Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vampires and Evil: the Romantic Antihero Reborn



Vampires have historically been considered evil, and were blamed for many little understood situations in the cultures that spawned them. But fictionally they are currently not considered 100% bad. Since they’re the living dead – creatures to be feared rather than desired – they deserve a closer look.

Body image and wealth are worshipped in our society, and if you add a bit of trendy perversity to the mix you might get an instant hero, or the 20th century equivalent – the antihero. This character is often dark in nature, and they have their own set of morals. They kill and frighten fragile humans, but they are no longer the monsters or villains of yore. Dress evil in smart clothes over a beautiful body and it doesn’t seem so unappealing anymore. Antiheroes are the ultimate outcasts, and if they are self-loathing, that’s even better: the romantic, but evil, protagonist is born . . . or reborn. Who better to personify those attributes than the modern fictional vampire?

Vampires are seen as evil when they lure nubile beauties into blood ritual. Their sensual side is not new. Dracula dawdled over Mina for days, during which time she appeared besotted, deceptive, and furtively aware of puncture wounds to her throat, an entrance into her body that she has allowed. He could have dispatched her as he did Lucy, but instead he lingered until she was begging him for it. It being his blood and her final transformation into another one of his vampire brides (he’d left three of them back at the castle). We didn’t want her to change; we wanted Dracula to be vanquished. This is the fundamental difference: if that story were written in the 21st century we'd want Drac and Mina together in everlasting bliss.

Vampires from an older period fed rampantly on the innocent, but in many books released today, they don’t randomly attack people and kill them. They offer many of their chosen the choice of transformation, and a “blood bond” is created instead of a “blood curse.” These vampires are depicted as torn by the pull of opposite urges, wanting to honor the remnants of their human side but still irresistibly drawn to seek blood. Their fictional human counterparts (buddies, lovers, misguided Renfields) witness their moral struggle, almost as if they were watching a human contend with a substance addiction. They stand by wanting to offer support, but usually make the process worse, their bodies a pulsating temptation. They are the enablers upon which the plot twists.

In fiction today we want the vampire to get the girl, or boy (Louis and Armand in the Rice Vampire Trilogy; Edward and Bella in Twilight; Bill and Sookie in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series).

Vampires have changed, but our notions of evil have changed as well. I’ll examine this aspect in my next installment.