A tentative look at the dawn of the heroic vampire

The evolution of the vampire has been a journey from the monstrous, to the humane, to a fine amalgamation of the two, and back again, where readers demand (and are rewarded with) both monstrous, and compassionate vampires, each terrifying in their own right, and each highly compelling. The genre of vampire fiction (or vampire literature, if one deems the themes to be broader than just the inclusion of vampirism) first truly began – or rather, initially became prolific – with the release of Dracula by Bram Stoker. An Irish author, who modelled an entirely fictional man, or monster, if you will, on the medieval Prince of Wallachia, Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. The reasons for his choosing of this man to create as the mould for his most terrifying villain, are not hard to fathom. Vlad Tepes had a reputation for being bloodthirsty. Not only metaphysically, but literally as well. It was said that he drank the blood of his enemies deep in the forests near his castle, while surrounded by a valley of stakes atop which these aforementioned enemies died slowly and in agony. And so, Bram Stoker took this mildly horrifying imagery, so terrifyingly based in truth, and created the first real fictional vampire. A monster. Of course, other works of fiction, equally intended to terrify the audience, have popularised and coloured and spurned the modern vampire. Works such as Varney the Vampire, of the Penny Dreadful tales and John Polidori’s The Vampyre is also a noteworthy such piece.

But the vampire is the most unique of all monsters. Whether it be lore, romanticism, or the simple human need to find solace in the dark, and to not run screaming from it, the vampire is the most human of all monsters in our scare repertoire. Modern retellings of the old tale of Dracula have had the dreaded impaler suffer from the centuries’ old angst of losing his love. The story. The Vampyre, was later retold by Tom Holland as a gothic struggle from the hero to maintain his humanity in the face of what he knows as his own monstrosity, Francis Ford Coppola adapted a new film version of Dracula that painted him as the victim.

But, above all, Anne Rice… In 1974, Ms Rice gave readers something they had been craving ever since the introduction of a monster that could, might, if construed through rose-tinted glasses, feel love. She told the vampire’s story, from his own perspective, as a monster interviewed by a gullible young man in a dingy, rented room. “First of all, I always thought the vampire was the interesting one,” Rice stated in an interview regarding the adaptation of her first foray into vampire literature, Interview with the Vampire; and who can discount such a statement? When an audience views a horror tale, the attention is not on the blindly beautiful heroine, or the romantic, strapping young prince charming who saves the damsel and is torn and wounded in the process. No. It is the monster, the fiend, the villain – or antagonist, if one is feeling generous – that steals the scene, always. And why is this? Why are viewers, readers, consumers, thrilled by the sight of something monstrous? The answer is simple. A good villain is a deviation from the norm, away from the human, stepping deep into the realms of what we consider to be monstrous. But a grande villain… Well, a grande villain never steps too far away. A truly magnificent villain has just enough of the human left to it, that the audience is never entirely certain of its moral infidelity.

Interview with the Vampire was the first novel in what was (to date) be a series of eleven novels, with two offshoot novels (The New Tales of the Vampires). This was collectively entitled, The Vampire Chronicles, and, swimming against the tide of what the reader may consider normalcy, spoke from the perspective of the monster, and not its human victims, nor the omniscient narrator one might expect. The story initially followed the character of Louis, a reluctant vampire seemingly forced to satiate his bloodlust against his very human will and conscience; driven by the monster in him to kill, when he would rather study the nature of what he had become, and the gifts proffered by the unnatural change. But the tale quickly shifted focus to this softly-mannered characters antagonistic maker, Lestat, and his own battles with the concepts of good, and evil, and whether or not he was a creature of one or the other of these ideals.

Lestat shifted from the ascribed villainous traits of his character, to a fully-fledged gothic hero in a romantic setting where monsters could be something other than cruel and unsettling. The vampire characters, supporting cast to Lestat’s centuries’ long dramatic re-enactment, ranged from evil to their very core, pinned on youth, brashly boasting security in their own self-worth, or just the knowledge that no one would ever deny them the right to this vicious nature, to considerable compassion, the will to alter the world, and themselves by taking it upon their nature to drink only from the evil-doer, to guard mortals, and defend them from others like themselves that may want to cause them harm. The entire setting became a play of the difference between an intrinsic goodness, and a refusal to do good, even in the face of what might be considered the adversary, and the very real possibility of hell itself.

The underlying meaning behind these tales, and their design, is open to a number of interpretations. However, for the purposes of this collection of essays, this reader will look into the discussion of Good versus Evil. More specifically, the self-created conception of what is Goodness, pitted against the notion that a being capable of seeing Evil, spying it in oneself, and then spinning the axis around and refusing to buy into its sordid seduction, cannot, in and of itself, be wholly evil. It is theorised that the ability to perceive and avoid evil, suggesting that a creature is aware that an action IS evil, is a sign that the creature itself cannot possibly be evil. A popular trope in any story creation is that, that which is Evil, cannot comprehend Good.

“Or since you comprehend what you call Goodness, does it not make you Good?” Asks the vampire Armand of Louis in the movie adaptation (screenplay penned by the author herself) of Interview with the Vampire. And so the discussion must stand, can a creature capable of Goodness, a creature that intrinsically steps away from what it perceives in itself as Evil, ever be considered Evil? Or, are vampires, monsters, literary created figments intended to frighten and thrill a jaded audience, simply incapable of the nature of Goodness, doomed to fail and be subjected to the ravages of what humanity has termed Hell in a nihilistic world where the line between right and wrong is solid and unpassable?

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2 Comments

  • Reply Nancy Stornes March 15, 2015 at 1:32 am

    Thanks to Anne Rice, I found you.

    • Reply Carmen Dominique March 15, 2015 at 7:13 am

      She is a grand lady – I am always honoured when she takes one of my pieces and speaks on them. Always.

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