Demons, Monsters, and Ghosts, Oh No! Part XI: Bad is the New Good
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am fed up with tragic, heroic vampires. In my last post in this series I promised to discuss how the novel Dracula has influenced modern vampire fiction. Personally I think that the greatest influence that Dracula has had on modern fiction is paving the way for vampires to become the good guys. In Dracula the vampire is still, undoubtedly, a villain. However, Dracula is not the bestial, bloodsucking fiend of medieval legend. While, as I mentioned last time, Bram Stoker was not the first author to write an aristocratic vampire, he was (and remains) the most influential (let’s look at the facts for a moment: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series has sold over a million copies in just over 2 years and inspired four movies; Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles have sold around 80 million copies since 1976 and inspired two movies, and a manga adaptation; I could not find how many copies of Dracula have sold since its publication, however it has inspired approximately 217 movies, along with plays, novels, short stories, ballet, comics, board games, approximately 17 video games, anime, manga, over a dozen television shows, and a cereal box character).
Now, however popular he is, I’m sure that many of you are wondering how I can argue that Dracula set the stage for the modern, heroic vampire. While Dracula was absolutely a villain, he was a villain with numerous positive qualities. He was aristocratic, handsome, well-spoken, likable in a creepy kind of way, educated, in short Dracula was an excellent English gentleman…who enjoyed drinking the blood of young woman and collecting them in his harem. Over the last hundred years the positive aspects of Dracula’s character, in both film and writing, have been emphasized, while the negative aspects have been minimized. While most modern versions of the Dracula story present him as a sensual, seductive creature, his harem rarely makes it in.
It is not difficult to move this likable English gentleman from the position of villain to the position of tragic hero, nor is it difficult to move his seductive ways from predatory to romantic. That is what we see in a great deal of modern vampire fiction starting with Marilyn Ross’s Barnabas Collins series and moving forward through The Vampire Chronicles to peak in Stephanie Meyers Twilight series (don’t worry, I’ll deal with Twilight in another post) and in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries (which has sold around 8 million copies all together and spawned an HBO series).
When we examine these tales in order we can see a rising level of heroism. Ross’s character, while a protagonist in the series (and in the television show Dark Shadows) is far from being a good person. He is, and was before becoming a vampire, a small, cruel man; who often uses his vampirism as an excuse for his actions. In The Vampire Chronicles, the main character Lestat is also not an angel. While he does not hold the same destructive disdain for humanity that most of his brethren do, he happily feeds on human chattel and seeks his own good, even when humans are imperiled by it. While Lestat is a better person than Barnabas, though not by much, he is no role model. Moving farther forward, Edward and clan, from Twilight, are presented as ‘vegetarian’ vampires (a concept that, to my knowledge, was pioneered in 1979 with the children’s book Bunnicula) who only eat animals (I believe this was first added in the TV show Forever Knight in 1989) and put humans before themselves (very similar to Angel in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series). Similarly, Harris’ Bill Compton is an upstanding Civil War era southern gentleman who does his best to do the right thing. Though, of them all, Meyer’s characters are the most vomit inducingly ‘good’ vampires, you can see the progression from villain to hero that these wicked creatures of the night have taken. While any reader of Dracula would faint in terror at the thought that the Lord of the Damned actually walked the earth drinking the blood of the innocent and making them his slaves; there are now armies of teenage girls swooning for their very own vampire lovers.
Needless to say, I am not a fan of the goodie vampires that currently rule the market. However, here are two films that do vampires extremely well. If you haven’t seen them, and you love vampires, then you’ll want to watch these. The first is Dracula 2000, which takes the basic ideas behind Stoker’s Dracula, puts the story in a modern setting and introduces an amazing twist on the essential nature of the vampire. I’m not going to ruin it for those of you who haven’t seen (but I’m tempted), but it is both well executed and extremely interesting. Basic warning, Dracula 2000 bears an R rating and, though I do not think the movie is at all excessive, the rating is well deserved. The second is the manga, anima, and anime ova Hellsing. If you can find them, watch the anime ova’s. They are about 45 minutes a piece and stick to the original story much better than the televised anime. Hellsing is the story of the Hellsing Organization: The Order of Protestant English Knights and their battle against the twin evils of undead Nazis and the Order of Iscariot (a supernatural, militant wing of the Roman Catholic church). Hellsing’s heavy hitter is the vampire Alucard…I let you all figure this one out…look closely now. The story is very well told, filled with an excellent examination of the nature of man and monster, and sometimes hilarious. Fair warning, Hellsing is excessively bloody (not surprising from a vampire anime). Lastly, I also recommend Guillermo del Toro’s novel series starting with The Strain. While it has a more scientific view of vampires than I prefer, it does an excellent job of presenting them.
Posted on July 2, 2011, in Fantasy, Monsters, Tobias Mastgrave and tagged Alucard, Anne Rice, Barnabs Collins, Bram Stoker, Charlaine Harris, Dracula, Edward, Hellsing, Interview with the Vampire, Lestat, Sookie Stackhouse, Southern Vampire Mysteries, Stephanie Meyer, The Vampire Chronicles, twilight, vampires. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.