Since Reading group contributor Michelle1978 chose this month's theme, I'm going to hand the start of this article to her and a post worth quoting at length:
"I may be biased as it was my suggestion that came out of the hat but I'm glad that we're looking at these books. For me, Dracula by Bram Stoker is the scarier of the vampires - I first read it when I was 18 during a really hot summer and refused to sleep with the window open at night just in case. Wasn't until I got to the end of the book that I allowed air into my bedroom. I want my vampires to scare me and Dracula definitely did – a big part of this was because he didn't actually appear that often. So much of the terror and suspense was in the perceptions of the Harkers, Lucy, Van Helsing and so on. This made it scarier for me, as a big part of terror is fear in the mind and often the reality is less scary. Not having Dracula around so much meant that he could be as scary as the imagination would let him be. And all the gothic associations add to that.
On the other hand, Edward and the Cullens are around and by getting to know them you sympathise with them and see that they are just misunderstood. And the other vampires that the Cullens meet who aren't as pleasant and vegetarian still don't have that scare factor, and secretly even when the blood hits the fan you know that everyone will be all right at the end and come through unscathed …
I like them both, but as for me vampires are meant to be scary and I want to be frightened so much I daren't open the window until I reach the end of the book, Dracula wins the fight. Having said that, I probably would prefer it if Robert Pattinson appeared on my window sill rather than Christopher Lee …"
Michelle1978 has smartly avoided the siren call of subtexts and gone straight for the central issue (one, I must admit I might have ignored but for her comments): vampires are supposed to be frightening and a good part of their appeal should comes from the thrill of fear.
Except, there's a problem. Does anyone actually find vampires frightening? I'm not certain. I can easily imagine how much fun it must be to be scared witless by Dracula, or even Edward Cullen. But I have to imagine, because neither of them bothered me at all. I wouldn't want to deny the macabre fascination of Bram Stoker's story in particular, or the gothic appeal of his graveyard imagery, the dark ruins of Whitby Abbey and the forbidding Transylvanian castle. Even so, the book strikes me as more of a comfort read than anything else. The occasional moments of dark and cold serve only to offset the cocoa-warmth of the rest. Edward Cullen, meanwhile, is about as threatening as Justin Bieber – and just as sanitised. As Kicvae says, at least Dracula has blood on his fangs:
"It feels like there's a strong impulse to tame the vampire in modern interpretations; to keep all his attractive qualities – his beauty, charm, power, erudition, etc, but get rid of the inconvenient fact that he eats people! He's become an idealised fantasy figure instead of a monster. The best stories play on this tension between the fantasy and the monstrosity but I felt in Twilight the de-fanging had gone too far. Honestly, the book started to feel like one long mantra – Bella is awkward, Edward is beautiful, Bella is awkward, Edward is beautiful, repeat ad infinitum!"
Kicvae goes on:
"If you subscribe to the idea that Bram Stoker's vampires represented a fear of sexuality in a very sexually repressed society then it makes sense that this aspect tends to be played down in modern vampire stories. Although we're arguably just as obsessed with sex as the Victorians, we're generally nowhere near as repressed, so modern-day vampires are more beautiful than their Victorian counterparts but much less seductive. It's just a theory but I wonder whether contemporary vampire stories reflect society's fears over drug addiction rather than sex, so the abstinent vampire reflects the heroin addict trying to quit but under constant temptation and it's this out-of-control addict/vampire who is seen to pose the threat to social stability."
Well, it's an interesting theory. Although from what little I know of Stephenie Meyer I find it hard to believe that smack is a major preoccupation of hers. Sex, however, clearly is. Even if they preach abstinence, her books are as much about the beast with two backs as the one that sucks you dry of blood. So too is Bram Stoker's Dracula. And so too are Carmilla, Interview with the Vampire and just about every other story I've read featuring the undead blood-suckers, except possibly I Am Legend. Vampires are positively Freudian –as the great Austrian himself pointed out: "All human experiences of morbid dread signify the presence of repressed sexual and aggressive wishes, and in vampirism we see these repressed wishes becoming plainly visible."
It's hard to argue with that. While I'm calling on famous dead intellectuals, it's also worth noting Voltaire's line on vampires. In 1762, he noted that they may have been fading from folklore, but were now "stock-jobbers, brokers, and men of business, who sucked the blood of the people in broad daylight but they were not dead, though corrupted. These true suckers lived not in cemeteries, but in very agreeable palaces." Stoker's Dracula could easily be seen as a metaphor for the wealthy man who feeds upon the less fortunate.
Manyeyedhydra tells us: "Hammer had Dracula as a CEO in a later film." Fittingly, Karl Marx once defined capital as "dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks". Manyeyedhydra also suggested that it "seems a really obvious next step for the vampire myth – have the CEO of a Goldman Sachs-type company be an actual vampire squid".
A fine idea. But perhaps, if we're pursuing the line that vampires must tell us something about ourselves, it's more appropriate to look back to Meyer. Perhaps part of her talent lies in the way she was able to realign her vampires to contemporary morality – or at least a pre-Great Recession morality. As she described it, there was considerable virtue in the fact that the Cullen family was stinking rich, wore designer clothes and drove gleaming, expensive cars. In the older stories, blood-sucking parasites were staked through the heart and burned. In modern America, they became aspirational role models. No wonder we're in such trouble …
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