Why Vampires?

June 4, 2017

Trends and fashions generally move through books at about the same speed as they do in clothing; perhaps a little slower. And just like clothing trends, most of the time they’re completely harmless, but sometimes they go all weird and pear-shaped, and readers find themselves looking back and wondering “Just how did we end up with seventeen supernatural books following the same angelic plot line published over the same two years?”

One of the weirder trends that’s doing a good job of sticking around is the vampire novel.

Stories of revenants date all the way back to the 12th century, and by the 16th and 17th centuries they were blood-drinking; these walking dead entered literature through Gothic Horror around the 19th century, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Only… it isn’t. Not really. In the first place, the vampire novels are hardly history – they’re still being published. But in the second, the series coming out today are very, very different from the early horror novels. They do still pull their traditions from the same source, though, and the result is what makes them odd. Early vampires were the incarnation of evil. Literally soulless, constantly murdering, driven away by religious symbols and sunlight (not to mention garlic and silver), these monsters were unequivocally the villains. Somehow, we’ve come all the way from there to cheesy teen romances with handsome immortals who occasionally have to head out to hunt down a deer or something.

The transition probably began with Anne Rice. She was one of the first authors to write a more attractive vampire – dark and edgy, her vampires were still not the good guys, but they showed more culture and refinement, and were certainly attractive to a certain type of reader. Once this gate was opened, the transition continued by increments, as the vampires of popular novels became more and more human. Once they reached normal supernatural status (Like most others around right now. You know, human-with-benefits, and maybe a few disadvantages if you’re working with a better writer), one would expect them to go the way of others, fading into the background.

The original evolution was similar to others you can find in popular literature. I have a theory, though, about why vampires are sticking around in their current form.

They’re immortal.

Vampire/human relationships, vampire/human crosses, humans with vampire blood – authors are pulling them closer and closer, because their audience is drawn to them. Craves something in them. And I think right now, that something is immortality.

In an increasingly atheistic and agnostic world, the supernatural longings of the human mind and soul find increasingly strange outlets. Vampires have always been immortal in story and literature – originally because they were soulless and undead, although that tends to be ignored now. And if you don’t believe in an afterlife, an immortality of one sort or another, wouldn’t handsome ageless strength be appealing? Superspeed. Superstrength. Supersenses. Authors have endowed vampires with one power after another, turning them into strangely appealing creatures, demi-gods of the Greek style with a streak of savagery.

And in one way or another, twisted or not, the human mind will long for immortality.

2 Comments

  • Marietta Mortensen June 20, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    Wow. I think this is my favorite so far.
    You managed to be funny and deep in the same historic article. I think that’s a pretty thorough and concise summary of Vampires Through the Centuries, and a neat theory as to why we’ve just now decided to make them the good guys. Although I’m not sure it’s the entire reason we’ve done that. It sounds very probable, but wouldn’t you say it’s more of a longing for immortality combined with….. something else? I’m still trying to put a name on it. Because of their evilness? Because it’s attractive, almost?
    Any thoughts?

  • Bernadette Holmes June 20, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    My father actually said that too! I forget the exact words he used, unfortunately, but yes – his thought was that there’s a streak of something vicious and cruel in most people. Not something they admit to in their ordinary lives, not something (most people) would every, ever act on – but it’s there, and reading about these villainous heroes ‘indulges’ that part.

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