The loss of the epic vampire

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(October, the month of Halloween, conjures one name in our household: Dracula! This is the first of a series of posts on various aspects of Dracula and vampires in general. I’ll be giving away a two-pack of my own vampire novels Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood to one lucky commenter per post, so comment early, comment often!)

Recently I came across an article by Elizabeth Russell Miller, an internationally-known expert on all things Bram Stoker, entitled, “The Church Welcomes Dracula.”

The story of this Dublin church honoring Dracula is fun on its surface, but it got me thinking about vampires and religion, a relationship that has lost almost all its potency in the last forty years. When I was a kid, vampires were terrified of all things religious, specifically Catholic icons. There were occasional riffs on that, most famously the Jewish bloodsucker in The Fearless Vampire Killers. But for the most part it was accepted, and accepted seriously: the athiest hero of the Hammer classic Dracula Has Risen from the Grave must become a believer to defeat Dracula.

But as religion faded from its importance in everyday life, it also faded from vampire lore. Anne Rice’s vampires are indifferent to religious iconography, as are those of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The pantsless vamps of True Blood have no issue with it. And so on. But what has replaced religion in vampire mythology?

Apparently, it’s love.

Love destroys vampires as surely as sunrise, wooden stakes or fire. Where once stood an immortal symbol of the power of the devil, the literal anti-Christ (the vampire’s nightly resurrection mocks Christ’s, for example), we now have tortured, sympathetic heroes. And not even anti-heroes like the magnificently nihilistic Lestat, but actual heroes who try to do good, defeat the bad guys (often more “traditional” vampires) and win the damsel (often without actually biting her). This has culminated in the Twilight, saga, which is all about not doing…well, anything. Once the active hand of the devil on earth, vampires are now horror’s answer to the Amish.

When only the Church (capital “C”) stood between humanity and the vampire, it was understood as a battle for immortal things like souls.  It was an epic battle. Powers as old as the universe contended for the soul of a man or woman, a prize so valuable both God and the Devil wanted it. Now…well, the prize is Bella Swan’s virginity. And losing it doesn’t damn her to hell for all eternity; rather, it elevates her into the nouveau beaute’ pantheon.

Now, I’m not a religious person, but as a writer, I understand the maxim that heroes are judged by the power of their villains. Imagine Batman without the Joker, Superman without Lex Luther, or Sherlock Holmes without Moriarty; their stature would be seriously diminished. Similarly, the classic vampire is scary and significant because, within that mythology, even God himself takes notice and stands against him. That’s a powerful trope, and one that’s proven very hard to replace.

When I wrote my two “vampsloitation” novels, Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood, I deliberately left out religion, intending to use it as an element in the climactic third book. Alas, the first two did not exactly fly off shelves or into e-book readers,* so it may be some time before that final novel, Blood Will Rise Again, sees the light of day. But when it does, I hope to recapture some of that classic epic feel, of the idea that what’s at stake (heh) when a vampire meets a human is more than just hemoglobin and an undead booty call.  I hope to make it…well, cosmic. That’s the playing field vampires should occupy.

*I must say, though, that the fans of these novels are some of my most passionate; for those that “get it,” they really get it, and I appreciate hearing from them.

11 Comments on “The loss of the epic vampire”

  1. I so agree with this – Vampire anymore are nothing more than a “lover” for so many people. They even have T – shirts out now that say something like “My boyfriend only come out at night” and stuff like that. It used to be that vampires stuck fear into hearts and now – it seems to be just lust. I am not into the whole “Twilight” saga or anything, but I do respect that people are reading them. On the religious note, I do have to agree with you that as religion has fallen out of peoples lives, it has also fallen out of the lives of these creatures of the night.
    Thanks for writing this – Happy October

  2. Great points. There is a loss of something monumental. There is certainly fear in the books, like Hamilton’s vampires and even Rice’s books, but it’s more visceral, less spiritual. I do think some authors capture at least some of the fear components and danger, but too many are into vampire erotica. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Vampire Goodness | Tiny Cat Pants

  4. This is what I think. All through the 80’s and 90’s historical romance was hugely popular but starting to get stale. Authors and publishers were looking for something different, but not too different, that would sell to the same audience. Hence the new vampire! Sad what they have done to what was one of my favorite monsters!

  5. It’s really interesting how Dracula flips the story of Vlad Tepes on its head. Where Tepes had a church built and was supposedly buried in a church, Dracula’s bane *is* the church. Where Dracula gets impaled in the end, Tepes was the one doing the impaling. But the visceral fear of the two is the same – this is something that could freakin’ kill you without mercy or remorse and in a violent and horrific way. They’re both monsters.
    Religion is partly meant to help us deal with monsters, to give us the tools to protect ourselves against the horrific evils of the world. What happens, then, when these horrors become more distant? We don’t feel the presence of horror nearby, we get comfortable, we don’t need religion in that way.
    I am a religious person and wonder how I’d deal with the actual or metaphorical vampires in the context of my own faith. I kind of have an idea. Maybe I should write that down somewhere…

  6. Some of my favorite Vampire shows and books look at vampires in terms of sin and redemption. Forever Knight, Tanya Huffs Blood books and tv series, the Parasol Protectorate, and the Vampires in Patricia Briggs Mercedes Thompson books. Not necessarily the religious aspect but the human aspect of overcoming one’s baser nature. The just a special lover category turns me off, but there are still some “Epic” uses of Vampire even in this secular age.

  7. If you want a glamour free vampire, you have to go back as far as Max Shreck in Nosferatu. He was the true embodiment of evil. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula had women fainting in the cinemas due to passion at his oozing sexuality. Ever since then, the erotic vampire has been the norm. It cannot be blamed, however much we may like, on Twilight.

    Vampires are all about giving in to our baser emotions. The religious aspect was salvation from those same emotions.

  8. An article in the October 2009 Esquire by Stephen Marche said, “Vampires have overwhelmed pop culture because young straight women want to have sex with gay men.”

    He essentially compares the current crop of pop Vampire to Japanese yaoi manga. “Yaoi also known as Boys’ Love, is a Japanese popular term for female-oriented fictional media that focus on homoerotic or homoromantic male sexual relationships, usually created by female authors … manga aimed at a gay male audience (bara) is considered a separate genre” (from the holy Wikipedia) Its main readership (80%+)is 20something women.

    I would leave a link to the article, but HTML tages are not allowed.

    October 13, 2009, 9:30 AM
    What’s Really Going on With All These Vampires?

    From Twilight to True Blood and now The Vampire Diaries, is it vampires that so many American women love… or just gay men?

    By Stephen Marche

  9. The reason I liked your vampire books was that they were edgy and gritty… and actual monsters!

    I often think that as much as anything else is to blame, the transition of the vampire from terrifying monster to illicit lover is yet another example of the sexual repression still prevalent within our society.

  10. I swear I am going to take out however many loans it takes and fund the third darned book myself! AHHHH!

  11. There are times of which I could cry tears of blood by the way vampiric lore is travelling. Remain vigilant! The time will come for another set of epic vampires to emerge from the ashes.

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