Raising the Stakes

Modern vampire fiction ignores the darker aspects of the genre

Vampires are hot. And by that, I mean that the entertainment industry is currently capitalizing on the hot concept of hot vampires and their lovely, if not quite so hot, female human companions. With the tremendous success of Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series and the box office records generated by subsequent film adaptations, it seems like everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon. This year saw not only the opening of the second “Twilight” installment, “New Moon,” but also the second season of the popular HBO television series “True Blood” and the premiere of the more PG-rated “Vampire Diaries” on the CW channel. Of course, these modern vampire hunks bear little resemblance to Count Dracula—there’s none of that cape-wearing, sleeping-in-a-coffin nonsense.

In fact, one of the curious things about the current vampire craze is how the more unsavory aspects of the vampire lifestyle have been almost completely eliminated. To avoid the nasty business of murdering people, for instance, Edward Cullen and his model-perfect vampire family feed on animal blood, while the more conscientious “True Blood” vampires opt for a synthetic blood substitute. They get to sleep in comfy beds instead of coffins and don’t have issues with silly things like garlic or silver crosses. Sunshine slightly inconveniences the Cullens—in the light, they look like they’ve been bedazzled—but they handily solve the problem by living in the cloudy Pacific Northwest.

Yet easy solutions like these allow modern vampire franchises to completely gloss over some of the darker—and more interesting—questions that the vampire myth raises. For one thing, the modern construction of the vampire no longer involves the idea that immortality comes with a price. Our society is no longer one in which eternal damnation is a huge concern, but the question of whether one must give up one’s soul in order to live forever remains compelling. Without some kind of sacrifice, like losing one’s humanity or having to prey on one’s former equals, it isn’t terribly clear why staying human is a wise choice at all. Indeed, that may explain why Bella Swan, heroine of the “Twilight” series, is so eager to throw away her human life to become a vampire like her beloved Edward. Can you blame her? She’ll have supermodel good looks, super speed, super strength, and hopefully better coordination. If she plays her cards right, she may even become rich like the Cullens and own a nice car.

Instead of grappling with their monstrous natures, modern vampire characters are instead kept busy with relationship problems (Edward must explain to Bella that they can’t have sex because he’ll break her bones) or civil-rights issues (“True Blood” vampires demand the right to enter the same bars as humans). Despite their undead status, they can be charming gentlemen and lead fulfilling lives complete with loving girlfriends to boot.

Through this technique of making their pale creations not only handsome and alluring objects of fascination, but also romantic and compassionate protagonists, the creators of modern vampire characters have succeeded in turning the genre on its head. However, they fail to mine the potentially rich soil of darker issues—the pain of being aware of one’s own death, the anguish of being transformed into a killer. In short, they ignore all the things that might make vampire characters actually interesting to anyone who isn’t a complete sucker for chiseled cheekbones or cheesy lines.

But on second thought, it’s probably best that “Twilight” sticks with its portrayal of perfect vampire dreamboat Edward Cullen. Too much moral complexity might be deadly for Robert Pattinson’s wooden acting skills.

Adrienne Y. Lee ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a history concentrator in Quincy House.