Friday, July 15, 2011

Sabella or the Blood Stone

Renowned fantasy author Tanith Lee has written numerous vampire stories, taking different approaches to the myth in each work. To mention only a few: Her short work "Red as Blood," one of the best fairy tale retellings I've ever read, presents Snow White as a hereditary vampire and her stepmother the queen as a white witch trying to save the kingdom from the young princess's unnatural appetite. Lee's twisted Gothic romance DARK DANCE (1992), first novel in the Scarabae trilogy, centers on a woman victimized by a family from a blood-drinking species. The hyper-sexual hero, a parody of the dark, Byronic vampire aristocrat, wants her only as a breeding vessel. "Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Feu" portrays a very different kind of love story set in a world where a tribe of winged vampires besieges a castle, and every facet of the inhabitants' lives is shaped by fear of the monsters. The captured and imprisoned vampire, although apparently intelligent, can't speak and looks and behaves so inhuman as to be more like an exotic animal than a person. Yet a serving maid in the castle becomes fascinated by him, helps him escape, and runs away with him She sees him through the lens of the courtly love romances she has heard, while he thinks of her as a sort of pet.

Lee creates another type of alien vampire in the science fiction novel SABELLA OR THE BLOOD STONE (1980). (Warning: Major spoilers.) The narrator grows up thinking herself human but aberrant. As a Terran child living on an Earth-colonized world, Nova Mars, she stumbles onto ruins left by the original inhabitants. Her vampiric behavior dates from her discovery of a red jewel in the ruins. After years of drinking blood and sometimes killing, she meets a man she cannot and does not need to kill. Jace, brother of one of her victims, reveals to Sabella that she is actually an alien who, years in the past, took over the dying child Sabella's body and memories. Yet, because all the girl's thoughts and feelings live in this new form, the vampire, in a sense, is also truly Sabella. Jace reassures her that, while neither alien nor human, she is in some way both. Thanks to him, she learns to live without killing and to accept her past without self-destructive guilt. Jace reveals that he, too, found the ruins in childhood and became absorbed into an alien being. He alone can safely nourish her, for they evolved that relationship in their former life as members of the extinct species. Sabella speculates on how this relationship might have worked in the ancient past, when Nova Mars was an inhabited but dying planet: "Of the little water and little food there was, one would eat and drink, and when he was strong, the other would take from him the vital element which food and drink had made—his blood....A system that requires a careful pairing, a creation of partners, who could permit in love what could never be permitted in hate or greed." Learning this symbiotic relationship, learning to share in love rather than seize in greed, Sabella avoids succumbing to despair.

Her solution to the quandary of being a bloodsucking monster depends on her union with Jace, the one living person who can serve as her symbiont. Also, their relationship requires her to let Jace dominate her, at least temporarily, until with his help she will learn "a discipline beyond myself." This male dominance isn't meant to be permanent, though. By way of balance, Sabella foresees a future in which she will decide when and where to procreate the children who will revive their species. She also conceives an ecological vision of a new era when her offspring may revitalize, even resurrect the desert planet. She matures into one of many fictional vampires who discover the value of symbiosis rather than destruction of their prey.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


SandyG265 said...

I read this book years ago. I think I'll have to dig it out for a re-read.

Michele Hauf said...

I read Dark Dance, and it is, to this day, one of my favorite vampire stories. Must try to find Sabella!