Today we have a guest post from Dave Higgins on vampire stories and myths. Thanks to Dave, I’ve added more works to my To Be Read list (which is long enough to last years already!). Please check out Dave’s website and work too.
I’ve added links throughout the post. The links on author names to go the author page on Goodreads, where you can find reviews of the books as well as easily find other books by the same authors. The links on individual titles go to the Amazon page for that book. In the case of series, I’ve linked to the first book in the series (that’s also the case with the images).
Blood With a Twist
The first vampire novel I bought was Vampire of the Mists by Christie Golden, a tie-in novel for Dungeons and Dragons’ Ravenloft setting. Although it was, by design, a collection of classic vampire tropes with only elves to making it special, it marked the beginning of a lifetime love of vampire stories. Since then I have read many much better versions of the archetypal fanged aristocrat, both classic and little known. However, my greatest pleasure has been in stories that expand the myth into new areas without losing the actual vampire in the process.
While there have been many stories that contained a paragraph or chapter that caused me to pause and consider possible mythologies, there are five novels/series that stand out. They might not be the first use of the idea, or be perfect throughout, but they did that idea well:
Dracula and the work of the Romantics definitively split the vampire from the werewolf, the noble feeder on blood from the bestial eater of flesh. This penny dreadful turns the divide on its head. Instead of a tale about a Byronic hero, tortured by lost love or pursuing eternal schemes, Varney is a tale of day-to-day human goals. Indeed vampirism is only one thread of the work; in many instances large parts of the characters’ stories would play out identically in a romance or history.
This novel starts out as a survivor tale: a mysterious plague leaves one man, possibly the last man, alive in the middle of a world of blood-drinking creatures. However, these are not the shambling hordes of a zombie infestation; they are intelligent, social beings. This novel rejects the idea of vampire as a creature of a supernatural realm, of lone believers hampered by society’s disbelief; here vampires are not only accepted by society, they are society.
In their transition from shroud chewing beasts to well dressed protagonists, vampires were often metaphors, veiled or not, for more mundane concerns such as venereal disease, class struggle, or our desire to believe evil comes from outside. This novel makes the metaphor the story: a genetic quirk makes some humans process blood as a drug, with both physiological changes and addiction. Although other works had touched on the horror of beings tortured by feeding on what they were, this story removes the separation of former humanity, showing the protagonists feeding on their own species for pure gain. This deviation from the inhuman feeding for survival shows the vampire freed of external forces; the vampire with mundane concerns from Varney has become the mundane with vampire concerns.
Much of this series uses the standard tropes of paranormal romance; vampires hiding in plain sight, misinterpretation, protagonists held back by entirely human pasts. However, the creation myth of blood-borne medical nanites makes this a rare example of the explained vampire: their powers are more than human but not impossible and their blood hunger an integral part of the myth rather than a side effect. The need to transfuse both blood and nanites as part of creating a new vampire also produces a new and consistent theory on why vampires have limited numbers: if only a few people are compatible then even vampires who reject social pressure cannot raise legions.
One of the biggest complaints levelled at this novel also show its greatest innovation: the sparkly vampire. While some people dismiss this as a self-indulgent flaw, an example of vampire-world-problems, this ignores the merging of the new vampire with ancient roots. Since their adoption by the Romantics the vampire has been becoming more often beautiful than monstrous and more often ethically conflicted than Divinely rejected. Where the original myth talks of the weaknesses of damnation, the modern myth ignores the Sun as the Eye of the Divine or replaces it with a more neutral explanation (a heightened susceptibility to ultraviolet radiation, a desiccation of the body). In the sparkly vampire we are given the new vampire myth of beauty taken to its logical extreme: they do not fear the Sun because of Divine Judgement but because they are too beautiful.
Of course to make the question manageable, this list is based on two hidden rules: that Dracula is the baseline for written vampires and that vampires are based on a European monster. If you instead look at any blood-drinking sentient creature then folklore from across the world gives a new baseline.
Which novels changed the portrayal of vampires for you? Which of my list do you think are actually repeating an established idea?
About Dave Higgins (guest poster)
Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction, and can be found blogging at Davetopia. His short story, Thieves in the Night, is due to be published later this year in The Fauxpocalypse Project.