Vampire Thursdays: The Endangered Vampire: Returning to the Roots of the Myth

vampirethursdays

by Stewart Sternberg

SpaceVampiresVampires should be put on horror’s endangered species list. Through overuse and domestication, the bloodsuckers seem to have lost a step. They’ve become an expression of teen angst, and the personification of power in a world where the young feel powerless. Today’s vampire stands with hands on hips, poised like some fashionista, hollowly proclaiming: “All women want to be with me, all men want to be me!”

How do we stop this abuse? How can we save the beloved predator? Perhaps, by returning to its roots and rekindling the metaphors behind the myth?

Consider an early example from Greek mythology: a seductress from Libya who lured Zeus into adultery (not that he needed much encouragement) and was punished by Hera. The woman, Lamia, was made to devour her children. In that tale, we have an early form of the vampire. Lamia is a sexual predator, cursed and forced to devour life.

The legend would develop further, with the name ‘lamia’ referring to creatures having different physical animal traits, and an appetite for the life essence, expressed through either sex or blood.

It’s a short trip from the lamia to the succubus. In literature, the succubus (and her male counterpart, the incubus) are a delicious manifestation of our desires, preying on us in our sleep. The sweet kiss of the succubus removes inhibition and drains the sleeper of life essence. However, with the arrival of Victoria, sex is sacrificed for the metaphor of blood, and the surrender to the vampire is surrender to one’s most primitive self. In the Victorian era, the vampire myth is codified and the modern vampire finds its roots.

Although the Victorian era may have draped the vampire in sweet crinoline modesty, masking the sexual nature of the beast, it couldn’t repress it entirely. The vampire as metaphor for sexuality and control would remain intact, and so would the idea of sexual power exchange. The French recognized the impact of surrender to sensation with the quaint term “Le Petit Morte”. And there, in those few words, are the basics of the vampire myth: sex, death, and rebirth.

While much literature would formalize the vampire as a bloodsucker, following strict convention, some authors have continued to exploit the original concept, not vampire as bloodsucking serial killer, but instead, as an entity seeking life energy.

In 1887, Guy De Maussapant wrote “The Horla”, a tale about a spirit draining the life of its victims while they slept, haunting their dreams in the process and driving them mad.

lifeforceIn Colin Wilson’s The Space Vampires (1976), aliens come to Earth to drain victims not of blood, but of what they call “the life force”. Made into a film in 1985 as Life Force, the vampires aren’t sympathetic creatures suffering in the shadow of their mortality. No, they are hungry, unfeeling forces of nature.

Even as recently as Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, the world of the vampire isn’t represented by the Hollywood stereotype, but instead, is divided into separate courts, with different types of vampires. The most interesting is the White Court. These vamps are essentially the succubi and incubi of old, whipping their victims into a frenzy of desire while draining them of their essence, until the victim is a spent, mindless shell. And while the Red Court, the more traditional vampires in the Dresden series, are a bloody threat, the White Court is seen as more subversive and perhaps, more powerful. Stephanie Meyers’ Edward Cullen wouldn’t last long in Lara Raith’s kingdom.

The above three examples are the key to reclaiming the vampire. In each case, the Victorian tradition has been set aside and instead, the original hunger has been exposed.

I’m not suggesting vampires should all seek pure life-essence or attack their prey out of libido rather than blood lust. However, the myth is rich and cuts across many different cultures. Authors can seek to exploit the same vulnerabilities in the human psyche that gave birth to the vampire in the first place, or they can find new vulnerabilities created by our complicated society.

The concept of the vampire serves many metaphors, whether they sparkle in the daylight, or collect their victims like so much cattle. There are many facets to the vampire and saving him means opening the door to as many different ones as possible. Otherwise, familiarity will breed contempt and worse, mundane acceptance.

Bio: Stewart Sternberg has been published through Mythos Press, Chaosium, and Eldersigns Press. His new novel, The Ravening, a work of survival horror, is being released through Elder Signs Press is available for pre-order now. You can follow him at http://house-of-sternberg.blogspot.com or on Twitter at: twitter.com/ssternberg.