Not Your Mother’s Vampire
Have modern day vampires become defanged?
Once upon a time, fearsome fanged creatures roamed the land (especially in Romania). Silent as the night, they sucked the very blood from their victims, who were then forced to join the legions of the undead, or vampires. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Anne Rice’s Lestat, these aristocratic, black-cloaked creatures have mesmerized us with a seductive mix of otherworldly power and shadowy eroticism.
These days, though, the vamp in the typical “bit lit” novel doesn’t have to be quite as scary: Edward, in the Twilight saga, is an all-American high school student. Betsy Taylor, in Mary Janice Davidson’s Undead series, is a brassy blonde with a serious shoe addiction. And Bill Compton, in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire mysteries, looks pretty hot for a guy who’s 173 years old and counting. Some of these vampires drink the blood of animals only, while others go for the synthetic version. And most of them have probably never even heard of Interview with the Vampire, let alone Dracula.
So what gives? Have vampires, once the exclusive darlings of horror fans, become, well, defanged?
Let’s just say they’ve adjusted to the 21st century. Stephenie Meyer’s blockbuster Twilight novels, which chronicle the love between the otherwordly Edward and high school student Bella Swan, are definitely vampire lite: Edward refuses the temptation to drink human blood and is determined to protect Bella against his own dark urges. “These are good vampires,” one fan wrote on the site twilightmoms.com. “They don’t have any yucky vampire characteristics.”
Maybe. But Montana Caitlin Miller, Ph.D., assistant professor at Bowling Green State University’s Popular Culture Center, says that elements of the darker vampire stories remain. “The passionate love for the dangerous, suffering hero, and the connection of sex with death —Will he kiss her? Will he kill her? — is very titillating,” she explains.
Other new-school vampire writers, like Charlaine Harris and MaryJanice Davidson, have enough blood and violence in their novels to satisfy the most traditional vamp fan. But they lace their stories with an offhand, occasionally caustic humor that makes the subject funny and less removed from everyday reality – kind of like chick lit with a supernatural twist.
Davidson’s Betsy Taylor (also known as Queen of the Dead) has a bad temper and even manages to get into a fistfight with an 800-year-old vampire named Marjorie. (“I’m going to kill this bitch twice,” Betsy thinks.)
In Harris’s novels, the basis for the acclaimed HBO series True Blood, vampires have finally come out of the coffin to tentative mainstream acceptance. They drink the synthetic beverage TrueBlood instead of doing you-know-what. While on vacation, they can stay at Motel 6, where there are special rooms so they can rest in peace. They even have human allies – The American Vampire League, with its memorable slogan “Vampires Were People, Too.” Best of all, they read Dear Abby and take the advice to heart. Be careful picking your friends, one vampire, Pam, cautions her human co-worker Sookie. Don’t let other people impose on you. Great, Sookie thinks: “I was getting emotional-health counseling from a vampire.”
Now that’s horrifying.