Why all the Vampires?

Posted on August 29, 2008 at 8:00 am

Vampires are really big this year. Breaking Dawn, the fourth volume in Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series was the most eagerly anticipated book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And one of the most popular events at Comic-Con was the panel for the upcoming movie with Kristen Stewart as Bella, the human girl who is in love with a vampire.

Also popular at Comic-Con was the appearance by Anna Paquin of the new HBO series True Blood, created by Alan Ball of “Six Feet Under” and “American Beauty.” In this series, the invention of a synthetic blood product has made it possible for vampires to “come out of the coffin” and join human society.

There are many reasons for the enduring appeal of the vampire myths, which date back thousands of years and recur in different forms in the folklore of many different cultures. The most popular modern conception is based in the Eastern European stories that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That has inspired classic movies from spooky classics (Dracula) to silly comedies (Dracula – Dead and Loving It, Once Bitten, and the unforgettably titled The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me but Your Teeth Are in My Neck). Vampires have been played by everyone from Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt to Jim Carrey, Wesley Snipes, Catherine Deneuve, the Coreys (Haim and Feldman), Humphrey Bogart, and in an hilarious SNL skit, James Woods. And they have been fought by everyone from Hugh Jackman to Buffy. in Shadow of the Vampire, Willem Dafoe plays a vampire playing a vampire, based on the mystery behind the filming of “Nosferatu,” which basically stole its entire story from Dracula but changed the name so they would not have to pay royalties.

One aspect of the vampire myth that is especially alluring is the idea of being un-killable. The life they lead may be perverse and tortured, but it is eternal. Ann Rice, author of Interview with a Vampire and its sequels, has said that it was the death of her child that inspired her to write a series of books about creatures who do not die. Her books have sold over 100 million copies. Certainly, the mixture of death and life that a vampire represents is a part of what draws us to the stories, helping us to explore our fears and desires. In the case of the Twilight series, the vampire adds another dimension. These days, writers of romances complain, it is harder and harder to find reasons for the couple in the story not to get together so quickly there is no time for — a story. The traditional obstacles keeping couples apart, especially cultural norms against having sex with someone you don’t know very well, seem quaint and out of date. But if the guy you like is a vampire and you are not, that’s a darn good reason not to get close any way other than emotionally and psychically. These books explore the deep romanticism of that kind of relationship.

The Canadian series Blood Ties is now showing on Lifetime. It is the story of an investigator specializing in the supernatural and it features “the sexy 450-year-old vampire, Henry” as her adviser and possible love interest. And “Moonlight,” the story of a private investigator turned into a vampire on his wedding night and now interested in a human woman, has been canceled by CBS but may return on another station.

More classic vampires:

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3 Replies to “Why all the Vampires?”

  1. Hi, Nell. I’ve always had a thing for vampires, was a big “Dark Shadows” and “Dracula” fan as a teenager, also a big “Buffy” fan. But, the best explanation I’ve heard is stories like “Dracula” represent male fears of uncontrolled female sexuality.
    In Coppola’s film, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” that is made very explicit. In the Hammer horror films of the 1960’s that starred Christopher, it was clear that it was all about sex. And it was sex without conscience, social constraints, or consequences.
    I’ve read the entire “Twilight” series. Although I wouldn’t have made the same choices as Meyer in her last book, I enjoyed the series and thought the last book was the best written and most gripping of the series.

  2. I think part of the fascination of vampires as a story device is that they bring up certain moral questions.
    If the vampire is the villain, it lets you ask questions about temptation and responsibility. A vampiric villain doesn’t just attack you, he seduces you and corrupts you. But he pits greater-than-natural powers of manipulation against your merely-mortal will, so how much are you really to blame if you fail? And how should the other characters treat one of their own who has been corrupted – are they redeemable or not?
    On the other hand, sympathetic vampire characters give a different perspective on temptation and responsibility. The predicament of these characters pits their self-control and consciously chosen morality against an innate, overpowering impulse to harm others. Often their survival means trying to find the lesser evil in a situation where it’s impossible to be wholly pure and good. It’s a story about the flaws in human nature – what do you do when you want to be good, but your will isn’t quite strong enough?

  3. This topic fascinates me quite a bit. I have noticed that some authors of steamy (read “erotic”) novels for women use the vampire theme. In fact there is a lot of eroticism and bold sexuality in many vampire novels, especially the more contemporary ones. Another example you left out of the literary (and now graphic novel) category is the Anita Blake series. (My personal favorite vampire is from Spider Robinson’s Tales of Callahan’s Saloon. The vampire is also an alcoholic and survives only by drinking the blood of winos.)
    Anyway, the sexual/erotic connection to the physical act of sucking blood is unmistakable. Given where the most rich blood supplies are located in the body, this is no surprise. The overlap with the once renowned “Erogenous Zones” is hard to ignore. However, having a vampire protagonist is a new innovation, working the paradox of monster/hero. Also, I am curious at the demographics of vampire novels – in that they seem to appeal more to women than men (which is not to say there are no male fans of vamps). Strong, suave characters who seduce the life from willing, eager women seems to be quite appealing. The romantic notion of sharing eternity as lovers seems to be a part of the appeal (“Moonlight” worked that theme for a few episodes – I like that show, and will miss it).
    I expect some English/Psychology double major will write a thesis on this very topic. It could be quite entertaining.

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