Recently, I was trawling Amazon for fantasy books I might like to read. I look at some of the positive comments and ratings, and some of the negatives. One of the comments someone gave dismissed the book as a romance disguised as a fantasy novel, and that the final insult was that the author had included vampires.
Pray tell, what is the problem with this? I am of the mind that writers write what they feel compelled to write, and that they also write about what they are interested in. It is every author’s hope that others will enjoy their books, but the one plain and bitter truth is that we’re never going to be able to please everybody. And believe me, that stings. I could see that the book I was considering actually had numerous good reviews as well, so the author really doesn’t have too much to worry about. Still, what is it about vampires that this person hates so much?
There are a number of factors to think about: clichés, repetitive myths and legends, they’re apparently undead, and they sometimes…sparkle? Ok, so clearly there’s a lot going on here. People are fed up with stereotypical vampires, and there are those who strongly disapprove of them twinkling like fairies, but let’s go all the way back to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and think long and hard about what made vampires so enigmatic in fiction in the first place. If you haven’t read Dracula, I recommend that you do. Let’s get one thing straight though, Dracula, is a nineteenth century novel and it’s not classed as fantasy fiction, nor are the works of Anne Rice. They’re usually found in the horror section, though you might find the occasional book in the romance section includes a vampire or two.
Personally, I don’t connect with all the vampiric stereotypes included in these kinds of novels, and nor do I follow all the clichés that have followed since, but I do try to hold true to what they’ve always been about in the eyes of readers. They invoke fear, power, hostility, and mystery, with supernatural abilities that one might actually call magic. In most stories, they: are undead, sleep in coffins, have no reflection, cannot cross running water (or cannot touch water at all), instantly die in a puff of ash upon being touched by sunlight, heal instantly, cannot enter somebody’s home unless invited, are either ugly or ethereally beautiful, and live off nothing but human blood.
Some stories say you only need to be bitten in order to be infected, and only the death of the vampire who bites you can cure it so you do not become one of them yourself. Some stories say they need to first drink your blood, and subsequently you must then drink theirs in order for the change to take place. In my world, it is the latter that must occur.
In my world, vampires are not undead, they are demons and their legacies are passed on through their DNA, so in essence, a victim who is transformed does not die, but their original genetic makeup is overwritten with that of the demon. In my world, the sun is still deadly to them (just as certain plants are poisonous to humans but not to certain animals, it’s a question of genetic and racial variation) but they don’t die instantly. In my world, they have reflections and water is not harmful unless it is sacred or blessed (how the hell would they wash otherwise?), and in my world, they tend to be beautiful.
Vampires do not have to exist on Earth, they can appear on different worlds. No fictional story about vampires has to take place in our reality, or an alternate version of our reality. A fantasy or science fiction author can choose to include them in the world(s)/universe(s) they create.
Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt with some people. Perhaps vampires have been seen the same way for too long. Perhaps there aren’t enough of them bearing deviations from the stereotypical norm, and perhaps they haven’t yet been utilised in fantasy or science fiction works enough for them to be accepted as having clarity and believability. Vampires will, nevertheless, always be typical at their core. Just as humans aren’t going to change their fundamental characteristics and behaviours, neither are vampires.