A Brief Vampiric Interlude

“Why?” people ask, “Why is the vampire more popular than the werewolf?”

I have a few ideas as to why that is, but first let’s look at the evolution of the vampire. One of the best books I’ve read on this subject is Paul Barber’s Vampires, Burial, and Death. In this book he talks about the “revenant,” the early vampires that had to claw their way our of their graves night after night. They stank. They were emaciated, inarticulate, disgusting and dreaded beings. They were about as sexy as, well, a month-old corpse. A revenant was something to be feared, and the fear had no flavor of erotic danger. It was damnation. It was tormenting those you loved who were still alive.

Of course, the general population was much more religious at the time, too. A vampire was a being separated from God, someone denied the grace and salvation of Christ … denied the communion of Christ’s blood, you could say. The important point being that Christianity was very prevalent.

Then comes the Enlightenment of the 17th century. Science gains popularity and belief in things like vampires and religion becomes unfashionable for those who consider themselves to be progressive. Enter John Polidori with the first vampire novel in 1819, called The Vampyre (and yes, I’m aware of the controversy surrounding the true authorship of this short novel). Polidori based his cultured, urbane supernatural antagonist on Lord Byron; Polidori was Bryon’s personal physician.

Later, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu would follow Polidori’s lead with his short novel Carmilla, about a female vampire. Then, of course, came the master, Bram Stoker with Dracula in 1897. When Bela Lugosi portrayed the Count on screen in 1931 and women got turned on by him, it was all over for the vampire as a starving revenant.

Now, couple the vampire’s new sex appeal with an increasingly secular society and pretty soon you have Richard Matheson’s I am Legend in which the vampire is a result of disease, then Anne Rice, where, in the early books of her Vampire Chronicles, Louis and Lestat actually mock Christianity as they take the Byronic hero idea to a supernatural extreme. This, of course, threw the coffin open to the booming field of paranormal romance we have today and led us to … yes, I’m going to say it … to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.

Twilight is the height (or dregs) of vampire-love wish fulfillment. The vampires are as sexy as Lestat, but they’ve basically been defanged. They don’t have to drink blood. They don’t have to do any of the “evil” things that have always been associated with the vampire, but they still get the more modern cool things like superhuman strength and speed. It should be noted that the series is written by a Mormon author. So, maybe, some branch of Christianity has finally tamed, or “saved” the vampire, after all.

Where does this leave the werewolf? If you know me, you know how I love the rock band KISS. Think of the vampire as KISS, once a thing feared by religious folk, but now the most fearsome of the original foursome is pitching cherry Dr Pepper and living a scripted lifestyle on TV’s “Gene Simmons Family Jewels.” The werewolf is like The Sex Pistols — raw, nasty, untamed and probably not something you really want to live with. At best it’ll pee on your furniture. At worst, it might eat you.

Ironically, in most cases the werewolf has become more vicious as the centuries wear on. Why? He’s a thing of nature, and we are increasingly a population of city-dwellers afraid to go too far into the woods. He is primal and does not wear a tuxedo. He does not offer a small bite to the neck and some exciting sucking. He tears and breaks and chews and salivates and leaves behind a mess.

On another level, women in general don’t like guys with hairy backs, let alone hairy feet. They don’t have elegant dinners with guys who can lick their own balls. And women, you see, read much more then men today. Publishers cater to readers, and the readers want their monsters tamed, combed and sexy, with just a little trace of danger.

And that, my friends, is why I think the vampire is so much more popular than the werewolf.

One response to “A Brief Vampiric Interlude”

  1. Great post. Though less broad than this, and probably less interesting, if you’re a fan of Stoker’s book Iwrote up a review of sorts last night to celebrate the fact that Stoker’s Dracula has been made the “book for 2009″ as part of the ‘Dublin, One City One Book’ campaign in Dublin, Ireland.
    Take a look if you like, I think you’ll find I’ve made some interesting points. Or not! http://mindofamaniac.wordpress.com/2009/04/18/dracula-a-true-masterpiece/

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