It’s come up before. Now it’s time to actually talk about it. I hate vampires, and Halloween sounds like a great time to talk about why; because if there’s one thing this blog does well it’s overanalyze silly fantasy concepts.
I just don’t understand why people are so interested in vampires. Traditionally they’re villains and they’re not actually very good ones. For starters, in terms of raw intimidation power, they’re middle of the pack. Sure, they drink human blood and that’s just plain weird, and historically they have super strength and no heart beat. They don’t show up in mirrors, they sleep in coffins and killing them requires half a carpenter’s workshop but really, in terms of legendary monsters, that’s nothing special.
On the flip side of the coin, vampires have more holes in their defenses than a colander. For starters, there’s the well known stuff. They can be warded off with crosses or sometimes the Star of David or some other holy symbol. They can’t enter a residence without an invitation. They can’t cross running water. If they don’t sleep in their native earth, they don’t really get rest. They BURN UP IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT.
That’s right. 50% of the normal day is almost INSTANTLY FATAL TO THEM.
And that’s just the more commonly known stuff. A lesser known weakness of vampires is arithmomania, a burning need to count large numbers of similar objects. Yeah, you know how Sesame Street’s Count von Count counts everything? Yeah, all vampires do that. Well, except for the thunder and lightning bit whenever they laugh. Toss a bag of marbles on the floor and they’ll be far too busy counting them to defend themselves when you stab them with a pointy stick.
Now it could be argued that vampires have plenty of strengths to balance out their encyclopedia of weaknesses. But honestly I have my doubts about that. The traditional depictions of vampires tends to represent them as just very strong and hard to kill. There is the association with bats and wolves but that’s still not a fantastic power – any falconer or dog trainer can have trained attack beasts at beck and call. The mental abilities of vampires, things like mind control/hypnosis or controlling humans by blood, are not part of the traditional power set of vampires. I’m not sure if Bram Stoker introduced these abilities or just made them popular but before Dracula there’s not a lot of indication that vampires really did anything of the sort, nor can I see any reason to assume what is essentially a glorified cannibal should have fantastic mental abilities.
Now I know that it’s okay to put your own spin on an archetype. But for the most part I feel like a lot of those abilities got added simply because the stock vampire lacked punch and needed something that actually made it feel like it was menacing. The loss of free will is certainly menacing, so the end goal was accomplished, but the fact that such a thing seemed necessary indicates how lame they were originally.
The final aspect of vampires that I think attracts people to them is the way they’re frequently portrayed as mysterious and aristocratic. But any villain can be affably evil and in the case of vampires it’s, once again, not even a good fit. Traditional vampires were horrific creatures of appetite, not creatures of restraint. They were so filthy and caked in carrion that they reeked. The proper use of garlic was not to ward them off but rather to mask the smell so you could fight them without retching all over the place while trying to keep them from biting out your throat.
You see I agree with the theory that vampires, like zombies, are an attempt to explain the behavior we see in rabies victims when they finally flip out and go feral. Hydrophobia and fear of bright lights are both symptoms of rabies and canines and bats are both carriers of the disease, which might explain the connection vampires have with those animals. What rabid people are not is suave and charming.
So the modern use of vampires has nothing to do with the traditional folklore that they tend to come from. So what? We don’t need explanations for rabid people anymore, we understand rabies! That leaves the vampire mythos open to new ways of using it! PROGRESS! The new abilities and power level represent these things! Now vampires fill totally different places in modern stories than the traditional ones!
Yes. Yes they do. While traditional vampires are pretty much terrible villains for a story, the modern vampire is a thing of pathos and temptation. They’re not always villains and when they are they’re the likable, charming one that you can almost get along with. Only rarely are vampires a villain to be dealt with, like in Dracula.
So while on one level my objections to vampires are just a bunch of superficial griping about slapping together a bunch of weird stuff that seems totally unrelated and calling it a monster my most basic problem with vampires is one of themes. On a fundamental level vampires in modern fiction are being used to push forward themes that are very disturbing to me, and at times I wonder why they’re not more disturbing to others. Come back on Friday and we’ll talk about that some more.
Hi Nate. Love your post. Don’t forget that vampires are supposedly very fast, so perhaps that makes them harder to stake? And for quite a while they’ve been seductive (way before Twilight) which makes them harder to resist? More subtle powers, but still…
I think the whole aristocratic-live-forever vampire may have been a decent villain/antagonist because of the lure of immortality at the later shocking price of feeding on people and seeing all those you love die. Just thoughts.
My biggest problem with that character archetype is the fact that the vampire has no way out of his predicament except destruction. Once he’s succumbed to the lure of eternal life once he’s forever trapped and there’s no saving him. I find villains much more compelling when they have the option of changing but choose not to, or when they’re redeemed. More on this on Friday…