Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vampires: Modern Day Heroes?

Thanks to Chrisopher Buecheler - author of The Blood that Bonds for today's guest post! Be sure to click the book link to visit his great book website and to get to know the characters in his free book!

Much ado has been made over the current "vampire trend" and its potential longevity. People are curious: why and how have vampires become so popular? What has caused them to capture the fancy of the mainstream public after years of being appreciated mainly by fans of the horror genre? The answer to that question lies in the slow move from terror to sympathy that people have made over the past few decades, due in large part to the efforts of many authors, screenwriters, directors, and other artists.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, vampires were the bad guys. Remember those days? Dracula bending menacingly over a delirious Lucy Westenra; Kurt Barlow and his servant Mr. Straker slowly bringing the town of Salem's Lot to ruin; Keifer Sutherland and his cronies menacing Corey Haim's family ... vampires were nearly always portrayed as voracious, evil killers.

While Anne Rice's 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire was among the first works to lend a credible sense of humanity to vampires, and to look upon them with a sympathetic eye, it nonetheless cast them as dangerous outcasts, as much cursed as blessed. Since then, we've seen a slow but steady push by authors and moviemakers that has significantly changed the way vampires are portrayed in modern pop culture. While it's still very possible to find blood-sucking nasties haunting your bookstores and cinemas, more and more we're seeing a new theme.

Movies like the Underworld trilogy give us vampires who, apart from an allergy to sunlight and some spectacularly bad boob-jobs, are largely bereft of any of real weakness. Books like Twilight give us vampires who sparkle in direct sunlight and occasionally find humans very tasty-smelling, but are otherwise capable of blending in to a high school crowd without much question. The brooding vampire pretty-boy (or girl) has replaced the hideous, reeking half-bat creature crawling from a coffin filled with ancient earth in the popular consciousness.

Many modern vampires are more superhero than monster, usually possessing stunning good looks to go with a host of spectacular powers. They're often the story's protagonist, or at least a major character on the side of good. Even in a television show whose title contains the words "Vampire Slayer," we've been presented with at least one good-looking vampire who'd rather date humans than eat them.

None of which is to say that our vampires are super-men ... but most of us don't want Superman anymore, anyway, at least not as he was originally conceived. The concept of a perfect hero has become outdated, with characters like Batman and the incredibly screwed-up members of the X-Men holding the greatest public interest for the past few decades. Lately, though, vampires have fallen nicely into this "flawed hero" niche, which runs through human storytelling all the way back to the ancient Greeks and beyond.

Modern vampires may act nice, may possess many desirable abilities, may try to do as much good as possible, but there's no getting around the fact that they have to drink human blood to survive ... and few humans really dig the idea of parting with large quantities of their blood. This, then, is the flaw that allows for these characters who would otherwise be something more like gods than men to be identifiable. They're often tormented by guilt, feared by their fellow man, persecuted, hated, forced to live on the run. We can relate to these things on a more visceral level than we can relate to the ability to stop a moving vehicle by holding out one's hand (physics be damned). Bella isn't attracted to Edward because he's strong ... she's attracted to him because he's hot and broody and intense. Kind of like a guitarist in a local garage band, just with the potential to suddenly go berserk and tear her throat out.

Lest I be accused of condemning this transition, let me point out that my own novel, The Blood That Bonds, which I recently released for free, features several vampires who are, if not outright heroic, at least sympathetic. The lead protagonist is made a half-vampire without granting her permission first, and she's pretty ticked off by that, but it's not altogether very long until she's asking to complete the transition. Over the course of the book, she meets or hears about several other vampires, and some of them do indeed resemble Edward, and Selene, and True Blood's Bill Compton.

Human beings need characters they can relate to, and just about everyone can relate to a hero who has noble intentions but must sacrifice and suffer due to his or her flaws. In many modern tales, vampires have often come to fill that role, acting as an outlet not only for our worst fears, but also our greatest desires. They scare us, and they thrill us, and that is why vampires are so "hot" at the moment, and why people will continue to write books about them, make films chronicling their lives, and draw illustrations of them long after the current craze has passed.

Christopher Buecheler is a professional web designer and author living in Indianapolis. You can find his free eBook at, or visit his blog, Cerebral Debris.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Interesting interpretation. I can agree with the general direction you're going into, but I would like to disagree in a few details.

What first attracted me to the vampire as a literary trope was the character with a dark edge who knows and reflects that he's an outsider and hurts because of that knowledge (so for me, it's more Anne Rice than Bram Stoker). But the vampire was still the other, was still inherently different. Nowadays, I feel like many vampires have successfully integrated into society (see "Twilight" where daddy is a doctor - how much more mainstream and well-respected can you get). They aren't actually outsiders anymore. Rather, the author is just using the echo of that perception of an outsider to work in his/her favour - is just repeating the trope without backing it up in the actual story. There's nothing dangerous or edgy about those vamps. They're just talking about it all the time.

It's the same with having to drink blood. Originally, it's humankind's big taboo and that's what makes vampirism so fascinating. But lately, vampires tend to get their blood is useful bloodbags - and the author doesn't spend five minutes to elaborate where these blood bags come from. It's disappointing.