The vampire genre reveals a great deal about our questions and fears

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“It is wise to scan popular culture to seek hints of spirituality. There we can discern currents and movements in the collective psyche. The vampire genre, and how it is currently being treated, reveals a great deal about our questions and fears.” (p.204)

Bearing in mind the date of this article’s publication (i.e., 2000 – and so, pre-half-of-the-vampire-literature-currently-on-the-market), Kevin O’Donnell considers the changes in vampire fiction in recent times (and from a theological perspective). He states that vampire fictions “are written or filmed to entertain, first and foremost, and the chill and thrill of being scared and horrified is what makes people pick them up. It’s rather like a roller-coaster ride – it’s exciting to feel something unpleasant, briefly, in hyper-reality. It’s a cheap, superficial brush with the nasty side of life, a ‘time-out’ session that would be worrying if people became obsessed and infatuated with it.
The stories tend to be sexist as well as bloodthirsty, with Dracula’s brides, or Hammer film blonde-haired virgins. There has always been a strong sexuality about the genre, and even Anne Rice’s novels, though written by a woman, have women, usually as the victims, except for the age-old vampire, Maharet, who is cold and calculating. Seduction and the vampiric bite are all of a piece, and the blood drinking is orgasmic for the Undead. A parallel with AIDS has also [-p.205] been made in recent times, an infection through the blood. Vampire tales might seem shallow, nasty, rather tacky, and out of place in a discussion of serious theology, but there are deep issues to be drawn out in modern examples. The tired, old cliches of the genre have given way to new directions and energetic characterization.” (pp.204-205)

“This particular genre of gothic horror has never ceased to enthral since Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. He reworked simpler, cheaper, gothic tales of vampyres and wraiths into a classic. The timing was cruciaL A. N. Wilson, in his introduction to the Oxford University
Press edition, says:
Since Dracula was written, history has been a catalogue of evils which no amount of hitting with a shovel can obliterate. Stoker, an amusing old rogue who was merely doing his best to write a yarn which would make your hair stand on end, in fact did something much more. He reflects the very bewildered sense, still potent in a world which was (even in 1897) preparing to do without religion, that mysteries can only be fought by mysteries, and that the power of evil in human life is too strong to be defeated by repression, violence, or good behaviour. Virtue avails the characters in Dracula nothing. It is the old magic – wood, garlic, and a crucifix – which are the only effective weapons against the Count’s appalling power.’
Wilson touches on two important themes. First, in the vampire genre, evil is portrayed in the raw. It is condensed, frightening and personaL More than this, it is an apotheosis of virtue, an utterly corrupted individual who treats others as objects in its struggle for survival. This is a projection, a symbol, and provides something of a catharsis for the viewer/reader. It helps us face the darkness of life at a safe distance. It is a deflection, too, for by looking at a fictional evil, totally out there, we avoid what is here and now, around us. Western society does not like talking about evil too much, but we know how real it is within us….” (p.205)

Wilson’s second point is that the vampire tale delves into the depths of mythology, and this primal, unconscious side of our lives sits uneasily with a modem, liberal consciousness. Postmodernism is struck with it, spun round in a dance, and does not know how to take the lead. Vampires are about ancient magic, and the struggle of light and darkness. There is the final fight, as daylight streams into the chamber and a cross robs the vampire of its power. This gives a numinous quality to the genre, as we find, also, with the Gospels. While these are superficially about a holy man set against religious and secular tyrannies in the first century, there is a deeper struggle between light and dark, God and the devil.” (p.206)

Stoker’s Dracula was a rather two-dimensional character […]. The Count was a creepy gothic horror with little charm, depth or personality. He was little more than a spook, a shadow, which took over people’s lives. This was played out in the feature film versions, and despite the power of Lugosi’s stare, and the energy of Christopher Lee, they were not real characters. This was overturned in a new breed of vampire writing with the novels of Anne Rice, ‘The Vampire Chronicles‘, about the vampire Lestat and his associates.” (p.206)

Rice humanized her monsters, giving them feelings, personal agonies, and longings. They feel repulsion and guilt….” (p.207)

Ref: Kevin O’Donnell Fall, Redemption and Immortality in the Vampire Mythos. Theology 2000 103: 204

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