By E. F Watkins
Why does the image of the vampire have such undying appeal? I think because, as developed over the ages by various authors and filmmakers, he has come to embody a range of qualities that both frighten and fascinate us.
1. Eternal life: We all think we’d like to live forever, even though it could have its drawbacks. Since the vampire usually keeps the appearance he had when he died, many remain forever young or at least in the prime of life. In terms of story lines, this trait also links him with the past–he can re-encounter his lost loves or old enemies in reincarnated form. But on the dark side, he’s a walking dead man who seems to know the secrets of the grave, and beyond. And of course, he must drink blood to survive.
2. Drinking blood: A great metaphor for thriving at the expense of others–and don’t we all know someone like that! Depending on the approach of the author, a vampire can attack violently like a werewolf, and kill each time he bites. Or, like Stoker’s original Dracula, he can drain a victim slowly over time, which is much creepier. The lust for blood has been used to parallel an addiction to sex, alcohol or drugs. It also symbolizes absorbing the victim’s soul or spirit. In some fiction, a vampire can survive on animal, artificial or stored blood; in others, only human blood from a live victim will do.
3. Power over others: The vampire controls his victims mentally. He may use hypnosis or simply gain telepathic control from taking their blood. He can compel these slaves to do his will, even at the risk of their own lives. In Stoker and other traditions, if the vampire master is destroyed, any of his victims who are not yet dead recover completely.
4. Creating other vampires: Sometimes this happens with just one bite; sometimes the victim must be drained to death; sometimes only a “baptism”–drinking the master’s blood, too–causes the change. Even though leaving other vamps in his wake tends to draw suspicion, a fictional bloodsucker may feel compelled to create a mate of his own kind, or a whole kindred community, to relieve his…
5. Loneliness: Whether isolated or part of a vampire clan, he lives as a social outcast. In modern books and movies, vampires sometimes parallel gang-bangers, street people, gays and minorities–anyone seen as out of the mainstream. The vampire can never fully relate to humans because at worst he feeds off them and at best he outlives them.
6. Special powers & weaknesses: He’s invulnerable to the usual weapons such as guns and knives, and has superhuman strength, speed and agility. However, in many plots he is vulnerable to certain religious and folk symbols and to sunlight. In Stoker’s novel, Dracula could go out in the daytime but could not use his special powers then. Whether or not a vampire needs to lie in a coffin, he usual rests in darkness to recharge. And of course he has paranormal skills–he reads minds, moves things with his mind, may disappear and reappear, and may change into a mist or an animal.
7. Sensuality: Most vampires have heightened, animalistic senses and superhuman stamina. The more subtle ones seduce, rather than overpower, their victims. And whether or not they can have “normal” sex with humans or other vampires, the bite symbolizes a sexual union.
Every author emphasizes certain traits over others and creates a slightly different set of guidelines. Stoker’s vamps were bound by different rules than those of Stephen King, Anne Rice or Charlaine Harris. But that is why, as a character, the vampire lives on–because he can represent so many things to different people!
In my own vampire novel, DANCE WITH THE DRAGON, I played up the less-often-exploited talents of remote viewing and mind control, and I pit one vampire who was trying to create his own cult/community against another who was passing for human and living with a human lover. DD, published through Amber Quill Press, won an EPPIE Award in 2004 as Best Horror Novel. Because many people, including one reviewer, said they wanted to know more about how the hero and heroine first forged their unusual relationship, I’m now working on a prequel, BLOOD WILL TELL.
Happy writing to all!
–E. F Watkins