The Recalcitrant Vampire: Immortal Pop Culture Emperor
When people ask what I do and I respond with, “I’m a writer,” the inevitable follow-up is to ask what I write.
“Urban fantasy” gets a blank stare from them and an internal headdesk from me.
Usually my response has to be short and consists of two or three words. Those words are often “self-actualized vampires.” At the v-word, I people either respond with more blank face and a high-nodded “oh” of ending the conversation or by getting excited.
The thing is, as much as there is somewhat of an arching mythos surrounding the vampire world, vampires do pretty much whatever they want. They walk in sunlight, or it makes them go poof. Stakes do them in, or beheading, or fire, or the occasional holy item, or any combination thereof. They might be offended by garlic or eat it every day. Running water or the threshold of your home might stop them, or you might be eaten before your toe gets wet.
They might eat you flat out or fall in love with you or have some massive self image issues. They might wear clothes that are still hot among goth circles or that went out of style in the 70s. (Which might be back by now.)
Without further ado, here are some classics for you to peruse.
Look at this guy. Teeth front and center. The Uncle Fester skull and eyeholes. A vampire with an extreme weakness for the beauty of femininity. Kind of an oversight on the evolutionary plane, don’t you think? The guy got so distracted with this woman that he forgot about the sun coming up. That’s like a human getting so fixated on something shiny that they miss the shark gnawing their feet off until they die of blood loss.
Ah, the introduction to the swirling cape. This image has been seared onto our retinas (and beautifully mastered by the artist here!) for the last several decades. It’s the stakes. The buxom vampire beauties. The torchlight and castle-y goodness. That Drac.
He’s the guy who made us think vampires should be sexy, sensual. He made women swoon when he went for the throat. And rightly so.
The Buffy vamps — I can’t go far in this post without mentioning them. No muss, no fuss staking, folks! Just zing, poof! Try not to inhale the dust. And talk about sexy factor — between Angel and Spike, they’ve kept a couple generations drooling.
The mythology that went into these vampires is fascinating as well. No soul unless cursed (or in one unique case, fought for). The vampires of the Buffyverse are supposed to be the descendants of demons who mingled their blood with humans. Here’s a picture of their great-great-granddaddy:
The Turok-Han (above) had a sternum like steel and Holy Water rolled off him like…plain old water. Not many weaknesses besides sunlight and a nifty little scythe doodad Buffy King Arthured out of a rock. And definitely not someone you’d want to share a bed with.
Talk about culture icons. Before Robert Pattinson graced the sunlight with his glimmering skin, there was the deadly duo of 90s heartthrobs, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise biting their ways to your heart’s blood. Sensual. Elegant. Bloodthirsty. Prone to excessive combustion when exposed to sun.
Let’s not forget the lovely Kirsten Dunst in Interview With the Vampire, either. Tragic and terrifying at once — this image of an immortal child long before Breaking Dawn.
Before this post comes to its inevitable conclusion, I had to veer away from the pretty-boy vamps to show you a truly sinister incarnation of the vampiric mythos — the vampire from 30 Days of Night. These vampires don’t just suck you dry, they massacre whole towns when they can. Sunlight is a weakness, but that’s about it. Fast as hell on wheels and virtually impossible to track, these guys don’t much care what you throw at them. The vampire lady above is one bad mama jama.
It had to happen…see above re: inevitable conclusion. I can’t talk about the emperors of pop culture without showing his face. You see, this vampire has a sunlight thang, but it’s not to burst into flames (though it might still blind you). He can’t be staked or beheaded by a human without some serious steroids. (Staked at all, really.)
Although they’re only in print, Anita Blake’s vampires have their quirks — they essentially die from sunup till sundown and have to feed to be able to function sexually. The vampires of the Hollows are unique in that they are born that way and die two deaths at some point in life — the first takes their soul and leaves them hugely strong but bereft of sunlight and church for the rest of their existence, and the second commits them to the abyss.
The Night World vampires could walk in sunlight and didn’t share many of the biggies like holy items and garlic (not many care about garlic anymore). In The Passage they had a type of hive mentality. There have been so many incarnations of these creatures that they have made themselves immortal in our culture.
While this is in no way a complete rendition of all vampires in literature and film and television, one thing shines through: vampires have dominated our culture for a hundred years and more through legend and myth and literature, and no one is going to be stealing their coffins any time soon. There are as many ways to write them as there are days in a year and more. The important thing, as Hemingway (I think it was him. Stake me if not.) would have it, is to go ahead and say what’s already been said — just do it in a way no one’s done it yet.
And my vampires? Where do they fit in?
Well, gentle viewers, you’ll have to come back another time for that. Until then, sleep well, and keep a stake handy.