Thursday, May 26, 2011

Children of the Night

Nosferatu, 1922

On this date in 1897, Dracula by Bram Stoker was published. It wasn't the first treatment of the vampire in Gothic literature and it may not be the best of the lot, but it certainly was the most influential. Tales of vampires had existed for countless centuries. Yet, it was this book that drew together the salient elements of the folklore and wove it into a coherent and memorable tale.

I am a hardcore enthusiast of horror fiction, but vampires have never been my thing. I prefer the forlorn haunting of classic ghost stories or the cosmic weirdness of Lovecraftian horror. There has always been a geeky power fantasy underlying the vampire narrative. This has become more prominent in recent years, such as in the writings of Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer, to choose two from among many.

Dracula (1931), Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Frances Dade as Lucy

I know many horror enthusiasts HATE the angsty vamps and sparkly vamps. But I'd argue that these types are but realizations of the unstated attraction that vampires have always had, even back in the earliest Gothic examples.

But should vampires be the "good guys" of the narrative?

Again, even in the early Gothic tradition, the vampire character was frequently the reader's point of interest. Usually it was overtly as a monster. However, these narratives frequently portrayed the vampires as desirable and better than human. Just read Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, with a vampire antagonist of extraordinary attractiveness.

The Funeral (Carmilla, 1871) illustration by Michael Fitzgerald 

Since the narrative tradition has established a desire to get the readers on the vampire's side, why is it an illegitimate choice to put the vampire on the reader's side of the ethical equation? Yeah, that removes most of the horror but it facilitates the power fantasy aspect. As a person who has enjoyed many a superhero comic book, I don't feel like I'm one to judge an other's preferred style of escapism.

Check out this trailer for the 1992, Bram Stoker's Dracula. The recital of his "superpowers" sounds like the typical traits of a superhero. Heck, can Dracula leap tall buildings with a single bound? "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bat! It's a cloud! It's DRACULA!!!"

In any case, my feelings are that vampires are an interesting archetype that can be utilized either to provoke a sense of attractive horror or to engage in escapist power fantasy. In either situation, that's valid. Different strokes for different folks, y'know.

Oh, I can't end a vampire post without a good staking!!!

Woo hoo!!!

Here's the Dracula Wikipedia page.

Here's the Carmilla Wikipedia page.

And here's the general "vampire" Wikipedia page.


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