(Okay, the Exalted come in pretty high on the scale, too, but that’s an entirely different world and game system).
Personally, I blame Dan Curtis and Jonathan Frid. Because Mr. Curtis created the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, which introduced the brooding, haunted, and sexy vampire monster-turned-melancholy-hero Barnabas Collins, played so well by Mr. Frid. That was my first introduction to the vampire. Now the show is very dated to my adult eyes, but to me as an impressionable young teen, it was utterly enthralling. (Yes, I really am that old. And yes, I wrote fan fiction. Thank you, M. Katherine Davis for encouraging me and sharing in my insanity.) I also read Dracula in high school. And watched The Fearless Vampire Killers at slumber parties. My friends and I were weird that way.
And then there was Ann Rice, and Lestat. (the books, not the movies, those came later). White Wolf released Vampire: The Masquerade, which took a lot of vampire myths and wove them all together in the different clans and bloodlines of the World of Darkness.
And then Twilight came along, and vampires suddenly became a Phenomenon. (and sparkly, but let’s not get into that….)
What’s so damned appealing about the undead? A lot of things. Check out how many Vampire Tropes there are. They are probably one of the most popular of the supernatural creatures in literature and movies, even more so than ghosts and zombies. Nowadays, you can’t seem to do any kind of urban fantasy without including them.
Well, first there’s this: Vampires have been classic monsters of the night for a long, long time. In the majority of vampire movies (especially the older ones), the vampire is the monster who must be discovered and defeated—no easy task, considering most people generally don’t believe he exists. Pitting one’s wits and mere mortal strength against an immensely powerful supernatural monster who can do all the things a vampire can do is a perfect heroic arc (especially if you throw in rescuing the girl… or rescuing someone, since girls are also popular as vampire slayers—especially in Japan). Then there’s the other side of the story; being the vampire, pitting your undead wits against the clever hunter seeking to take you down (sometimes for deaths you are not responsible for if you’re a Good Vampire), where your goal is surviving, and you are … well, perhaps not the hero, but definitely the leading character of the story. From either direction, the vampire is the most dangerous kind of monster—a predator that can blend in and hide among its prey. Intelligent, crafty, ruthless, cold-hearted, and often hiding in plain sight; the mysterious gentleman whose absence during the day is never questioned, and yet strange things seem to happen around him.
And then there’s the vampire-as-analogy-for-kinky-sex paradigm, based on the obvious truism: Bad boys in leather pants are just more fun. We’re talking Sex. Drugs. Rock-n’roll. All the Naughty Stuff that gets you killed in a zombie movie. Vampires are the monsters in the shadows, the danger lurking in the night, the Bad People Mother Always Warned You About—the hot boy in black leather with a motorcycle (and a katana or a big gun, because we are all about phallic allusions here). These bad boys are forbidden, dangerous, mysterious and not at all suitable to bring home to meet your parents. They’re suave, intelligent (because let’s face it, the dumb ones don’t last very long), they can be charming, rich, incredibly handsome, charismatic, and yeah, drop-dead sexy. (Okay, maybe not the best choice of words, but sometimes accurate nonetheless…) You know, your typical forbidden, potentially tragic, teen-aged romance. And the fact that they can kill you—possibly without even meaning to, if they lose control during intimate encounters, that just puts the spice in the relationship.
Yes, this is where Twilight and Vampire Diaries (below) and all those other series fit in. Vampire romance is its own damned subgenre, and if book and movie sales are any indication, there’s a LOT of undead appeal out there.
And there’s nothing wrong with a few guilty pleasures. You don’t even have to feel guilty. But I also have a low boredom threshold when it comes to angsty bad-boy teenaged romance. So that brings us to:
Vampires are the ultimate outsiders, exiled forever from being part of humanity, but unable to exist apart from it. As nocturnal predators who must have blood to survive, they cannot just walk away from other human beings. But neither can they easily live among them. There are usually sufficient physical differences—however slight—that can make the vampire stand out, particularly if humans know what to look for. Typical vampire traits like their forced nocturnal lifestyles, pale skin, cold flesh, lack of a pulse, and an unnatural stillness when not in motion, can make normal people uneasy in one’s presence. And so they must lurk on the fringes of society, like wolves circling around the outside of a herd of caribou—watching for stragglers, the weak, the unprotected. To hunt, to see other people as prey, to steal life from their veins, requires a shift of perception that wears on a vampire’s own humanity. Gradually, for the sake of his own sanity, a vampire almost has to stop seeing human beings—or at least most of them—as people. At the very least, those he feeds upon must remain strangers, their names unknown, their faces forgotten, to maintain a necessary degree of emotional distance. And yet to surrender to the hunter’s instincts entirely, to give up one’s remaining humanity, is too much a loss of self to the beast. And so the character must walk that line between monster and outsider—and manage some kind of balance in his conscience and his soul. The hunger must be fed—lesser sins—to avoid the greater sin of murder. A monster I am, lest a monster I become….
Sometimes the character is a bit of an outsider even among her own kind—she walks among them because even the company of others like herself is better than an eternity of solitude—and a predator alone might be seen as potential prey by the others. But if she still clings to her humanity and principles, how can she associate with those who see people merely as prey? Knowing she can’t do anything to stop them, knowing that she must stand back and let people be hurt or even killed in front of her eyes?
And sometimes, despite her best intentions, despite all the care she takes to control her hunger, to avoid situations where her inner Beast will overpower her will—sometimes all her precautions will fail, and someone else, someone living, will pay the price.
This is probably my target area—the tale of the outsider trying to find a place of balance, to belong—or at least, to find something that makes his struggle to maintain his own balance meaningful. I like characters with a bit of darkness to their souls, whether human or not; some kind of inner demon or painful past that keeps them from being too at ease anywhere. It’s not quite the same thing as the ‘bad boy in leather’ trope—this darkness is more internal, and may or may not be shown on the outside. It’s something a bit more substantial than ‘young rebel against society’—though that can be part of it too. It’s not enough to feel guilty, or be worried about the sins they might commit—real guilt, real sins, real blood on their hands is much more interesting.
And when the outsider is a blood-drinking, undead, cold-blooded predator with an unnatural thirst for human blood… the combination of inner darkness and struggle to retain something of his lost humanity comes rather naturally. Which is, I suppose, why vampires appeal to me.