Overrun by Vampires

"The vampires have always been metaphors for me. They've always been vehicles through which I can express things I have felt very, very deeply." -- Anne Rice

Although Entertainment Weekly beat me to the punch with a brief article this week about the proliferation of vampire stories in pop culture entertainment, I still feel like sharing my thoughts on the topic since it's been on my mind for a while. The undead bloodsuckers have been part of mythical lore for millennia, but lately they seem to be everywhere in modern fiction, from blockbuster movies to bestselling novels, popular comic book adventures to high-rated television series, exciting video games to fully staged plays. True Blood, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and Vampire Hunter Anita Blake have followed the footsteps of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lost Boys, and The Vampire Lestat, building on the legacies established by Dracula and Nosferatu. Of all the mythic creatures, from witches to fairies to ghosts, vampires lend themselves to be perfect allegories for the tales writers wish to tell. Unlike zombies or rampaging monsters, vampires have personalities that grip the public's attention.

Bram Stoker and others took the superstitious vampire legends of multiple cultures and created the staples that have now become cliches -- cursed immortality fed by a thirst for blood; powers ranging from superhuman strength, heightened senses, shapeshifting abilities, and hypnotic charms of persuasion; and weaknesses for garlic, silver, sunlight, religious icons, and wooden stakes to the heart. Contemporary writers have used these character traits, modified them, or abandoned them completely to serve their storytelling, sometimes leading to brilliant, innovative reimagining of the lore, and other times just being sad examples of laziness to justify a writer's plotting needs. For example, the short-lived vampire detective TV series Moonlight allowed vampires to walk around during daylight hours (so that the lead vampire wouldn't be inconveniently restricted to only night-time scenes) but also kept the vampires' vulnerability to direct sunlight, especially if they hadn't fed on blood in a while (which allowed the show's writers to come up with some dramatic cliffhanger moments) -- thus using and rejecting the sunlight weakness according to their own self-invented rules.

From story to story, depending on the writer/creator, vampires change. Anne Rice's vampires have translucent skin, Joss Whedon's vampires have bumpy brows, Stephenie Meyer's vampires have glittery skin in sunlight. Powers and weakenesses change from story to story. Some writers abandon the "no reflections" rule or the Christian weapons against the undead, like crosses and holy water. Others embrace them and expand upon them (such as in my own vampire story, "The Lugat and the Holy Grail," which deals with an ancient vampire's spiritual crisis and search for redemption.)

I wish some writers would seek out other supernatural characters instead of dipping into the vampire well again, but the temptation to revisit the living dead is understandable since they are so rich in storytelling potential and metaphorical symbolism -- vampire tales have explored racism, AIDS, homophobia, feminism, sexuality, politics, and many other themes. I'll dig through the stereotypical dregs in search of the gems that keep on coming as new writers explore new ideas, portraying the vampire tale in bold new variations.

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