Vampires: Variations on a Theme

Vampires: Variations on a Theme

As I started working on this essay, I realized something unexpected: I have no idea when I became aware of vampires.

Originally, I was going to say that “Bunnicula” was the first vampire story I ever read, and that might be true, but in order to understand “Bunnicula” you have to have at least a minimal knowledge of what a vampire is.

The joke in “Bunnicula” is that it’s about a vampire bunny that sucks the juice out of vegetables.  This, of course, makes it the most harmless “bloodsucker” in all of vampire fiction.

But the thing about the book is, it requires you know what vampires are in order to get the joke.  The bunny has fangs, and his coloration resembles the iconic Dracula cape.  And you have to understand that vampires suck blood from their victims in order to get the vegetable-juice-drinking gag.

So I must have learned about vampires from somewhere else.  But where?  No clue.

What I do remember is being mildly fascinated by this twist on vampirism.

The thing was, when I was a kid, my parents used to warn me away from scary books.  Whether it was to protect my overactive imagination from nightmares or because they were well aware most horror novels contained mature themes my not-yet-teenaged-mind wasn’t quite ready for, I don’t know. 

What I did know was that every time I saw a book with a creepy cover, it inevitably had one particular name on it: Stephen King.

When I hit the ripe old age of twelve, I learned something: scary stories were great.  And so I went to the library and picked up a book with King’s name on the cover.  And wouldn’t you know it, I chose “’Salem’s Lot,” King’s vampire story.

This was no accident.  From what I could tell, King was the scariest of scary writers.  But at least with vampires I knew more-or-less what I was getting into.

Oddly, I don’t really recall what I thought of the book.  I do remember my non-reading classmates wondering why I was carrying around a book that was so massive.  These were the pre-Harry Potter years, when pretty much every book for kids my age topped out at 150 pages or so.

In hindsight, I clearly enjoyed the book, as I started reading my way through Stephen King.  But more importantly, I started to get curious about vampire mythology.

In the world of 2011, I easily can hop online, Google vampires and come across a few million sites dedicated to the undead creatures of the night.  (Of course, roughly half of them are probably devoted to “Twilight” these days…).  Back then, I had to head back to the library.

And what I discovered was that vampire mythology is probably the most malleable mythology in all of monsterdom.

According to one book I read, you had to drive a stake through the heart of a vampire in order to kill it.  Then you had to cut off the head, stuff the mouth with garlic (or was it a crucifix?) and then bury the body and head separately to keep the vampire from coming back.  And, you know, maybe salt the earth.  Or not. 

(I wonder, would garlic salt work better?)

Oh, and there were the magical powers.  Vampires could fly. Or turn into bats.  Some of them could use mind control on you.  Or turn into wolves. 

Unless, of course, they couldn’t.

Oh, and sunlight would kill them.  Or holy water, or silver.  And they couldn’t look at or touch crosses.  And they can’t see themselves in mirrors.

Unless they can.

Even more off the wall: If a vampire was chasing you, you could throw grains of rice on the ground, and the vampire would be unable to move until it had counted all the grains of rice.  I read somewhere that this was where the counting vampire, Count von Count, on Sesame Street emerged.  (Come to think of it, he probably was my introduction to what a vampire looked like, but I seriously doubt Sesame Street ever mentioned bloodsucking.)

Delving further into vampire literature and films only confused the issue.  In “The Lost Boys,” vampires couldn’t handle garlic or see themselves in mirrors.  Unless you invited them into your home.  Then all of that is null and void.

And then we jump forward a few years, and we come across “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and a new-ish kind of character.  Angel, the vampire with a soul.

This led to about a billion more variations on the vampire mythos.  No longer did vampires have to be brooding, freaky creatures of the night.  No, no.  Now they could be the hot guy who was never, ever, ever going to get old and saggy and hideous.  He would always be young and hot.

As a pop culture aficionado, I found this kind of thing fascinating.  Most of these characters come with a dark past that involves the deaths of a lot of innocent people.  And yet, the women in the tales (and they are mostly women) love their bad boys, because the hot guy wants to change.

For some reason, this gets a pass in vampire fiction.  Whereas if the guy in question was a cannibal, it wouldn’t fly.  And yet it’s the same thing: Dude who eats people wants to stop eating people for his lady-love.

Lady-love realizes that her man has a past, and deals with it emotionally.  Or pretends to, anyway.

Which brings me to the many variations on how hot guy vampires have to handle their eating habits.

The standard go-to is the blood bank, where vampires somehow convince a go-between to let a bunch of blood bags vanish out the back of the hospital for an undisclosed sum.  I always wonder how the guy at the hospital manages to keep his job.  And more importantly, I feel sorry for the various patients who end up dead when they can’t get a transfusion.

One of the other popular variations is the vamp who consumes animal blood instead of human.  In “Twilight,” the vampires who do this refer to themselves as vegetarians, which I’m sure ticked off a real-life vegetarian or two.

(Though not as much as the whole sparkly thing did to the majority of horror fans.)

As a viewer and a reader, I generally let explanations like this go.  We are talking about fiction, after all.

The thing is, though, when I sat down to write my take on the vampire via the YA novel “Blood Calling,” I knew that I didn’t want to gloss over the fact that vampires dine on humans. 

On the contrary, I decided to embrace it.  Because I wanted my vampires to be both mega-creepy and also the good guys.

If this is the kind of thing that intrigues you and you want to read the book with all twists and surprises intact, I suggest you skip to the end of the post and get yourself a copy.

If you just want to know how I chose to do it, read on.

Here we go:

In the modern world, vampires are a leftover of the evolutionary process.  They came into existence shortly after humans did, and their function was (and remains) to help the sick and dying pass on.

In other words, they are euthanasia artists, who go to people and ask them if they’re ready to pass from this world into the next one.  And if the person says yes, then the vampires make sure the process is quick and painless as opposed to drawn-out and painful.

That wasn’t my only variation on the vampire life.  As I continued to work on the book, I kept inserting explanations for things that always bothered me.  Why do vampires appear to have black eyes?  (Pupil dilation in near 100% dark conditions.)  Do vampires have super-strength?  (Yes, but there’s a physical cost involved.)

And so on.

Now that I’ve finished my novel, I think I finally understand why writers change the vampire rules every time they start a new book or series:

It’s fun.

That’s a good enough reason for me.

Blood Calling is available on:




And if you’d like a free “taste” of the Blood Calling universe, my novelette, “Baby Teeth,” is currently available for the low, low cost of nothing at all.  Just go here:

Comments

Kay Dee Royal said…
Hi Katie - Hello Joshua,
Interesting post on vampires - congratulations on Blood Calling...you've described it in a most compelling way - both mega-creepy and also good guys for your vamps.
Paranormal ROCKS! And it sounds like your book does, too!
Shawna Thomas said…
Hi Katie and Joshua.

I loved this post. I approached vampires in much the same way. I wanted to know what made them tick. What would make them possible. We came to similar conclusions. Mine were a genetic aberration of human that required blood to survive. They were no better or worse than humans, they just needed to feed. ; )

Your book sounds intriguing!
I just have to say it's awesome to find someone else who knows about Bunnicula.
Anonymous said…
When approaching mine, I came from the POV that the creatures would originally have formed a small clique that actually fed off each other's blood, like a cannabalistic family. The idea was that as time went on and this family became larger and more fragmented, and interbred with other species (leading to hideous vampire hybrids) they would necessarily be feeding on a supply of blood that was less pure than the original scenario. Exacerbating this would be that, in order to get around the problem of sourcing blood, the creatures would be forced to turn to other sources- roadkill and rats etc. In my story, when you meet the vampire protagonist in the present day, his body is an advanced state of ill health almost like a cancer, ravaged by years of drinking an inferior supply of blood.
Phil said…
Great post! Why do you think all famous cinematic vampires are hot white men?
When I read Salem's Lot I wouldn't open my windows for a year and in upstate NY without AC that was a sacrifice. I also put garlic on all the sills. That book scared the bejeesus out of e!

I find the cataloguing of vampire variables fascinating. It's why I got into blogging.
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