From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Blog For A Beer: Nice Guy Vampires?

Hey everyone, it’s Fantasy Friday, and that means it’s time to Blog for a Beer. (click here for the rules.)

This week we’re interested in hearing your thoughts on vampires — specifically your feelings on how the popular conception of vampires has changed down the years, from folklore to Dracula to Lestat to Angel to the newest, hottest vampire to grace the shelves: Mr. Sparklypants himself, Edward (of the Twilight series).  If you’re not familiar with the Twilight series (the fourth book just came out a couple of weeks ago), you can get the overview from Wikipedia or in-depth summaries and discussion on LiveJournal (where else?).

I’d never heard about the Twilight series until a few months ago, and now I can’t escape mentions of it with the new book out and a movie on the horizon. A bemused Borders employee explained to me that teen girls just loved the series and that the vampires therein were different from regular ones because, instead of being killed by sunlight, it caused them to sparkle, instead. Yes, that’s right, Edward twinkles like a diamond in the sun.

A friend who happened to be with me at the time expressed disdain for the way authors causally toss aside “essential” elements of vampire nature. Even though I’m not particularly fond of this whole sparkling business, I pointed out to her that Anne Rice did something similar in the 70’s, and now the vision of what a vampire is has been shaped by her books. Vampires aren’t the mindless monsters of folklore, or even the bloodthirsty heathens of Dracula. Vampires might choose to feed on animals, are totally interested in looking pretty, and spend a lot of time brooding on their nature and being emo.

Twilight’s Edward is clearly a descendant of Lestat, Louis, and their ilk. And is even a cousin of Buffy’s Angel, who similarly became entranced with a girl and who was, in essence, the perfect, perfect boy (except for the fangs… and the turning back into a soulless monster… and, well, nevermind).

Sherwood Smith has been reading vampire novels and talks about the connections between sex, violence, and vampires in popular lit.

One of the biggies facing us humans is the dichotomy between sex and violence. The word ‘dichotomy’ implies a branching: how much of our sexual drive derives out of violence? How do we deal with the atavistic response to violence being sexy, and sex being violent?
Different writers have explored vampires, imagining all kinds of types. Barbara Hambly’s were the most alien that I recall, while still being civilized. Some horror writers (mostly male) have given us terror-inducing vampires, all ugly distortions of humanity, blood-red eyes and ripping claws, swooping down to leave victims not in a lascivious swoon, but in steaming, eviscerated death. None of these are as popular as the image of the suave vampire in a tuxedo, or evening dress, (or jeans and a black t-shirt) forever young, casually strong, with super-powered attraction that can be switched on and off by a flick of mental effort. Their limitations are few: no sun, and the blood thing. Oh yes, and crosses.
It’s been interesting to see how the limitations have been gotten around–some can eat, some can breathe, there are half-vampires–some can deal with sun–the animal blood and blood bank thing–all ways to keep the power but turn vampires into nice guys. Into vampire heroes. It’s really interesting to me that it’s mostly (maybe all? I haven’t read everything out there, just the most popular things) women writing vampire heroes. What’s going on here? Is there a whole ‘instinct to civilize’ thing going on with the sexy vamps who can be good bad guys (or bad good guys), or is it the female sexual exploration thing that is now (sort of, in many circles) okay? Or both? I’m reading stories with vamps that are not just really sexy, but who suffer human emotions, specifically love. Who struggle with emotional issues–with being outcasts from regular life, who are isolated in the teeming city, who have to deal with mortal questions.

Obviously the vampire as Nice Guy (or even Nice Guy™) resonates with a lot of readers and viewers — Angel (on Buffy), Nick from Forever Knight, Edward, Louis. Vampire as Nice but Slightly Dangerous Guy also resonates — Angel (on Angel), Spike, Lestat.

But where do you think this trend is going? What will vampires be like in another 10 years? Still sparkling in the sun? And, more pointedly, is the current trend a good thing? Or have we already de-fanged the vampire too much in order to indulge in the sexy danger that is a hot guy with a lust for blood (and heaving bosoms)?

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