The Modern Vampire
Vampires are utterly fascinating. Along with teenage girls across the nation, I have been gobbling up vampire literature and watching all the re-creations of this once-horrific monster of superstition. Unlike my contemporary group of teenagers, I am not just caught up in idolizing the suave Robert Pattinson. In fact, there is something about these blood-suckers that I relate to, something just… human. As much as we may deny it or write it off as immature and juvenile, our vampire obsession may say more about our culture than we dare admit.
What once was merely the subject old wives tales and a creature of whispers can now hardly be avoided anywhere that propagates pop culture. What is this pale creature that feeds on the blood of others? Is he fanged and asleep in a coffin? Is he dashingly attractive and sparkling in the light? Is he white as snow with eyes of crimson? Regardless of exact appearances, physically he is the pinnacle of human vivacity: speed beyond the fastest human, and strength beyond the most powerful man. To complete this corporeal fantasy, the vampire has what men always seek… immortality. This is the vampire: the culmination of human desire.
All that humans have fruitlessly chased for centuries is bequeathed unto the vampire, and yet despite custody of all that could be coveted in this world, somehow the vampire is not happy. Across the genre, there seems to be a common theme of discontent and, strikingly, a sentiment that all that this world has to offer isn’t enough. The vampire Henry Sturgess himself has this to say of his own three hundred years:
“When this intoxication has worn away… when every desire is fulfilled and every language learned – when there are no more distant cities to explore; no classics to be studied; not another coin to be stuffed in to one’s coffers- what then? One can have all the comforts of the world, but what use are they if there is no comfort in them?”
(from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)
Henry embodies what I appreciate most in vampire literature: the monster who has discovered his self-feeding life to be unfulfilling. He is the vampire who wants something more than an eternity spent in the comforts of the world.
For along with their supposed gifts comes a blood lust beyond imagining – a craving only satisfied by the death of another. Vampires are inherently defined by a desire for the life force of others, and similar to their human cousins, there are those who attempt to control their ‘thirst’… and there are those who do not. A choice. It is easy to hate a monster, but I believe it may be harder to recognize why he is. A lust beyond any sexual craving – is this really too different than the lust glorified in our own popular culture and the lust we daily deal with within ourselves?
Too often, especially in religious circles and amongst older generations, vampire literature is condemned as grossly demonic and the subject of teenage sexual fantasy; yet in our criticism of everything Twilight, I think we forget that authors such as Stephanie Meyer do not parade the vampire’s bite as the solution to all woe. It is a curse, and Edward Cullen knows it better than any. To kill for life, to exist as a monster in society’s eyes, and most of all to lose one’s soul, is nothing more than an eternal anguish and one he never wished upon his bride. Through the whole series, Edward does all he can to avoid damning his love to an eternity he has found empty. Does Twilight (among other vampire literature) really glorify vampirism? Or is it simply well-hidden, if not terribly well-written, hyperbole?
The vampire has become the Mr. Hyde of today’s society – the perfect monster of the flesh. We can escape into fictional re-creations of this monster because he is not too different from us. We may not have eternity to chase the material world, but will that stop us from spending a lifetime? We may not thirst for the taste of blood; yet that which we do crave is equally damaging. We are the modern vampire, just without the fangs.
Maybe our obsession with vampires stems from a recognition of humanity as somewhat monstrous. And yet, despite our monstrosity, there are those who turn their back on a living damnation and grasp at a hope. It is a hope to defy the flesh that seeks just to use and consume; a hope that gives strength to deny ourselves the most aching desires that we know are, in the end, destructive. It is a hope to live as someone better and a hope to live for something more than ourselves, whether it be for decades or for centuries.