The Domestication of the Vampire

[written by writer and reviewer, Sharon Ring]

I’ve been wondering how we made it from this,

Fear me!

to this.

Erm...hello...

As we’ve moved through Vampire Awareness Month I’ve been reading each blog post with great interest. I wanted to understand how vampire fiction has evolved from its earliest days of folklore to eighteenth century poetry, into nineteenth century gothic novels and through into modern cinema and literature. I also wanted to understand how each person who contributed and commented throughout the month perceives the vampire on a more personal level. Just what is our fascination with these creatures, why does the myth persist and why are vampires, as far as I can tell, the most oft-used fictional genre monster? Seriously, how does the vampire, more than any other fictional creature, manage to successfully reinvent itself through the generations?

Before I get any deeper into this train of thought, let me tell you a little about my own introduction to the world of vampire fiction, both literary and cinematic.

My first vampire book was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, read at the tender age of eleven, and the first vampire movie was the TV miniseries of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, watched at around the same age. Both tales affected me deeply although they troubled me in quite different ways. What connected them however, despite the seventy-eight year difference in each story’s creation, was the presence of the evil predator in our midst. It seemed to me at such a young age that this “presence of evil” was the most vital aspect of the vampire mythology: all things considered, I still believe this to be the most important part of any well-told vampire tale.

It's me again...


Back to the present day. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly Neil Gaiman talked about “what vampires get to represent”. His point of view is that with each generation of readers and movie-watchers the vampire is given a fresh role to play, a role that reflects the morals and ideals of the world into which this new incarnation arrives. I have to agree with Gaiman on this to a certain extent; the movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read about vampires over the years have definitely moved the creature through a number of subtle and not-so-subtle changes. Looking at the overall picture, from the earliest fictional vampires right up to the present day, we can see how societal attitudes have shaped our depiction of the creatures. Repressed sexuality and gender inequality in Victorian times, xenophobia throughout both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the sexual revolution of the post-war western world, have all served to define the creature who stalks the pages of the vampire novel or who broods on the big screen.

Inevitably, and mostly for the good, this leads to huge differences in interpretation of the vampire myth. In both books and movies there appears to be a vampire for everyone: you can still find the predatory, murderous vampire if you look hard enough but most of what you’ll find out there, in mainstream cinema and paranormal romance novels particularly, seems a poor imitation of what most of us consider to be the “real” vampire.

Today’s most popular vampire, Edward Cullen, is a rather insipid looking, generically handsome brooding teenager. He attends school to give the impression of a “normal” life, in daylight no less. Not sunlight, mind, sunlight is dangerous. Why, we wonder? Will he smoulder and burn, disintegrating before Bella’s eyes? No, he fucking SPARKLES! Yes, he sparkles, and it just wouldn’t do to be seen sparkling now, would it? I’ll say no more on Twilight for a moment, lest I begin to smoulder and burn myself.

Where's that Cullen bloke? I'm hungry!

Vampires for the grown-ups don’t do much better. The most popular vampires out there now for adult readers and television watchers – True Blood – based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I like True Blood and I’d be a hypocrite to pretend otherwise. It has its fair share of gore and not all the vampires in it contain their bloodlust, far from it. Still, despite my fondness for the show (not the books, they’re bloody awful), I have got to say that True Blood is little more than vampire candy floss.

What we’ve done, ladies and gentlemen, in our endeavours to reinvent and re-imagine the modern vampire, is made him a little too much like ourselves. Gone is that sense of the true outsider, we’ve replaced that with a bunch of moody teenage vampires. Gone is the dangerous sexual predator, he’s been usurped by the caring and sharing vampire boyfriend.

We have domesticated one of our most feared monsters, made him (and her) handsome and pretty, with human emotions and a whole new way of life that allows them to enjoy a little intimacy with the human race. Their previous elusive and disturbing qualities are now diluted to the point where they may as well now be us, albeit with a vague aversion to sunlight.

In the same Entertainment Weekly interview, Gaiman says, “… it kind of feels like now we’re finishing a vampire wave; at the point where they’re everywhere.” I hope he’s right. When we’ve reached a point where vampires sparkle in the sunlight, it’s time to call it a day, at least for a while. Stick the vampires back in their coffins, hammer a few extra nails into the lid and don’t let them back out to play until they’ve re-grown their fangs and washed off all the glitter.

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About Mark S. Deniz

English Teacher, writer, editor, publisher, reviewer and blogger. Founder of publishing company Morrigan Books and imprint Gilgamesh Press and editor-in-chief for review site Beyond Fiction. Also cycles, plays floorball, listens to lots and lots of music, reads a ton of books and tries to fit in some TV, film and writing too. View all posts by Mark S. Deniz

5 responses to “The Domestication of the Vampire

  • kvtaylor

    You make some really, really excellent points. I wonder what it says about us (er, not me, just– “us” as a culture. Yeah) that we’re reverting to something super-victorian with the Cullen Vampires. Restraint, both sexual and in terms of bloodlust, seems to be the favored vampire metaphor again.

    “Twilight” reminds me of “Portrait of a Lady” in that way. Except that instead of lampooning the social screwed-upness of extreme self-denial, it’s completely serious and unselfconscious. (So much less charming too. And that’s not even getting into the writing, because I wouldn’t dare make a comparison there.) But it does speak to the point of vampires coming to embody whatever is most important to The Collective at the time.

    That said, a little candyfloss is good for the brain. If not so much for the teeth.

  • Lisa Damian

    Great post!

    I’m a big Neil Gaiman fan. I’ve read most of his prolific collection of work, from books to graphic novels to kids stories, and I had the pleasure of seeing him speak at C2E2 in Chicago recently. He’s simply brilliant.

    I’ve also read much of the vampire genre, from traditional horror to modern day romantic fantasy and young adult. Guillermo del Toro (director of Pan’s Labyrinth) has brought vampires full circle, back to their terrifyingly predatorial roots in his new series of books. Incidentally, I’m giving away copies of his first book in the series, The Strain, on my blog this week. Please feel free to stop by to enter.

  • Vampire Awareness Month: The Posts « Vampire Awareness Month

    [...] Ring felt the need to tell you all about the Domestication of the Vampire and why we should be ashamed of ourselves for what we’ve done to [...]

  • Anna Sayer

    The evolution of the vampire myth is one of the elements of vampires that fascinates me to no end. I read a great book called From Demons to Dracula (you can read my review of it here: http://www.loveofvampires.com/2010/vampire-book-from-demons-to-dracula/) that looks into the evolution at length. It’s one of the best vampire books I’ve read and gives you a rich background and insight as to where the myths are going today.

  • TerreEssa

    Look at it from the other side of the coin … perhaps its a reflection of us as a society identifying more with the elements which vampires traditionally represent; with each generation they seem less like monsters to us as what they represent, we consider more and more within the realm of human. (A pretty stark reflection of the times we’re living in!)

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