Saturday, 9 January 2010

Looking at the Workings- Vampires

Vampires have had a good, or at least extensive, press recently. They've probably shown up in more assorted fantasy, horror and even sci-fi books than almost any other creature in the last ten years. I've included them in mine. But what are they for, and what do they do to the books? Some thoughts:

  • There are broadly two strands of vampires. Well, probably dozens, really, but we'll settle on two for now. There are the ones derived at least loosely from Stoker's tradition, where they are at least a little bit sophisticated and seductive. Then there are the ones from older traditions, such as those mentioned in medieval stories of the supernatural, which are generally savage, bloated, and monstrous. The former informs most of the modern genre. Partly that's because it's what people have read, but partly, it's because there is simply more to do with that approach.
  • Vampires are about sex. Even before they started wearing leather trousers and becoming rock stars, they were still showing up in young women's rooms at night, and the biting is an obvious metaphor. Which leaves the infectious bite/creating more vampires angle as an interesting comment on either accidental pregnancy or STIs, depending on which way the author chooses to play it.
  • Since they crave blood and/or ketchup, depending on whether or not they're Count Duckula, they're also an opportunity for commenting on addiction. Incidentally, am I the only one who thinks that Duckula's plight is a brilliant rendering of the circumstances of the addict who has found a substitute, but who can fall off the wagon at any moment? I am?
  • The whole 'sunlight' issue is also intriguing, particularly since Stoker doesn't do it. Partly it's there to provide a rationale for vampires not controlling the whole world openly, so be careful about messing with it. Partly though, it provides them with an automatic outsider status.
  • Then there's the stuff with immortality and secrecy. The latter isn't required, but is pretty common. Again, it produces an outsider status, and a classic element of many vampire stories is discovering that they are there. The immortality is interesting, because it allows for 'young' characters who are nonetheless very knowledgeable.
  • Although there's a lot more that could be picked out of this, I'll make this the last one. Finally then, they're the undead that can probably fit in easiest with the human world. Certainly better than zombies. Even compared with werewolves and fey, they fit in well, because they were once human (unlike most faery folk) and they generally retain control over themselves.

1 comment:

Lisa Damian said...

Have you read Guillermo del Toro's recent novel, "The Strain?" It brings vampires back to the old savage tradition that you mention. They're blood-thirsty monsters with little humanity left in them. It was an intersting modern adaptation that varies from the popular sexy vampire.