It seems like you can’t turn around sideways without bumping into a vampire these days. Books, TV, movies, and the internet all teem with the pale, the fanged and the dead. So why would an author create yet another one? Good question.
In folklore, vampires have existed for centuries. The Persians in Mesopotamia believed in blood drinking demons, and the ancient Greeks believed in Empusa, Lamia and the striges, all of whom drank the blood of living humans. Sanskrit folklore tells of the vetelas, or ghouls who inhabit corpses. Civilizations as disparate as ancient Rome, China and Indonesia all have stories of vampire-like creatures. These ancient beliefs were the foundation for more modern ideas.
Literary examples date from at least the 19th century, when John Polidori created Lord Ruthven, a character that drew heavily from Central European tradition. Bram Stoker’s Dracula had similar roots, and was truly the Godfather of many of the current vampire characters. Over time, the attributes associated with the tradition have evolved to include both the urbane and the animal-like, beings whose evil nature can barely be concealed as well as those who appear to be idealized humans.
Just as there is a tremendous variety in the way they are configured, there are a number of themes that are introduced in the narrative when a vampire shows up. Medieval villagers used vampire stories to explain what scared them, and so our contemporary culture is using these characters to filter our fears. They play around with our phobias about blood and contagion, and are a safe and entertaining way to introduce philosophical discussions about big issues like the soul and life and death. They are powerful and dangerous and therefore can be very sexy. Immortality, especially when one is young, beautiful, and wealthy, is a compelling fantasy.
In my novella A Vampire’s Deadly Delight, I wanted to take a stab at the vamp as seductive superpower. I was tired of reading about ordinary women who drop and spread their legs whenever one of the undead came sniffing around, so I created Jai. Vampires can’t keep their hands off her, and with the help of her trusty blade Mr. Sticky, her kiss is the end of their undead lives. Her irresistible sexuality twists our expectations about who is really in charge.
In another of my novels, the main character’s rebellious teenage daughter needed a boyfriend, and I couldn’t think of anything badder than a blood-sucking adolescent. The undead have become the new uber-bad-boys (and girls). In his “Oh Sookie” video, Snoop Dogg tries to make a case that a living man is as exciting as a dead one (and if you haven’t seen this gem of a pop cultural artifact, you should really check out the link http://bit.ly/zFBCIZ). “You outa Bon Temps” Snoop raps, “You need a Bon pimp/A real Don Juan/You might get whipped”. Even a guy with Snoop’s incorrigible charm – and bling – has trouble competing with the descendents of Dracula.
Some people would say vampires are finished. They say we should be making stories about zombies or angels or werewolves. Maybe today the fae are the hot new paranormal creature, and next week it’ll be demons. That’s all good, but we haven’t worked out our fascination with blood suckers yet. Their long history – and associated baggage – makes them both compelling and useful, allowing us to examine ourselves through their soulless eyes.
© 2012 by Liv Rancourt
Goss, Theodora “Folkroots: Vampires in Folklore and Literature”, (http://www.rofmag.com/folkroots/vampires-in-folklore-and-literature/)
Snoop Dogg, “Oh Sookie” music video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8tODhvb47s)
Wikipedia, “Vampire Folklore by Region” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire_folklore_by_region)