Back in the day when I was at university studying for my undergraduate degree, I thought it would be a good idea to plan my dissertation on a topic involving the evolution of vampire fiction. I can’t remember the title and clearly it wasn’t that ground breaking as my thesis presentation was slated and I was essentially told to explore it from a new angle.
But it got me thinking how, even since then (a mere 9 years ago…wow I’m old) vampire fiction is still tossed about plentifully but it’s target audience has changed dramatically, which we will explore a little later on.
The first experience of vampires in literature was in John William Polidori’s short work of prose in 1816. It was the first real acknowledgment of vampires in fiction and combined this dark subject with the stark contrast of romance. Although it will seem fairly dated now, at the time it was a brave piece of literature as it was an early recognition of the female sexuality and explored themes of lust, infidelity and betrayal.
In 1872, the theme of sex and sensuality was continued in Sheridan Le Fanu’s tale of a lesbian vampire called ‘Carmilla’. This challenged taboos once again with the exploration of female homosexuality as well as the female empowerment of Carmilla being a strong, powerful vampire herself. It could be said that during this period of history, any support of female empowerment was very much needed.
In 1897, what could be considered as one of the most iconic vampire stories was created. Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ would be the inspiration for films and other stories for many years to come and I feel this is where many sexual themes were truly addressed. From highly sexualised images of women to the similarities between the act of staking and sexual intercourse….it is no wonder why ‘Dracula’ is such a common book to study at higher level literature.
Vampire fiction became multi-faceted with the introduction of Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with a Vampire’ which was released in 1976. This remains, to date, my favourite work of vampire fiction as the levels of meaning within this book run so deep and you could study it for months and still have new angles. As well as the usual sexual themes featured which we have already seen in previous vampire fiction, Rice includes the very relevant issue of AIDS which was prevalent at the time the book was written. The exploration of blood transmission and the implications of this were examined beautifully and gave a (then) modern day take on something which had already been written about many times before.
Following these notable works of fiction, vampires continued to be a consistent theme in fiction for many years. Stephen King featured them in ‘Salem’s Lot’ and ‘Doctors Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven gave an original spin on the concept of vampirism with the setting being in Greece rather than the traditional choice of Transylvania.
Vampire Fiction was revolutionised again in 2001 when Charlaine Harris created the sexy, stylish and relatable character of Sookie Stackhouse. Suddenly, vampires became cool again and we all wanted to be Sookie with her subtle sexiness and alluring abilities. Not only did we have a very likeable main character but we were introduced to a hoard of other vampires some of whom, for the first time, weren’t monsters. Additionally, for the first time, we were gifted with a new type of mythical creature….the werewolf. And this is where the games truly begin…
Suddenly, everyone wanted to become an author of vampire fiction; ‘Let the right one in’, ‘The Vampires Assistant’, ‘Peeps’, ‘The Historian’ and even….‘Abraham Lincoln; Vampire Hunter’….Yeah I wasn’t sure on that one either.
It seemed we were in the midst of an epidemic but unfortunately, what was once exciting and innovative, became monotonous and incredibly repetitive. Every new book was basically the same thing we had already seen done a hundred times before. It made sense to expand the scope by widening the target market.
Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight‘ seemed to burst from nowhere but left chaos, mayhem and millions of obsessed teenagers in it’s wake. All the previous themes seen in vampire fiction were now replaced with teen angst and first loves. Adorable. Don’t get me wrong…I read all of them and saw all the films and joined in with the Edward Vs Jacob fever. But I think it is at this point where vampire fiction loses some of its original appeal. Now, it isn’t just monotony and repetitiveness we are observing but the softening of the vampire character which is detrimental to its whole image in literature, spanning hundreds of years.
I liken this evolution to a tiger slowly morphing into a tabby kitten. It’s cute but does seem to detract from the original, supreme model.
Since the hype surrounding ‘Twilight’ there have been more attempts at emulating this genre which can be seen splashed all over Amazon. But how much is too much? Is the overpopulation of vampire fiction harming the genre generally?
I would be inclined to agree as it seems nowadays, every time I hear about a new book which includes, vampires and/or werewolves, I elicit an inward groan. It just feels like another attempt to break in to pop culture rather than respecting all of those amazing themes which can and have been explored flawlessly before.
What are your thoughts?