The Gods of Vampires

Every vampire has a god, and since the advent of the novel, those gods have been writers.  Before the printing press, storytellers were the creators of vampires, and word of mouth published endless variations of vampires that spawned unique species of monsters in each culture and country.  Superstition and the love of the story kept the vampire immortal throughout the centuries.  It’s very easy to know each god of today’s vampire, because the names of their creators are famous, boldly printed across the books from which give them creation.

When did Sex in the City urban women deem vampires fuckworthy?  And most of all, when did American heartland save-myself-for-marriage tweens and teens decide that creatures of the night make great Mr. Rights?  The new gods of vampires, women writers, have changed the romantic ratability of the undead.  Geez, it’s hard enough to deal with the fact my omega male body is so unworthy compared to human alpha males, but now women seek to mate with guys who have immortality, inhuman strength, and supernatural wealth as hot sexual attributes.  Man, now I’m really out of the sexual rat race.

What have these new gods wrought on the fictional landscape of our world?  I wonder if accepting the undead into the American melting pot is also happening in other multicultural societies around the world?  Storytellers have always been mythmakers and creators of imaginary pop-cultural stars.  Homer had a huge hit with his creation, Ulysses.  The whole mystery genre seems to have converted to writing character book series hoping to hit one out of the park by creating the next Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple.  Now both the mystery market and horror genre are churning endless variations on the vampire theme, each hoping to create an iconic vampire or vampire slayer. 

In my review of Dracula by Bram Stoker I took a backasswards approach to understanding vampires.  I falsely assumed writers were describing their vampires rather than creating them, by observing what they thought was the current pop-culture concept of a vampire.  And to a degree writers do steal their ideas from their peers and mentors.  This morning I had the revelation that every vampire is created in the image of their god. 

If I was to write a series of vampire stories, I’d invent a science fictional vampire because I like science fiction more than I do horror.  I’m not all that keen on bloodsucking, so I’d find some other way for my vampires to acquire the life essence of their victim, maybe a device that transfuses specific hormones or proteins that could be used to enhance health and thinking for a cyborg vampire.  If I wrote a series of books about my new high-tech-vamp that became successful, it would make me a god of a fictional creation, but I would have also changed the archetype of the vampire.

When I read Dracula I thought Bram Stoker had studied folk culture and had assembled his vampire, Count Dracula, from a selection of vampire models already in existence.  Now that I’m using the god metaphor for creators of fiction, I’m not so sure.  Count Dracula, and every successful vamp ever created by a wordsmith could each be a unique creation, fashioned in the image of their creator, so to say.

This explains why the current crop of vampires are less violent and very romantic – all the wildly successful new vampires are created by women authors.  Men writers want monsters to slay, while women want romantic retelling of the beauty and the beast myth.

Now I know my feminist friends are going to howl at my sexist generalization, but lets look at the evidence.   Here’s an easy one.  Women love Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  To make it suitable for the average guy, Seth Grahame-Smith created Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I could rest my case there, but I’ll go for overkill instead.

I think I can safely say that the Twilight series is mostly popular with women, and girls.  It’s much less obvious, but I’d say the Anne Rice and Charlaine Harris vampire books are also more popular with women readers then men.  True Blood, the HBO version of the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries, has been transformed by its producers to have a unisex appeal (mixing love, romance, sex and violence), so I’m only talking about the Charlaine Harris books for now.  If you compare these women vampire stories to Blade and Van Helsing movies, which are obviously targeted to male audiences, you can see the difference between the vampires and their creators.

Red blooded American males love violent movies.  They want the moral issues to be black and white so there is no ethical squeamishness to full-throttle slaying by the good guys.  Literary movies that want to question violence will introduce many shades of gray and ambiguity, but for the most part, us guys like our action films, monster movies, cop shows, sci-fi, thrillers, war flicks, and westerns to be non-stop kill, kill, kill.  We accepted feminism to the point that in recent years the good guys can include hot action babes on their teams, who can also kill, kill, kill with the best of the guys.  We’ll even accept women as squad leaders, as in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of women who love a dab of violence in their books and movies, but they seem to want the volume of violence turned down.  Women writers accept that vampires are dangerous cold blooded killers, but they keep most of their hunting off stage, ignore that vampires are evil, and tame them by having their creatures of the night only hunt animals, drink artificial blood or prey on the scum of the earth, humans they figure humanity can do without.

The famous dictate of writing teachers is to write what you know, but I observe instead, that writers write about what they love to read.  Women love romance stories, and the influx of women writers has changed the nature of vampires in pop culture in the last few decades.  If you study romance novels, a category of fiction dominated by women writers and readers, you’ll find two general types of stories in the genre:  the purely romantic and the hot-and-spicy romantic.  To be clear, I’m calling some romance novels hot-and-spicy, to be nice, but the heat on that spice goes all the way to XXX. 

Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is very close to the Pride and Prejudice end of the spectrum of romance, while Charlaine Harris writes stories well into the soft core porn range of romance books.  And if you are converting Mr. Darcy into the undead, women writers know their readers won’t feel the emotional attraction for a protagonist if he’s too evil or looks like he belongs in a Mad Max flick.  Thus the What Not to Wear overhaul of vampires.

A young woman at my office asked another young women, “Which of the undead do you think are the sexiest?”  That’s not a question you would have overheard two Victorian women discussing.  I’d say the vampire has gotten the role of most eligible supernatural bachelor more often than all the other types of undead combined, with hunky werewolves a distant second in popularity.  Zombies and mummies just don’t clean up well.  Although J. K. Rowling, strangely enough seems to prefer werewolves over vamps, so maybe kids like furry love romance.

If you think about it, the lady gods of fiction have transformed all the popular genre fiction in the last fifty years.  Look how wildly successful Lois McMaster Bujold, Catherine Asaro and Anne McCaffrey have been with science fiction readers.  Genre fiction has been liberated by females.  I don’t know why it took me so long to realize why modern vampires are so different.  To be honest, I didn’t expect women to shake things up so much.

But I’m still puzzled as to why women find vampires sexy.  If I was a vampire and had to drink blood, I’d want to dine on women, and it would be a sexual attraction, but it would still feel like rape.  But as a male human, vampires seem as sexual appealing as sharks and bears, but then I’ve always identified with the beast, and not the beauty.

JWH – 7/23/9

14 thoughts on “The Gods of Vampires”

  1. If my memory serves me right, wasn’t Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel a hideous creep and not a sex-god? And didn’t the vampire use brain control to seduce his victims? That would explain how a creep of a vampire could seduce the beautiful maiden. This is a great article!

  2. This is what I’m talking about! The change to the modern vampire doesn’t have to be rooted in some deep psychological or religious movement. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best! The writer has control over the world he/she creates so it also stands to reason that the world that writer lives in would have an effect on the product. In Stephenie Meyer’s case, i think she chose vampires 1) obviously to create the conflict of the story- the fact that she is human and he is vampire is the obstacle to their romance. It also serves to bring action into the story. 2) Edward is from the early 1900’s. He is a gentleman. Bella is a shy, innocent girl. This is a big departure from what we see in so many teen stories and shows today- where the teens are jumping into bed, drinking, and wearing the shortest skirts they can find. Bella doesn’t whore it up! I see this as a reflection of Stephenie Meyers’s upbringing and life. She is a Mormon housewife. So in being the goddess of her literary world- her characters reflect this.

    I very much enjoyed reading this, Jim!

  3. Okay, so now I have to go and reread Dracula.
    Also, I am a woman who can’t read Pride and Prejudice. I tried because I wanted to read the Zombie one and I just assumed I should read the first one so I could understand the jokes. But I can’t get through the first one.
    I think of Anne Rice as the Queen of the Modern day Vampire. Although her sit down and listen to this dude tell his story method of writing gets very old, I still think she is responsible for all these women getting into vampires.
    I will be honest, I read the first twilight book and wanted to cut out my eyes. I tried to read the Harris chick and I only got as far as chapter 1.
    Maybe it is because I can’t stand romance books.
    Anyhow, your last paragraph asks why women want vampires? In short, every girl wants a smart, rich, sexy man who can only come out at night. he must literally sweep us off our feet and totally be willing to save us.
    However, take comfort that this is just a fantasy. If I had to put up with a vampire all the time, I would throw myself off a bridge at noon so there would be no way he could come, find me, and make me a vampire to save my life. I can only take that kind of adoration for so long. I don’t think I am alone in this.

  4. Prior to Stoker, J. Sheridan Le Fanu created Carmilla, a lesbian vampiress published more than twenty years before Dracula in 1872. Going back to the first English language story of a vampire there is John Polidori’s The Vampyr from 1816. Both male authors created charismatic, alluring vampires, that had more to do with the sexual repression of the times than an interest in violence. Even Stoker’s Dracula preyed only on beautiful young women, taking them as his “brides.” Vampires seem to have been more about sex than violence from the beginning of their literary lives.

  5. Sharon, Dracula was more than a hideous creep, he was totally evil. Just being near him drove people mad. Plus, he had devil like attributes, in that people infected by him would have their souls captured by an evil state of immortality, destroying their free will, making them act like animals, and keeping their soul on Earth.

    He didn’t seduce women, they didn’t really know what was happening to them. They just had bad dreams and slowly wilted away. People have compare Dracula’s vampiric ways to sexuality, but I didn’t see that. It could be compared to rape and murder though. People near him had no control over their minds. This was different in the 1931 Dracula movie based on the book, with the story very changed.

    The movie version of Dracula had him handsome, and women did find him attractive, but they still did not know they were under his control. When Mini knew what he was after he killed Lucy, and she was activitely helping the men to kill Dracula, Dracula was able to take control of her mind.

    Dracula isn’t Bill Compton or Edward.

  6. Stormey, that’s a good point about how Stephenie Meyer’s uses the vampires to create fictional conflict, and that for the most point Edward is just a handsome devoted guy, that’s very strong, and always able to protect Bella.

    I think Meyer’s has a best seller because Edward is a vampire. If she had just written a typical love story, with a normal teenage boy that was handsome, protective, and considerated of Bella’s virginity, I don’t think it would have sold as well.

    I feel sorry for the typical teenage boy in the real world, if young teenage girls are expecting to find an Edward.

  7. Mwittle, you remind me of a young lady at work who always declares she wants to poke her eyes out when she gets mad at someone. And she gets mad at people quite often. I wonder if you’re from the same generation of women. However, the young lady at work loves Pride and Prejudice.

    You seem like a very sensibile woman, so what books do you love?

  8. Digital Dame, I went and read about “Carmilla” on Wikipedia and it indeed seems fasincating. It reminds me a lot of that recent Swedish film, Let The Right One In. Not the same, but also about an orhpaned girl that must live as a vampire and needs the help of adults.

    Stoker’s Dracula did prey on men, but he used them as tools and killed them frequently. I think he did drink their blood, but I’m not sure. Evidently, he liked to dine on women, but the women only vaguely knew of his existence. They could only recall strange nightmares.

    There were three women vampires living at Dracula’s castle, but we don’t know if they are his brides. He didn’t treat them very well, refusing to let them dine on his guest. They could just be byproducts of his dining, forever condemned to be vampires, living near him, trying to scrounge his scraps.

  9. So James, what books do I love…do you mean this year…this week…or this month?
    Generally I am drawn to books like “Catcher in the Rye”. I also love “The Bell Jar” and “The Great Gatsby”. Hemingway was the man. Vonnegut as well was awesome.
    I am always the doom and gloom chick, but I tend to see the happy ending in all the merk and muck.
    I can’t do Austen though. I tried and I just can’t stand all the Oh Mr So and So let’s go have a party and oh do behave.
    Thanks for the question and like the rest of the world, I have a blog if you are ever interested in reading my idle thoughts.

  10. “People have compare Dracula’s vampiric ways to sexuality, but I didn’t see that”. Again, thank you! So refreshing to have someone see this from the same viewpoint that I do.

    I’ve never been a fan of vampires as good guys in any way, really. I’m sure that all goes back to my deep love of Dracula, who will always be the quintessential vampire to me. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoyed Colleen Gleason’s series, the vamps were bad guys, they were evil and there to be killed. There is a sexual aspect to it that I don’t see in Dracula, but they are still evil creatures.

    I don’t see myself reading much contemporary vampire literature. Occasionally I’ll be tempted, but not often. I’d rather go back to Dracula for another glorious read of it!

  11. I was thinking about this myself this morning and was very happy to stumble upon this post.

    I have recently become addicted to vampire books (I’m recovering slowly, thank you). In about a month I read my way through Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, and Karen Chance. I would add to this list and genre other strange critters like werewolves (Carrie Vaughn) and Faeries (Karen Marie Moning). These are all in the soft-core vein (pun intended!) that you mention: “paranormal” (appeals more to women) rather than “horror” (ditto to men).

    Why? I think these characters function as archtypes, much the way that characters do in fairy tales. They allow an exploration of the ‘darker’ aspects of female sexuality – aspects that are rarely acknowledged in our culture.

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