Friday, July 08, 2011

On Vampires and the Next Trend to be beaten to Death

            The metamorphosis of the vampire concept has come a long way since Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ was first published in 1897. Though many cultures have their own versions of such creatures, there is valid conjecture that the concept of a ‘vampire’ was in large part based on the life of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia who was also known as Vlad the Impaler and yes, Dracula. His father was a member of an order called ‘Societas Draconistrarum’ or The Order of the Dragon. With membership, the member earned the right to the name Dracul, a noun of the Latin word Draco, or dragon. A son of such a personage would then be referred to as Dracula, a son of Dracul.

For decades after Stoker’s novel, the concept of a vampire was largely unchanged from his baseline. The following is some of the established canon regarding such creatures:

-          The vampire survives by drinking blood of his or her victims. The blood of the living   allows the vampire to live far longer than a mortal human along with a robust state of being (provided they get enough blood).

-          The concept of the sanctity of life is heavily entwined with the Christian religions, so a vampire would be considered ‘unlife’ (the undead) and as such is a profanity in the eyes of God. They can’t tread on holy ground nor can they tolerate the sight of a crucifix and Holy Water will injure them. Most anything of religious significance is the bane of the vampire.

-          This is not to say that a vampire is powerless; that is far from the truth. Unlike most of the undead, vampires have full control of their mental faculties and are physically and intellectually superior to mortal kind. They are immune or highly resistant to injury that would prove fatal to a mortal and are capable of changing into animal form (a bat is what is usually implied, but there has also been mention of rats and other such creatures that prefer the dark.)

-          The light of day is another weakness of a vampire (perhaps an extrapolation of religious dogma); the light will burn a vampire and can kill them if exposure is prolonged. Other things that vampires fear are garlic, salt, silver to an extent (silver is considered an element of purity, but it is deadlier to such things as werewolves and ghosts), a stake through the heart (a classic means of disposing of them. Vampires must hide during the day, so finding them in such repose makes them vulnerable.), and fire. (Fire is also considered a purifying element and as such would be the bane of any sort of undead life.)

At what point do stories of such creatures cease to be the subject of occasional entertainment and become beaten to death? Chances are, it started when the concept of a Vampire was reimagined (There is no harm in doing so because that is the ‘creative’ part of writing) The first ‘Blade‘ movie was released in 1998. In the movie, the majority of the vampires are such because of a virus. Because of this fact, they are immune to religious means of destruction (like holy water and crucifixes), but garlic causes them to go into anaphylactic shock. They are also vulnerable to daylight ( if they did manage to do so, what SPF of sunscreen do they use?) The movie spawned two sequels, but whether or not Blade IV: The IRS is released may have to wait until Wesley Snipes is once more a free man. The turning point was when the novel Twilight by Stephenie Meyer was released. (I actually tried reading one of the novels, but it definitely is young adult fiction and I am no longer a young adult demographically speaking. Judging by their sales volume, I suppose that they appeal to a lot of people, but it is doubtful many are in the (fast approaching) middle aged male category. I saw the movies at some point as well and thankfully, RedBox makes renting movies financially painless. I vaguely remember some female running around in hipsters while hairless buff boys were mostly running around shirtless and there were some large wolves…yeah, my attention can still wander unless there is something of consequence to see. The spoof of the Twilight films, Vampires Suck, was more to my liking. (Team Jason! Team Edward!)).
Based on the success of the novels, the television and movie people jumped on board followed by the literary houses. Suddenly, vampires were the new craze whether it was Blade: The Series or The Gates. I was in a bookstore recently and there were nine or ten mass market paperbacks consisting of some series of books about…you guessed it…Vampyrs. The last word of that sentence isn’t a typo; it’s the name of the vampire variant that is in the books. A quick perusal showed me that once more it was aimed at the older teen/young adult market; in other words, not I. Of course, I ought to mention True Blood with its southern fried vampires (I can see a whole new meaning to the term ‘redneck’) While the vampires of that show share some of the vampire weaknesses and strengths, they are not bothered by crucifixes (amusing), they can be held in place using silver chains (That makes no sense at all.) and werewolves are subservient to them (That is even more inane than the silver chains binding them.) It is apparent that the beating to death of the vampire genre isn’t finished yet, though; Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ may be the next adapted  vampire themed series, but the ‘jumps; as they are called are pure mutagenic (a deadly side effect of an age extending substance) and the novel was actually decent. (Hint: If you want a series that appeals to young readers and old, think Harry Potter.) What will be the next theme to be beaten into a pulp?  I think I see a disturbing trend. First, there was ‘Battle of Los Angeles’ courtesy of the SyFy Channel along with Battle: Los Angeles and now there is ‘Falling Skies’ (An interesting concept, but as with too much of the fare these days, way too Politically Correct and some weak plot holes filled up with aliens and not much else.) Only time will tell if alien invasions become the next trend to be put through the grist mill, but if that happens, a film adaptation of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s ‘Footfall’ could be interesting….

Timothy Linnomme