Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Vampire Evolution

I’ve studied evil from every angle, monsters and ghosts, werewolves and 'Frankensteins', madmen and crazed women and most of all, vampires. One of the more intriguing aspects of this review is their changing nature over recent decades, not so much of the monsters themselves, but of our relationship to them. We don’t see evil like we used to!

Take the vampire genre for instance. Nobody dreamed of hot sex with Nosferatu, nobody I know, anyway. But Eric Northman? The Salvatore brothers? Edward? That’s a whole different story. So what happened in the scant years between Bram Stoker’s fear and loathing to our modern-day lust-love? How different now are the denizens of the night and how did they get that way?

The curious thing is, aside from increased hotness, the basic tenets of these creatures are the same. Vampires are still a blood drinking, super strong, fast and intelligent predatory species who generally find humans beneath them. They have a hunger and plenty of necks still snap. Bodies are drained of blood. Yet, we are swooning for them. What gives?

Some say that vampires have always had an erotic quality and that film and TV have simply amped this up by putting a new face on an old devil. The claim is our art and stories have changed the image of the vampire over time, from pure evil violence to dangerous erotic to heroic heartthrob. But is it really the media that is changing social concepts, or is it the other way around?

I vote for the other way around. To me, the evolution of the vampire is not simply a trend generated by contemporary literature and film. These new images aren’t responsible for the shifting views of society; rather they are a reflection of them. And here we get to the crux. As our perception of Self changes, our monsters must change as well. Ultimately, the evolution of the vampire reflects the evolution of the human soul.

Think about it. The vampire as a representation of our inner darkness was once powerful beyond control, a force of nature we could not reckon with. Now we dialog with these creatures, are intimate with them and in the case of LJ Smith, Stephenie Meyer and others, we walk with them in the sun (the symbol of consciousness).

Originally, the vampire had no soul—‘In this chest beats no heart,’ Bram Stoker’s Dracula says, but now that’s changing. We are learning compassion for the beast within, and because of that, the beast is free, sometimes, to love us back. In this way, our new relationship with the vampire reflects the growth of human consciousness and our ability to love the darker aspects of ourselves and others.

What do you think? How have vampires changed for you as readers and writers? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Kim Falconer is a Supernatural Underground author writing epic science fantasy novels set in the worlds of Earth and Gaela. Kim’s latest series is Quantum Encryption. You can find out more about her at kim.falconer.com. She posts on the 16th of every month.

15 comments:

Colleen McEuen said...

I think you nailed it. Considering they're our brainchild it makes sense that we are the source of their evolution. As writers, readers and, well, people in general, as a society we are learning to tolerate, and over time accept, individuals for who they are not what they are. I think that is reflected in modern literature.

Sharon said...

bad boy's are a staple in romance and the vamp (the ultimate bad boy)has replaced the Rebel. One of the things that make a bad boy so appealing is his past and vamps (or supernatural creature) can have thousands of years of "past" an author can draw from. All those time periods to choose from, the possibilities are endless.

Helen Lowe said...

Hey Kim, What an intriguing post! I have not reflected on this so deeply, but to the extent I have, my thoughts have pretty much tracked Sharon's, which is that the vampire/para hero is a new take on what Georgette Heyer would have called the A-type hero: (usually) super rich, powerful, handsome, physically adept (readers may take a double meaning if they choose ;-) )but who nontheless loves only 'our heroine.'

But as to why we are taking to them in our droves as romantic heroes--I had thought it might be because our modern man / woman relationships don't allow us to suspend disbelief in terms of that power imbalance between human hero and heroines in quite that way anymore?

Thanks for the visual of Eric, btw! :)

Kim Falconer said...

Colleen, thank you for that. We are exposed more and more to different ways, cultures and beliefs. Once upon a time, 'different' was a threat. Now we are meeting different (and dangerous) with a more open mind. In this way, our love of the 'darkness' is a very good sign.

I wonder too if our relationship to vampires (in particular because of their immortality) is our desire to understand the cycle of life and death. In a society where death is not 'talked about' and resisted to the extreme, films and literature filled with the 'undead' could be an attempt to explore this 'other side' of life.

Kim Falconer said...

Hi Sharon,

That's an interesting angle, the replacement of the Rebel. And yes, the mysterious past. The vampire offers a way to look back into our cultural roots with new eyes and understand the minds and ways of our ancestors. There is also intrigue in the unknown and, what is that saying? The past is a foreign country? Good point!

Kim Falconer said...

Helen, thanks for dropping by. You've opened up a new window on this topic - the attraction to vampires as a kind of wish fulfillment or counter balance to our everyday human relationships. Is that what you meant?

As women in our culture become more individuated and powerful in their own right, it makes sense that our heroes must become AAA-types. 'Not any dude will do!' And if one is going to give their power up, if only briefly, it better be to someone akin to the gods.

Could this 'drove factor' be fueled in part by increasing equality between genders? That's a very interesting thought!

Thank you!

Amy Valentini said...

Hi Kim,
This is one of the most intriguing posts I've read in a long time ... only wish I'd thought of it first ... I agree with you that our social changes have changed our perception of the vampire rather than media/film. I started to see the changes in 'Vampires' after the onset of AIDS. I think when blood became a danger, it created a need in us to see someone who craves it as a more compassionate, sympathetic and even human character. My husband is always saying it's crazy to see vampires having sex because they are supposed to be sexless - my response, 'who says?' Vampires arent' real, they can be anything we want them to be and I'm all for the sexy, physically energized type. That's another thing to consider - vampires have always been psychologically sexual creatures, I guess it's the whole biting the neck thing. The draining of blood is said to be a euphoric sensation even when someone slashes their wrists. Once the initial pain wanes, a euphoric sensation sets in so I assume some psychologists compare this to the big 'O'! Modern vampires are sexy beyond sexy and we love them.
Great post and I do absolutely thank you for posting that delicous picture of our bad boy, Eric!

Kim Falconer said...

Amy, thank you for your contribution! The subject is not nearly exhausted and there is plenty more to be researched, written and discussed on the topic!

I had not thought of the connection to AIDS. That's very interesting. Sex suddenly became very dangerous too, as well as blood. Perhaps we have to find ways of integrating our fears, and new realities, and story as metaphor is the most ancient way to do so.

I agree that vampires, even Nosferatu, are sensual in nature and very passionate in their desires (to drain a victim of blood) and yes there is a euphoria linked to that. Bram Stoker's Dracula was a 'monster' but he also was passionate and sensual and full of longings. It would be a very interesting study to examine the film and literature, year by year over the last century and see how we actually got from Nosferatu to Eric Northman. What was the turning point? What was happening in society at the time? What else were people reading/viewing. It's a wide open topic!

I do think that photo of Eric is representative of the erotic allure our modern-day vampires have!

:)

Amy Valentini said...

Wow, Kim, it really IS a wide open topic and a fascinating one. You've asked some questions that have definitely peaked my interest in understanding the motivation for our love of vampires. My hubby is always complaining that the vampire 'thing' is being overdone, I don't think so. We've enjoyed Vampires since Bram Stoker first introduced us to Dracula and Bela Lugosi glared at us from the behind his cape. Vampires aren't going away any time soon, thank goodness. If they did then I've wasted a lot of time creating a new breed in my current WIP. : )

Helen Lowe said...

Hi Kim,

That is kind of what I'm saying--that traditionally the romantic hero, and often the villain as well, is rich, handsome, brooding so the vampire/para hero is the natural extension of that--your AAA+ type hero!--in a world where women are now economically, politically and socially more equal with men than they were in the past--so the romantic hero has to be upped a level (or 3!) to still work in the classic Romantic mold.

Although probably, I think all the factors we mention are probably at play in driving the paranormal phenomenon--it's a melting pot!

Kim Falconer said...

Amy, I agree! If the Vampire 'trend' is a reflection of the collective consciousness, it's not overdone, it's a symbol of 'what is.'

This goes nicely with what Helen just said, that as women become more powerful in their own right, their 'romantic heroes' must 'up the anti' too! Great contributions here. Much to think about!

AA Bell said...

Love this topic... have been thinking something very similar for a while now:

In the last 20 years, as heroines have become stronger and more capable, as a reflection of the progress of real women in the workplace and in society generally, I think the heroes, antiheroes and villains have all needed to evolve to present her with sufficient challenges...

* men with such strong wills, it takes a strong woman to get under their skin...

* men with such cold/iron hearts it takes the heat of a fiery woman to temper them both in a pairing...

* and men strong enough to be worthy of her.

Kim Falconer said...

Anita, these are good points and confirm the idea that it takes a very strong hero/love interest to match a powerful, individuated woman. Not all the heroines in vampire lit are strong women though. We can hope the reader is, or is in the process of becoming.

It would be interesting to look at the popular fiction of other cultures where women are in different social positions. There are so many aspects to this topic! The research is endless!

Thank you for dropping in. I'm off to read your post now! :)

Dear Sharne said...

Just wondering if the obvious aspects of the vampire are also appealing to us all, from our own subconscious; the possibility to live forever, supernatural powers, rich and the ability to have most people open to our every desire! The modern vampire is young and attractive! Seriously what's not to love about these qualities, I would want to be a modern vampire, especially when they are portrayed as having more humanity rather than the old style that used us as food.

Kim Falconer said...

That's true, Dear Sharne,they have qualities we idealize like immortality, beauty, strength, supernatural powers. They seems so in control of their lives, though there are some catches: daylight is a problem for most, and the compulsions seem very intense.

Still, we look on them with longing, not pity! Good point.