Vampire Love is the Best Kind
My guilty pleasure is vampire fiction. It is mine and mine alone, alongside the millions of other women who share the same exact guilty pleasure. Vampire drama takes the mundane and makes it art. It takes normal human interactions and adds spice where none existed. It is high school and you get to be the popular girl... forever. And vampire love is truly the best kind — intense, dramatic, enduring. But not all vampire stories are created equal. Let's have a look at three vampire worlds that started as books and then transitioned to the screen in a major way.
'The Southern Vampire Mysteries' ("True Blood") by Charlaine Harris
By far my favorite in the vampire genre are the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I love them because they are fantasy rooted in everyday life. Sookie Stackhouse is the girl next door who lives with her grandmother and works at the local bar. Then one day, the world is suddenly made aware of the existence of vampires. Sookie's life is forever changed when a Civil War vet, Bill Compton, walks into her life. Bill awakens Sookie's sexual self but never dominates it, despite the animal-like guarding phrase the vampires use like "she is mine!" Sookie fairly quickly moves on to other supernatural affairs after Bill and becomes entrenched in vampire drama due to her unique ability to hear the thoughts of others. Still, at the end of each day, Sookie goes home, makes herself dinner (Gran doesn't make it past the first novel), and does her laundry. She's relatable and interesting. And oh my, does she have a healthy sex drive and fantastic sex. Bravo Ms. Harris, truly.
Over the course of 13 books, Harris creates a rich world full of supernatural beings that include vampires, weres, shape shifters, and fairies. She takes an interest in hierarchies and rules of order. She introduces a were tiger who makes a living coordinating supernatural ceremonies. She likes logistics and pulls the curtain away to reveal the everyday lives of creatures who live for hundreds or thousands of years. Vampires are traditional in that they "go to ground" during the day, burn in the sun, and are active at night — like vampires are supposed to. Her take on fairies is really interesting — she presents them as a true Other, operating with very different morals and ideas about the value of humans. The fairies are far more frightening than the vampires, and it's a real shame that HBO went rogue with that story line and made them completely ridiculous.
Oh HBO. The first couple of seasons of True Blood that follow the books are fantastic. Watch those. They are quintessential Southern Noir: beautiful, immersive, compelling. But everything deviates from the source starting in season 4 and it quickly turns to rot. Only a completist need finish the series. Seriously.
'Twilight' by Stephanie Meyer
Twilight is the most commercially successful vampire story in living memory so I can't not talk about it. This four-book "saga" follows young Bella Swan as she joins her dad in a small logging town in Washington state and encounters a family of vampires moonlighting as teenagers at her high school. One of those vampires is Edward Cullen, the 100+ year-old vampire with whom Bella immediately becomes completely obsessed. The feeling is mutual, and Edward follows her around creepy style and watches her sleep (also creepy style). Bella has a sexual awakening, but the kind described by a religious prude, meaning one that waits until after marriage. Oh and then she immediately becomes pregnant with a human vampire hybrid. So vampire sex = motherhood. Not hot, Meyer!
Meyer's world is teenage fantasy. Everyone, and I mean everyone, loves Bella despite the fact that she's a terrible friend and the most bland person you've ever met. She has no interest in: music, film, food, fashion, or personal care. Her tastes are completely shaped by her surrogate vampire family. They fill her closet with fashionable clothes, supply her with expensive sports cars, and house her in Dwell-style modern structures. Creepy boyfriend aside, that sounds awesome! The vampire world is strangely formed with no real checks and balances. The vampires never sleep (despite being dead) and they're able to go out into the sun, which makes them sparkle. Weird. The local native tribe is home to the werewolf population, the only interesting folks in the story. Like everyone else, they are completely enamored wtih Bella for no reason, despite the fact that one of their own, Jacob, is in love with Bella and she just uses him over and over again.
Unfortunately for everyone, the five films derived from Meyer's quadrilogy follow the text closely. I wish I could say I haven't spent much time with them, but that would be a lie. I've watched them with the hope that they would be better — more immersive and less ridiculous, that the love triangle would have any chemistry at all, that Bella would develop a personality. I'm still hoping.
'The Vampire Diaries' created by L. J. Smith
100% teenage wish fulfillment. The Vampire Diaries chronicles the love triangle between vampire brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore and Elena Gilbert, the most popular girl in town. Do you need to know any more? Really. This series began in print and quickly turned into a money-maker for the publisher, who discarded the original writer and moved on to ghostwriters. Why is this such a thing in YA fiction? There are 13 books arranged in trilogies and a quad. I have a strong stomach for terrible writing, but friends, I could not read these books. Fortunately, the show is so much better.
The CW understands fantasy. Every scene is a tableau, with amazing sets, costumes, and beautiful actors. The show begins with Elena as the focal character, but by the end the rest of the cast has taken over. Smith's world includes vampires and witches as the primary opposing forces, but there are also werewolves and strange vampire werewolf hybrids. Rules for vampires are awfully weak. If they find a witch to make them a "daylight ring," then they can be up and about in the sun with no compulsion to sleep. Also, they can drink blood from blood bags and eat human food if they want to. All of the vampires drink bourbon like water, but so do the humans. So maybe everyone is just an alcoholic. The narrative is meandering but coalesces around Elena as a doppleganger who has a predestined role to play in an ancient vampire drama. Elena is independent and strong-willed and the leader in her friend group. She also likes to party, can handle her alcohol, and is perfectly dressed for every occasion.
What are your favorite vampire narratives, guilty pleasure or otherwise?
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