Thursday, August 06, 2009

On Vampires

Have vampires in literature changed since Stoker's popular novel? That is to say, have vampires as symbols and/or metaphors changed over those centuries? My guess is that most would either answer "yes," or "metaphors?"

It has been argued by a few that Stoker created a creature of his time. A metaphor representing aristocracy ( The Count), and that metaphor was seen to also be a parasite - the landed/gentry living off the life energy (labor) of the common folk. Certainly the political and social atmosphere of the time viewed the aristocracy as a dying or dead social class. And that is part of the basis for such a reading.

Now, if we were to read the Stoker vampire in that fashion, it begs the question: How has it changed? Is it still tied to classism? Or has it become something different?

To assuage those who'd worry over Stoker's intent - meaning did or didn't he really see The Count as a metaphor for class - I'd say it doesn't matter what his intent was because so many people read it that way culturally that the vampire in many cases became such a metaphor. And, If he did intend it, then he's all the more insightful. But overall, the intent is no longer a part of the reading.

Today, and over a short few decades, we have seen the vampire re-emerge and change several times. The novels of vampires have become a sub-genre, which means they are a part of popular literature, and perhaps that popularity is tuned to or is the locus of some cultural element.

Certainly there are many types of vampires today, so there are many answers. I'd love to explore those. Maybe it would reveal something to us culturally and as a society.

15 comments:

jeffwedwards said...

What interests me in Stoker's novel is the conflict of tradition versus technology. Van Helsing and his band of vampire hunters used the latest scientific developments at their disposal to battle a creature from myth and legend.

In novels today, the vampire is sometimes used as a nostalgic reminder of simpler times. I don't have any examples to sharpen my point (ha ha) but perhaps if people agree, they can flesh out this idea.

Charles Gramlich said...

What I don't really like about so much modern vampire fiction is the way that male vampires have become today's 'bad boys.' They're the leather jacketed dangerous ones of our day.

Rick said...

The problem with horror in general and vampire literature in particular is that with the legitamcy of the 'immortal soul' destroyed in today's scientific environment, the stakes are significantly lower. Readers are left with only the battle between forbidden romance and mainstream societal norms. It's become more of a cross-species dating issue.

In fact, it's become too much of a teen-aged Emo angst genre to have much of a metaphorical punch these days.

The closest I've seen to powerful use of the vampire idea is the "Matrix" series, which brilliantly transforms AI computers into the new Nosferatu. In the series, Keanu Reeves becomes Jonathon Harker and Laurence Fishburne is cast as the futuristic Van Helsing.

John Goodrich said...

The movie happened. Bram Stoker's Dracula is not sexy. Her's powerful, but he's got bad breath, and is about as far from sexy as you could make a person. But then the film came along, and well, you have to make everyone pretty on film don't you? Bela's famous performance made Dracula compelling, and Frank Langella made him overtly sexy.

And wither goes Dracula, so follow his get.

They aren't even monsters anymore. They're us, only enhanced. They brood like no noir character ever has (Angel), they mope and crush on geeky girls and have special powers (Twlight), they live in weird towns with weird people (True Blood).

Stewart Sternberg said...

There is a great piece of fluffery on vampirism in the recent Entertainment Weekly...and I mean fluffery.

Rick, I think vampires will be fine once the teen angst has died down. The vampire will remain one of the most enduring bogeymen in the genre. Until we end death, the vampire will hold allure.

jeffwedwards said...

Stewart, I know you've admitted you have faith envy, but someone already defeated death...I'm just saying. :-)

Rick said...

Teen angst, Stewart, will never die down. And I honestly believe that vampires are becoming more of a teenaged star-crossed thing for good reason- disease and man-made global destruction is so much scarier than vampires that the undead are kind of a yawn. What would be really scary- hideously frightening even- is if someone combined a plague with an undead monster like vampires or... zombies. Now that would be mind-blowing.

jeffwedwards said...

Rick, I like that idea. We need a catchy title. Just brainstorming here... Hmm... Something with alliteration... VOODOO VIRUS!

William Jones said...

It's beginning to sound like modern vampires are not liked much. :) Well, at least by a few of us here - the sales reveal they are greatly liked.

Rather than post and kill the conversation, I'd like to see where it goes. Reading all of the responses as a group does speak to the subject on many levels. Although, I must confess, Rick, I do not see the connection between vampires and The Matrix (other than Reeves played in both films). :)

And Jeff beat me to Rick's allusion. :) I wonder how post apocalyptic teen angst novels do on the market?

Rick said...

I'm not that in touch with movies, but weren't the computers in The Matrix draining the life energy from the humans by confining them and keeping them under an altered state spell the way that the Dracula's "three sisters" hypnotized Harker to keep him in a dream state to draw away his lifeblood (until Dracula drove them away). And didn't Fishburne's character seem at all like an update Van Helsing to you? And wasn't it Harker who, in the end, severed the Vampire's head and ended his reign of life-energy sucking and illusion (Dracula mental fog). so that's what struck me as similar.

Then again, I frequently confuse Firefly with Stargate Atlantis, and Warehouse 13 with Night Gallery.

jeffwedwards said...

I thought Rick's post re: "The Matrix" was clever. Agent Smith is immortal in that he can appear over and over and the computer extends its "life" by feeding on our energy as we become human "coppertops."

Stewart Sternberg said...

I think that we will see a time in the near future when some of the most beloved horror icons come home to roost. These are cyclical. Maybe vampires are safe compared to the real world for teens, but I would suspect that as with the Victorian maids who thrilled and shuddered at Dracula, that the current vampire craze among teens is part of their way of dealing with their sexuality and the lack of power and insecurity they feel trying to come to grips with an adult world. Vampires are all about power.

Maybe the romanticism of vampirism is important for the lack of romance in peoples' lives today.

And Jeff, as for people beating death...am I to assume that you are referring to one of the first zombies, J.C.?

Sufirjp said...

Love the commentary on "The Matrix" being a vampire movie. Brilliant.

By the way, I did a mini-response to this question in my review of Dan Simmons' "Children of the Night", which you can view on you blog:

http://robertjparker.wordpress.com/2009/08/09/children-of-the-night-by-dan-simmons-review/

JR's Thumbprints said...

Let's face it, teen angst incorporated into a vampire story sells like hotcakes (if the publishers market the hell out of it). Vampires represent what's forbidden; teens like that. As for me, I like Sosnowski's take on it in "Vamped." The vampires have become domesticated, have routine jobs like the rest of us. Most of my fiction is reality based and not fantasy, which is probably why I like that concept.

If I wanted a more in depth fictional perspective, I'd reread Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian."

Daniel J. Hogan said...

I was at the Chicago Comic-con this past weekend and there were plenty of Twlight fans--and a few stars of the next film were on hand as well (mainly second or third string characters).

Like it or not, vampires are popular right now--especially with women (but then that might not be all that new). I know quite a few women that love True Blood.

The novel I'm currently working on has vampires (but mainly as supporting characters) and I had to spend a lot of time deciding how I wanted to use them: are they sexy or not, what powers do they have if any, what do they symbolize in my story, etc.