October Reads Book Photo Challenge #8: Vampires oh my!
I mentioned that I really like vampire books, right? I started with Anne Rice when I was in middle school, and I never really stopped. In order of my favourites, the books on this list are:
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Blood and Gold by Anne Rice
Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice
Blackwood Farm by Anne Rice
Demon in my View by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Pandora by Anne Rice
Dracula by Bram Stoker
In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater Rhodes
The Tale of the Body Thief by Anne Rice
Vampire enthusiasts should start with Interview with the Vampire, which is the first of Anne Rice’s brilliant series. If you want to learn something about the psychology associated with traditional vampires, read Dracula, which will tell you everything you need to know about Victorian views on blood-drinkers, sex, and blasphemy. It’s also good background reading for anyone who likes the genre, since most modern adaptations of vampires draw from Bram Stoker. Don’t read The Historian until you’ve read Dracula, because you will be missing a lot of important information. It’s an absolutely brilliant historical fiction novel about a family whose lives have been shaped by the hunt for Dracula. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes is a good place for young readers to start on vampires, because they’re easy-to-read and short, but reasonably well-written. Sunshine is still the best of the lot, and can stand alone without trouble.
Ben Mears has returned to Jerusalem’s Lot in the hopes that living in
an old mansion, long the subject of town lore, will help him cast out
his own devils and provide inspiration for his new book. But when two
young boys venture into the woods and only one comes out alive, Mears
begins to realize that there may be something sinister at work and that
his hometown is under siege by forces of darkness far beyond his
As someone familiar with vampire literature, what signs would you point out as clear indicators that a certain character is a vampire?
Okay (*cracks knuckles and gets ready for a long post*) I’m going to make the assumption from your username and use
of the word “character” that this is a question about vampiric traits you can either
incorporate into your writing as an author or identify in the fiction of others
as a reader. If it isn’t and you like… need to make a call on your creepy next
door neighbor who is never around during the day and hisses uncontrollably
whenever they pass the church down the block, you should probably get off the
Internet and contact your local eccentric ex-priest/librarian or something.
Moving on, though, the big thing about determining what
traits a vampiric character might have lies with exactly what type of vampire
they are and what aspects of vampirism are being emphasized in a narrative. I don’t think any set of traits will ever be 100% “clear” signs, as folklore and literary traditions regarding vampires can be incredibly
inconsistent and contradictory. Depending on what you’re reading, vampires may have a ruddy complexion or be deathly pale; they may cause dogs to go silent or they
may cause dogs to howl; they may achieve their final rest through marriage or
be under compulsion to get married to prolong their unlife. Furthermore, a single
vampiric trait may be written in different ways depending on who is doing the
writing. For example, there are a lot of stories about vampires being repelled
by certain classes of plants. For Paul Barber, who comes at the issue as a
folklorist/historian, these plants are significant because many of them have
thorns in which a rising vampire could become entangled and thereby be stopped;
for my friend who is writing interactive fiction regarding vampires, these
plants are important because some of them are still green in the winter, and
thereby symbolize an overabundance of life which repels the undead; for me,
back when I ran a very Catholic-flavored Vampire: The Masquerade game, these
plants were significant because several of them have legends claiming that they
were the wood from which the true cross was built. These sorts of things can work in a ton of different ways, and with that in mind, I’m going to try to break them down into broad categories, based on what traits might be useful for
emphasizing certain types of vampires
for emphasizing vampires as condemned former humans, as entities tied to
certain aspects of their pasts, or as static creatures locked into certain
modes of behavior
Vampires must always use some variant on their
real name (Carmilla, all those
spin-offs of Dracula where he calls
Vampires must always tell their life’s story to
their lovers, although they may frame their tale as being about somebody else (Paul
Feval’s La Vampire)
Vampires must marry and drain virgins to prolong
their lives or may attain rest through being married… making them want to marry
people a lot (numerous plays based on John Polidori’s “The Vampyre”, Étienne-Léon
de Lamothe-Langon’s La Vampire, Varney the Vampire)
Vampires must steal people’s hair to continue to
look youthful… making them look like they’re dying it a lot (La Ville-Vampire which is like… super weird)
Vampires must stop to count spilled seeds, knots
in fishnets, or other groups of items (folklore… also Sesame Street)
Good for emphasizing vampires as creepy, unnatural, or just “wrong”
Vampires have glowing eyes or bodies (La Ville-Vampire, Dracula, probably some other stuff)
Vampires disturb or anger animals (“The Family
of the Vourdalak”, Dracula)
Vampires smell unnaturally good or unnaturally bad
(“Wake not the Dead”, Dracula)
Vampires are really pale or have a ruddy,
blood-tinged complexion (folklore, waaaay too many books for me to want to look
up and list)
Vampires have some manner of unhealable wound
from their days as a mortal (Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon’s La Vampire, Varney the Vampire)
Religious Traits: Good for emphasizing vampires as condemned
by God, inherently demonic, or cursed for their sins
Vampires cannot pray, use/touch holy symbols, enter
churches, or are otherwise repulsed by holy symbols and holy things (“The
Family of the Vourdalak”, Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon’s La Vampire, “Le Morte Amoureuse”, Carmilla, Dracula)
In a manner similar to Mephistopheles and other
devil figures, vampires cannot cross thresholds or enter dwellings without
invitations or assistance (Dracula)
As with demons and evil spirits, vampires lose
their power at the crowing of the cock… even if said cock does that thing from Hamlet and crows at night (Le Captaine Vampire, maybe Dracula)
Stuff Vampires Hate: Good for emphasizing vampire’s
connection to folklore or removal from the everyday world of men
Vampires can be repulsed, stopped, or harmed by
X plant, with X plant having the potential to be acacia, aspen, ash, blackthorn,
hawthorn, garlic, juniper, linden, maple, oak, wild rose, rowan, or green
shells from nuts (folklore regarding plant-based repellents, stake materials, and
other vampire countermeasures, Dracula)
Vampires cannot cross running water, or will be
rejected by bodies of water, or have to navigate bodies of water by floating
around like they’re a plank (folklore, Varney
the Vampire, La Ville-Vampire, Dracula)
Vampires are generally nocturnal and don’t want
to be up during the day (folklore, waaaay too many books for me to want to look
up and list)
Unrecordablity: All of this comes from Stoker; good for
emphasizing vampires as soulless or in an unnatural state
Vampires do not show up in mirrors (Dracula)
Vampires cast no shadow (Dracula)
Vampires may not be photographed; your
photographs either won’t show them or they will show up as a dead body (Bram
Stoker’s notes for Dracula)
Seriously, if you even try to paint a vampire,
your painting will turn out wrong and look like someone else (Bram Stoker’s
notes for Dracula)
Werewolf Traits: There was something of a perception in the nineteenth
century that vampires and werewolves were sort of the same thing, and Bram
Stoker used a lot of stuff from Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-wolves in writing Dracula. These might be useful in creating vampire-werewolf hybrid
characters or in emphasizing the animality and beast-like nature of vampires.
Werewolves/vampires have joined eyebrows (Dracula)
Werewolves/vampires have hair on their palms and
pointed, talon-like nails (Dracula)
Werewolves/vampires can’t follow people into
fields of rye (The notes and typescript for Dracula)
Vampires are insensible to music (Bram Stoker’s notes
Vampires can fit through tiny cracks and holes
and may just show up places that they shouldn’t (folklore, Dracula)
Vampires can make themselves look young after
feeding and may look like they got plastic surgery or something (“The
Mysterious Stranger”, “The True Story of a Vampire”, Dracula)
So yeah… that’s all that I have/am-willing-to-look-up for now, but I hope it helps! You might also consider looking at superstitions relating to other supernatural entities, like witches, devils, succubi, etc… as vampirism in literature (as is pretty clear in the case of Stoker) often borrows from a lot of bits and pieces of non-vampiric folklore, but if you want info on just vampires being vampires in (admittedly mostly nineteenth century) literature, you now know pretty much what I know.
You lived in New Orleans only a short time, staying in one of the older buildings with a friend. The Mikaelsons were not blind to new residents that came through, and seeing a beautiful girl like you come to town made their city a little more interesting. However, their impression of you was interpreted as snow: gorgeous but cold. You avoided them quite a bit, because you were told to by friends you’d had, so they never got to know you and were sure they never would. That didn’t mean you weren’t a kind soul. You may have been inward with your personality but you were selfless with others in your actions. It came natural to you, especially in situations like the one you were placed in on a Friday afternoon.
You didn’t get home until sundown, since your college was on the outskirts of the city. You were just outside your apartment building, unlocking the gate when you heard voices. You turned around looking across the street. Someone in an alleyway stumbled and gagged as if they were injured. You slowly came across the street, seeing it was none other than Elijah Mikaelson. He looks wounded, but more noticeably, the veins under his vampire eyes bulged with thirst. He’d lost a lot of blood. You looked around cautiously, standing in front of him. You shoved your arm in front of his face, not letting him have enough time to see your face as you forced his head down on your arm. You winced at his painful bite, trying to ignore its frightening feeling.
He could barely stay conscious after drinking, and you were worried his attacker might return. “Was it a wolf? A witch?” you asked, standing and looking around. He gagged, trying to stand. He murmured something that sounded like “Mikael.” You looked around, taking your car keys out and escorting him to your car parked behind the alley at the docks. You drove him straight home, trying to get him to stay conscious. He had been trying to make out your face judging by the way he kept looking at you. “Y/N,” he finally recognized. You looked at him every now and then as you continued on your route to his home. You drove up to his home, turning off the car. He was now starting to wake up. You walked up to his front door, seeing Klaus come out to see you. “Y/N,” he said upon seeing your face. “Elijah’s in the car. I think he’s hurt,” you said bluntly. Klaus came out to the car with you, and upon seeing Elijah wake up, he turned to you. “You helped him,” Klaus frowned.
Your lips parted as you looked at him in confusion. “…I’m not heartless,” you say softly, a small laugh escaping your lips, “I don’t know how important it is, but I found this on the docks when I was getting you in the car. I’m guessing it’s yours?” You extend the white oak stake to him, looking at him hopefully. Klaus took it looking at you solemnly, nodding his head once. “Well, you’re quite the helped aren’t you?” he said, taking Elijah out of the car. Once Elijah found his feet, Klaus continued to look at you. “You helped me…why?” Elijah asked suspiciously. “It’s not a big deal,” you promise, “I don’t think you should waste time asking me questions. You’re not in the best of shape.” “It is a big deal…Y/N,” you heard Elijah say. You pause as you tilt your head. It really was no big deal…you’d do it whether or not there was a catch. “Go inside. I don’t want the next funeral in the quarter to be either of yours,” you say to evade the sincerity in their voice.
You turned, walking back to your car, feeling their eyes on you. “Well, I wasn’t expecting that,” Klaus told Elijah, keeping his eyes on you as you drove away. “Neither was I,” Elijah breathed, seeing you go.
30 Days of Night series by Steve Niles, illustrated by Ben Templesmith
In a sleepy, secluded Alaska town called Barrow, the sun sets and
doesn’t rise for over thirty consecutive days and nights. From the
darkness, across the frozen wasteland, an evil will come that will bring
the residents of Barrow to their knees. The only hope for the town is
the Sheriff and Deputy, husband and wife who are torn between their own
survival and saving the town they love.
Dear Readers, I started my foray into the world of vampires as a young and tender lass of twelve. I suppose technically I think I read a Bunnicula book when I was eight or so, but I don’t really remember and anyway, Bunnicula was a rabbit. It doesn’t count. Back to the point - I started with Anne Rice.
I was a voracious reader at a young age, and I had actually tried to read Queen of the Damned when I was nine or ten. My mother stopped me and told me that I wouldn’t understand it, and should read it when I was older. She was, of course, entirely correct. Anne Rice writes difficult books, and I simply didn’t have the experience or sophistication to appreciate her quite yet. In seventh grade I was a world-weary almost-teen and I was definitely ready. I read The Vampire Lestat first, even though it’s technically the second in the series. It didn’t matter. I was hooked.
Anne Rice is a sensual writer, (so much so that she has written straight-up erotica under a pen name), and she made vampires sexy. I hadn’t read Dracula yet so I had no idea what literary baggage vampires might carry with them. As far as I was concerned they were beautiful, deadly, occasionally amoral and frequently religious, and totally fascinating. Rice tells her stories with a focus on character and history, which is something I haven’t encountered much in other vampire books. Since her main characters are the vampires themselves, not humans interacting with vampires, she gets to play with a really long timespan.
The character of Lestat snagged me initially, but as I tore my way through her entire catalog of books the way she interacted with history was what kept me coming back for more. Anne Rice’s true originality is that she gives you hundreds of years of history through the perspective of one character. In my ten years of reading vampire fiction, I have yet to discover another book or author who does this successfully.
Eventually I did get bored with her. There are a lot of things to be said about Anne Rice and one of them is that when you read fifteen of her books in a row they start to get repetitive. This is probably true of just about any author. There’s only so much tortured sexual bloodletting I can get my head around in a month. So much for Anne Rice. I didn’t want her, but I was still totally hooked on vampires - or at least what I understood vampires to be. Unfortunately for me, I hit this point about a week after Twilight was released.
At the risk of sounding really hipster, I probably read Twilight before you. I definitely read it before it got famous. Like Harry Potter, Twilight took a little while to really hit the mainstream. I happened to be looking for vampire books just as it arrived, so I snatched it up and read it immediately. I was a freshman in high school, about fourteen. Twilight knows its target audience. I swooned. I dreamed. I loved it. I read it over and over. At about the fifth reading I realized that it was total crap and didn’t compare in any way to Anne Rice. Sparkly vampires? Seriously? Even Rice, who writes pretty sympathetic undead characters, manages to make them menacing at least half the time. The Cullens just aren’t scary. Sorry. Carlisle is a doctor for chrissakes.
I could probably write you a dissertation on all the things I dislike about Twilight, but the only relevant one right now is that these were not the vampires I was looking for. It did put me in a suitably angsty mood though, so I reread Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ books for fun. I had read In the Forests of the Night when I was thirteen, which is, coincidentally, the same age she was when she wrote it. I still have a serious soft spot for her. Her early books aren’t particularly deep or meaningful, but they’re still a lovely little insight into the mind of a bored, angsty, somewhat counterculture thirteen-year-old girl. Parents with rebellious teenage daughters should read her. They might learn something.
Back to vampires - this was the point where I gave up and read Dracula. I don’t know why I resisted for so long. I’d seen the movie with Gary Oldman and enjoyed it. Dracula pretty much set the canon for every vampire book that followed it. It’s an important book to read if you like vampires, or horror, or fantasy. I read it and all of a sudden my perception of vampires changed drastically. Bram Stoker’s vampires are evil. Like, seriously evil. Dracula can turn into a bat, or a fog, or a wolf/dog and he really likes nubile virgins. He’s still a highly sexual character (he sort of collects brides after all) but it’s bad sexuality, which I was not expecting. There’s a lot of repression and Victorian stigmas about bodies and sex and fidelity in there that I didn’t understand at the time.
Anne Rice and Amelia-Atwater Rhodes used vampires as main characters. They were dark and occasionally scary, but they were also mostly the good guys. Bram Stoker never even suggests that redemption might be possible for Dracula. He is evil, he has no soul, and he must be destroyed. The fact that he is a highly sexualized fantasy for the women of the story just makes him worse. Mina and Lucy experience two different sides of his sexuality, proving him to be an emotionally complex character as well as a demon. Suddenly the world of vampire literature actually became literature for me, not just escapism and indulgence. Anne Rice took one aspect of Stoker’s vampires and expanded upon it, making them hypersexual and introspective. Atwater-Rhodes took the same aspect and simplified it. Stephenie Meyer took a flying leap off a cliff of Mormonisms and came up with glitter and abstinence. Dracula was a complete vampire in a way that I hadn’t seen before, and it totally spoiled me. Vampires are just way more interesting when they’re actually evil.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova could be read as a companion piece to Dracula. It’s really a historical fiction more than a fantasy book. Dracula himself is pretty much exactly as he appears in Bram Stoker, but Kostova focuses intently on the history of the man Vlad Drakul, the bloodthirsty Prince who actually appears in history. The Impaler is known for massacring huge numbers of people by sticking them on pointed stakes and leaving them to die slowly. This guy allegedly incurred the wrath of God and was cursed to live forever by drinking the blood of innocents. Stoker got the idea for Dracula from these legends, and Kostova develops the same story into a rich tapestry of history and horror. Her book was scarier to me than Stoker’s, because it’s written like a history book. It feels true. You absolutely cannot tell which parts are fact and which are fiction. On the other hand, it’s kind of dense and hard to get through. You really have to be down for absorbing the history part. She’s not messing around. I love The Historian but it’s not a book I recommend for the fainthearted. It’s a fabulous addition to the vampire canon and I think any true vampire aficionado should read it, but it’s not for everyone.
When I found Sunshine I fell in love. Robin McKinley was already one of my favourite authors and now she was writing vampires? Swoon. And her vampires are super evil, the kind of evil that means they’re going to take over the world in a hundred years. They’re the kind of evil that gets inside your mind and can’t even speak words that reference the sun. They are also completely nonhuman. Even Dracula can pass for a human occasionally, but McKinley writes vampires that are so alien you can feel them there even when they’re quiet. They have no human traits. They don’t even live in the same plane of existence. Her vampires live in a kind of otherspace that coexists and overlaps with the human world, but also slides diagonally through and wraps around it and encompasses several more dimensions than we are used to.
Sunshine doesn’t neglect the sexuality of vampires either. There’s a two-page kiss scene that is possibly the sexiest thing I’ve read in a vampire book ever, and it ends in a completely satisfying way that leaves all the ends dangling. Constantine, the major vampire character, shows definite signs of falling in love with the main character, Sunshine, over the course of the book. She is definitely attracted to him but there’s an added dimension of ‘this can’t happen because vampires and humans just aren’t compatible.’ It makes for a lot of tension in the story, particularly because she also has a human lover with whom she shows no signs of falling out of love. If you’ve read Dracula you may see some serious parallels.
Robin McKinley took an aspect of Dracula - that of an evil vampire fascinated by a human - and rewrote it. She expanded it and gave it depth. Anne Rice focused on sex, Robin McKinley focuses on humanity. Sunshine has to deal with a relationship with a creature that might kill her at any moment. The book is surprisingly thoughtful. It deals more with evil as a concept than Dracula does. It also features as a main character a bitchy baker who just wants to make elaborate desserts for the rest of her life. It’s more sensual than any vampire story I’ve ever read.
I love vampire literature. I think the recent pop-culture trend towards vampirism is, like the undead, both wonderful and terrible. I like that vampires are getting a lot of attention, because they’re fascinating and I think they deserve a lot more serious analysis than they get, but I don’t like the kind of vampire that keeps getting portrayed. We’re not seeing the Constantines and the Draculas in vampire TV, we’re seeing the Edwards and the Aubreys. We’re not seeing evil. Maybe I’m complaining unnecessarily, but I just don’t like flippant vamps. In my head vampires are all tied up with Victorian sensuality, and I want to see that portrayed, not angsty faux-goth love affairs with eyeliner. I hope pop vamps lead people to the real meat of vampire literature. I hope at least a few get addicted and go hunting for the heart’s blood of the genre. I hope they find these books and sink their teeth in. I hope they understand the struggle with evil. I hope they find the literary merit of vampires.