Dracula: once bitten, forever smitten

From Dracula to Lestat to Mona the Vampire, the thirst for vampire novels is unquenchable. They've been examined from every conceivable angle, done to death as it were, and yet literature about them proliferates at greater speed than vampires themselves could ever hope to. So what is it about books featuring the undead that holds us so much in thrall?

Vampire by moonlightVampires were around long before they became popular reading material: superstitions about demonic blood-drinkers can be found in numerous cultures throughout history. However, it was not until vampires entered the realm of fiction in the 19th century that they became associated with sexuality and mystique. The big daddy of the vampire novel is, of course, Dracula. Initially not very successful, Bram Stoker's novel has come to embody the archetype. But vampires had already enjoyed literary outings in Tolstoy, Poe and most notably in Le Fanu's lesbian vampire novel Carmilla and John William Polidori's seminal 1819 short story The Vampyre.

By today's standards Dracula is outmoded. Modern fiction ups the glamour factor of vampires and reduces the gothic flavour that typifies earlier novels. It also tends to humanise the vampire, presenting it as having emotional capabilities. Though Dracula contains plenty of sadistic sexual imagery, its eponymous villain is portrayed as evil without much further psychological complexity. Coppola's adaptation pays wonderful homage to Hammer, but despite being called Bram Stoker's Dracula, it is in fact anything but. It seeks to explain him as a man, making him traumatised by the suicide of his wife. Coppola's film ties in with the evolution of the vampire novel: we no longer simply want to watch these creatures and be frightened - we want to get inside their heads and imagine what it is like to be them.

Interview with the Vampire is surely 'sire' - as Buffy would put it - to the contemporary breed of vampire novel. Anne Rice's many follow-ups to her 1973 classic range from the trashy but addictive Queen of the Damned trilogy to the elegiac Tale of the Body Thief, but to my mind Interview stands as the most significant and original in her series. Set in 18th-century France, it focuses on a young man named Louis who, overcome with grief following the deaths of his family, accepts an offer to become a vampire. This is followed by terrible guilt and unhappiness at the crimes his new condition makes him commit - as well as some profound questions about existence. Rice's protagonist is both human and non-human: crucially, he has a conscience. The novel was made into a film with Tom Cruise, and although Rice herself admitted it wasn't bad, like most adaptations it pales in comparison to the book. There is something about vampires which films, for all their special effects, are just not able to capture. No matter how well made it is, sooner or later we will forget to suspend disbelief and be forced to contend with the fact that we are watching the guy from Top Gun in a wig and lots of white make-up. Books, which do not have to cast mere mortals as vampires, are not so easily undone.

The appeal of vampires for teenagers deserves special consideration, since sagas written for this readership may well be the ultimate resting place of the vampire novel. Not only are vamps portrayed as sophisticated loners, reviled by their peers and tormented by their bloodlust, but for some reason they like to hang about in schools. As with Rice's books and Christopher Pike's The Last Vampire chronicles, vampires are represented as super-powered, virtually immortal and probably capable of ruling the world if they chose - a seductive concept, especially for the alienated teen.

One thing is certain about vampires - no matter in which medium they are fed to us, we're not going to lose our appetite for them any time soon. Yet I suspect the reason the vampire novel will continue to endure is because words have the power to capture and sustain the allure and mystique that surrounds them in a way that films, despite their more visceral properties of sound and image, do not.

Source: written by Will Davis



Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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