Thursday, December 3, 2009

Guest: Mary Hallab

Please welcome Mary Hallab, author of, THE VAMPIRE GOD: THE ALLURE OF THE UNDEAD IN WESTERN CULTURE to VampChix today!  Please visit her at her website and blog.

How did vampires go from bad to romantic? 

            Many people ask this question.  The answer is that they didn’t. Or they did not exactly do that.  In the first place, our modern vampires developed from folklore and folk beliefs of Eastern Europe.  The folklore vampires, in stories or in supposedly true accounts, are not always bad.  Many simply come from the grave to sleep with their wives (or so the wives said) or with someone else’s wife (Well, he said he was a vampire--).  Even the killer returnees do not usually kill for fun, just food, although some might kill for revenge.  All this depends on the beliefs of people in this particular location and on the beliefs or motives of the storyteller.  Sometimes the vampires just drink all the wine in the village. Other times, they might bring a terrible plague.
            In the second place, literary vampires had a romantic origin.  The work that made vampires popular in the West was a short story by John Polidori.  He was the physician of the famous poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, the most exciting and popular and infamous man in Europe.  Byron was rich, aristocratic (Lord), athletic, extremely handsome, wild, passionate, and arrogant, with only a moderately crippled leg.  Women adored him, threw themselves at him, and he reciprocated--for a while anyway. 

            At the famous gathering of friends at Lake Geneva in 1816, with the romantic Shelleys and others, Byron’s suggestion that they each write a ghost story resulted in two great works, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s story “The Vampire.” Byron started a short story that may be about a vampire, which his young physician Polidori later rewrote and finished and published anonymously in 1819.  (You can read both of them in The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories.) By this time, Polidori hated Byron and made him into a ruthless killer vampire.  We know this character is Byron because he is named Lord Ruthven, the name that Lady Caroline Lamb had given Byron in her novel Glenarvon, about their passionate love affair in which she makes him both very evil and very very attractive.
            For a while, everyone thought that Polidori’s story was a sort of confessional story by Byron, and it became all the rage.  Plays based on it appeared that very year and continued throughout the century, in which the vampire must drink blood from a young maiden or die.   Byron was the model for the vampire and continues to be, even now, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” as Lady Caroline Lamb described Byron (whom she stalked all over England).  Byron added to this image by having created in his poetry a figure now called the Byronic Hero or Villain (depending), based to a large degree on the Gothic Villain created earlier by lesser writers but now taken by many to be Byron himself.  Another influence on the early literary vampire is the idea of the demon lover, who comes from Hell to seduce the young maiden to go with him or his counterpart, the femme fatale.  Seduction is the key word in all of this.  But notice that it is usually a seduction only very lightly resisted.
            The wicked Byron spin-off was taking up a lot of the vampire space in the 19th century, but there was Varney, who spends over 600 pages unsuccessfully trying to get some rich girl to marry him (for guess what!—money!).  And there was the flagrantly seductive lesbian vampire Carmilla in the story of that name.
            And then comes Dracula in 1897, still in the Byronic mode, still after the girls, tall, dark, and handsome, and very much affected by Mina, and capable, we are told in the novel, of love. All that money and power—and all he needs is the right woman!  He too is followed by a play and then movies and movies, as you know. You might point to Nosferatu as a very ugly vampire, but, of all of them he is the one who himself dies for love.  Almost of these vampires have a deep, passionate, soulful side, a side that needs love.  All (but Nosferatu) are good looking and well heeled.  And some can do interesting things, like fly.  Christopher Lee’s Dracula is tall and good-looking and actually makes love (well, kisses—this is the ‘60s) before he bites. Frank Langella plays Dracula as a passionate lover—though not a nice guy.  These vampires are often charming and sophisticated and elegant and deep and passionate—but they did not live so long and get so rich by being nice to everyone. 

            However, vampires must move in the world; they have to be nice sometimes just to get their laundry done.  Dracula killed a whole ship load of sailors, but he could not kill all of London. And so we get good vampires with a moral sense, who have realized they do not have to kill people to survive, the very goodest probably being Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Compte de Saint Germain, who lives from age to age, doing heroic deeds, rescuing abused women, and loving and making love. (Where is his movie?)  We get Anne Rice’s pensive, soulful Louis (hot, though) and his wicked Byronic friend Lestat (hotter—depending on your preferences, of course). And now we have a whole raft of nice vampires, home boys, like Edward Cullen and Bill Compton, trying to be liked and socially acceptable, but still deep, dark, passionate, Byronic, and in spite of a certain superficial mellowness and a not-so-superficial kindness and warmth and need for love, still a bit “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”  

This is a cake made to celebrate Mary's book release.  How cool is that?

She writes that the cake was made by some friends, Sarah and Phong Nguyen, artist and writer.  THe whole cake was edible, and it did all get eaten!


Ida Brugler said...

Wow i will have to check this book out! And the cake AWESOME!

jennifer said...

yeah the cake wow someones good

Witchy Woman said...

Hi Mary,

I really must say, that is "the" funniest cover I have ever seen. Love it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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