Author’s Admission: I haven’t read too many vampire-based books, but reading The Vampire Defanged by Susannah Clements piqued my interest. Now I see why the blood suckers are so controversial as instruments of literature. Maybe vampires don’t need mirrors because they are reflected in the darkest parts of ourselves.
“Vampires represent something to us as humans. They represent our fears and desires. ….[They] are rich enough a metaphor to adapt to our culture’s changing worldview and interests. We can make a vampire mean what we want it to mean.” – Susannah Clements, The Vampire Defanged
Originally, vampires were symbols of evil incarnate. Not just ‘I-serve-the-devil-and-want-to-drink-your-blood’ evil, but evil in all of its distorted beauty, seductiveness, and temptation. Traditional vampires are revolting and alluring all at the same time, displaying all manner of immoralities while offering power, wealth, and an eternity in which to enjoy and despise it all. More recently, vampires have taken on a whole new definition: that of the tortured hero, torn between what they know of right vs. wrong and their natural inclinations. But no matter their literary context, they are tied to us in their very natures: they live on the blood of humans, live out our most base desires, and are (nearly) eternal. As such, they give rise to a myriad of questions morally, socially, and personally:
Is an eternity on earth worth giving up heaven? Why are vampires traditionally feared, and do I fear them myself? Can we judge another being’s motives/origins? What is our basis of labeling something as ‘human’? Can a being have a heart without a soul? What makes something ‘good’ or ‘evil’? Is is ok for something to survive on the lifeblood of humans? If a bite from death can make something dead, what does it take to transfer life?
And the ultimate question: Would I give in to the vampire’s bite?
The answers to these questions, especially that last one, can be awfully telling. If vampires are a metaphor of how we see ourselves, then they speak to our souls, our minds, and our culture. By reading about such reflective creatures, we are forced to confront the darkness in their characters. Their characters, which are based on us. And so the metaphor of the vampire reveals the monsters inside ourselves. Our fears. Our desires. Our hatred. Our lust.
And yet, that may not be a bad thing. Only light can cast a shadow. If there is darkness to be found in a vampire, somewhere a light is shining. Perhaps instead of looking only into the darkness, we should begin looking for that light – and early vampire literature is a good place to start, I think.
Just as culture has altered our view of darkness, it has also changed the way we perceive light. Looking at the same examples, good has moved from religious to social context. Originally, the evil of vampires was counterbalanced by the goodness of God. That goodness was represented symbolically, in familiar icons of the Church – priests, crosses, holy water, etc. – and was utilized to combat evil on a personal level. Over time, the good has been secularized, leaning on cultural norms and social expectations rather than religion. It is up to the individual to judge what is good, and if it is indeed preferable to ‘badness’.
Without a standard source, the light has dimmed as society’s definition of good as opposed to evil has changed, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions. If the light isn’t too bright, then maybe our darkness isn’t so dark after all. And if culture is wrong, the metaphor changes again.
So how will future authors and readers interpret the vampire metaphor? Add your thoughts and opinions in a comment below!