“There are vampires among us.”
What should have been a daunting statement now seems rather trivial, due to the overexposure of these mythical creatures in our modern society. Vampires exist not only in our literature, but also in our television shows, our cinema screens, and of course our Halloween parties. Lately, there seems to be no escape from these fanged monsters, not even in broad daylight. There are swarms of enthusiasts lined up outside of the bookstores and theatres, eagerly anticipating for the next instalment of their vampire franchise.
Vampires are not a recent phenomenon. These creatures of the un-dead have haunted our popular culture for centuries. From Bram Stoker’s classic gothic novel Dracula to Stephenie Meyer’s teenage romantic saga Twilight, vampires carry a prominent influence in many works of fiction. In fact, their creative potential seems endless. Rather than going out of style, these timeless characters grew stronger in mystique and intrigue. Former hit television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel introduced us to multi-faceted vampires that fall in between both ends of the moral spectrum. Recent cult favourites like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries further demonstrated the complexities of the supernatural community. Evidently, the momentum for this storytelling niche does not appear to be slowing down any time soon.
What exactly is the allure of vampires? A nocturnal monster that sucks human blood should have sounded terrifying, but we celebrate this symbol across a wide variety of mediums. Even Count von Count from Sesame Street, the most harmless of characters, is represented by a menacing looking Muppet with protruding fangs and a thunderous cackle. Vampires are meant to be scary. They could drain humans of all our blood, put us under a hypnotic trance, and attack through extraordinary strength. Different abilities vary among the fictional characters, but they are collectively depicted as a threat to the human species.
Earlier fictional works focus on the fright of an ominous presence that lurks at night. Much like the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper in the same era, Count Dracula was an intimidating figure due to its ability to contain so much inhumane evil within a seemingly human persona. The scariest monsters are the ones that could cloak their true nature and live among the normal civilians in society. Dracula not only epitomizes our fear of the unknown, but it also heightens our fear of the unsuspected.
Later works emphasize on the daily struggle of an immortal vampire. There is a poignant tragedy in a seemingly human creature that could not fit into society despite its good intentions. Whether it is their inability to appear in broad daylight, or their moral struggle between a guilty conscience and a desire for blood, vampires are intrinsically different from human beings regardless of their attempts to assimilate. The melancholy is magnified because they must bear with the burden of their nature for a restless eternity. Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire portrays a vampire protagonist that is doomed to perpetual pain and suffering, due to the multiple failures to sustain his humanity.
Another significant theme is the unwilling victim. The innocent prey is an obvious example. If blood is the only means to a vampire’s survival, does it justify them from taking away precious human lives? More so, many vampires were the victims of unfortunate circumstances as well. Certainly, they did not become bloodsucking monsters based on their own free wills. Another moral dilemma is whether these vampires could inflict the same tragic fate upon another being, due to their first-hand experience of the struggles and suffering. Is it more merciful to drain a human completely from their mortal lives, or subject them eternally to the evils of the world?
The modern obsession with supernatural characters, especially vampires, is curious yet understandable. People gravitate towards a tragic story. They are also intrigued by their fear of the unknown and the unexplainable. Nowadays, the most successful vampire franchise features a highly sanitized love tale between a human and a glittering vampire. The forbidden romance is not a new narrative device, but our society is drawn to a story where the vampire can retain his humanity via the magical powers of love. Twilight sends an optimistic message that a tragic creature can still achieve happiness through human companionship.
Vampires have become iconic in popular culture due to their brooding mystiques and tragic backstories. Centuries ago, our society fears of the unknown evil. Nowadays, we embrace the unknown with a cautious curiosity and a hopeful desire to see the good along with the bad. We draw parallels to the vampires in our stories, because they encompass many of our everyday moral struggles. The optimistic modernity wants to root for these tragic antiheroes, for them to overcome their hardships and to discover solace in an endless midst of sorrow.