When Vampires Suck
The recent Stephenie Meyer phenomenon of Twilight has raised some very divisive questions among fantasy fans. All debating over artistic merit aside, up for contention is the matter of exactly how many liberties an author can take with established monster lore. The concept of the vampire has been around for centuries, and the Twilight series seems to incorporate very little of it. Fine, so Edward Cullen drinks blood, is sort of ancient, and has a mild allergy to sunlight, but then again, so does Ozzy Osbourne. Few would mistake Ozzy for a vampire, and much fewer would mistake him for the lead in a romance novel.
Traditional vampires, in various incarnations, have taken issue with garlic, wooden stakes, cruciforms, silver, running water, and anything with the word “holy” in front of it, which I guess makes Robin the Boy Wonder the ultimate vampire slayer. Sunlight is often portrayed as their greatest weakness and teenage girls as their mild annoyance, rather than vice versa. On top of that, they typically sleep in coffins and have special attachments to their home soil, none of which seem to factor into the Cullens’ interior decorating so much as the IKEA catalog. I suppose if none of your furniture is actual wood, it nullifies any chance of accidental impalement by stake, not that it would matter to a Twilight vampire. Supposedly, vampires also can’t enter a person’s home without being invited in, which Edward Cullen violates in a manner both impossible for canon vampires and extremely illegal for everybody else.
Come to think of it, as complex as vampire folklore is, it’s hardly surprising that authors and filmmakers feel compelled to fiddle with it. The Blade franchise made the occasional tweaks to the laundry list of vampiric weaknesses, and Count von Count of Sesame Street threw almost everything out altogether. Even non-European monsters can become more than a little convoluted in their portrayal. Chinese culture has its own monsters that blend aspects of vampire and zombie. They move by hopping, can’t stand the touch of sticky rice, detect living animals by their breathing, and freeze when stuck with a holy Post-It note on their forehead. I am not making that up.
In comparison, zombies and werewolves seem pretty straightforward. Zombies eat brains, can be killed by having their own brains destroyed, aren’t particularly bright, and generally shamble slowly (depending on the media). Werewolves are really, really dangerous a few nights out of the month, are sensitive to silver, and supposedly are involved in a Hatfield vs. McCoy-esque feud with vampires virtually every time they appear on film, for no real compelling reason. Next to these seemingly simple monsters, why are vampires and their attributes so intricate? Maybe they’re more psychologically interesting? The sexual symbolism of vampirism is reasonably well-documented, and if you don’t believe me now, go to an anime/fantasy convention after 7 p.m. and then get back to me. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was actually an effort to legitimize the author’s overzealous hickeys as a romantic technique.
The counter-argument to all of this, of course, is that Stephenie Meyer has just as much right to alter vampire canon as anyone else. But how much right do we have? Why is vampire lore so elaborate in the first place? Did Western culture very slowly add to and modify the vampire legend over many generations? Or is the current vampire merely a product of a series of huge Meyer-esque revampings and iterations? And why do those questions sound familiar? Food for thought. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some weightlifting to do. Halloween is coming up, and the rising army of darkness isn’t going to chainsaw itself, which means I have to be able to lift a chainsaw by the time October 31 rolls around. Work, work, work…