The above title was from a retweet that appeared on my timeline recently. It was tweeted by a literary agent and retweeted by another. Why would two people who are prone to receiving fantasy fiction have such a low view of such an important resident of Western fiction?
I got thinking about Vampires and their presence in literature last year when a friend tweeted a link to an this article: Why women love vampires and men don’t.
There are two main points in the article that I’d like to have a look at:
- Women love bad boys and the chance to change him, writer says
- Writer says a vampire is a monster, who looks, acts, and talks like a man
Without getting into a debate about what women do or do not love, I’d just like to say that these particular points are somewhat contradictory. No, perhaps contradictory is a bit too harsh. Just that perhaps the second point is so much more significant than the first that the bad-boy-loving women don’t realise how little chance they have of changing the monster.
A couple of years ago, I finally got around to reading Dracula (I love Project Gutenberg). Dracula is (of course) the archetypal literary vampire. A bad boy? Most certainly. Going to be changed by any woman? I don’t think so.
Before we go any further, let’s just make this clear: Dracula is Evil. Not just a bad boy, evil. Flashman was a bad boy. Heathcliffe was a bad boy (or at least became one). Wickham was a bad boy. Not Dracula.
Having said that, I can see how the tendency to move away from the monstrous and towards the sophisticated and beautiful creature of the night started with Dracula. He played the part of a Lord well. He was polite and clever and interesting. He was well dressed. Mysterious. He was also very attractive to women, but that was as much his supernatural power as anything else. But it was all just for show. He only acted and appeared like that so that he could live among his prey.
James Maliszewski reviewed Dracula in his Pulp Fantasy Library reviews. He said in his conclusion:
I find vampires to be both attractive and repulsive: attractive, because the idea of nearly-immortal damned souls stalking the night is a terrifying one; repulsive, because too few people nowadays look on vampires as unambiguously evil … I think there’s still a lot of punch left in vampires but most of that punch comes from contemplating their status as thralls of Hell (whether literally or metaphorically) rather than as forever-young demigods.
Wil Wheaton was a little less polite:
I’m so old, I remember when vampires were scary and awesome, and they only sparkled in daylight before bursting into flames
Before anyone else says it, I’m not trying to say that all vampires should be exactly like Dracula. Vampires (of various varieties) have existed in folklore for centuries and almost as long in literature. Dracula was just the one (thanks to Stoker and also to Bela Lugosi) that captured the public imagination. I haven’t looked far but I haven’t found any serious mention of vampires (recent literature excluded) that are just mostly bad and actually quite good on the inside, like an undead version of the Leader of the Pack.
I particularly like the vampires of the Dresden Files. While there are various breeds of vampires (the Black Court being “Stoker-standard”) they are all monsters. They are all (as Butcher puts it) “supernatural predators” who are basically just out to eat us. On the odd occasion where this is not true (The Brotherhood of St Giles, the odd White Court Vampire like Thomas) they are really just the exception that proves the rule.
My point? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Dracula-stereotyped vampires are cool. They are true vampires. If you want to mess with the archetype, then do so in a cool and original way.
I’ll leave you with another @wilw tweet that was just too good to leave out:
Lost Boys was a little silly but still ultracool, and Near Dark is the best vampire movie ever made. SUCK IT SPARKLEDORKS.
A disclaimer: I have neither read Twilight nor seen the big-screen version. I’m sure I shall one day (and, just like Harry Potter, I will no doubt do so in secret to preserve my precious reputation) but I’m one who tends to avoid pop-culture (of any sort) while everyone is still talking about it.