just a monster-of-the-week kinda show but oh, my, when the boy gets peeved, he's all mad-as-hell and definitely unhuman. And those eyes... **swoons** What seems to be working here is a happy blend of man and monster.

Any way we vamp fans look at it, we're definitely spoiled for choice nowadays. Gone are the somewhat cheesy black capes and penguin suits. Our vamps vary between the hideous and the oh-so-jooje but please, oh please... Don't allow them to turn into sparkly Marty Stus. Remember that they are creatures of the night that stalk at the edges of our dreams represent our attraction to the Other, a dark side of our personalities. What are we left with if we tame that?

1 comment:

Sandy said...


Roy King sent me your blog, so I stopped for a read. Amazing, I have never read a vampire story, and I keep hoping they go away before someone tells me I have to write one. Grin.

I gather you're living in Nebraska now. You poor thing. They're already having snow. I live in Missouri and our winters are similar to yours. I'm already hunkering down. Smile.

An interesting post, Toni.