American Culture

Bring back the classic, horrifying vampire; oust the modern, wimpy version

by Santana Questa

The original vampire, long before people were writing about it, was not a sexy creature. It had ragged teeth; raw, red skin; long nails; and tangled hair — if it had any at all.

After writers like Bram Stoker and Anne Rice began writing about the vampire, it evolved into a charismatic being that seduced pop culture. Enter Stephenie Meyer, and the classical perception of the vampire dissolves.

The vampire once symbolized all macabre ideas, like death and violence. But thanks to the public’s new vision of this nocturnal creature, the vampire has transformed into a mopey adolescent.

The classical vampire could be destroyed by one thing: the sun, a metaphor for life and opposite of death. When exposed to the sun, vampires burst into flame and crumpled into ash. Modern vampires have no need to fear the sun because it makes them glitter like diamonds. Vampires who glitter? Really?

Meyer, the author of the renowned Twilight series, doesn’t even have an explanation for why she makes vampires sparkle. In an interview with Collider, an entertainment-themed website, Meyer says a dream inspired the idea that vampires sparkle. She just made it up without homage to the traditional vampire themes.

“Dracula,” written by Stoker in 1897, set the standard for the classical vampire. Stoker groomed the vampire into a sophisticated being but kept the monstrous undertone and allusions to death and horror.

Rice continued Stoker’s legacy with her Vampire Chronicles series in 1973 with “Interview with the Vampire.” Rice’s vampires followed the guidelines set by Stoker almost a century before. However, Rice’s creations have more alluring personalities than Dracula.

Stephen King portrayed his vampires as ferocious predators in his 1975 novel “Salem’s Lot.” They only thought while they plotted ways to mentally torture their victims. These vampires never considered their condition a curse.

The vampire owes its existence to Stoker and should follow the principles he set.

Meyer’s vampires brood relentlessly over the burden of being a vampire. They refrain from drinking human blood, as they don’t want to hurt humans. Throughout the series they refer to themselves as “vegetarian” vampires because they consume only animal blood.

In each Twilight novel, the main vampire clan avoids violent conflicts when possible, a far cry from the classical persona who craved confrontations.

The new model of vampires no longer commands the senses of fear and terror. Unlike their predecessors, they inspire hope, love and teenage angst. Meyer makes vampires a joke. They’ve become something pretty to look at, losing everything that makes them intimidating.

This regression does not stop with vampires. As pop culture evolves, so does the perception of the classics. Heroes like Captain America become anti-heroes. The “bad boy” archetype has become more attractive than the traditional heroes who once flooded the media.

This means the classics get lost and replaced by newborn replicas. Younger generations will accept these deviations as classical figures, having little to no knowledge of the true classics.

Make vampires terrifying again, not comedic.

Santana Questa is a senior journalism and mass communication major at St. Bonaventure University.

18 replies »

  1. Let me go on a bit. HELL yes, Meyer (and her vamps) are a joke. But I’d advise a little deeper historical study, though. Vampires hardly began with Stoker, although that was an important moment. I think the real question has to do with the ways each era takes the old tales and bends them to its current requirements.

    Sadly, the main requirement with Meyer is how to extract money from a particular audience….

  2. Seems like I read in an Anne Rice novel that Lestat had/has the radiance of an angel or something like that…Stephenie may not realize it but that’s probably where she got the idea they sparkled….like fairies, lol. But it’s all good. I love what modern writers are doing with vampires…I admit some go a little too far though. But in defense of Meyer, her market is YA. And she’s darn good at it.

  3. Kind of silly to say “After writers like Bram Stoker and Anne Rice began writing about the vampire….” Those writers were almost 100 years apart.

  4. wah wah …its fantasy and entertainment people….no one is making you read or watch it..if u do NOT APPROVE put the book down..or skip the movie…..what is so wrong with having something pretty to look at ?….Ann Rice has such a vivid imagination, and so many love her books that the few whom do not …well they can read something else…and Meyer is a gifted Author in what she creates…and her books have produced some of what will go on to be epic stars from having the privilege to bring her characters to life

  5. Let me elaborate on Sam’s comment about vampire history. It would be nice if this essay were more informed by it, because the main argument is a valid one.

    Vampires do indeed have a longer history in literature than this essay suggests. The first actual “vampire novella” was probably Dr. John Polidori’s THE VAMPYRE, first published in 1819 (but written or at least begun probably during that fateful summer of 1816 at Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva – it was there where Mary Shelley wrote the classic FRANKENSTEIN, OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS). The main character, Lord Ruthven, is clearly based on Byron (he who was described by Lady Caroline Lamb as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”). Indeed, it is quite possible ( though not proven) that Byron himself wrote the story.

    Vampires were all the rage among the Romantics; John Keats wrote at least one poem about vampirism, “Lamia” (which offers a vampiric figure of a succubus, of Ancient Greek origin who lives by draining the life from others), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Cristabel” which is explicitly a poem about a female vampire (the name Cristabel has been used numerous times for “black widow” female characters in crime fiction and films).

    Bram Stoker himself researched folklore and literature dating from medieval times on vampires that informed the writing of DRACULA.

    Rather than make this overlong, let me say that in principle I agree with the author of this post: the vampire being sold to adolescents, mainly females, by Stephanie Meyer, Edward Cullen, is Romeo to Bella’s Juliet. The premise is preposterous and violates the long history of legend and literature concerning the Undead. They are evil, parasitic, and ruthless – to suggest that love can transform them into doting, protective mates flies in the face of what the myth of the vampire is meant to convey in human culture – a Jungian archetype of the danger of the darkness.

    The only thing that makes the TWILIGHT saga of any passing interest to scholars and literate readers is its crypto anti-feminism – Bella’s fumbling through confrontations with good and evil, often attributed simply to being female, is going to be, perhaps, a powerful message absorbed by the novels’ legions of readers.

  6. Wow,you really don’t like the Twilight books. Well I have to say that to me this view is a closed minded on the idea of Vampires evolving. I have always been a huge fan of vampire books and films of all types. When I turned 13, I received The Vampire Lestat for my 13th birhtday. My mom would not let me read it, which of course I did anyway and from then on I became an avid reader, which I was not before. Of course this was my moms plan to begin with. I now have a son who is turning 15 and I have done something very similar to what my mom did with me. Only I started with Twilight. WHy, well in the Twilight books Bella struggles with the fact that she doesn’t really fit in. Many teens feel this way when starting high school, she evolves in the books and I think for many adults we forget what it is like to struggle with how and where we fit in during our teen years, the Twilight books are not just about Vampires per say but being a teen during the 20th century. In this article Santana Questra says that “the classics get lost and are replaced by newborn replicas”, this is where parents or avid readers come in by recommending the classics to the next generation and keeping it going. THere is certainly no rules that the Vampire has to remain a blood thirsty demon, but then there is no rule that says there is no room for a book about a blood thirsty demon. There’s room for all the different perceptions of Vampires I believe.

  7. I completely and utterly disagree with the notions espoused in this article. Stephenie Meyer’s vampires are still quite fearsome, and not all of them spend time brooding or engaging in moral dilemmas (the “Vulturi” – the master vampires of her novels – come immediately to mind). Opinions like those in this article are fine when taken with a grain of salt, because that’s all they deserve. And in case readers of my opinion are wondering, I still like the fearsome and unrepentantly evil vampires of old as well, but evolution is the norm, not the exception. Pining for the old days in any area of human endeavor is a waste of time. It’s evolution or death. That concept applies to fictional characters as much as it does to living creatures. The good thing about evolution of ideas and fictional characters is that one can still partake of the old styles in perpetuity. No one is MAKING anyone watch or read the Twilight series, which is hardly the only vampire series going anyway.

  8. There are two mind sets for the whole transformation of the vampire thing that has happened in recent years. In some ways Desensitizing the world to things like vampires may be a good thing, people don’t need to have some of the silly fears they have that rule their lives. But I don’t think that the current vampire trend is an overly good one since we are seeing an increase in “vampire” crimes in this country, people going around and biting other people claiming they are vampires. This is appalling and more than a little bit sad. Yes these books are extremely popular right now, and they have gotten millions of kids reading, just like the Harry Potter books. But I don’t think what it is doing to our youth’s minds is a good thing. We need to be encouraging people to embrace reality and not immerse themselves in fantasy worlds. Kids today need to find their place in the real world as opposed to a world where monsters sparkle. Vampires, werewolves and fairies are never going away, and they shouldn’t but the readers need to be taught to embrace reality. Just my 2cents worth.

  9. You know, people who criticize such notions as these seem to forget something. A lot of times I hear people defend this new breed of vampires in fiction by saying it’s good to have diversity, and that people who may not have liked vampire fiction before have found vampire fiction more to their tastes. They often suggest that there was no place for them before, and now there is.

    The problem is that for all this talk of diversity in vampire portrayals in fiction, IT DOESN’T EXIST. Oh, sure, vampire horror is still around. Sometimes vampires are scary these days. But that’s not the issue. The problem is, the amount of vampire romance FAR outweighs the amount of vampire horror now. The people who complained about being left out have forgotten that us horror fans, who grew up watching vampires as monsters meant to be feared, are now being left out.

    I’m all for diversity. I don’t mind if there’s vampire romance out there. I’m not selfish. I just hate seeing people tell us horror fans not to be selfish when all we want is to have more than the occasional bone thrown to us. At least that’s what I want. I want vampire horror to come back, not for vampire romance to go away. There’s a huge difference, and it’s a shame many people can’t understand that.

    If you’re going to say there’s room for all kinds of vampires, then at least open your eyes and understand that it’s us horror fans who are being left out right now, not you romance lovers.

  10. @Tally I’m with you, and I’m sure you know this, but the trends go where the money is. It’s too bad there aren’t many gritty horror vamps out there, but at least we have the old stuff still. Shadow of the Vampire, Martin, etc.