Thursday, February 25, 2010
And Now Vampires...
The vampire myth goes way back, but as far as I can tell became prominent and common in modern western circles with the publication of Bram Stoker's novel. Having read that book and performed in a chamber theater production of a theatrical adaptation of the book (as Jonathan Harker, the hapless solicitor) I have a powerful appreciation for the story and it's layered exploration of the human condition.
Also among my top list of favorite books are the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. Her vampires are certainly of a different order than Count Vlad Dracul, but also layered, complex, dangerous and yes, evil. Yet their evil is not as simple as Dracula's. It is not the monochromatic malevolence of the monster, but more of a reflection of the evil that lives in the hearts of all humans. These vampires struggle with all the questions that we humans struggle with, but along a parallel track -- and that makes their struggle in some ways easier to empathize with. It helps us see their nature -- both good and bad -- more clearly. These vampires are undoubtedly plagued with a curse, and that curse, although it has completely changed their destinies and natures, it also grants them certain kinds of blessings.
Lewis dealt with this sort of "problem" briefly in his introduction to the Screwtape Letters. There is a problem in writing of the Adversary. The temptation is to make him flat, one dimensional, pure evil. But really, you can't. It is not possible. He is dangerous because he is (for instance) intelligent, witty, attractive, etc. Intelligence and all those other qualities are good things in and of themselves. You can't say that bad creatures cannot have good qualities, for then they would largely cease to be.
Of course that tells us something about the nature of evil and our condition. Evil cannot create of itself, it can only pervert and ruin that which is good by twisting it and bending toward evil purpose.
In Anne Rice's books, you see this complexity exquisitely played out in her vampire characters. Yet while you sympathize with her characters, you don't find yourself desiring them. They are attractive at a certain level, but certainly repulsive. They seek redemption from their condition, but must also accept that they are killers. Their survival requires the shedding of blood -- and it never stops. Ultimately they are doomed by their appetites and tied to the earth. She uses them as more than just symbols. As I said, they are a mirror which Ms. Rice holds up to our faces so that we can see ourselves -- and the view is not pretty.
Now comes Twilight and it's ilk.
Again, I am writing having neither read the books nor seen the movies. I probably will do one or the other or both eventually. I'm not on a crusade, nor will I cordon myself off from their "impure" influences. I know that my ignorance and inexperience opens me up to criticism. Very well. Have it it. Instruct me. But first I will have my say.
These dimly lit vampires seem to be of a different ilk altogether from either Stoker's or Rice's. They strike me as childrens' vampires. Granted, they are for older children, who will be attracted to their barely suppressed sexual longing, and will identify with their anxiety for love and belonging. I say they are childrens' vampires because it seems they are treated as if they were simply people of a different color or culture. When faced with such differences, popular culture tells us we should behave toward them like children. It's as if we were all young girls, staring longingly at her toothy paramour, thinking:
"If we only understood them, if we only took the time to listen to them and get to know them we could see that really, they are just like us. Can't we all just get along. Really? Because he is soooooo cute, and I think I would really like to have his little vampire babies."
So they seem to be childrens' vampires, and girls' vampires as well. They seem all to be of the type that will have the adolescent femme swooning. The POV of the stories is that of this girl, who operates as the universal archetype of verging womanhood in all of us. Perhaps that is meant to be a corrective for ages of paternalistic masculine symbolic domination. OK. Whatever. I'm still not sure it's really a good idea.
As much as I love teenage girls, both (once upon a time) from the perspective of a teenage boy, and (more recently) of the father of a soon to be teenage girl, I think we must admit that teenage girls, as a group, tend to have a rather peculiarly astigmatic view of reality.
Is it possible that by positioning us all as teenage girls, we are pulling the fangs from vampires too? As literature, what do these stories show us about our own natures, our own condition? I'm not sure I agree with Mr. Wilson (who occasionally has been known to overstate his case) but he does offer one possible view I cite as an example.
I am not alarmed. This sort of thing is to be expected, and as I get older I will find more and more opportunities to decry how the world is just going to heck in some kind of basket or other. I don't like to read too much into such things.
But I do feel like something is being lost here. I don't guess it is the end of the world, but I find myself asking when the symbols of evil are all tamed and domesticated, how will we find new ways to look into the dark jungles of the heart that are full of all manner of wild and authentically terrifying beasts? What pictures will be use to see ourselves and know that we need a way out? What mirrors will aid us to see our need for that redemptive heart surgery?
I guess we will see.