Snuggling with Supernatural Vampire Love

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If you walked into a Borders (before they shut down, that is) and wandered over to the Young Adult section you would have seen an explosion of paranormal, supernatural, and fantasy romance novels — so noted my friend Kim Lau at dinner last night. (She’s going to teach vampire literature next quarter by the way — I so want to take her class!) I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in the e-book market, a darkly attractive brood of handsome vampires, irresistible warlocks, hunky werewolves adorning the covers of books targeted at young women and girls. Perhaps it’s the influence of Twilight but vampires (and their fellow-creatures) are hot, hotter than ever. And when, Kim wondered, did the horror get almost entirely replaced by sensuality? These modern vampires aren’t the hideous creatures portrayed by Bela Lugosi, but slim catwalk models as cool as death without a trace of fresh blood on their perfect pouts.

It’s an interesting question. Horror was, in the past, the dominant aspect of the gothic romance novel, an equal partner to the eroticism. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, revulsion around female sexuality created the seductive but terrifying transformation in Lucy from a vivacious flirt to an unbridled ravenous succubus who hunts innocent children as well as hapless gentlemen. Another friend of mine suggested that it’s possibly because as a society we’ve gotten over our fear and disgust of sexuality, which is a very intriguing comment. Anne Rice may have jump-started the sexy vampire archetype with her icy Lestat, but the vampires of her mythology, while gorgeous, were physically incapable of sex or sexual pleasure (although I suppose the female vamps could, like their human counterparts, fake it.) Their ecstasy was all in the feeding and drinking of blood, preferably human, and preferably from a lovely young thing.

I loved the Anne Rice novels as a Goth-inflected teenager but they were dark dark dark; and there was really no suggestion that a human female could ever be safe with a vampire lover — or even that a vampire could ever love a human. Vampires are so far out of our league after all — they are glitteringly beautiful things, usually wealthy beyond imagining, jaded from having walked the earth for so long and given in to so many temptations. All they really want is to suck your blood.

But somewhere along the evolution of vampire lore and literature all that raw evil power was absorbed perfectly into the conventions of a traditional romance novel. The vampire male’s supernatural strength is an exaggeration of the manliness of the muscle-bound hunk; his long life, an extension of the romantic hero’s previous life experience. His dangerous nature, well, he’s just fierce because he cares so much, and he stalks you not (only) because he’s a predator but because he loves you. He keeps secrets in order to shield you. And his possessiveness is just virile protectiveness because you are, after all, a fragile human girl whom he could easily crush in one undead hand.

At the same time the authors feel free to trounce vampire conventions where convenient, essentially sanitizing the grittier, messier aspects of vampirism which is, I believe, a result of our disengagement from old-fashioned Catholicism. Once upon a time, vampires were clearly and unrelentingly evil because they could have no souls. That’s why they burned to a crisp under the purifying heat of God’s sunlight, and hated holy water blessed by a priest and were wounded by touching Christ’s symbol, the cross. Twilight-era vampires have none of this angst. They actually sparkle in sunlight as if someone rubbed them all over with a glitterstick. They don’t care about holy water, crosses, sacred ground or any of that. They do drink blood, but many are “good” vampires, feeding only on nonhumans or, in the case of Buffy’s Angel, blood bought or stolen from hospitals and blood banks. Their fangs have receded and their claws have retracted.

It would be too strongly worded to say I am “disturbed” by this shift from vampire-as-killer to vampire-as-lover but let’s say I watch its unfolding with alert interest. I mean, I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s kind of gross, the idea of snuggling with a creature of the night? Anne Rice wrote vividly, I think, about their slightly sickly sweet smell, the smell of rotting flesh, of stale blood after they’ve fed. And the idea of embracing an ice-cold lover doesn’t exactly get me hot and bothered. I’m trying to understand the appeal of the genre (and I realize that I’ve been mainly focusing on vampire romance — there’s much more beyond that, of course.) I have a lot more research to do here — and a lot to understand about the balance of fear and love, power and powerlessness, desire and repulsion.

And just for fun: Buffy vs Edward.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Snuggling with Supernatural Vampire Love

  1. >I can't help but feel ripped off with todays vampire, not so long ago they were something to be feared. Another in the large family of undead, vampires were powerful, intelligent, and secretive. Almost neutral in their alignment, they only killed to survive and you could hold a conversation with one, if you cared to risk it.But make no mistake, they were something to be scared of. In literature, film, video game and table top role playing games alike, if you stumbled across a vampire it was time to put the beer down and get serious. These things could not only tear you to shreds, but required special armaments just to hope to hit one. My memories of a vampire were a feeling of dread whenever they popped into view.Now, I'd sooner laugh at the visage of a vampire than anything else. Sure, it could probably throw me across the room just as before, but now it looks like a young boy who spends more time in the beauty salon than in a coffin. And what's with taking away the weaknesses? A vampire is already very powerful, to take away its few failings (sunlight, holy water, etc) is to make it almost godlike. The only way to defeat one is to tame its non existent heart perhaps?Excuse me, I'm starting to feel a little ill.

  2. >Jane, your Facebook link to this poses a fascinating question.Why are vampires sexy?It is a good question – the kind of good question that gave me food for thought. Why has no-one asked this before? I suppose it just isn't that obvious that it should asked.My first answer is workaday and reductive, which is that vampiricism as practiced in fictional culture involves prolonged intimate contact – much like a kiss – and this is sexy. But this answer does not completely satisfy the question.Secondly, the prototypical vampiric relationship is established by the novel Dracula, obviously, and this story is charged with themes of sexuality. These are necessarily not explicit, but nevertheless woven throughout. To sketch this theory: In the first act Harker nearly succumbs to the three female vampires, the Brides of vampire. Can these even been called sexual undertones? He is then *saved* by Dracula himself – a surprising turn of events unless you consider the sexuality of vampiricism. Dracula then admonishes his wives for their attempted infidelity. Later, the crew of the ship are killed by Dracula – the sailors of the era are not strangers to homosexuality of necessity. In the last act, Harker's love interest fends off the civilized attentions of two other men, becoming Harker's fiancee. But tragically, in the climax of the novel she cannot save herself from Dracula himself who deprives Harker of his bride. I recall the seduction as being in Lucy's bedroom, consummated on her bed, although this scene may be from the original film. The associations with night, bedrooms, beds and the pattern of male vampire/female victim or vice-versa all continue to this day. Whether you accept a theory of sexual themes, infidelity, sexual competition, etc in the novel Dracula it must be admitted that it is a romantic novel and the threat is only transiently to the hero's personal safety, but ultimately is a deadly threat to his loving relationship and dreams for a romantic fairy-tale ending. This second point represents a cultural or historical argument for vampires always having been sexy, and that pattern simply persisting as a part of the genre.Thirdly I believe there is a deeper and subtler answer. For some time now I have believed that there is a connection between the concept of contact, or touching to an extreme degree and the concept of merging of identity. Touching, kissing and sex all typically involve the psychological or emotional merging of personality to various degrees, and, in tandem, an exchange of spiritual lifeforce. This latter can be put on a solid scientific footing by pointing out the exchange of fluids represents a bacteriological exchange, bacteria are a symbiotic peripheral part of the self, and therefore a bacteriological exchange is an exchange of a part of the self, even if we are dealing with the penumbra. But when we deal with blood we are not in the penumbra. It seems scientifically proven that a pregnant mother transfers living white blood cells to her child's bloodstream to be incorporated into the child's immune system. Breastmilk contains these same living white blood cells, and although I have not read they transfer to the baby's blood, I suppose that they do for the same solid reasons, and will live on within the bloodstream of the baby. Moving into the realm of fantasy a vampire receives a part of the living fabric of the victim which will in fantasy merge with the colony of cells which inhabit and which constitute the imbiber, making the relationship the most intimate of all human relations and gratifying Freud on the sexual question.Essay ends.

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