From femme fatales to the suave seducers, vampires have come to play on our sympathies, invade our everyday lives, and to a certain extent, play some very prominent roles in some pretty risqué fantasies.
Vampires have become prevalent characters in the 21st century, and lately, we can’t seem to get enough of them. They have always haunted the recesses of literature, and although many may think that Stephanie Meyer “brought the vampire,” vampires reigned supreme long before she put pen to paper.
Anne Rice with The Vampire Chronicles, Linda Lael Miller’s The Black Rose Chronicles, and even some young adult authors from the mid-90s such as Christopher Pike (The Last Vampire series) have all written about vampires successfully. But perhaps the most interesting and common thread between these authors is the humanization of the monster. Of course, we have changed as a society and as a people, so it is no wonder that the vampire has changed too, but the vampire has always been a reflection of the fears and values of the times.
Hundreds of years ago, the vampire was a character that permeated folklore. Although significantly more corpse-like in appearance (and let’s face it, far less attractive with those bloated and decaying looks), it was substantially less choosey with its meal, and more monster than human-shrouded-in-darkness. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century when this dark character was given its modern reputation. John William Polidori’s The Vampyre (written in 1819) was the first piece of prose that gave birth to our current (romantic) idea of the vampire. His main character, Lord Ruthven, came away from the graveyard, donned the attire of an aristocrat, and selected his victims from the upper class. This was the first time that the vampire acquired more human characteristics, making him that much more appealing/appalling to the reader, most likely due in part to the fact that he could so easily hide amongst us.
But there were others, and probably the most notable was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If you were to ask anyone about the earliest vampire work, more often than not, this would be the answer. Bram Stoker created a world that maintained the monster, but was also romantic and seductive. Dracula preyed on the innocent, but despite that, he was still a poignant character that was more than just his blood lust. He was mysterious, lonely, alluring, yet dark, and most importantly human. Human, not in the sense that he was alive (because, as we all know, he was not), but human in our ability to identify with him on a personal level. Sadness, loneliness–we’ve experienced those things.
Subsequently, it is interesting to delve into the gender stereotypes and the limitations these stereotypes placed on women during Victorian era when the book was written. In a time where even piano legs wore coverings, and chasteness was a highly valued female attribute, it isn’t surprising that Dracula would be written to be both titillating and horrifying.
As societal and cultural values evolved, and we became more interested in sexuality and gender roles, evolutionary science and medical advances, the literary vampire began to take on a different tone. Epic stories such as Marilyn Ross’s Barnabas Collins series (1966-71) Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (1976-2014), Linda Lael Miller’s The Black Rose Chronicles (1993-96), or young adult sensation The Last Vampire by Christopher Pike (1994-2013) spanned an enormous swath of time. The vampire became less of a monster. Instead of just “undead,” now we see words like alabaster, smooth, alluring, chiseled, and beautiful describing appearance. Instead of some horrific being that lurks in the dark, they are now able to come out in the day, or even, like Stephanie Meyer’s vampires, sparkle in the sunlight.
The fact that now they are not only beautiful, but carry the wisdom and experience from hundreds of years, it is no wonder why us mere mortals tend to swoon in their presence. But, perhaps the most interesting thing is, we now see vampires that hate what they are. Thrust into being by dire need or force, and with it so many emotional facets that we identify with, there is no way we cannot sympathize or embrace this new kind of vampire.
In a time where face-to-face interactions are no longer the norm, where information is available at our fingertips, it is not surprising that we have turned our foe into a friend. As a society, we have been exposed to so much–things that once scared people, haunted their nightmares, and shook their beliefs are no longer as shocking as they once were. It now takes more to scare us. We see beheadings on TV, unspeakable atrocities on the internet for all to view, and perhaps even scarier is how many seek these things out as mere entertainment. When we are more inclined to watch those who suffer through the lens of a camera phone, than to offer aid or assistance, it begs the question: are we the monsters?