Vampires are disgusting.
For younger readers who don’t know, there was a movie released in 1922 called Nosferatu and the vampire in that film was a spooky, gaunt, rat-like creature. He was not the adorable, pretty boy vampire that your teenage sister wishes would bite her under the school bleachers. No, ma’am. Nosferatu was way creepy and gross. Traditional folklore vampires always were. You don’t want your dead Uncle Eugene crawling out of the grave and drinking your blood.
Then, in 1931, Bela Lugosi played the lead role the eponymous <i>Dracula</i> movie. Here was a gentleman who was smooth and handsome and charming and romantic. He was the sort of vampire ladies began swooning over.
How did vampires go from Nosferatu to suave?
In writing Dracula, Bram Stoker is credited with altering hundreds of years of “eerie folklore nosferatu” into the “suave aristocratic stud puppy” and changing the whole image of vampirism.
Why are vampires so popular? Why did they evolve from spooky undead into romanticized antiheroes?
Well, before I answer that question, let me say this – I have no idea… but I sure can fake it. One thing I loathe about people who fancy themselves intellectuals is their uncanny conceit in pontificating on topics as though their assessments are uncontested oracles of truth. No, they’re not. We can come up with convincing theories and well-constructed hypothesis, we may even be able to trick people into thinking we’ve given a concrete answer, but the truth is, the human spirit is a fickle thing and none can say for certain why sociological trends proliferate at certain times more than others.
Having prefixed my opinions with said caveat, permit me to get terribly pompous and pretend to know the answer. Shall I? Here goes…
Mortality scares the hell out of every living soul. From the most wealthy billionaire to the poorest pauper, we all know we will die, we never know when, and (religious convictions aside) we have no idea what will happen to us when we do. Vampires are appealing, in the simplest terms, because of their promise to avoid that fate, in a sea of time, with eternal youth. No death. No aging. No slow decrepit deterioration of body and mind. Frozen hours. Hey! Awesome! Who wouldn’t want that? Sounds fantastic!
Ah, ha! But there’s a catch! (Isn’t there always?)
No sunlight. Forever. Eternal darkness. Your very existence must remain secret, for fear of mortal retribution. And you must drink the blood of living human beings.
Suddenly, the sweet deal isn’t so sweet anymore. Now it becomes morally questionable. Is it worth the price? Can we do that? What kind of person could do that?
That mixture of a wonderful blessing and a horrible curse is what makes vampires so intriguing. Their dichotomy. Their conflict. Their internal struggle of light and darkness.
Of course, what is the metaphor there?
Life itself. Right? The transition from teens to young adulthood. The transition from college to the working world. The regrets in our lives. The mistakes we make. The people we hurt. The wrong things we do. You know what you’ve done. You know how terrible you’ve been. Those things only a couple of people in the world know about.
As we move from childhood into adulthood, we all become vampires. We start doing things we might have been ashamed of as kids. Our souls get a little tarnished (some more than others, of course). We feel the trepidations of marching time. Just look at senior graduation from highschool. In terms of our perceptions of time, that’s one of the most horrifying moments in our lives. We remember first day of Freshman year like it was last week… and now those 4 years have just vanished. Suddenly, for the first time ever, we understand what our parents tried to tell us about time – “Wow. College is going to move just that fast too! Then… the real world!” And we are never ready for that.
Ah, but to have the power and strength and immortality of a vampire! To never worry about the passage of time. To live free and eternally.
Wouldn’t that be great?
That is why people love vampires. That is why they are especially popular among teens and young adults. Vampires are the wish fulfillment of all teenage fears. No aging. Immense power. You never have to grow up. And nobody can ever mess with you. Who wouldn’t yearn for such an existence, especially when living the vulnerable years of high school and college?
As I said at the beginning, I could be totally wrong too. Maybe lots of people just really dig capes. Man, I don’t know. I’m just making this stuff up!
What’s your theory?
One thing I do know, when I started writing my vampire duology, The Vampire Noctuaries back in 1993, vampires were not as trendy as they became 20 years later. I’ve always been proud of the fact that The Vampire Noctuaries are two books exploring a vampire world that hasn’t been done a thousand times before. The world is a faeriepunk aesthetic of leather jackets and Doc Martens more than capes. The Gothic Rainbow was released in 1997 and Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival came out in 2013, and no one else has written a vampire tale like it. There are no vampire clans, or vampire hunters, or werewolves. No one is a “chosen one”, who “discovers how important they are”, from a mysterious stranger. No one is a daywalker. No one is attempting to “reverse the effects” of vampirism. No one is on a quest to find the oldest vampires. There are no love triangles between frail teens and powerful immortals, and there are certainly no vampires enrolled in college courses or getting pregnant. Instead, the story explores the lives of two young people who are lost and broken and find redemption in the dark shadows of gothic nightclubs and Combichrist concerts.
Truth be told, I have no idea why most people like vampire stories.
Fans of The Vampire Noctuaries are not most people. The Vampire Noctuaries fans appreciate the story because it speaks to them; the weirdos, the freaks, the outcasts, the loners. They are the readers with whom it resonates the most. The heart and soul of The Vampire Noctuaries is a story about the kind of pain you felt the night of your first heartbreak. This isn’t for the kids who get bullied, it’s for the ones who are invisible. This isn’t for the kids who cut themselves, it’s for the ones who know what the barrel tastes like. This isn’t for the kids who want someone to talk to, it’s for the ones who have never spoken of what happened that night. This is for the kids who punch holes in the wall while Ministry is blaring “Stigmata” at a volume that risks shattering the fishtank. Teen angst is for sissies. This is for those sick with a depression so thick, it poisons your very marrow to sewage; with a firestorm of rage so deafening, it scorches your very flesh to cinders.
When the world burns down, fans of my vampires will be clutching The Gothic Rainbow in one hand and roasting marshmallows with the other. You will be suave. You will be dashing. You will be handsome ladies and swooning gentlemen.
You will be the latest trend.
Whether clad in capes and lace or leather and Doc Martens, you will be elegant.
About Eric Muss-Barnes