Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Let's Keep The Undead Alive

Lindsay Pryor writes excellent vampire fiction, and is currently seeking publication.  She had a great article at her blog not long ago, and I've featured it here today...

It’s a little chilly here. It might be because it’s got later in the day. Maybe it’s because the thicket of tree branches overhead have become denser or because the path has become narrower. Worse still, the subtle decline into the silent shadows ahead is only threatening more darkness to come. Maybe there’s light at the end of it. Maybe not.

But if you’re back to join me on my journey again, know that I’m already clinging to your arm. My eyes are wide and watchful in the dark. I flinch, and sometimes yelp, every time I hear a broken branch. If you do a mock growl to tease me, I’ll slap you in retaliation because I’m that tense. Yes, when it comes to all things supernatural and spooky, I’m a jabbering nervous wreck. But I love the darker side of paranormal and that’s why I write it.
So there’s no better topic for my first official blog post than my favourite supernatural beings: vampires. They’re not the only thing I write about, but it’s what I’m known for. Mine are the romantic type, in a dark and ever-so-slightly disturbing type of way. And let me say, with the clichéd scene-setting out of the way, I love my genre and, because of that, I can’t help but feel defensive when others say this vampire hoo-ha is just a trend. That it’ll fade out. We’ll get over it. We’ll get bored. That this Twilight epidemic will fade to nothing.
Er, no.
So what is it about these vampire guys (and gals)? And why am I so sure they’re not going to be reburied any time soon?
Vampires are embedded in our society’s psyche. In fact, they’re embedded in the psyche of many societies outside our own. Nearly every country on our planet has its own version of the vampire myth. Even before Dracula was penned over a century ago, real tales of vampirism had been rife in Eastern Europe for decades. And when those stories (along with the Serbian term ‘Vampire’) infiltrated our society in the 1800’s, apparently any newspaper containing such tales sold by the bucket load.
But why? Admit it or not, on some level we all have an instinct to be fascinated with the mysterious and the macabre. We’re all a little bit intrigued by the supernatural, not least our lack of ability to explain it.
So what is it about vampires in particular? What is it that has made them such an iconic romantic figure? Whether it’s the social fascination with bad boys or the psychoanalytic view that vampire fantasies are no more than subliminal repressed sexual fantasies, vampires have got an incessant appeal. But let’s be honest, our current vampiric heroes are a long way from archaic tales of hairless beasts with protruding ratty teeth and rank breath (I’m not a lookist, but still…). So when did it change?
We have to start with the late 1800’s and Bram Stoker paving the way with his Gothic masterpiece, Dracula. This 400 year-old vampire went on to become the archetype of vampire characterisation for decades. The cloak, the smart evening dress and the Transylvannian accent (which, by the way, is the only accent I can muster from my Welsh twang) are still implanted in people’s heads today. Dracula was sophisticated, a predator and a total sucker (excuse the pun) for his base urges for sex and blood. To the Victorians, he was horrifying; he represented everything they fought against. But he was still fascinating. And since its release over a century ago,Dracula has not been out of print. Not only did Bram Stoker start a billion-dollar industry, he created a vision of the vampire that was going to stay with us for decades.
(As a brief aside, it wasn’t until the Hammer films of the 1950’s that vampires were first given fangs. In fact, fangs are never mentioned in traditional folklore. But, darn, when those neat little protrusions are constructed well, they’re sexy, right?)
Then in the 1970’s Anne Rice arrived with Interview With The Vampire. Her genius? A book written from the vampire’s perspective. For over fifty years we had not seen inside the vampire’s head. Finally we were getting to know them and, with it, understand them. We discovered vampires had human emotions and with it came a whole new appeal. Yes, Ms Rice’s vampires were still aristocratic and sophisticated, still predators, but they were also young, handsome and erotic (who remembers the uproar from the movie scene with Louis and Lestat’s blood-fest with their lady friends in the drawing room?). They interacted with other vampires; we had vampire dynamics. And through this we saw the vampire as a tragic figure riddled with internal conflict. Their immortality came with a price. They felt loneliness. They felt despair. As a result, we empathised and even sympathised with those that preyed on us. Not only was there something very romantic about them and their plight, we were starting to relate to them.
Then came my era. Ah yes, the 1980’s – a decade that brought further evolution of the vampire legend of old. I was a teenager when I first saw The Lost Boys. No more aristocracy. No more corsets. No more finery. These vampires didn’t sweep around with airs and graces. They were still carefree and dangerous. They were still rebels. But these vampires were current. These vampires were more relatable to teenage youth than any others. They didn’t live in mansions or castles. They hung around fairgrounds and comic book stores. This was Joel Schumacher’s vision and it was very, very sexy. And terrifying. The first time I saw the film, I spent more time looking away than at the screen. But still something was embedded. There was something very cool about these vampires: they were as contemporary as it got. They were dateable. And I was hooked.
Then in the 1990’s came Buffy The Vampire Slayer! I know I shouldn’t step into the realm of slayers because I’m fighting the vampire corner here. But how can we not acknowledge Joss Wheddon when it comes to the evolving vampire in romance? Yes, a slayer was no longer Van Helsing. Or male.  The pretty little blonde was no longer a scream machine, but a feisty, smart and pro-active vamp killer. And along with Buffy came Angel, and a significant new relationship between vampire and slayer emerged. Suddenly there was a forbidden love between two beings whose basic instincts should make them want to kill each other. And for years I watched with fascination as a love story unravelled with Angel fighting his true nature to be a better being for the girl he loved. Aww…
I’ve missed so much out in-between, so many other accolades, but I could talk for hours. Instead, I’ll end with the present day and the phenomenon that is Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.  I’ll be honest—I’m not a Twilight fan. I’ve not read any of the books. I saw the first film and have vague recollections of the second. It doesn’t help that I was already heavily into the BBC series Being Human, and Edward Cullen vs John Mitchell? Hmmm. But I have no doubt that if Twilight had come out when I was a teenager, I would have been besotted with the whole thing.
Love it or loathe it, Ms Meyer has appealed to a whole new generation of vampire fans. In the vampire evolution, she wrote a vampire for a predominantly teenage audience. And because of her audience, she made the vampire as sympathetic and safe as he could be (which is probably why I struggle with the appeal). He was no longer the guilt-free, decadent, sexual predator – he had a conscience. A conscience that governed his actions more than his base needs. He was a protector, utterly devoted to the one he loved and made her feel secure and special. He was no longer the beast that terrified teenage girls and women of the 1800’s but instead he had become a safer, more justifiable craving. He became the good guy. The vampire became a teenage superhero.
And heroes stay with us.
The way I see it, we have a whole new generation of vampire fans coming through. For some of them, Edward Cullen would have been their first crush. Some will get over it and move on. But take it from a 37 year-old who, once bitten, twenty years on, is still reading about the sexy suckers. I don’t think I’ll ever have a to-be-read pile without a vampire romance in there somewhere or stop rushing to see the latest vampire movie at the cinema. I’m not ashamed to admit I still find them fascinating. They remain wonderful characters to explore. And the closer to the edge, the more tainted, the more tortured, the more intense and, yes, the sexier, the better.
Can the trend keep evolving? Can any of us really pinpoint the vampires’ appeal? Does it matter if we can’t? The fact is, it’s there and I think it’s going to stay with us for a long time to come. I want to keep writing about vampires, I want to keep reading about vampires and their popularity out there tells me I’m not alone.
Now, as I pause for breath, and stop in the darkest, loneliest part of the path, I’m hoping you’re still around. And if you’d like to comment, I’d love to hear from you. Share your favourite vampire movie, TV show or novel. Maybe you remember how you first got into vampires. Who’s your ultimate fanged guilty pleasure? Is it Damon or Stefan who makes your heart race? Spike or Angel? Maybe you’d choose Edward Cullen over John Mitchell any day.
And if I’m left standing here on my own in the dark, I guess I’ll just have to run.
Some of the above facts were gained from the fab BBC documentary ‘Vampires: Why They Bite’. The rest is just opinion. Don’t slay me for it. 
To read more of Lindsay's blog, go here: http://lindsayjpryor.wordpress.com/


Cylver said...

I first became fascinated with vampires when I saw Barnabas Collins get busy with the fangs in Dark Shadows. Yes, I was one of those kids who used to run home from school so I wouldn't miss a minute!

Christopher Lee's portrayal of Dracula was amazing. His arresting presence and deep voice still give me chills - the good kind! I used to always get mad at the end of the movie when the vampire would get the stake (or the spike or the sun - Hammer had lots of ways to kill off the vamp, and lots of ways to bring him back!)

Years later, I discovered the Saint-Germain series of novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and discovered that not only can vampires be scary and forbidding, they can be heroes too. Now, vampire heroes are everywhere, but in the '70s, the vampire as hero was a new concept.

Now, I have too many favorite authors to list here, and lots of favorite TV shows (among them Buffy and Angel, Forever Knight, Blood Ties, Being Human UK). And while I don't exclusively read vampire novels, it usually isn't very long before I'm back to my fanged favorites!

Lil said...

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post.

lindsayjpryor said...

Hi Cylver and Lil,

Thanks so much for taking time out to comment.

Always good to meet another Being Human Uk fan, Cylver.

So glad you enjoyed reading the post, Lil.

Linds :-)