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Evolution Of The Vampire In Literature
It used to be societally acceptable among the undead to break into their victims' bedrooms and suck their faces off without so much as a "how-do-ya-do.". But lately vampires seem to object to being stereotyped as such; they’ve taken to smelling like lilacs and glittering in the sun like a fifth’s graders art assignment. Certainly an evolution, isn’t it? Or a literary retardation, depending on how you want to look at it.
We can blame this questionable change on Twilight. Okay, okay, maybe we can’t exactly blame Meyer for every wussification of the vampire that's happened recently. But Edward and his hapless crew certainly played a significant part in accelerating the idea of a teenage vampire hottie.
But no fear. Although the days of Blade are over, all is not yet lost. With this emergence of vampire-teen-romance has come a re-surge in popularity of other vampire books. Audiences have been reawakened to this genre, and some of these characters don’t necessarily fit the Twilight or Vampire Diaries mold.
These ones are existential.
Far from being blood sucking monsters like Dracula (with virtually no character development save for an odd tendency towards dark clothing) or nothing but a vehicle that allows middle-aged moms to live out their fantasy, these vamps are just like you and me, plagued with moral dilemmas and confronted with the very real problem that earthly immortality would bring: a bottomless loneliness.
And that’s an idea that’s far more terrifying than the typical leech-with-two-legs story.
Eli and Louis (and minor spoilers!)
Two vampires in particular stand out among the crowd: Anne Rice’s “Louis” in Interview With The Vampire and John Lindqvist’s “Eli” from Let Me In (which was fancy enough to get two different movie adaptions, both of which are equally disturbing). The tragedy of these characters lies in their dumb acceptance of their own murderous nature; there’s a hopelessness about them that makes them both engrossing and repugnant.
Through details of Louis’ life, death, and consequent “rebirth,” Rice popularized the idea of the tortured immortal, to the point where this has basically become a genre cliché. You can see traces of it in things like Twilight and Vampire Diaries: namely, this idea that immortality is nothing but an existence of irrevocably loneliness. Louis’ vampirism allows him to experience a heightened sensuality, but he sacrifices things that go beyond the senses, such as companionship. This brings up the interesting idea that what makes companionship special is its temporary nature, the fact that it is fleeting and therefore all the more precious.
This idea is taken by Linquvist to a whole new level. Let Me In has always deeply disturbed me. It’s not really a “horror’’ novel, but it’s probably one of the scariest vampire stories I’ve come across in my personal experience. I’ve racked my brain forever trying to pinpoint why this is, and I think it’s more than the fact that the blood-drinking monster is a little kid. I think it’s because this kid is literally, as one of my friends once so aptly put it, a “nothing.” Which is a creepy idea, when you think about it.
We find out halfway through the book that Eli was castrated in childhood, which means that within her earthly eternity she is denied even being able to identify with a particular gender. She is part of a species that is utterly without identity. Sexless, friendless, and starving for life, she must wander around in utter isolation, befriending people as broken as her in order that she may drink the life from others.
This story departs from the usual vampire clichés and is more about two outcasts finding each other, and it rips at the heartstrings in a way that I’ve hardly encountered within the vampire genre.
God Vs Your Brain
What makes the modern vampire frightening is the fact that he’s trapped in himself. In older days, vampires were considered spiritual enemies; you were battling the demonic and there were all sorts of weapons you could use: crosses, holy water, prayers, etc.
Now, the element of spirituality isn’t in vampire books. As society has grown more secular, literature has turned inward, and as a consequence, modern vampires no longer face the intimidation of the Cross or the prayers of priests. They have to face the horror of their own unnatural, isolated existence.
And the inescapable enemy of the self is the most terrifying enemy of all.