What is it about our obsession with vampires? Vampires, it seems, are where it’s at today. And I don’t mean real vampires – you know, the ones who suck self-esteem. I mean the fantasy types, currently in pop-literature and movies in their sensitive new-age guise.
I thought I’d finish this brief series of posts on the history of novels with a few thoughts about this rather – uh – pointed genre. I think it tells us quite a bit about our own society. And that’s Step 1 on the way to writing books that sell – which doesn’t mean ‘best sellers’, but does mean books that sell enough to generate a viable living.
That, alone, is a triumph for authors. I am not kidding.
Vampires always were a part of human mythology. Their first boost into western popular psyche came during the nineteenth century – heralded by penny dreadful stories like Varney the Vampire. The whole thing was given a kind of respectability, if you could call it that, by Bram Stoker, whose Dracula of 1897 defined the genre in one best-selling shot.
Superficially it was a horror story. Actually it was about something else – tweaking the sensibilities of Victorian-age, idealism. The salacious subtext – the subversion of morality – wasn’t much hidden, and readers loved it. Vampire stories were a socially acceptable frame around which to wrap what readers really wanted.
Part of the reason why Stoker and his imitators got away with it was because the vampire was also portrayed as evil. That stereotype persisted through the twentieth centry – right up until the 1970s when Fred Saberhagen turned the genre on its head with his hilarious The Dracula Tapes.
This told the story from Dracula’s perspective. Vlad Tepes – Dracula – was a polite nobleman who wanted to set up house in Britain and live quietly and privately in the centre of civilisation for a while. He got shipwrecked at Whitby (I mean, he wouldn’t sabotage his own ship – what sort of idiot did people think he was?), then ended up being harassed by an imbecile self-appointed vampire hunter named van Helsing who couldn’t be reasoned with. Very, very funny inversion of the genre.
About the same time Anne Rice wrote Interview with a Vampire, which presented much the same concept of vampires as dimensional, multi-faceted individuals. That set off the whole new-age vampire schtik – everything since has been, to my mind, a follow up to and in many ways diminuition of her concepts.
As far as I can tell, these days the writing of it has got down to one-dimensional teen angst style romance stories along with fifty shades of – well, salacious Mills and Boon. With blood. Uh…yay…
But that stuff still sells. Why? Just like it did for Stoker, over a century ago, the genre meets an immediate need – keys into something society feels it lacks. Vampires offer the twenty-first century a style of escape that is – well, interesting.
It’s to do with the underlying psychology. It’s about validation through being attracted to power, and the ability to achieve desire (represented by the vampire) – although that attraction carries a cost (blood sucking, a metaphor for power and strength). Interesting, made more so by the fact that the vampire is supernatural. And that begs questions about why we’ve latched on to this – what is lacking in oursociety that attracts us to validation via supernatural means instead?
What’s your take on this one?
And let’s hear it for SNAVS. They’re what might make writing profitable…
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Next time: fantasy genres, more geekism, comedy and some other stuff. Watch this space.