Nasty, filthy, evil creatures. That's what vampires are. They only look beautiful on the outside, but their intentions are terribly dishonorable. They swoop down on us from the dark, they grasp us in their unbreakable grip, they suck out our blood. Sometimes they seduce us into having sex with them. Really great sex. Sometimes they even make us into one of them.
Awful. No wonder we hate and fear and despise them.
Hmm. They have inhumanly spectacular sex with us. They convert us into beautiful, seductive immortal beings. Doesn't really sound all that bad, does it?
Vampires of various types have been around in fiction for a long time and in most cultures, but for modern Western readers, it all began with Bram Stoker's Dracula. By tying his vampire to an actual historical figure and a geographical location, Stoker introduced something new and set the pattern that many other writers have followed since then.
He also provided fodder for a whole range of odd theories about what Count Dracula represents and just why he attracts us even as he terrifies us. (Because fictional creations apparently have to represent something. It's inconceivable that they are only what they appear to be, that they are intended to function as characters in a story and nothing else.)
Here are some of things vampires are said to represent. Note that these are generally negative images or metaphors, or seem to be reasons why we should disapprove of the use of vampire characters in fiction.
Did that hatred and contempt exist on any wide scale? The English of Stoker's day seemed to be fascinated by Eastern Europe, not repelled by it. More to the point, I think this theory stems from confusion. There was a belief rampant in Stoker's England that the German Empire was under the control of various "Orientals" - Middle Easterners, mainly Jews. That was the real reason the Germans were behaving so badly. The prejudice was not against the Central and Eastern Europeans themselves. Moreover, in the Stoker novel, when the count speaks of his Eastern European past and his battles against the Turks, he becomes a heroic figure, intimidating but admirable.
This is an odd one. Apparently, Dracula's castle isn't a castle at all. It's a symbol of deadly female genitalia. It also houses Dracula's wives, a gang of truly seductive bloodsuckers, which no doubt further proves the point. This idea is based on the old stereotype of the Victorians as afraid of sex and of women's sexuality. The truth of the matter is that they were even more obsessed with sex than we moderns are, but, unlike us, they considered it inappropriate to talk about it.
Certainly there are various flavors of barely repressed homoeroticism bubbling beneath the surface of Stoker's novel, and it bubbles over in modern vampire novels, many of whose vampires are lustfully bisexual. But the idea that vampire novels therefore express homophobia rests on the false assumption that depictions of homosexual activity must signify disapproval.
This one seems to be widely accepted without argument. I find it quite odd. There are a few fictional vampires who dislike their state or fight against it, but from Dracula on, most of them are quite happy to be powerful immortals glowing with lots of sex appeal. Nor can blood be compared to an addictive substance; it plays the same role for vampires as food and water and air do for us. Is the attraction of a human to a vampire somehow similar to the attraction of the addict to his drug? Both may be ultimately destructive but not necessarily so, and in the case of a human drawn to a vampire, the promise of immortality and power is sometimes not an empty one.
Some monsters, such as the one manufactured by Dr. Frankenstein, are artifacts of their times. Attempts to retell the Frankenstein story in a contemporary setting always seem silly and flat. Vampires, though, have proven remarkably adaptable. They have achieved their enduring popularity by shifting their nature, by appealing to successive generations in different ways. They may be proud creatures, but they're very flexible. Or, if you prefer, they've been lucky enough to find writers adept at recasting them in forms appropriate to changing attitudes.
What made Count Dracula so terrifying to readers in the 1890s, I believe, was not that he was Eastern European but that he was a count. And not the charming and wealthy kind of count that beautiful heroines ended up marrying in some novels of the day. Dracula was the real thing. Ruthless, tyrannical, bent on power and domination, he invaded a world that had freed itself from the rule of Medieval aristocrats like him. He was a supernatural force, kin to the beasts of the forest, unreason and bloodlust run rampant, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, threatening an era that took pride in and relied on science, technology, reason, law, and social order. That's the dark, ancient threat symbolized by his castle.
And how awful that he was able to travel into the heart of the greatest city in the world's greatest empire, the very empire that had given birth to the Industrial Revolution and which dominated and was dominated by science. He was everything the Victorians had liberated themselves from and wanted to liberate the rest of the world from, and he threatened to undermine it all and force them back into servitude.
When Anne Rice revitalized the vampire genre in our own time, she gave us the brooding, insecure, introspective, angst-ridden, romantic vampire, a dangerously attractive kind of decadent aristocrat.
I suspect Rice's vampire novels have far more female than male readers. Her books must have inspired the embarrassing romance subgenre in which the heroine is the only person alive who can understand and soothe the tortured soul of an anguished — and, of course, hunky - male vampire. Love prevails, and our girl goes off with Fang to live together in literally eternal bliss. Two hearts that beat as one. Or would, if vampires had hearts that beat.
The flood of vampire novels unleashed by the huge sales of Rice's novels expanded the vampire mythos in many directions, but generally speaking, the new vampires are humans with fangs. They are part of our world, not an eruption into it of an alien horror. The focus is no longer on their supernatural nature or the supernatural nature of blood itself but on their social relationship with human beings. These lions really do lie down with the lambs. The focus is also on the vampires' interactions with each other, for the new vampires are usually social creatures, inhabiting an entire underworld, after-dark society.
These vampires are the Cool Kids. Not only are they beautiful, immortal, and tittilatingly libidonous, they also don't have to obey the rules — any rules. The only curfew they worry about is sunrise. In movies, there may be a hierarchy of some sort, a ruling council or vampire queen, but the vampire protagonist — hero, really — is a rebel against such domination. And we empathize with the hero.
Even that sunrise curfew is part of the modern vampire's appeal.
There was a time when night and the dark were feared and avoided. This wasn't entirely because of superstition. People wandering away from human settlement and manmade light were in genuine danger. Vampires were only one of the dangers hiding in the night.
But vampires weren't just creatures of the night, they were also its victims. They were exiles. They were being punished by being excluded from society and light and warmth. There was a religious aspect to this: they were deprived of the light created by God and of the sight of God's creation. So vampires, banished into the darkness, were being punished by never being able to see the day, God's glorious light, or the world created by God.
In modern urban life, however, nightlife doesn't equal danger or exile. Rather, it represents excitement, freedom, and limitless possibilities. At night, the familiar world of daytime changes into a place of enticing mysteries, new adventures, intriguing shadows, and, perhaps, erotic encounters. Who is more at home in this world than the vampire?
He has gone from being the ultimate predator to being the ultimate outlaw. The former figure was terrifying; the latter is fascinating. Instead of fleeing from him, we are drawn to him because we want to be like him.
An interesting aspect of the vampire's freedom from rules and social restrictions is the nature of his sexuality. The modern vampire is still a creature of appetites, and that certainly includes sexual appetites, but the vampire's sexual adventures are not limited to members of the opposite sex. So high is their libido and so devoid are they of proper gentlemanly and ladylike restraint, that vampires will have sex with just about anyone. The magnitude of their lusts is terrible.
Well, the same applies to our lusts. We humans are also controlled by our lusts, or rather frequently fear that we will be if we let down our guard. Sex can make people do awful, self-destructive things. So does greed. So can all of our appetites. We're on guard all the time. We aren't afraid of monsters hiding the dark; we're afraid of ourselves.
Vampires don't have that problem. They don't fear their lusts or fight against them. They happily give in. They never worry about the consequences because there never are any. They feel no guilt. No sane human being can ever be so free.
And so the vampire has evolved from an utterly alien being, a creature of the night, a predator from the deep forest, a killer who consumes souls along with blood, to a cosmopolitan and superior human being, a bon vivant and killer conversationalist. In his first guise, his allure was that of a sensational novel delivering delicious fright. Now, he offers, with a single bite, the kind of social advancement that no finishing school or European education can possibly provide.
Why, yes, I have written some vampire fiction. I'm so glad you asked. My vampire series, Prisoner of the Blood, consists of two novels so far, with more planned. I also used one of the characters from the series as the protagonist of a short story, "Reign of Blood".