Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Re-reinventing the Vampire

Though it seems like Twilight came out three months ago, it has, in fact, been two years. And, to compound the confusion, the third movie in Stephanie Meyers' series of Emo inspired, angst-ridden vampire stories is coming out in theaters next week.

What I find particularly sad about this is that while vampires in the Bram Stoker mold are  frightening and darkly beautiful creatures of the night, writers like Stephanie Meyers have reduced them to poorly written, poorly bred, self absorbed teenagers. When Anne Rice reinvented the vampire in a more humanistic manner, it was a fairly creative move. Her vampires did not turn into bats and religious icons did not repel them. Some of them had their own angst. When she did this she had two things working for her:

  1. When she did it, it was still fairly, though not completely, original
  2. In her early novels, when she had stronger editors, she was a pretty good writer.
Stephanie Meyers has neither of these working in her favor.

Now I am not saying that vampires all need to adhere to the foundations laid out by our dear, perverted Victorian friend, Stoker. After all, Dracula, whilst based on Romanian lore, was his own reinterpretation of it. The original Vlad Dracula Tepes was rumored to be able to turn into a wolf or a rat, rather than a bat, but Bram felt that bats were more romantic images than rats, so his abilities changed.

What makes Dracula so formidable, however, is the fact that he can do all kinds of great stuff despite the fact that he has a relative slough of weaknesses. Old Vlad, by the Victorian era, was able to navigate during daylight hours quite well due to his age, strength and experience. Iconography of the Catholic Church, however, bodes ill for him. Things like crucifixi, holy water and, most notably, the Blessed Sacrament are all poison to him. The reason for this is that Dracula is related, in some sense, to Satan. The word Dracula means "Son of the Dragon", the dragon being a common mediaeval reference for the devil. I suspect that the trend away from this is due to the general cultural, or, at least, popular drift away from religious faith.

Without going into too much history, the original Impaler was a very successful and cruel military man. He handled his enemies roughly, often impaling them on stakes and allowing their bodies to molder whilst hung by the side of the road. In that era, in popular belief, bodies that were not buried in sacred ground doomed the souls that had once occupied those bodies to wander the earth. So old Vlad was a guy whom the peasants did not want to cross – not only would he kill you, but he would condemn your immortal soul as well.

I love vampire stories. I would love to see some new, well crafted and good ones. I want a vampire, however, who is a badass despite his shortcomings. I want a Dracula. My beloved wife is not a fan of the 1992 Dracula movie, but I, for one, think that it is about the best one ever made. Another fine entry is the 1972 Great Performances made for television entry starring the suave Louis Jourdan as the old count. These guys were charming and seductive and they were tough. They did not get all moody about teen-aged girls. I look forward to the day when real vampires come back to pop literature and the movies.


Jennifer Walker said...

For the record, I didn't like the 1992 Bram Stoker's Dracula because the movie was stupid and cheesey, not because I didn't like the interpretation of the vampire. :)

Great post, Sweetie!

Michelle L. Devon said...

I really enjoyed reading this. I read on Amazon that Rice doesn't have an editor anymore. She stated she meticulously chose every word, and they were all necessary so she didn't need an editor who didn't understand her prose. I'm paraphrasing here, of course.