Monday, October 1, 2012

The Eternal Return of the Vampire

October is with us again!  And along with it fall colors, chilly nights, warm sweaters, and -- best of all -- scary stories. 

This Halloween season on Heroines of Fantasy, we will dedicate our discussion to dark fantasy and horror.  We will also have two special guests at the end of the month, Melissa Mickelsen and Tessa Gratton, who write dark fantasy and will share with us some of the secrets of their fantasy worlds. 

An iconic scene from the horror film Nosferatu.
My post this week was inspired by the story of Abigail Gibbs, a young author recently awarded a six-figure contract for her vampire novel The Dark Heroine, inspired by the Twilight saga.  I found out about Abigail through Facebook, where her achievement was met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Twilight, again?!  When will they learn a dead horse is a dead horse?  

Of course, mixed in with the pleas for no more Twilight was a not-so-subtle thread of professional jealousy over that 6-figure contract. 

I don't begrudge Abigail Gibbs her success. 

Edward Cullen, the epitomy of the
"romantic" vampire.
What little I know about her indicates she is a gifted young woman with verve and dedication.  She is poised to start her English degree at Oxford University; she spent her high school years writing novels. She promises The Dark Heroine will be grittier than Twilight, bloodier and infused with more horror elements, which I can't help but think will be an improvement, a refreshing return to the classic vampire myth.  I am even hoping that she will cast a glance our way, and grace Heroines of Fantasy with a guest post at some point, though I will have to do some homework on how to make this happen, now that she's uber-famous without even having published. 

But beyond Abigail Gibbs, and Twilight, and all the spinoffs they might inspire, lies a deeper question for me, and it is this: 

What, exactly, is the eternal appeal of the vampire myth?  Why is it continually resurrected, virtually unchanged, in story after story?

Akasha, one of the few vampiresses that
made it to the big screen, came complete
with bikini armor.
I'll admit up front that I am not the person to answer this question.  I used to be an avid follower of vampires, back in high school, when Anne Rice rose to the top of the genre with her bestseller Interview with the Vampire and its companion novels.  But somewhere between high school and college, vampires lost their appeal. They ceased, quite honestly, to have anything new to offer.

Even the Twilight craze didn't succeed in pulling me back into the vampire myth.  We rented the movie once it was out on DVD, but I wasn't all that impressed, and I certainly didn't experience the thrill that vampires gave me back when I was an adolescent. 

Indeed, the further I've drifted from the vampire literature, the more inclined I've been to see its symbolisms and tropes in a rather critical light. 

She's too young for you, dude!
For example, is it just me, or is there something rather decrepit when a 500 year-old-man courts an eighteen-year-old girl?  If you do the math, in vampire time that young lady is about 3 years old. Now, to be fair to those old bachelor vampires, I understand it gets harder as the centuries pass.  All the good vampiresses marry other dark lords, or they have stakes driven through their hearts, or they suffer terrible accidents on sunny beaches. 

But couldn't you maybe try to court someone at least a little more mature? Like, say, around fifty -- which, in vampire years, would still be an innocent-and-ripe-for-the-picking ten.  And fifty-some ladies are looking better all the time in this day and age.  Take Madonna, for example. I'm sure she'd be up for immortality, and she wouldn't blink an eye at having to drink blood every night for the rest of eternity. 

Courtship is a central theme of the vampire myth, and it's almost always a vampire man courting a mortal woman.  Anne Rice, for a brief moment, brought us Akasha and Mekare in Queen of the Damned.  But all the iconic vampires -- Dracula, Nosferatu, Barnabas, Kurt Barlow, Lestat, Edward -- are men.

Kurt Barlow's look was almost certainly
inspired by Nosferatu.
Why is it up to the men to initiate women into the dark arts?  I would love to see a 500-year-old woman court an eighteen year old boy, just for a change of pace.  What would that relationship look like? How would the public react to it? Would the story look at all the same, if we were to reverse the traditional roles of the vampire myth?  Maybe a new perspective like this will be one of the treats in store for us when Abigail Gibbs unveils her new take on the old story.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I haven't abandoned my love of vampires entirely.  I just tend to look askance at the romantic vampires.  Perhaps my standards have risen too much since high school, but I simply don't find the blood sucking dead guy all that appealing as a date.

Vampires are, however, very appealing as creatures of horror, capable of reflecting the most terrorific aspects of our own nightmares, driven to madness by hunger and the incomprehensible burdens of their great age and isolation.   

My favorite vampire of all time?  Nosferatu.  Now there was a monster you did not want to meet in a dark alley, much less go out to dinner with.  All the others pale (or shall I say, sparkle?) by comparison. 

So this month, I ask Abigail Gibbs and all the aspiring vampire authors out there:

Give us the scary vampires, the Nosfaratus and the Kurt Barlows, and while you're at it, give us some kick-ass scary female vampires too.  Make it bloodier.  Make it grittier. 

Make us jump like the mere mortals we are when the vampire says, "Boo!"

Not a pretty boy, but that's what horror is all about.

Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich


Terri-Lynne said...

Karin, this made me snicker and laugh out loud from start to finish. I never knew you had such a dry sense of humor! Hahahaha! Love it.

I have never been into vampires. The whole thing just never appealed. I'm not into gore, and neither am I into the sort of psychological romance necessary for most of the lore. Meh--just never did it for me. So when my book club chose Octavia Butler's "Kindred" to read last October, I was none-too thrilled.


I loved it. It was different than anything I ever knew about vampire lore. It was smart and sexy and disturbing in original ways. The vampire is a little girl--a several hundred year old little girl--who solicits both men and women for her very loving family. It has enough ick-factor to satisfy, and yet--it makes such perfect sense. If you want to love vampires again, give it a read.

writerknv said...

Awesome post, Karin! And you are SO right about Madonna!

Actually, you have an excellent point about middle-aged ladies. Why wouldn't the vampires want someone a little mature? Someone who knows who she is, what she wants, and has a little more experience? That could be a pretty hot story, actually, even before you factor in hot flashes! :)

I can't help it. I love vampires, always have, but I don't like the wussy sparkly kind. I love the dangerous kind. Because honestly, vampires are the bad boys, the leather and motorcycle ones that you're not supposed to hang out with because they're dangerous and they get in all sorts of trouble.

And then there's my all-time favorite vampire movie, Love at First Bite. Awesome!

Thanks for the great post! Now I feel like writing a little middle-aged vampire romance. Sans sparkles, naturally!

Terri-Lynne said... it!!!

Diana Munoz Stewart said...

What a great post! Funny, open, and insightful. Thanks for this!

Terri-Lynne said...

Thanks for stopping by, Diana! :) You snickered at the "Madonna" joke, didn't you. I know I did. Hehehehee!

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Thanks Terri, Kim, and Diana!

I had fun writing this, so I'm glad you enjoyed it too.

I'll have to check into Kindred, but it really does take a lot anymore to make me read a vampire novel. The Historian is another one that's been on my list (and on my shelf) for a long time, but I just can't seem to get around to it.

Kim, I think middle-aged vampire romances are the future. ;) A friend of mine, Susan Stec, has written a comedy novel called The Grateful Undead on the same premise -- it's a hoot.

The issue of maturity is totally glossed over in most of the vampire stories I've seen. What would 'maturity' look like at the age of 400 years? How is it that vampires can be centuries old and yet still act like twenty-something studs? Being that long lived has got to give you a completely different take on life, history, human beings, everything; but we rarely see this taken into account in a lot of the mainstream stories.

I wonder if the really old vampires ever go senile?

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this post, Karin. You made a lot of good points. I'm sort of on the fence about vampires. I'll admit I got sucked into Twilight at first, but afterward felt a little silly. I've tried a few vampire books since that friends have been super excited about but I just can't get into them. Personally, I'd be interested in a vampire book where eternity doesn't necessarily mean youth forever...maybe just eternity with age, wrinkles, aches and pains included.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Thanks, DelSheree! Glad you enjoyed it. I used to really be into vampires; now not so much. But I appreciate the thrills they gave me in earlier days. Twilight is on my shelf -- it's just one of those books I haven't gotten around to reading yet. I have heard it's better than the movie, so I may yet give it a chance...