[written by writer, columnist and reviewer, Bertena Varney]
In the beginning was a bald monster with a long face, pointed ears and chin. He had elongated fingers and sharp talon claws and had lost its humanity and control over its monstrous side. The monster was lured to a young maiden’s window. All of a sudden, with a sudden rush that could not be foreseen–with a strange howling cry that was enough to awaken the terror in any beast, the figure seized the long tresses of hair. He held her to the bed…she screams…shrieks…and seizes her neck in his fang like teeth…a gush of blood and a hideous sucking noise follows. This picture of rape and torture is the bedroom scene of the 1847 penny dreadful, Varney the Vampire: Feast of Blood. The author Thomas Prest painted pictures of the vampire as a sexual monster wanting to devour women and in the women being very passive and weak. In these stories the vampire bite was a metaphor for rape and the monster wanted his victim aware of every agonizing violation. This is the vampire that was created when men ruled the horror world: a creature cursed to walk the earth for eternity searching not for love but for food.
Now today, the story reads more like this, “He met my eyes with his penetrating gaze. Suddenly it was hard to breathe. ..My heart pounded in my chest…my knees threatened to buckle. I had never seen such a gorgeous man…something about him felt dark and dangerous and desirable. I lifted my chin to give him better access to my neck. He smiled, showing a hint of fangs.” Lynda Hilburn, author of The Vampire Shrink discussed on her BlogSpot that since women have taken over the horror genre the vampire has evolved into a gorgeous, sensuous, sexual, romantic, bad boy of the night.
The rise in vampire literature has increased incredibly over the last decade. The current trend for this new genre of vampire romance literature is one that offers the readers an escape from the pressures of the real world while delivering to them either a soul mate or an erotic lover in the form of a vampire. So, just what is the lure of the dead boyfriend to the modern female reader?
The Vampire as an Escape
In a world filled with war and terrorism, many people look for ways to escape. The wives of the World War II era escaped their daily routines by reading romance novels and sharing them with their other married friends. At the time, their heroes were soldiers, firemen, and police officers that would rescue the women from whatever danger they faced. They were the savior of the young weak female lead character. In these stories both characters were written as physically perfect however it was the female that would have a helpless flaw or problem that only the lead character could fix. The hero would leave each day to do his “manly” job, come home to rescue her from whatever mess she would find herself, and at the end of the day would please her in every way. These were of what women would dream and read.
But, today the reader is no longer a dependent housewife who stays at home and cares for the family. As a result, fifty years later this literature has developed in much of the same way as the lead female character has developed. She is now financially independent and lives alone. She is no longer the buxom blonde but more of a girl next door type that the vampire finds so mysteriously alluring. She gets into trouble but does not need rescuing instead she assists in the adventure. She is her own hero that experiences this adventure equally with the vampire at her side. This is true of several series of vampire romance books, including the more popular Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris, Blood Series by Tanya Huff, Templar Vampires Series by Rene Lyons, and Vampire Shrink Series by Linda Hilburn.
In her book, The Vampire Shrink, Hilburn tells the story of a young psychologist named Kismet Knight. She does not believe in the paranormal but does want a little excitement in her life. She is bored with the life she leads and begins to look for something more but is shocked by the dark supernatural world she finds. This storyline is much like The Blood Series by Tanya Huff and her main female character. Vicki Nelson is also a non believer. She is a former police officer turned detective who has found herself in this dark world as well with not only vampires but witches and demons. In both series, Kismet and Vicki are pulled into a love triangle between a human law enforcement officer and a vampire. Kismet’s suitors are Alan Stevens, FBI profiler and Devereux, an 800 year old vampire. Vicki’s suitors are former police partner Mike Celluci and Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate vampire son of King Henry VIII. These suitors attempt to protect and empower their female loves but both the humans and the vampires offer something that the other cannot. The humans offer security, stability, and normality for the life that the female lead has always known. However, the vampire offers the “bad boy” appeal that most women have longed for at one time or another. They respect the female lead as a person but at the same time they want to protect and care for her. This is the quandary that many women face today while trying to be both independent and feminine. They want to prove that they can do anything that they want to but also let everyone know that just because they can do it all it does not mean that they have to do it all. Throughout these stories, vampires are not bound by human law and experience complete freedom. These bad boys are often flawed and need the female characters to help fix them, thus giving the female power over the male vampire. So, why not let this bad boy float into your window and allow you to escape your world, at least until the book ends.
The Vampire as a Soul Mate
Women in general tend to be open to finding their soul mate; they are not as judgmental and look for love in varying creature. These characters and their readers fall in love with these charismatic, aristocratic supernatural lovers that are looking for someone to complete them.
The vampire’s super human abilities are coupled only with their struggle to hate the monster within. They hate who they are and what they have to do in order to survive. Many are doomed to walk the earth and to repent of their sins from their previous life. During this internal struggle, these vampires tend to find their soul mate, that one woman who can deliver them from hell and love them all at the same time. This is the theme of The Templar Vampire Series by Rene Lyons. In this story there are five Templar Knights who fell from the grace of God by straying from his plan during the Crusades. Each of the five Templar Knights suffered a harsh childhood and an even more devastating adult life as a solider for God. They murdered, raped, pillaged, and stole all in the name of religion but as time went on their mission strayed as did their focus and commitment to God. As it was in history, Rene wrote that King Philip IV of France charged the Templar Knights with heresy and had them executed. But, this is where the author’s story changes history in this series of books. Five of the knights, Constantine, Lucian, Tristan, Sebastian, and Raphael were brought back from the dead by the archangel Michael. Michael thrusts his spear and pulls their heart from their chest. He declares that now they can only enter heaven once they find redemption in God’s eyes for all of their sins. He declares them “undead” “vampire” “soulless” and tells them that in order to earn this redemption they must find the Day Star and protect it till the time for their redemption arrives.
In Midnight Sun, Day Star, and Tempting Darkness, the Templar vampires struggle with the fact that they must find redemption and that if one of them fails then they all fail. Each book is the romantic adventure and story of each vampire and his chance at love and redemption. Each vampire struggles with who they were, who they have become, and the fear of damnation as each find that “light in the darkness” that makes them stronger and allows them to find redemption. Allison, Lexine, and Jessica are quiet “girl next door” types who may appear fragile but have the strength and courage to help and to handle the love of the vampires, Sebastian, Constantine, and Lucian respectively. They follow the basic pattern of most vampire romance novels. They are a little fearful and cautious at first; they struggle together through the adventure while denying their love; then an explosive erotic love scene brings the “meant to be” soul mates together. The romance is the novel, the completion of a soul.
The Vampire as an Erotic Lover
The vampire is a metaphor for sex and pleasure. In the repressed Victorian era, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, followed Varney in continuing with the dark erotic undertones. Dracula has been analyzed hundreds of times since it was published. A more popular interpretation was that of Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In that movie, Dracula is portrayed as a political statement of changing gender roles that were emerging at the time while softening the monster into the soul mate imagery as discussed earlier. But no matter the interpretation there are always bizarre erotic images. For example, the attack of Jonathan Harker by three female vampires shows strong images of group sex. But, the most erotic scene is when Mina is forced to drink Dracula’s blood from his chest. It is a form of reverse breast feeding that shows Dracula not only as the provider of life but the receiver of pleasure. At this time, the Count is an example of uncontrollable lust that is powerful, aggressive, and primal in nature. He is simply an example of parasitic love and a taboo of that time. But, the bite is ohhh so erotic.
In today’s literature the vampire have evolved into the perfect lover that can give the female everything she desires because they have had centuries of practice to share with her and her alone. Vampires know what women need and take the time to please them. For example, Sookie Stackhouse, the lead female character in The Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris begins as a virgin because she is a telepath and can hear every thought that her human suitors have while they are trying to romance her. She finds this distracting and even disturbing especially during make out sessions. She says, “It’s bad when you know that your date thinks your thighs are too fat”. When she meets Bill Compton, the local vampire, she finds that she cannot read his mind and that she can finally relax and enjoy the company of a man, even though he is undead. When her grandmother is killed, Bill begins to comfort her and they make love. The scene is one of complete attention and satisfaction of Sookie. She is the center of attention with every movement and action made for her pleasure. As time goes on Sookie becomes a more active participant and even the one in control at times offering her blood for his pleasure. This is the beginning of the showing of women being comfortable with their sexuality. But there is still the tie of emotion and of Bill being her first lover and vampire. In the real world this is not always the case and this is what draws women to this genre.
The vampire romance genre can range from mildly erotic to explicitly erotic. Women are not usually the consumers of film or print pornography because most are not usually visually stimulated. Women tend to lean towards written scenes to satisfy their desire. These vampire romance stories are just erotic enough to allow the reader to fantasize about what it would be like to be that particular female character. Many times this is seen in the huge fandom of each series.
Vampires are the new heroes of romance novels. They offer a soul mate concept with a lifetime of sexual experiences that is focused purely on the female. They offer escapism for the reader who is bored with her life as it is. For authors such as Tanya Huff, Rene Lyons, Charlaine Harris, and Lynda Hilburn their vampires are invincible and here to help their readers through their day. They will continue to bring their vampires into our bedroom to please us in many ways. Devereaux, Bill, Eric, Henry, Tristan, Raphael, Constantine, Lucian, and Sebastian will always be in the shadows of our dreams as well as forming our choices in our current mate or our search for one. Many readers wish for them to be floating outside their window and to have a chance to let them in, even if for just one night. This need for escapism will guarantee that the dead boyfriend is here to stay.