Saturday, I attended the Fresh Fiction sponsored panel at our local Barnes and Noble. The topic discussed: getting fresh with vampires. No, not that fresh (although Robert Pattinson’s name did come up more than once). Instead, the panel explored the sensuality of the vampire, the appeal of the bad boy and the evolution of the trope that began with vampires as the villains.
Fresh Looks, Fresh Thoughts
Some of the questions asked included why do vampires appeal? Particularly as romantic leads? Does your first experience with vampires color the rest? For example, if you watched the Lugosi vampire films or Langella, would you have a different perspective from the person who may have read Anne Rice’s angst ridden gothic vampires?
Potentially, the answer is yes. In the 80s, vampires were still very much powerful, creatures of the night. It was rare to trust one and rarer still that the vampire would be worthy of the trust. No matter how good their intentions, their blood lust was a biological imperative – they had to have blood. Grief could send them into a tailspin or make them go dormant. Many vampires went to ground or to the sun when they could no longer bear their existence. Yet the bane in those days was not the drinking of blood or taking of lives – the bane was their longevity.
It was the endless nights without the kiss of the sun to mark time and watching civilizations decay while they remained ever the same. It was living as observers in a world where ever-mercurial humans changed in fashion, music, the arts and even religion on whims. Time was the bane of the vampire’s existence. This angst ate away at his or her sanity, driving them to connect with other vampires to assuage the loneliness within and finding that even that was not enough.
Modern Tropes and Incarnations
Time is not the enemy of the modern vampire. While some experience this angst, their need to connect with humans compels them. Stefan returning to Virginia, desperate to connect with Elena because she looks like Katherine, Henry Fitzroy driven to connect with private investigator Vicki Nelson in spite of himself. Angel wanting to love Buffy and be a part of her life, but forbidden because of the high cost. Then there is Spike who undergoes such a metamorphosis because of his love for Buffy, willing traveling to the ends of the Earth for a soul so he could be with her.
The modern vampire longs for the human connection, the connection of a partner or a lover who can share his or her existence. Yet, they do not want that partner to be a vampire necessarily – for some it is a curse, for others it is the competitiveness of the vampire. For others, the act of becoming a vampire leeches away the very essence that attracted their lover in the first place.
Like Romeo and Juliet before them, the concept of the doomed lovers appeals to romantics. A vampire with human lovers is the perfect example of doomed lovers who play with fire. Beyond the doomed lovers is the bad boy/girl appeal. Vampires are the ultimate loner and outsider, they epitomize that misunderstood and hard to connect with individuals. The right person, the right lover, can save them. They can be saved and they can be changed.
I cannot remember where I read the speculation about vampires representing the desire to control ones environment and in a world where we, as a society, confront numerous social and economical challenges, the vampire’s appeal is heightened. I don’t know if I agree with that theory. I think the trope of the vampire answered the psychological need for that which is forbidden, for freedom from time’s constraints. What is recession to a vampire? What is the shifting of ideologies and demagogy? What is disease? Vampires are beyond that. They are a safe bet – right up until Buffy or someone like her sticks a stake through their hearts.
Vampires are a challenge to the modern writer because they have so saturated the pop-culture and modern consciousness. They are a challenge to create for, to write about and to read. Once upon a time, every vampire book that comes out was to be savored – now, every vampire book is weighed and measured – amusingly enough, the greater the difference between the multiple types of vampires, the greater the appeal.
Food for Thought
Love them or hate them, the Twilight novels took a new approach to the vampire trope. They challenged modern conceptions of vampires and embraced a whole new generation to their way of thinking. Now, like the White Wolf game, multiple camps of vampire purists sprout up. Each convinced their particular brand of vampire is the worthy one.
I want to thank Candace Havens, Rosemary Clement-Moore and Gwen Reyes for getting me thinking. I know what my type of vampire is., what is yours?