Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rice and Vampyres

Vampires are trendy.

150 years ago, I imagine very few people had any concept of "vampire." The concept existed in folklore of many cultures, but doesn't seem to have been a strong motif. In the beginning of the 19th century, some writers began using the folkloric material continuing in fits and starts until Bram Stoker writes the quintessential vampire novel, Dracula at the end of the century. It is quite a powerful and beautiful work by the way, and one I recommend. From that point vampire is ushered into the popular imagination. From there, it was mostly the work of movies, radio and television -- mass media -- to take the vampire and defang it. In spite of Nosferatu, the Hollywood vampire soon became a symbol of camp and mockery. As the world left behind it's belief in good and evil, especially of any kind of supernatural good or evil, the mills of Hollywood mashed and rehashed the legend of the Dracul until it was more of a joke than anything else. Certainly by the time I was growing up, no one really shivered in horror at the thought of the blood drinking undead. There have been many appearances of vampires in popular entertainment, mostly using it as a convenient plot device, like time travel, to bring conflict and suspense to a story. Dark Shadows, Night Stalker, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Need I say more?

But even as the vampire seemed stalled in either black capes or mindless minions of darkness, Anne Rice reinvented the vampire completely with her group of novels that became knows as The Vampire Chronicles. First released in the early 1970's, the core of these stories dwelt in three volumes. Interview with a Vampire, The Vampire LeStat, and Queen of the Damned. I did not discover these until the late 1990's, when I was approaching 40 years of age, and they completely entranced me on several levels. I will come back to this in a bit.

Now as if out of the blue we have Twilight and True Blood, and suddenly vampires are sexier and more hip than ever. I'm not necessarily saying this is bad...I haven't really paid much attention to either one. I just find it fascinating that vampires have suddenly taken on a certain fashionability.

Now Doug Wilson weighs in on why all this hubbub about vampires is bad because it makes light of evil. If a vampire is a symbol of evil then of course we should “honor the symbol” and stop making it all sexy and stuff. Well far be it from me to dare to disagree with Mr. Wilson, who could effortlessly dismember me with his tongue alone, never mind his pen. Far be it from me indeed, but I think he is really missing some pretty big chunks of what we might call “the point.”

Symbols can certainly be enduring, but are seldom static and are constantly subject to re-imagining or even re-purposing. Witness the Christmas Tree, the Easter Egg, and even the cross itself. What is the literary purpose of the vampire as symbol? It is, I think, more complex than an initial cursory look might suggest.

I’ll be coming back to this, in particular to discuss the work of Anne Rice along these lines, and in particular to look at how her work has now transformed into a truly fascinating re-imagining of the gospel stories. She no longer writes vampire books because the process of writing them, and exploring the deeper themes suggested actually led her out of her self proclaimed atheism and back to Jesus and to His church. That’s a fascinating story.

So why am I getting all worked up about this? Mostly because I have found the work of Anne Rice, so easily dismissed because it is about vampires, to have been profoundly influential. Early on I detected in her writing a seeking and searching for truth, and discerned her direction and pointing toward Jesus. I am most gratified that I was right, and I am enjoying watching her publishing her journey, both in essay format and in her fiction.

Look here to read about it and we’ll talk more later.

1 comment:

solarblogger said...

I agree with you. I find vampire themes very engaging.

Dracula was a much better book than I expected. I could not believe how good it was. As a page-turner, I would have thought it was written by Michael Crichton. It showed me a key element of good horror. What made the horror all the worse was that Stoker could portray happiness so wonderfully. There was something good at stake. It is easy to think that for true horror the whole atmosphere should be bleak. I think Stoker proved that false.

The book would have been justified just as a vehicle for introducing Dr. Van Helsing, who is one of my favorite fictional characters.