From Reflectionsedge.comThey Stake Dead Guys, Don’t They ? (buffy & angel mention)
By AJ Grant
Saturday 23 July 2005, by Webmaster
Oh, to be a vampire. They have it all: money, looks, power, immortality. Considering that the only price seems to be one heck of a drinking problem, what’s not to love?
Still, there can be downsides. Depending on who you talk to (or read), vampirism can bring with it pesky issues like severe UV allergies and the eternal damnation of your immortal soul. So perhaps the blood-sucking lifestyle isn’t for everyone. But there’s no harm in learning more about it in case you feel like sending a character or two down the path of pale skin and monochromatic wardrobes.
WHICH CAME FIRST - THE COFFIN OR THE VAMP?
Though a certain Eastern-European fame hog whose name starts with "D" might have you believe otherwise, vampirism is actually a very common myth; just about every culture in the world has some form of vampire superstition or legend. Vampires aren’t a modern concept either; Homer was writing about luring the dead (in his case, shades) with blood in The Odyssey long before Varney or Ruthven thought to make an appearance on the scene.
Though the shape of vampires can be diverse - anything from sexy New Orleanian metrosexuals to entrail-trailing heads in Malaysia - the concept behind them all centers around one idea: the forbidden. If there is something in a culture that is disgusting, repulsive, and/or the cause of deep-seated fear, then there’s a vampire legend that’s cropped up around it.
In Totem and Taboo, Freud discusses how reactions to death can give birth to belief in vampires. Within primitive cultures, ignorance about and fear of death created superstitions that one could be contaminated simply by touching a dead body. This fear also created the reasonable assumption that if the living don’t like death, the dead probably aren’t too fond of it either. Thus, given the chance, the dead will attempt to either escape their fate or, perhaps worse, try to drag the living down with them under the theory that misery loves company.
On top of that, Freud suggests that even within modern life (or modern to him, anyway) the mixed emotions that survivors feel after losing a loved one are too unpleasant for the survivors to deal with, and so they project their negative emotions onto the dead. It’s not the survivors who are trapped with helpless feelings of guilt and anger about what has happened - it’s those who have died. Fill a dead loved one with enough of your own misery and rage and the mind logically assumes that you are no longer thinking about someone you cared about - rather, your loved one has become a soulless demon. After all, how could your dear mother/husband/child ever hate you so?
It’s appropriate, then, that one of the more famous names in vampire history first put pen to paper because of her own fear of and difficulty with death. Anne Rice was the unknown wife of the poet Stan Rice until their daughter Michelle died of leukemia in 1972. From Anne’s grief, the vampire child Claudia was born: a beautiful, blond-haired girl who possessed the ability to live forever. Though Claudia would not survive past Interview With The Vampire, Anne continued her vampiric therapy by projecting herself onto her favorite protagonist, Lestat. Her biography, Prism of the Night, discusses how Lestat shares Anne’s panic-attack producing fear of dying. Lestat of course does Anne one better by laughing in the face of death and becoming immortal himself.
But vampires are more than just symbols of death and our reaction to it. They embrace anything that is "other" in our culture and make it their own. It’s no coincidence that Bram Stoker’s vampire story included hard, long objects being plunged into the bodies of seductive women with deep-red lips and roving hands; in his time, society had strong taboos against open sexuality. Likewise, Joss Whedon cheerfully embraced the symbolic possibilities of vampires by first making them part of a metaphor about all the horrors of high school life on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and then going one step further to make vampirism itself a metaphor for both alcoholism and the trials and tribulations of adulthood on Angel. If there’s something that we don’t like, vampires can more than handle it. They can even take our fears and make them attractive to us.
DON’T HATE THEM BECAUSE THEY’RE BEAUTIFUL
The vampires of Western culture have certainly come a long way from the legends of yore. Freud’s so-called "primitives" would probably be shocked to discover that instead of being repelled by these deadly demons, we find them sexy, even enthralling. Part of the fault for this lies in what vampires are: the forbidden. As soon as we’re told we can’t have something, we want it. The same principle that makes us reach for a second slice of chocolate cake is exactly what makes us want to bare our necks to the nearest set of fangs.
Bram Stoker adding sex directly into the mix hardly helped matters, but he’s not the one who started it. The flames of vampiric lust had been smoldering for a while, most notably in Lord Byron’s "The Giaour" and in Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla - the latter of which is notable not only as a vampire story with erotic undertones, but as a story that holds none-too-subtle lesbian themes. (All that over twenty years before Bram would get his act together!)
When it comes to modern thoughts about vampires, however, Anne Rice again takes the crown. Though reactions to her later novels were increasingly mixed, her trilogy of Interview With the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned are considered classics of the genre that helped to shape vampires as we think of them today. Though many other authors have contributed great books into the modern vampire myth (recommendations to be found below), Anne is the one who is usually credited for the picture we have of preternaturally beautiful creatures who possess wealth, charm, and the ability to lure almost anyone into their beds. (An irony, considering that Anne’s vampires don’t actually have sex - they’re unable to.)
Anne is even given the credit/blame for the retrofitting of Dracula. When Stoker conceived the character, he pictured something horrific, a vision more accurately portrayed by Max Shreck in Nosferatu than by any incarnation of Bela Legosi’s. However, when Francis Ford Coppola decided to bring Dracula to the screen, he didn’t linger long over Drac’s creepier appearance. Instead he made sure to provide a kinder, sexier-looking Gary Oldman to woo Winona Ryder - and it was Newsweek that suggested Lestat’s popularity as the cause.
MAKING A VAMPIRE OF YOUR VERY OWN
Authors who branch out into the vampire genre these days face interesting obstacles. On the one hand, there are many clichés that turn readers off as soon as they see them. On the other, some of the clichés are expected, and authors who ignore them can give the impression that they don’t know what they’re doing. Take some of the common defenses against vampires: we all know sunlight is a classic way to destroy vampires, right?
Wrong. Sunlight is actually a more modern addition to the legend. It was created in Nosferatu, where the ability to show a sunrise was considered as dazzling and impressive as the CGI effects in Lord of the Rings . It worked well symbolically since the sun represented God’s love, and vampires, being damned creatures, would naturally be repulsed by it.
But go back before then and you find that sunlight barely causes even a tickle amongst undead men walking—not even in Dracula himself, who was Nosferatu’s inspiration. This caused some confusion and cries of "continuity error!" when Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula showed Drac strolling down a sunny street, as casual as he could be. However, the problem wasn’t with Coppola; it was with the audience’s collective memory. Dracula had never had a problem with sunlight, and Stoker had written him as such. It’s an ironic twist that one of Coppola’s direct references to the book turned out to be something the audience reacted to as inauthentic.
For whatever reason, Western culture holds tight to certain parts of vampire legend but not others. Crosses and Holy Water remain high on the list of defenses, even though vampire legends predate Christianity . Stakes are another popular defense, and attempts by some authors to reference sacred woods come across as clunky and unnecessary. These days, it’s possible to kill a vampire with a toothpick.
Other parts of vampire legend seem to have vanished entirely. You don’t see Buffy walking around with a bag of seeds to scatter on the ground in the hopes of taking advantage of a vampire’s obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Nor has anyone attempted to tie Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint-Germain up with wild roses as a way to incapacitate him.
Ultimately, it seems that vampires these days work, as Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski said when asked how fast the show’s ship could fly, "at the speed of the plot." In other words, if your story needs a vampire that can’t go out in sunlight, only drinks a few swallows of human blood once a month, and who can turn into a fox whenever she wants to, you can have one. Just make sure your vampire, like the rest of your story, is believable.