Thursday, July 21, 2005

A few thoughts about our old friend, Vlad

Hilary asks:
You know, it still amazes me. Everytime I think that every vampire story out there has been written, twenty new ones pop up.

With so little originality in the sub genre, why does it perpetuate? [...] dang it, this sub-genre retreads the same themes over and over.

I've often wondered this, as my wife has one entire bookcase devoted to vampire novels, all of which seem (to me) to be utterly interchangable. But then, why do people like series television? Why do people like Noh plays? Why do people like seemingly endless fantasy tales? (An elf, a wizard, and a dwarf walk into a bar. The elf says...)

Vampire stories work on so many levels that it's hard to keep track of them all. As a trope with a rigid and time-honored structure, it's right up there with the Medieval morality play for sheer durability. As a horror story, it gets you right where you live, as there is nothing more horrid than a human who becomes a monster, especially if "monster-ness" is a transmissable disease.

[Digression. Most fictional monsters, however they're packaged, are either bears, lions, wolves, or snakes. It may have six arms, come from Mars, and have acid for blood, but if it's silent, strikes without warning, and causes a lingering and painful death, it's a snake; if it hunts humans by surprise in the dark and tears them to pieces, it's a lion; if it's an unstoppable behemoth, it's a bear; and if it stalks humans openly and inexorably, it's a wolf.]

Vampires are different. Vampires were human. They remember being human. They have human emotions and motivations, however twisted. When you're dealing with a "beast" monster, your choices are simple: escape from it, kill it, or be killed by it. But when you're dealing with the formerly human, the emotional load is a lot more complicated: it's possible to empathize with the monster, to feel pity for it, and to regret having destroyed it, after you've won.

Then again, on another level, Stoker's Dracula works wonderfully as an allegory for the destruction of European royalty. Here you've got this decadent old nobleman, who hides behind a corrupt religion and can stay alive only by feeding parasitically on the proletariat, locked in battle with a group of vigorous young Modern Men, who are aided by Science! And what are they all fighting over? The hot Young Women!

Which segues into today's thesis: that vampire stories are actually romance novels with teeth. For as any poor sod who's been on the dating scene will tell you, the really hot girls always seem to fall for the decadent, creepy, abusive "bad boys," and who could possibly be more "bad" than an undead neck-biter?

At least, that's my current theory. What's yours?