Richelle Mead on the mythology of Vampire Academy

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Richelle Mead explains:

“I took a class at the University of Michigan on Slavic folklore and mythology. One of the units we studied was on vampires, and we had the opportunity to read some really great stories and examine a lot of the symbolism behind those old tales. Years later, when I decided to write a vampire novel, I decided I wanted to base my series out of that same region. So I went searching through eastern European mythology again and eventually found a reference to Mori and Strigoi that I thought could really make a great foundation for a vampire society. Dhampirs are a little widespread in pop culture, and I’d heard of them before, though they, too, come from this same region. What’s funny is that I decided early on that my kick-ass heroine would be a dhampir, simply because I liked the mix of human and vampire traits. Later, I learned that in a lot of eastern European myths, dhampirs have a reputation for being great vampire hunters. There were those who believed that if an evil vampire was causing trouble, you needed to recruit a dhampir to come get rid of him or her. So, without even realizing it, I’d cast Rose in a traditional warrior role!” (p.31)

Ref: (emphases in bold mine) Brandon T. Snider (2013) Vampire Academy: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion. Razorbill, Penguin: New York

Adapting VA to screen

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…been reading about adapting Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy books to screen… and I just found some of these points interesting, in terms of considering how  the books work…

Snider notes that “Richelle Mead’s story about the bond between two young women eclipsed expectations and delivered a modern, fresh take on classic vampire mythology. Not one to be done in by overused tropes of the past, Mead drew from previously untouched folklore to craft a story that transcended the genre and propelled the vampire’s long and sordid history in a bold new direction.” (p.11) “Mead’s story is thick with vampiric imagery and folklore, but those elements are just part of a larger, more important tale. The backdrop of St. Vladimir’s Academy allows Mead’s heroines a chance to experience the dramatic ups and downs that come with burgeoning adulthood. Just as any typical teenager deals with gossip, peer pressure, and the pangs of young love, so do Rose and Lissa. Together the two young women take ownership of their lives and the choices they’ve made, and though they can be sensitive and emotional, make no mistake – they’re not to be trifled with. They fight to the death to stand up for what they believe in. Thematically, Mead confronted numerous emotional issues like survivor’s guilt and depression, blending fantasy with reality to [-p.13] create an exciting new world all her own.” (pp.12-13)

Mead has explained that “Rose’s character and personality were, in some ways, inspired by one of my adult characters: Eugenie from the Dark Swan series. Eugenie’s another action heroine who’s [-p.14] not afraid to get in a fight, but she’s a twenty-something woman who has already come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be. I began to wonder what it’d be like to write about a younger character, one who was kick-ass and not afraid to stand up for her beliefs, but who was still growing, finding her identity, and also learning what it means to control her fighter impulses. I was fascinated by the idea of that journey.” (pp.13-14)

According to Michael Preger, “The setting and world are fascinating but most of all, for me, it was the strong female relationship between Rose and Lissa that captured my interest; their independence, self-reliance, and loyalty to one another, above all others. They are the kind of role models that instill a different perception of females in today’s world. Something often lacking in today’s storytelling. But it doesn’t end there. The mythic underpinnings of this vampiric universe are unique. It’s not the same old monster story. It’s a wonderful setting to explore interesting personality dynamics between the characters.” (pp.24-25)

Producer Susan Montford noted: “I wanted to explore the friendship and bond between the two teenage girls, and the responsibility and cost of developing and honoring their talents and gifts. …Rose and Lissa’s dynamic is very relatable and forms the central thread through the story.” (p.27)

Daniel Waters explained that: “I was having a problem that the girls, in many ways, sit around waiting for new information and new dead animals to drop in their laps (a novel can get away with that more than a movie, especially when we are caught up in Richelle’s writing), but making the fate of Ms. Karp and even the true nature of why Rose and Lissa left the Academy in the first place into actual mysteries that the girls must proactively investigate – it suddenly gave the film an engine.
The elements of the movie are still mostly from Rose’s point of view, but she is no longer in control of all the facts, which makes things a lot more cinematic. At its bare bones, the adaptation process was taking the story out of Rose’s head and putting it on-screen.” (p.45)

Zoe Deutch commented: “Initially I was struck by how funny the script was. In my opinion, you don’t read a lot of young-adult adaptations that actually capture the hilarity of being a teenager. Also, as a woman, I deeply appreciated the fact that this is a story that puts friendship before romance.” (p.55) “I connected with Rose’s humor as a means of survival, her hotheadedness and passion, and her fiercely loyal nature toward those she loves. …Rose Hathaway’s sense of humor is as brutal as her fighting skills. …I connected with her being passionate and not holding back her feelings. Rose’s motivation throughout the story is rooted in protecting Lissa, but progressively she gains more desire to be the best protector she can be, and therefore has more confidence in her ability. Of course, there are many other motivations strewn throughout, including her big fat crush on Dimitri, her want for her mother’s approval, and her love of knowing everything that’s going on around her. My favorite thing about how Richelle Mead wrote the characters of Vampire Academy is that they’re all playing against type.” (p.54)

Talking about Zoey Deutsch as Rose, Mark Waters states: “I think that a lot of people like how in control she is. And even in regard to sex, it’s not callous or something she necessarily treats lightly. I think that’s what’s key. It’s not someone who gets used or isn’t thoughtful about her sexuality. She very much is and I think that’s the important part of being strong about it, being decisive and knowing what you will do and what you won’t do. And I think that was the most important piece to care about with that.” (p.56)

Ref: (emphases in bold mine) Brandon T. Snider (2013) Vampire Academy: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion. Razorbill, Penguin: New York

Some interesting Q&A with Richelle Mead

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Michelle Rowan’s Vampire Academy: The Ultimate Guide has little Q&A sections with Richelle Mead scattered throughout. I thought some of these answers quite interesting; for example:

“RICHELLE ON VAMPIRE ACADEMY

The idea for Vampire Academy was first conceived back in 2006. I was already working on two adult series and really wanted to do something for young adults. Since my first two series dealt with demons and fairies respectively, I thought I’d give vampires a try in order to be different – little knowing what a phenomenon they’d become in the next year! I knew from some college courses that a lot of the best vampire mythology could be found in Eastern Europe, so I went digging around the stories from that region and eventually discovered Moroi, Strigoi, and dhampirs. Really, all I had to work with was a snippet from that myth, but I was able to build an entire culture and history for my books surrounding those three races and their interactions with each other.

The idea of a young woman in love with her instructor was a story I’d wanted to do for some time. Rose’s character and personality were, in some ways, inspired by one of my adult characters: Eugenie from the Dark Swan series. Eugenie’s another action heroine who’s not afraid to get in a fight, but she’s a twenty-something woman who has already come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be. I began to wonder what it’d be like to write about a younger character, one who was kickass and not afraid to stand up for her beliefs but who was still growing, finding her identity, and also learning what it means to control her fighter impulses. I was fascinated by the idea of that journey. Rose and her fierce devotion to her friends were the results of my experiment, and she soon developed into the vivid and unique character we love today.” (p.2)

“RICHELLE ON FROSTBITE

Starting Frostbite was a little rough. I knew what the running plotlines were going to be, but establishing them was tricky. The writing of this book was also taking place in a tumultuous time in my own life, which made it even more difficult to just really focus and get out the words I wanted. I think I rewrote the beginning of Frostbite about three times! What’s surprising to a lot of people is that, despite the beginning difficulties, the book’s ending was pretty much set in stone. I wrote it in one energetic burst, and it was good to go. I’d known from the day I started writing the first VA book what the path of the series would be, and this ending – as harsh as it was – was essential both for the story and Rose’s growth. Terrible, traumatic endings would eventually become a normal thing for me in all of my series, but this was the very first one I ever wrote. Again, knowing it was needed for the series, I didn’t feel a lot of guilt over what happened, but I was a little amazed in looking back at it that I had actually created something so heart-wrenching.” (p.35)

“RICHELLE ON BLOOD PROMISE

Blood Promise stands out to me for a few different reasons. It was the first book to really deviate from the kids-in-school format and thrust Rose out into the real world. That certainly required a shift in my mindset while writing it, particularly since I also had to contend with an entirely foreign culture and language! A visit to Russia was out of the question for me, but the digital age we live in put all sorts of resources at my fingertips. I think one of my very favorite things that I found was a website that had virtual tours of the Trans-Siberian Railway cars. You could “walk” around the sleeping compartments and dining car and see all the features and decor. This was an amazing asset to have and really added a richness to the book. Still, I was concerned that some readers wouldn’t accept the change in story location and style, and my anxiety increased when we ended up accelerating this novel’s publication schedule. Amazingly, it all came together, and readers really enjoyed it. This book vies with Shadow Kiss as my favorite in the series.” (p.110)

“WHO WAS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER TO WRITE AND WHY?

I loved writing Rose in this series. Of course, when you’re writing in first person POV, it’s easy to fall in love with your narrator. You almost have to, since you’re in that person’s head so much! But Rose is wonderfully complex, and that’s a joy for any writer. She has a wry, witty outlook on the world that makes a nice contrast for the darkness that so often pops up in the series. She’s not afraid to point out the ludicrous, and I had a lot of fun putting in her asides and observations. At the same time, behind this humor, Rose has a depth and vulnerability that I think really speak to a lot of people. She’s larger than life in many ways, but at her heart, she shares the same kind of love and yearning we all do. Those qualities are what readers really love about her and are the reason I enjoyed writing her so much.
I’m amazed how, in all of my series, there are always a few side characters that readers absolutely adore – to the extent that I start seeing fan clubs and T-shirts made up in honor of those characters! For the VA series, Abe definitely wins the prize in this category. I get a lot of comments from readers who are excited to hear about his next wardrobe choice, be it scarves or fedoras. The more outlandish, the better! He’s a great character because most of his lines are completely absurd, but at the same time, you never doubt for an instant that he’s pretty fierce when push comes to shove. One of my most memorable moments as a writer was being contacted by a reader from Saudi Arabia who was happy to see someone of Middle Eastern descent on the side of the good guys. This comment meant so much to me, especially because despite all his layers of intrigue and questionable motives, we never doubt that Abe has a heart of gold.” (p.224)

“RICHELLE, ON THE BOND BETWEEN ROSE AND LISSA:

When I set out to write the series, I had a lot of characters’ stories and sub[lots in my head, and I had to decide early on how I was going to address those. Rotating characters with a third-person narrative certainly lets you get a lot of stories out there – but can also leave you with a thousand-page book if you’re not careful. I ultimately decided Rose was the character I was most interested in and that her story really formed the heart of the series. I chose her as my narrator but was still drawn to Lissa, both because she’s fascinating in her own way and also because of her close connection to Rose. I soon realized, though, that their very connection would let me get away with slipping in another character’s narrative. Rose’s ability to see the world through Lissa’s eyes allows us these moments of third-person POV that we wouldn’t ordinarily get in a first-person series. I ended up with a sneaky kind of hybrid style of storytelling that was ultimately told with Rose’s voice but expanded the world beyond her own experiences. This system became a really useful tool in Blood Promise, when Rose and Lissa were separated for the first time. Even though Rose was by far and away nearly everyone’s favorite character at that point in the series, I think we all would’ve been sad to have a book where we didn’t know what was going on with Lissa, Christian, Adrian, and the others. The bond let me continue keeping track of everyone, which became even more essential in later books as Rose and Lissa began to increasingly follow their own paths.” (p.266)

“WHILE CHRISTIAN AND LISSA’S RELATIONSHIP HAS ITS PROBLEMS, THEY’RE NORMAL PROBLEMS THAT ANY TEEN MIGHT EXPERIENCE, LIKE JEALOUSY OR MISUNDERSTANDING. WAS IT INTENTIONAL TO HAVE A MORE DOWN-TO-EARTH ROMANCE IN THE BOOKS TO CONTRAST THE EPIC DRAMA OF ROSE AND DIMITRI?

Lissa and Christian, while far from being a “normal” couple, were meant to be a contrast to Rose and Dimitri (and even Rose and Adrian). I wanted to show that not every romance is fraught with epic, world-shattering problems! That isn’t to say things were always easy for Lissa and Christian. They certainly had their share of difficulties throughout the series, and it was important for me to highlight the typical ups and downs that any couple, vampire or human might have. Some people might argue that if I’d really wanted something to contrast with Rose’s disastrous love life, i should have given Lissa and Christian a perfect, problem-free romance. There was no way I could do that, though. Aside from the fact that it wouldn’t be realistic, I also think those little relationship kinks and difficulties are what end up making Lissa and Christian such a power couple. Facing problems together ends up strengthening both their love and themselves as individuals.” (p.269)

“WHAT WAS THE PROCESS FOR BUILDING THE WORLD OF ST. VLADIMIR’S ACADEMY?

St. Vladimir’s serves a lot of different purposes in the series, so I had to consider all of them for its creation. It’s not just a school; it’s also a sanctuary of sorts. Moroi parents who choose to send their children here are trading family time for safety. Students attend almost year-round and hardly ever see their parents. With those things in mind, I had to put St. Vladimir’s in a location that would preserve that high level of safety – both from Strigoi and curious humans. Backwoods Montana – with its vast forests and mountains – became an ideal setting. At the same time, I also had to keep in mind that students at a school like this don’t quite have the same experiences that “normal” students at a private boarding school would have. There’s no easy way to get off-campus. Field trips are few and far between because safety won’t allow it. Once Moroi and dhampirs are there, they pretty much stay there. As such, it was essential to make sure the school was the kind of place where they could live happily. Everything there is the newest and best, despite the facade of historic buildings. Computer labs, athletic facilities, and medicine – all of it is state-of-the-art. Academics are much more extensive than ordinary schools, in the hopes that there’s something there for everyone to be interested in. Equally important are the touches of ordinary home life, the religious services, movie lounges, and lots of open green spaces. The message one walks away with is yes, you do have to spend a lot of time at St. Vladimir’s… but you’ll like it.” (p.276)

“AS THE NARRATOR OF BLOODLINES, SYDNEY IS THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE OF ROSE IN SO MANY WAYS. IS IT FUN, OR MORE OF A CHALLENGE, TO WRITE THIS CHARACTER?

Sydney is a really great character to have as a narrator, especially because she’s so different from Rose. I loved writing Rose, but it’s nice for an author to be able to switch voices and try something new. I also think having someone like Sydney to tell the story for a while will give us new insight into the VA world. Rose has grown up among Moroi and dhampirs, and from the very beginning, we’re influenced by her perceptions – mainly, that vampiric life is perfectly ordinary. For Sydney, it’s most certainly not ordinary. So, we get the perspective of someone who’s an outsider, looking at this world through human eyes. Sydney’s also much more of a careful observer than Rose is at times, so that too will provide some new insight. From a craft point of view, Sydney isn’t easier or more difficult to write – she’s simply different. After writing six books with one character, I’ve definitely fallen into a comfortable familiarity with Rose. I can jump right in and know exactly how she’ll respond. With Sydney, I’m still getting to know her, but I have no doubt that within a couple of books, I’ll know her just as well as I do Rose.” (p.285)

Ref: (italics in original) Michelle Rowen with Richelle Mead (c2011) Vampire Academy: The Ultimate Guide. Penguin: New York

Vampires lend themselves to unstable desire

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Vampires lend themselves to unstable desire: part of the exciting potential of any vampire text is the way in which it overturns notions of what sexual act is being represented in the bite.” (p.203)

Ref: Sara Wasson (2012) “Coven of the Articulate”: Orality and Community in Anne Rice’s Vampire Fiction The Journal of Popular Culture, 45(1) February, pp.197-213

Gift-giving in Interview with the Vampire; oral and textual promiscuity

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Sara Wasson adopts the theory of gift-giving to analyse Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire – and presents an interesting discussion as a result. She writes:

Between 1976 and 2003 Anne Rice wrote twelve sprawling, interconnected vampire “autobiographies” which continue to be hugely influential for vampire fiction and other artifacts of popular culture. Rice’s vampires come together to set up house, produce offspring, tour the world, and form passionate attachments. Two tropes structure and enable the vampire communities throughout the twelve texts. Both are gifts: the “Dark Gift” of blood to be swallowed, and the gift of autobiography to be shared. Originally a field of anthropological inquiry, gift theory emerged as scholars sought to articulate how gift exchange creates and maintains communities, and gift scholarship is a fruitful tool for analyzing the way exchange functions in Rice’s texts. Rice’s vampires create communities by exchanging gifts of blood and gifts of words, joining mouths that swallow and mouths that speak.” (p.197)

From the nineteenth century through to the 1970s, a majority of popular fictions assumed that vampiric transformation was effected by a vampire biting a human. This approach shifted in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1976) became a bestseller. In Rice’s influential mythology, one [-p.198] cannot become a vampire merely by being bitten; one must be drained of blood and then swallow vampire blood. In her second vampire novel, The Vampire Lestat (1985), Rice coins the term the “Dark Gift” for this creation process (234, 246), and the language of gift returns throughout the subsequent ten books that comprise her Vampire Chronicles and the New Tales of the Vampires. Under Rice’s influence, other vampires have become increasingly inclined to procreate by giving in this way, and other authors similarly posit communities developing around the process.” (pp.197-198)

Wasson describes some of the history behind this shift in vampire creation – and discusses the authors who have adopted it since, then writes: “These vampires, then, are created by receiving a gift, and their vampiric communities are founded on gift-exchange. As such, their gift exchange invites comparison with gift theory that examines how gifts create and maintain community. Anthropological gift theory was pioneered in 1950 with Marcel Mauss’s The Gift, an anthropological investigation of the way gifts functioned in the society of Trobriand islanders.” (p.198)

This painfully yielded, inalienable gift does create community— but a far from Utopic one. Rice’s vampires are profoundly ambivalent about the value of community, simultaneously yearning for and rejecting it. The mere idea of vampires having any kind of fellowship [-p.201] with each other takes Lestat by surprise at first. After he becomes vampire, he muses: [‘]Do devils love each other? Do they walk arm in arm in hell saying, “Ah. You are my friend, how I love you” …? ….Well, now I know, whether I believe in hell or not, that vampires can love each other, that in being dedicated to evil, one does not cease to love.[‘] (Lestat 114)” (pp.200-201)

“…vampire ambivalence over community is reflected in the two political implications which Rice’s “Dark Gift” model has for the way her vampire communities are organized: on the one hand, the gift condemns the recipient to a kind of slavery, a brutal power relation; on the other hand, the gift frees the recipient into radically unconventional sensuality. In both cases, a focus on the gift brings fruitful attention to that which passes between.” (p.201)

“Post-structuralist distrust of the gift is echoed in the emotional choreographies that follow the Dark Gift in Rice’s novels. The cozy family of Lestat, Louis and Claudia, a child whom they jointly transform into a vampire, lasts for 60 years, but the domestic bliss is deceptive. Both Louis and Claudia experience Lestat’s control as implacable and cruel. Lestat himself tells Louis that the only relationship possible between vampires is slavery: “If you find one or more of them together it will be for safety only, and one will be the slave of the other, the way you are of me” (Interview 83), and he adds “That’s how vampires increase … through slavery. How else?” (Interview 84). Claudia ultimately slaughters Lestat and, with Louis’s help, dumps him in a Louisiana swamp. A similarly bleak disintegration befalls the family Lestat tries to form in later years with Louis and two other vampires (Merrick and David Talbot)….” (p.202)

Rice’s Dark Gift affects intimate relationships in another way, too: the second consequence of the blood gift in Rice’s texts is that it frees the receiver into transgressive sensuality, into unstable, radical, [-p.203] forms of sensual desire.” (pp.202-203)

“Rice’s vampire family has been extensively discussed in critical literature, with every critic noticing its dark mockery of a conventional bourgeois pairing (e.g., Keller 17, Gelder 113, Benefiel 263–64, 266–67), and Benefiel notes that Rice’s vampire family has influenced other vampire fiction since (264–66).” (p.204) [NB Wasson seems to take a slightly different approach to the way families are presented in Interview than Benefiel does]

Because vampires eroticize blood, they inevitably eroticise veins and skin surfaces. As such, they invite the reader to contemplate an erotics of the in-between: of skin surfaces and contacts.” (p.205) “[Elizabeth] Grosz and [Alphonso] Lingis see such attention to the surfaces of desire as a valuable alternative to the traditional psychodynamic approaches to sexuality, which define desire in terms of psychological interiority. Furthermore, when blood becomes the fulcrum of desire, it can begin to represent other intensities, other sexual delights: it draws the eye out to the limits of the human body, the place of connections. The characters in the vampiric encounter need not map onto neat identities in order for us to appreciate the suggestiveness of the blood that passes between them. Concentrating on the transactive gift, rather than the transgressive body offering the gift, moves beyond the essentializing idea that disruption is endemic within certain bodies.” (p.205)

Ever since Dracula, vampire fiction has been fascinated by multiple, fragmented text, and Rice’s vampire characters themselves share this fascination: her vampires write, speak, and film their stories compulsively.” (p.207)

Wasson explains that the vampire autobiographies that constitute Rice’s Chronicles, “themselves create community. They are filial texts and competitive texts: each narrator challenges and elaborates the tales of the previous, until the books themselves circulate as communication between the characters and as symbol of their relationships. Rice’s community of hunger is one of relentless words, and to enter the coven of their kinship, one must not merely accept the gift of blood, but must make a gift of text.” (p.208)

Like exchanging blood, writing is both transgressive and sensual. The act of writing anything about vampire existence flagrantly breaches the fifth “Rule of Darkness” which decrees that “No vampire must ever reveal his true nature to a mortal and allow that mortal to live…. No vampire must commit to writing the history of the vampires or any true knowledge of vampires lest such a history be found by mortals and believed” (Lestat 329). By definition the Articulate Coven defy the mores of the wider vampire community around them. As well as being transgressive, writing itself is a sensuous act for the Coven; each member relishes the materiality of writing. Armand, for example, relishes writing on “startlingly white paper scored with fine green lines” (Armand 31)….” (p.208)

“Rice wrote her vampire novels over 27 years, and her use of the Dark Gift does change over time. The language of gift accretes more positive meanings as Rice’s novels progress. The Coven of the Articulate begin referring to vampiric supernatural powers as gifts: the Fire Gift (incinerating others by the power of mind), Spell Gift (entrancing others), Mind Gift (telepathy), Cloud Gift (flying), and the Spirit Gift (astral projection). This litany of gift dilutes the ‘darkness’ of the Dark Gift by emphasizing what the vampire state adds to the receiver, rather than how the Dark Gift constrains her. In addition, the novels become a little more optimistic about the possibility of quality.” (p.210)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Sara Wasson (2012) “Coven of the Articulate”: Orality and Community in Anne Rice’s Vampire Fiction The Journal of Popular Culture, 45(1) February, pp.197-213

Reference is to: Mauss, Marcel. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. 1950. Trans. W. D. Halls. New York: Norton, 1990. Print.

The need for family in vampire fiction – Benefiel

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Back in 2004, Candace R. Benefiel wrote; “In the vast, dark landscape of Gothic fiction in late twentieth-century America, the seminal figure of the vampire wanders in ever-increasing numbers. Much as the Gothic has seen a flowering in the past twenty-five years, the vampire has risen from the uneasy sleep of the earlier part of the century and experienced his own dark renaissance. Prior to 1976, in film and fiction, the vampire was portrayed in the mold into which he had been cast by Bram Stoker in the greatest of the nineteenth-century vampire novels, Dracula – an essentially solitary predator whose presence was the stimulus for an intrepid group of vampire hunters to form and bay in his pursuit, and whose time on center stage was limited to brief, menacing appearances and capped with a spectacular death scene. The vampire was, to borrow a term from film, a McGuffin – a device to drive the plot and give the vampire hunters something to pursue.
In 1976, this changed […when] Anne Rice published her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, and turned the vampire paradigm on its head. This breakthrough novel focused not on vampire hunters, but on the vampires themselves – and what a different breed they were.” (p.261) [Note that I think  Bruce A. McClelland (in Slayers and Their Vampires : A Cultural History of Killing the Dead (2006)) might have something to say about Benefiel’s approach to the slayer and their vampire)]

“After Rice, and even in her subsequent novels in the ‘Vampire Chronicles series, the vampire was used to provide a vehicle for social commentary, and vampirism itself became a convincing metaphor for such varied topics as drug addiction, homosexuality, AIDS, and the general selfishness and narcissism of the baby boomer generation. Vampire literature in itself has become a vast and varied body, and one whose many facets cannot be contained in one model. The figure of the vampire, so varying and adaptable in the hands of many authors, became a liminal, transgressive figure, a stage upon whom the fears and secret desires of society could be acted.” (p.262)

“Despite the general perception, particularly in vampire film, of the vampire as a solitary predator, many texts have sought to portray the vampire as a part of a family grouping.” (p263)

“Oddly, [Rice’s] vampire family is so close to the norm as to constitute a parody.” (p.264)

“The vampire family is a key topic in Interview with the Vampire. Throughout the novel, images of kinship abound….” (p.266)

Benefiel concludes her study of ‘the family’ in Interview with the Vampire, by writing: “‘A gothic text positions its reader in a potential space where the psyche’s repressed desires and the society’s foreclosed issues can be engaged and thus where healing can occur’ (Veeder 32). The family group of Interview with the Vampire, as well as subsequent iterations of the vampire family, allows the reader to explore issues of alternative family structures and incestuous attraction within the family, and to play out the consequences for good or ill of these imagined scenarios. The vampire, aloof from human considerations, nonetheless stands in for the reader. Whether the nuclear family, either in its distorted but disturbingly realistic portrayal in Interview with the Vampire or in a more prosaic setting, remains a viable mode of existence at the turn of the twenty-first century is a question that readers and viewers must answer for themselves. Anne Rice’s creation, the vampire Louis de Pont du Lac, loses his mortal family, and later, his immortal family, when Claudia and Madelaine are killed in Paris in a replay of that ancient trauma. After that, he loses what had remained of his humanity, what might be termed his soul. The need for family, in whatever configuration, remains constant.” (p.270)

Ref: Candace R. Benefiel (2004) Blood Relations: The Gothic Perversion of the Nuclear Family in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. The Journal of Popular Culture 38(2), pp.261-273

Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times

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In his essay, ‘The Night Side of Nature: Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times’, Roderick McGillis makes a couple of statements I totally agree with – and a couple more which are ‘boldly’ thought-provoking, … McGillis writes:

“I do not think the Gothic is inappropriate [for children or adolescents]. However, it does deal with the lurid and the taboo.” (p.227) “Its two great themes, according to Patrick McGrath, are transgression and decay (1997: 154), and we might think of children’s literature as a literature that promotes positive social behaviour and growth, rather than describing transgression and decay. Fragmentation and dissolution characterize the Gothic. This is a genre that seeks to disorient us.
In the Gothic, children may die and innocence may fall, tainted by infection growing from a bad seed. The Gothic is not, at least traditionally, a cheery genre. Human failure is possible in the Gothic. The Gothic world is decidedly not a pleasant place; it is ambiguous at best.” (p.227)

“…the Gothic gave us the post-human before we ever thought of genomes and cloning and other forms of altering the human form. Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Gothic fiction gave us humans as automatons, as composite creatures, vampires, and werewolves. These various forms of ‘othered’ humanity, of post-human being, continue to fascinate. The Gothic hero-villain is, by definition, both attractive and repulsive – a monster even as he exudes charisma. Characters in the Gothic must make hasty choices that turn out, more often than not, to be unwise choices.” (p.228)

“Unwise choices may explain why the Gothic is a genre suited to stories about children and adolescents.” (p.228)

“Why are this form and this sensibility with us so insistently now? My answer is that we live in fearful times and the Gothic reflects fear and maybe even combats this fear in some strange way (see Edmundson 1997; Grunenberg 1997).” (p.229) “…we live in a scary world. …but at certain times things get just a bit scarier: at the end of centuries, in times of war, [-p.230] in times of revolution, in times of rapid change. In such times, the Gothic finds purchase. It expresses fear even as it accepts fear as inevitable.” (pp.229-230)

“The art of the Gothic haunts us in order to elicit not only the scream or the gasp – sounds that signal a closing of reflection in the instant of fear – but also to elicit the shock that prompts desire for change. Like all fantasy, the Gothic is a manifestation of desire, only it demonstrates that our desire for what Lacan designates the ‘real’ may be a desire that leads to disintegration. We need to look carefully at our fantasies; we need to consider carefully the world we want.” (p.230)

Gothic appeals to the young for the same reason it appeals to the less young: it delivers characters who transgress. The Gothic hero is most often a villain who runs roughshod over conventions of piety and civilized restraint. This character has charisma. Gothic hero-villains … display their darkness without reserve; they wear their outlandishness on their sleeves. They invite our gaze while staring unblinkingly back at us. They unsettle us with their returned gaze. They position us to see the world awry. They remind us that freakishness just may be the human norm. Gothic hero-villains are us in our most unrepressed moments. They perform the polymorphous perverse we have necessarily repressed. They either clarify the need for control or satisfy vicariously desire’s reach. Whatever other cultural service they render, Gothic fictions keep reminding us that we are haunted beings, plagued by frightening forces both inside our psyches and in the world out there where we play out our social selves. And our haunted condition need not render us helpless, running into the dark forests of the night or down dark highways. / Adolescents are, perhaps, as intensely haunted or even more haunted than the rest of us. Their bodies as well as their social milieu are in flux, changing as they – both body and social group – morph (or should I say grow? into maturity.” (p.231)

“In the Gothic we are in the territory of teratology, and today’s Gothic just may suggest that we find the real monsters in positions of influence and power. And it may also suggest that we are not helpless in the face of such influence and power. The Gothic presents its characters with choice – the choice between right and wrong.” (p.232)

“…humour is one of the ingredients of a Gothic that typifies young adult and children’s fiction.” (p.233)

McGillis considers Thirsty, by M. T. Anderson (1997) in this essay, writing: “Traditionally, or at least in the Bram Stoker brand of vampire story, the battle between vampire and human is a battle for the human soul, and usually the humans manage to stem the tide of vampires lead by an anti-Christ such as Dracula. In Thirsty, however, things are confused, because the Gothic hero-villain does not side with either the Forces of Light or the Forces of Darkness. He is a lone wolf, so to speak, out for himself. He’s a good capitalist looking to sell his services to the highest bidder. He manages to find gainful employment and to ignore the terrible goings-on in the world: ‘starvation, and fighting in the Middle East, and senators talking about the national debt’ and ‘those other stories [-p.238] about the mobs, the lynchings [of vampires in this storyworld], all over America’ (138). At the end of the book, Chris is left with nothing but his fight to remain connected to humanity.” (pp.237-238)

The protagonist, Chris, is “left at the book’s end crouching behind a door, beseeching a lower case ‘god,’ and moaning, ‘I…am…so…thirsty’ (Anderson 1997: 249). These are the final words of the novel, and they leave us with the vision of desire.” (p.238)

McGillis’s reading of Thirsty leads him to ask: “What is left once we see humans and vampires as equally rapacious?” (p.239)

McGillis also explains: “K. A. Nuzum reads Thirsty as an exercise in ‘mythic’ literature. The struggle is between a mythic time that removes one from the flux of history and places one in a liminal space that is outside history. The novel ends, Nuzum points out, with Chris ‘completely isolated from linear time, from human companionship, from human existence’ (2004: 217). True, Chris is alone, isolated, and fearful as the novel comes to a close; however, I am less certain that this condition of loneliness places Chris outside of linear time. The mythic trappings in this novel …are just that: trappings. They deflect us from seeing Chris’s real problem as a human problem, and seeing the vampires as aspects of humanity. The book performs a demythicizing of monsters.” (p.239)

The trauma this book confronts is the trauma of life without direction, only choices every second for which we have no transcendent guidance. …This vision of a world without end, and without anything but the ongoing working of desire, is not mythic. It is decidedly historic. It is the world we face every day with its mob violence and socially sanctioned killings and predatory activity and senators discussing the national debt. The only difference between humans and vampires is that vampires are perceived by humans to be outside humanity; they are akin to homo sacer, those who are exiled from community; outside the polity and dispensable. Humans can kill vampires with impunity.” (p.240)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Roderick McGillis ‘The Night Side of Nature: Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times’ pp.227-241 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to: Edmundson, M. (1997) Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism and the culture of the gothic. Cambridge, MA: Londond: Harvard University Press.

Grunenberg, C. (Ed.) 1997) Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in late Twentieth-Century Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Patrick McGrath (1997) Transgression and decay. In C Grunenberg (Ed.), Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in Late Twentieth Century Art (pp.153-158). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.