October is for Bloodsuckers

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That may be overstating the position a little, in fact. But this October we start with our new policy of themed months, in which each month we all blog on a similar topic. This month, as one might expect for the month in which Halloween falls, the theme is the paranormal. As a result, I am musing about vampires.

I’m writing a novel with vampires in it at this very moment. Which probably makes it a bit odd that I have to confess that it’s been a long time since I saw the appeal of bloodsucking corpses in opera capes. Is it just me, or is it widely accepted that the lure of vampires is thematically almost identical to the popularity of rape in romance stories? Ie, our dear repressed reader likes thinking about sex but has internalised the idea that they ought not to. As a result they are stuck in a mindset where they want to be forced into it, so they get to have it, but to not have it be their fault.

Maybe I am making this up, but I feel sure it’s old hat as a theory, that the blood drinking part of vampire stories, with the penetration by pointy objects and the swooning etc, is symbolic for sex. So the appeal of vampires as a whole is the appeal of sex to someone who isn’t really comfortable with dealing with sex except at arms length through a metaphor. It’s all very Victorian, I can’t help thinking. Surely we don’t still associate sex with death in quite such an overwrought, repressed-but-guiltily-titilated manner? Aren’t we all a little more liberated than that, more comfortable with our own sexuality, these days?

Judging from the popularity of sexy vampires, maybe not.

But what about those of us for whom sex is not a terrifying (but strangely attractive) monster in the room? Is there anything vampires can do for us? Can they be used as a different metaphor? Can they be made interesting in another way?

I think so. One of the best vampire shows I’ve ever seen was Ultraviolet, the TV series with Jack Davenport as a cop turned reluctant ‘leech’ hunter. (Look at that ‘leech’ as a nickname for vampires. Doesn’t that already give everything a different slant? Wonderful!) In this series, vampires were bloodsuckers in the sense that they were the people who latch onto your emotions and drain them dry. They would use all your soul – dreams, compassion, fears, everything sacred to you – to manipulate you. This series took ‘sexy’ vampires, allowed them to do everything possible to snare the viewer’s sympathy, and yet by the end of it you honestly believed these were irredeemable monsters, and if you were anything like me you detested them with a passion you’ve never felt for any other villain in your life.

It made vampires interesting again, as monsters.

That’s what I’m going for in my book – vampires as monsters. We seem, IMO, to have lost the horror we should have at the thought of a parasite that takes the body of your loved one and uses it to suck the life out of you. Vampires as a metaphor for AIDS, I could see. Why hasn’t someone done that yet? Or perhaps they have?

What do you think? Is there mileage in the monster still, or are you too busy enjoying the sexy kind to want anything different from that?

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19 responses

  1. Pingback: Alex Beecroft – Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction » Blog Archive » Blogging with added blood.

  2. Vampires will always come back, because they can be used for so many themes. Sex is just the most obvious one. I like the immortality, but with a price aspect of it. Like you have to feed off humans, or you can’t have children, or even sex at all in the case of the Anne Rice version. And is being changeless so great, if it means being stuck as a child forever, like Claudia?

    That’s why I don’t like stories that take away too many of the negative aspects of being a vampire, until it gets to the point I think people would be queuing up to be turned. I loved Joss Whedon’s Buffy-verse vampires, which revived an old idea that if turned into a vampire your soul went to hell and a demon’s soul took its place in your body. That’s especially nasty for the poor victim being turned.

    Pratchett has a good take on them, his vampires seeing humans as cattle. You might be quite kind to cattle while they’re alive, but in the end, they’re just food. And of course he has some vampires who have sworn off drinking human blood, since you can’t get away with that kind of thing any more except in Uberwald, but shows the struggle they got through. So there’s another metaphor, the thirst for blood as being like a drink or drug addiction.

    They can be scary and monstrous, or sexy and tragic depending on the writer. That’s why they keep coming back a little different each time.

    Ah, so I’m not the only person who recalls Ultraviolet. I adore that sequence where Idris Elba’s character is locked in a warehouse with the 4 vampire caskets on a time lock counting down to simultaneous release. And he doesn’t have enough bullets to take them all out before they make him a nice little wake-up snack. One of the most suspenseful things I’ve ever seen!

    I should maybe shut up now before this reply becomes longer than the post…

    • I think you’re right – they’re really susceptible to be used to explore almost anything, aren’t they? My vampires are the sort of authority figures who won’t let those underneath them ever grow up. But they could just as easily be metaphors for anything that warps or endangers your life for its own survival. Parasites, addiction, the cost of immortality, the fear of death… I honestly don’t get the sexy kind, but I suppose I did, when I was a teenager and the whole thing was rather terrifying. And everyone goes through that in their lifetime, so I shouldn’t scoff.

      Eee! That scene was brilliant :) I loved Vaughn – I do like characters who are good at what they do. And yes, I was utterly convinced that this was it for him. Clever lad! I wonder why there was so little Vaughn/Michael slash? There should have been ;)

  3. Two words: Tim Powers. I’m currently working my way through Hide Me Among The Graves immediately after finishing The Stress Of Her Regard, and whilst the sex is made incredibly explicit here, the vampires are still horrific and terrifying; in fact, their sexual appeal is a part of the terror they invoke. I think that’s the alternative approach; not to try and deny the sexual elements of penetration et al., but to make them simply another part of the horror of the parasitical beings, wrapped up alongside all the rest of it…

    • I’m not sure if ‘deny’ is the right word – I wouldn’t take the sexual element of having your blood drained by a walking corpse as a given. There’s no doubt at all that it *can* be read that way, but I would say that you didn’t have to, any more than you would read a sexual component to having your brains eaten by zombies.

      I quite agree with you though, that it’s actually much more disgusting if you figure the sexual element in, because then you have a rape/non-con metaphor as well as a sex one. As an asexual myself, it’s not the horror of the sexual element I don’t understand, it’s the attraction – the whole Twilight/paranormal romance thing – where the vampire is a desirable mate, that really doesn’t work for me.

      Tim Powers is the ‘On Stranger Tides’ bloke? I sort of/kind of liked that book, but I’m not sure if I liked it enough to go for explicit sexual horror from him. To be honest I wouldn’t go for sexual horror from anyone. It’s just not my bag of cats ;)

  4. I can’t wait to read your book, Alex! I agree completely, that I am sick and tired of the cutesy fartsy fancy-pants vampires that have cork on their fangs. A predator is a predator is a predator. A tiger doesn’t change its stripes just because you bring it in the house; it’ll eat you if it decides to. You can socialize one, but you can’t “tame” one.

    Great post!

    • Thank you! I guess it makes sense from the POV of an intelligent predator to use whatever psychological means you can think of to keep your prey docile. That doesn’t mean the prey should fall for it! (Though maybe – like other predators – it keeps the population healthy by culling the stupider ones.)

    • For my part I will be glad when they’re not the epitome of sexy any more. But I should know better than to get annoyed at the workings of other peoples’ sexual fantasies. Each to their own :) But yes, I am amazed at how versatile they are as a concept, as in Becky Black’s comment. I hadn’t thought of all of that before, but she’s right, you can take them anywhere.

      Ha, thank you! Speaking of the book, I really ought to be adding some words to that right now.

  5. After (and during) Buffy, which I enjoyed in a very much cut off your brain and enjoy the pretty kind of way, I find myself getting annoyed with vampires a lot. Especially–as so many stories do–when they bring sex into the equation. I think I was all right with Buffy before she started boinking vampires as a hobby but then my brain started kicking in and saying “they make such a fuss about their hearts not beating and them not breathing SO HOW IS THEIR CIRCULATORY SYSTEM WORKING AT ALL?” It’s bad enough them being able to speak and smoke, but sex? I mean I don’t need a full scientific explanation – just a “oh when we were cursed we still had blood and it moves around of it’s own accord” would have done me and I’d not be sitting there with my arms folded going “humph” but ignoring it entirely brings out the picky geek.

    I much much prefer the vampires as monsters, even if they are trying their hardest not to be. I’m hugely bored with the tortured vampire with a soul (let’s face it, Bad Spike and Angelus were a million percent more fun and more enjoyable to watch than Spike and Angel with souls.)

    I suppose they’ll always have an appeal to the female who wants to be overpowered – and I admit that I have small sessions in my life when I think that might be nice but it only lasts five minutes and I know I’d actually be Agnes from Carpe Jugulum (again, Vampires written brilliantly as monsters) and smacking them on the nose with a ruler.

    • I think the Slavic ones have always been capable of sex, because they have a whole class of beings who are the children of vampires (and often grow up to be vampire hunters.) But that doesn’t make an awful lot of sense to me either – if you’re dead and you’ve got a terrible thirst for blood, why would you even bother with sex? What would you be getting out of it? (The desire to reproduce? A need to have children who are destined to destroy you? A kind of undead death wish?)
      And if you’re not dead, why would you want to sleep with someone who was? (Bar mind control or genuine necrophilia, of course.)

      I did like Sir Pterry’s version, though I was surprised he didn’t go the bloodsuckers = bankers route. I think he went the older aristocracy = bloodsuckers route instead, which is probably less relevant these days.

  6. It all depends on whose doing the writing. I’m not a fan of horror, particularly sexual horror, so my tolerance of monsters is limited. On the other hand I find some of the prettier depictions of vampires, including Anne Rice, laughable. My own foray into writing the undead was middle of the road – good people who were turned tried to control themselves, bad people revelled in their new abilites and had to be controlled, and I invented an ancient and convoluted bureaucracy to try and deal with them. It was fun but it wasn’t literature, if you know what i mean.

    My favourites are Pterry’s vampyres, especially Otto Van Chriek with his dustpan and brush and little vial of pig’s blood.

    • I’m not a fan of sexual horror, either, but I do enjoy a bit of gothic horror of the old spooky castles and cobwebs sort. (The sort that isn’t actually terribly horrifying.) Yours sound interesting, because now I want to know how the good people coped without having to kill themselves – a system of voluntary blood donors? Or could they get by on animal blood? Heh, I’ve always found more enjoyment and better ideas in genre fiction than in any work of ‘literature’. So many literary authors think they’re deep when really they have nothing to say I haven’t seen before, said more entertainingly, in genre.

      I think Pterry’s vampires are amusing, but I’m not completely convinced that you can replace a physical need with an obsession like that. Deep down, much like his elves, they don’t quite convince me. (But that’s OK because at base his is a comedy universe, despite his forays into philosophy, and I don’t expect it to make sense.)

      • Comedy universes are great fun to play in. Anything goes and what is physically impossible can be put down to magic.

        In my little world a good proportion of the good folk did kill themselves, especially the religious ones, but others managed their condition with an iron rich diet, animal blood and volunteers. It was fun to write because of the built in angst about losing control. A very British trait to find that enjoyable I think.

    • Yes, I think that was why I did like that one – because it was so different from the typical sort. I enjoyed ‘Fearless Vampire Hunters’ the movie too, which was a parody of the typical vampire movie, but with some great historical accuracy and an utterly brilliant ballroom scene :)