“Why do you like vampires? What’s so special about them? Why read about them? What’s so appealing?”
Thus do the philistines speak.
What’s so appealing about literary vampires? Let me count the ways…
…by doing a bit of history…
The literary vampire didn’t begin to flourish until the mid-1880s.
I’ve heard it said that before that time, there wasn’t a word in the English language for “vampire.” That may be a bit of an apocryphal tale, or not, however…
It was in 1819 that the novel The Vampyre birthed a vampire-frenzy lasting to this day. (This was the novella written by Dr. John Polidori during that infamous “Gothic summer” in which Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Long attributed to Polidori’s employer, George Gordon, Lord Byron, who vehemently denied authorship, it’s been said Polidori patterned his vampire after His Lordship…perhaps in revenge for the way Byron ridiculed and teased him.)
Then, in 1845-57, Varney the Vampire crash-landed on the scene. A newspaper serial running 220 chapters (that certainly beats any of my stories!), was written by either James Malcolm Rymer or Thomas Preskett Prest, depending on whom you ask. In this century, the paperback edition covers two volumes and 1310 pages. (That beats Stephen King’s The Stand, I believe.)
It was a penny dreadful and a half.
Now, the fanged fiend was off and flying. Stage plays, more novels, short stories, and eventually cinema followed.
Allowing for individual differences attributed to the creatures by their various creators, stories concerning the Undead have flourished in all media ever since, but it was in the 1970s that the literary vision of the vampire began to change. Until that time, the vampire was a creature damned and doomed…walking the corridors of Time for eternity with an immortality enabling him to laugh at puny humans.
Then, something happened.
The vampire is still cursed…but immortality is no longer a blessing. Now, he acknowledges the ennui and despair accompanying immortality. He laments his ability to live forever, hating the fact he’s forced to kill others to continue his own survival. Slowly, the vampire is shown as coming to realize his immortality is a mistake. Though he’s seen history in the making—may have known Beethoven or witnessed Ivan the Terrible’s atrocities or stood beside Columbus aboard his ship—it’s now all a blur in his mind, and he’s lonely…through his own choice.
As Christopher Landless explains it in Death in the Blood:.”Why bother to like someone when you know he’ll soon age and die…as will his children, and his grandchildren…and his great-grandchildren…?”
Perhaps this can best be summed up in the opening sentences of The Night Man Cometh, as the vampire Damian La Croix introduces himself to his readers, “Time…something a vampire has in abundance…time to enjoy the pleasures of Immortality…time to contemplate his sins…and his mistakes.”
From cursed creature of the night subsisting on a liquid protein diet to sympathetic protagonist wanting only to be accepted, in the 20th century, for the most part, he’s adjusted his lifestyle into more acceptable patterns; the literary/theatrical/film/TV vampire has done a complete about-face. He’s even been the brunt of satire by those who’ve come to look at his malady with a jaundiced eye. (Love at First Bite, Dracula, Dead and Loving It, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.) Oh yes, he still avoids sunlight, has to drink blood, and can change from human-appearing to fanged demon in the blink of an eye, but these days sunscreen shields him from the ultraviolet, he has a friend at the local blood bank (or buys synthetic blood). and generally doesn’t morph unless he or his colleagues/friends/lovers are in danger. He works for a living—as a private eye (Moonlight), on the night shift of a police department (Forever Knight), as the owner of a New Orleans restaurant (Shadow Passion)—but he’s still looking for something…the key to being human—or at least being accepted as human.
Wistful thinking? In one episode of Moonlight, Mick St. John does become human and finds himself so weak he can’t fight off his fellow Undead who are attacking his girlfriend. He’s as helpless as she…a case of “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.” Eventually, he allows himself to become “re-vampirized” so he can regain his abilities.
With the millennium, came another change.
The 21st-century version—the new breed of vampire—seems to have shaken off his dulled-by-the-millennia boredom and bounced back with enthusiasm. The Undead now wants to have his cake—being treated as human—and eat it too—being immortal. Like the sweet sips of blood sustaining the vampire’s existence, these stories are sweet sips into vampires’ secret souls…
He searches the world for someone brave enough to accompany him on his Undead tour of eternity.
And now…to our own moment in time…
The 21st-century breed of vampire seems to have shaken off this dulled-by-the-millennia boredom and bounced back with enthusiasm…he thrives in all walks of life, more times than not helping mankind instead of harming it, finding better ways to sublimate the killing urge, and doing something the “old-fashioned” vampires never did…getting the girl…or the boy…in every sense of the word. For cryin’ out loud, he’s become the hero!
Take a gander at any episode of True Blood or Midnight, Texas, to prove this point.
…he can still revert to the “old ways” easily enough.
Where do Damien LaCroix and his ilk fit into all this?
Damian is a “traditional” vampire, that creature emerging again into current literature. No longer the anguished seeker of human acceptance, of finding love and nothing more; no sparkly, benign, adolescent-appearing male wavering between turning the girl he’s attracted to and giving in to his bestial nature, nor waging war with werewolves or his own kind; no pair of Undead sibling rivals who’ve loved the same woman in the past and now are committing the same mistake in the present… A protagonist more Prince Drakula than Stefan Salvatore or Edward Cullen, this Undead gentleman is sometimes no gentleman. He can be cruel and seductive by turns, blood-lusting or just plain lusting…a ravaging beast or a ravenous lover. If he can’t get what he wants one way, he’ll get it another…no holds barred…
In fact, he’s loving every moment of his Immortal existence with no apology, and glorying in it with unaging head held high.
Like the vampires of old, Damian is unrepentant and irreverent; he revels in his immortality, lording it over the poor, weak humans who are so frail they barely last out their fourscore and one. It would’ve been easy to make him into a villain, but in spite of his blatant superiority, Damian has a fatal flaw. He’s sworn never to force anyone to follow him through the centuries; the woman he loves has to come willingly, and perhaps because of that, he’s always alone.
Today’s vampires are not only sexy but extremely capable, and I think that’s part of their…dare I use the word charm…? They’ve had forever to perfect their techniques, and, whether sadistic or gently seductive, they do it very well.
So there we have it:
Vampires are mysterious and exude sex as well as make love very passionately.
They’ve actually seen history happen, been an eyewitness to things we mortals can only read about or see on the History Channel.
But most important of all, they want, and desire, companionship and the love of someone who will want them in spite of what they are—and, in the end, isn’t that what we all wish? And if the one we find that companionship and love with also offers us the bonus of immortality…of being with him/her forever…that would be the icing on the cake.
That, in my opinion, is the vampire’s lure…and appeal, and the reason I believe this genre will always thrive, in spite of ebbs and flows of the reading/viewing public’s interest.
Recommended Article: The Night Man Cometh – a Review
Amazon Link: The Night Man Cometh