Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Secret Vampire

The author of the Vampire Diaries and the Secret Circle series, L. J. Smith, also wrote a number of YA novels in a series collectively called “Night World,” in which several preternatural species live secretly among us. The Night World is the realm of vampires, witches, werewolves, and other shapeshifters. In SECRET VAMPIRE (1996), the first volume, the teenage protagonist, Poppy, learns she has pancreatic cancer. Discovered too late for effective treatment, the disease will kill her within a month. Before this revelation, she has "two great ambitions"--"to see the world" and to marry her long-time friend, James Rasmussen. She achieves a grimly ironic fulfillment of both of these ambitions when James offers to save her by making her a vampire. (Since the vampires of this universe aren’t undead, the mechanism of transformation remains unclear.) She "marries" him through the sharing of blood, and as a new vampire, she has no choice but to travel away from home, since she can’t let her parents and friends know she still lives. Before this event, Poppy is portrayed as a very normal girl, wholesome and well-adjusted. Still, she displays some traces of rebellion in her desire for autonomy, wishing she had a mother like James's laissez-faire parents, instead of her own, "always worrying and trying to fix" her. James enjoys enviable freedom, living in his own apartment as manager for a building owned by his parents. Poppy expresses her drive toward independence by choosing as her best friend the "tough and dangerous" James, whom the other girls think of as "a mysterious, secretive bad boy," whose "vulnerable, caring side" only Poppy can see. She alone recognizes his "differentness" and imagines that if he ever told her his secret, it would be "as shocking and lovely as having a stray cat speak to her." Of course, all these facets of James’s character take on new and strange meaning when he reveals his true nature. James, in fact, belongs to a a vampire race living alongside humanity as part of the Night World. The law of this realm forbids allowing humanity to learn of the nonhuman races' existence and, above all, forbids falling in love with a human being. To vampires--"lamia"--and the other folk of the Night World, ordinary people are "vermin.” James's cousin Ash regards him as "a little soft on vermin" and harboring "radical permissive ideas about humans having free will.” Given his psychic bond with Poppy, however, James risks capital punishment to save her life. To prevent his parents from learning that he has transformed Poppy, James must pretend indifference to her death, mouthing the Night World creed that "they aren't really people" and that losing a human friend is "sort of like losing a pet." The malignant tumor itself is described in vampiric terms, as a "pain...gnawing deep inside her.” James's kind of vampirism, in contrast, appears benign and life-affirming. His kind normally feed without killing, using their hypnotic powers to induce forgetfulness. Explaining the truth about his race, James tells Poppy everything she thinks she knows about his kind is wrong, misconceptions picked up from books and TV. Despite their long friendship, her prejudices against vampires are not easily overcome. That her "best friend is a bloodsucking monster" is as great a shock as the realization of her own imminent death. When brother Philip accidentally learns what's happening to her, he feels even stronger revulsion toward vampires and has a hard time accepting Poppy’s decision. Her feelings change in a completely positive direction when she allows James to transform her. She discovers in the act of blood-sharing a "sensation of release, of giving," in which she and James grow "closer and closer, like two drops of water moving together until they merged.” Their telepathic communion makes the drinking of blood into a form of symbiosis, a symbol of the ultimate intimacy. They are "not predator and prey, but partners in a dance.” She comes to think of vampirism as "part of Nature" and "a way of giving life, pure life.” On the night of the third and last exchange of blood, which initiates Poppy's mock death, she feels as if the occasion is "some terribly important birthday and graduation rolled into one"--a rite of passage to another plane of existence. At the conclusion of the novel, in a fairy-tale "real princess" revelation, Poppy and Philip discover that their latent clairvoyant talents arise from witch ancestry in their family background. Therefore they actually belong to the Night World, so Poppy and James can declare their love openly among his kind. Philip, forced to accept his own nonhuman heritage, acknowledges that vampires may not be "as completely bad as they seem"; after all, they "don't treat their food any worse than humans do.” Poppy concludes that they don’t have to be "horrible bloodsucking monsters" but perhaps "can be decent bloodsucking monsters." Later books feature other members of James’s family as well as witches and shapeshifters. Though I’m a fan of the original Vampire Diaries trilogy, I enjoyed the Night World novels even more and was sorry to see the series end many years ago. I discuss this series in greater detail in my nonfiction book DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN. Margaret L. Carter Carter's Crypt

No comments: