This originally appeared back in 2011, but it’s one of my favorites, and I wanted to re-run it, because vampires.
This is partly inspired by a college essay I wrote a zillion years ago, and partly inspired by the recognition that I must be the only woman in America who doesn’t dig vampire romance. I should state ahead of time that in no way am I telling you that YOU should hate vampire romances. Read ’em if you got ’em. I’m just trying to explain why I personally think they suck.
At any rate, some thoughts on the whole vampire-as-sexxeh trope:
Between the Twilight series (bad seventh-grade fan-fiction), True Blood (repetitive softcore porn after Book 4), and the skyrocketing sales of various paranormal romance books, vampires are everywhere. Now more than ever, they seem to be portrayed as the tragic, romantic heroes, with little to no emphasis placed on that whole blood-drinking, throat-shredding thing.
The earliest written tale of vampires actually appears in the form of a German poem by Heinrich Ossenfelder, called simply The Vampire. Like later vampire stories, it’s pretty heavy on the erotica, particularly for being written in the 1700s. A few decades later, Thalaba the Destroyer was written, and was the first time a vampire showed up in English literature.
During the nineteenth century, lurid vampire tales became very popular, and both Coleridge’s Christabel and Joseph le Fanu’s Carmillia take advantage of the theme of taboo lust with their stories of lesbian vampires (yes, there were lesbian vampires even in the 1800s!). Finally, Bram Stoker delivered what some might call the quintessential piece of vampire lit, in Dracula, which he published in 1897.
These early pieces of vampire fiction were really quite risqué for their time – they combined death with sex and lust, which was rather frowned upon by polite society. Particularly during the Victorian era, when Stoker’s work came out, there was a good deal of sexual repression, and the image of the lustful vampire drinking the blood of the terrified virgin was considered scandalous. Nice girls did not read vampire fiction.
So now, a hundred-and-more years later, we’ve got nice girls obsessing over whether they are Team Edward or Team Jacob. That is, everyone but me (although one might use this as a chance to question whether I’m a Nice Girl or not). Here’s why I don’t enjoy vampire romance:
(1) When you boil it down to its roots, vampire romance is all about repressed female sexuality. Look at Edward Cullen (worst.boyfriend.ever) and wonder if he’d be so into Bella if she was Slutty McPopular Girl, instead of Shy Quiet Loner Virgin. Doubt it.
(2) Vampires are dead people. I don’t care how much you bedazzle them, I can’t find the not-so-thin premise of necrophilia attractive. Besides, if the dude doesn’t have a pulse, how does he get it up? I mean, I hate to be all “put out or get out,” but I’ve got some standards. Sort of.
(3) A four-hundred year old vampire hungering for the love of a teen girl (or really, anyone under the age of about, oh, let’s say eighty) kind of verges a bit on pedophilia. If the vampire was just a fifty year old trucker following you home from the grocery store, no one would find anything appealing about this romance at all.
(4) Vampires started out as Scary Creatures of the Night that ripped apart throats and terrified villages. For them to suddenly be erotic squicks me out a bit. Even Anne Rice’s LeStat and Louis (oh, Brad Pitt, so pretty with fangs) were terrifying in their own debauched madness, despite the overt sexuality of the story. The lust and sex and erotica was overshadowed by the frustration and rage and horror at what they had become.
(4a) Vampire romance novelists tend to nice-ify their heroes. Seriously, if see one more book about a vampire who is a fucking vegetarian or only drinks the blood of dead hamsters so he doesn’t have to Killz Teh Innocent Peeples, I’m going to hurl.
That having been said, don’t get me wrong, I love a *good* vampire story. One where I get scared by things that go bump in the night, or one that makes me stick my hand through a doorway to flip the light on before I enter. You know, just in case something’s in there that might try to kill me.
For some great scary vampire fiction without romance or sparkles, I’d recommend any of the following:
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Christabel
- Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, Carmillia
- Robert Southey, Thalaba the Destroyer
- Bram Stoker, Dracula
- Ann Rice, The Vampire Lestat, Interview with the Vampire
- Stephen King, Salem’s Lot
- Justin Cronin, The Passage
- John Ajvide Lindquist, Let the Right One In
Go read one of these. Seriously, it’s worth the effort, and it will give you a whole new perspective on vampire fiction as a genre in its own right.