Novel Vampires and their makers

You may skip this if not interested, but if you think vampires have been “done to death,” you may not have read these.

Let me first say that I am speaking about true vampires, not  sparkly-skinned Edward Cullen or even the defanged vampires of P. C.  and Kristen Cast.  Vampires are deadly creatures, predators of the night.  They should remain that way.  Some revel in that status, others may try to find some cure, or long to become human (can we say Barnabas Collins?) but they still have to wrestle with their monstrous nature.  Part of the fun of reading a good vampire novel involves this very struggle.  To my mind, these perverse renditions of Twilight are akin to “the little fairies at the bottom of the garden,” as opposed to real fey—who are dangerous and tricky.  The Irish referred to the fairies as “the Good People” out of fear, not because of high regard.  They had to be placated.

Vampires don’t have to be blood-suckers, but it’s more fun when they are.  They should always be mysterious, dangerous to humans, and are certainly not creatures you want to cuddle up with.  (For one thing, they’re dead.)  If someone wants to cuddle up with a vampire, make him (or her) human at the end of the story.  Part of the fun of watching Dark Shadows (yes, I’m dating myself) was never being sure when Barnabas would become vampiric, though he strongly wished to be human.  Barnabas was also someone constantly trying to recapture the past—an essential part of being vampiric to my mind.

On to books. There are countless takes.  These are the best.

Begin, of course, with Dracula.  If you have not read this one, you have not yet experienced the taproot of the legend.  Victorian sensibilities abound in this novel, the mysteries are beautifully presented, and Dracula’s predatory nature is well-offset by Van Helsing’s passionate hunter-nature.  There’s nothing glam about Dracula.  He’s an old man when we first meet him, masquerading as human.  Stoker never lets you forget what he is, even when he’s trying to court Lucy.  In the end, he must be destroyed, because we cannot remain what we are unless he dies.
George R. R. Martin (long before Song of Ice and Fire) wrote a terrific vampire novel:  Fevre Dream.  The elements of riverboats, the search for a cure for vampirism, and an isolated plantation where a true predatory vampire sets up a struggle between predators and vamps who seek to cure a disease.  It’s slave vs. free.  It’s well-written.  Martin knows how to keep even the gentler vampires still on hunt, struggling against what they are.  Sink your teeth in, and enjoy.

Michael Talbot’s only good novel is The Delicate Dependency: A Novel of the Vampire Life.  This is a hard book to find, but well worth the search.  As any great vamp novel should, it takes place in the Victorian era (modern vamps are boring unless they have behind them a long history to explore).  The protagonist is a human, gradually pulled into the vampire world by a mystery.  Not a “whodunit,” so much as the search for knowledge, which, I think, is the point of the book.   Frankly, I wish this could become a film.  There are many great visual moments in it, and some truly unusual twists.

This is also true for Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.  Drawn into danger by an ancient book, the professor protagonist slowly uncovers information he finds very difficult to believe:  that Dracula exists.  As he learns more, he encounters greater dangers.  Here, we’re dealing with long-lived creatures—still creatures, mind—who struggle to preserve knowledge, perhaps as a way to justify their continued existence.  Despite Dracula’s veneer of civility (which he’s always had), he’s truly a monster—and one is never the same after one meets such a creature.

Dan Simmons wrote two novels with this theme—sort of.  Carrion Comfort is not a true vampire novel, but it’s very good, because he explores the world of the energy vampire, the mental predator.  The real issue here is the psychology of power, and that’s part of what makes the vampire so intriguing.  Simmons is one of the best writers bridging SF and fantasy, and a treat to read.  Children of the Night is his exploration of Vlad Dracul, and though set in the modern era (part in post-Ceaucescu Romania) his take links with the history of Dracul, and brilliantly portrays the normal against the abnormal.  Both are gems.

I’m conflicted about Anne Rice.  I enjoy her when she delves into histories, and there still is a predatory aspect to Lestat, but I also think she began the slide into glamorizing the vampire.  I personally prefer the first, Interview with the Vampire,  but the two following definitely make Lestat into a glamorous icon.  (Anyone who can stand in zillions of spotlights and become a literal rock star, as in Queen of the Damned,  is no longer a vampire.  To my mind, that much light would turn Lestat into a crispy critter.)  She’s done some good work:  I much prefer her Mayfair Witch series, and her current exploration of werewolves.  Read her and judge for yourself.

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