By a chance, I’ve learned that World Dracula Day, commemorating the publication date of Bram Stoker classic, falls on May 26, and it sparked some thoughts about vampires in fiction and pop culture. They’ve been around in books since late 19th century (if we take Dracula’s release date as a marker), and had accompanied us for thousands of years in oral storytelling, folklore, and various myths. After such a long time, are they a little bit stale? Are they… dare I say it, boring? Or, perhaps, like certain pieces of clothing, vampire never go out of style?
The classic approach
There’s nothing wrong in liking the vampires just as they’re supposed to be. As a teenager, I immensely enjoyed Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice (though I wouldn’t see The Interview with a Vampire movie until my mid-20s). I liked the notion of vampires feeling the weight of time and previous experiences, and that they perceive the world through the lens of their own longevity.
Later on, Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels introduced me to Regis, and the concept of a humble and non-violent vampire who doesn’t drink blood (and brew moonshine instead) enchanted me.
In my early 20s, I came across Vampire: the Masquerade, a tabletop role-playing game with a setting centered on various vampire clans living in hiding amongst humans. The idea of vampires vying for power and survival, engaging in politics and manipulations of both humans and their own brethren, made an appealing setup. It was easy to believe that near-immortal beings would be those who possess the worse traits of humanity: greed, obsession, paranoia, deceptiveness, and many other that helped survive throughout centuries.
The many faces of Dracula
Although Dracula himself is a staple of what a vampire is supposed to be, throughout the decades both books and movies depicted him in various ways, sometimes adding an interesting spin to the centuries-old story.
Personally, I enjoyed the quirky and over-the-top Dracula from Van Helsing movie, and would have loved to see the picture dive deeper into the lore of the setting. I also liked inventor and a grieving husband overcame with rage from Castlevania animated series—a man so mad from his own suffering that his own son considers him a threat.
At some point, of course, Dracula had to become the “good guy” as well, like in Hellsing anime, where certain Alucard fights other vampires, ghouls, and other and other creatures.
The interesting spin on the classic
It isn’t always necessary to reinvent the wheel to make vampires feel fresh. It might be enough to place them in a new setting to add some novelty.
Jukka Sarasti from Peter Watts’s Blindsight ticks those boxes: this predator from Pleistocene epoch is a leader of a space expedition sent to investigate an alien ship. The book focuses on him as a member of a stronger, more intelligent, and a predatory species rather than on blood-drinking and other aspects we commonly attribute to vampires. This gives Jukka a genuine feeling of sinister power that is better left unstirred, and perhaps reaches to the root of our primal fears that created vampires.
Going back to anime and vampiric defenders of humanity, it’s impossible to ignore the already-classic Vampire Princess Miyu, in which a Japanese girl wearing traditional kimono hunts down Shinma, demons who threaten the human world. Going further into Japanese animation, we can also explore Vampire Hunter D as well, set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which D, a dhampir (half human and half vampire) with a symbiont embedded in his left hand, hunts vampires and other creatures. A mix of science fiction, horror, western, and a few others, it’s definitely one of the more interesting spins on the idea.
Another post-apocalyptic setting with vampires is that of the Priest. I haven’t read the comic books, but I enjoyed the movie and the idea of vampires being more primal: still intelligent, fast, and powerful, but less humane… until certain events in the story.
When too much is too much
Sometimes, like in the case of Vampire Hunter D, genre mash-ups and over-the-top ideas can produce an entertaining and engaging story, but sometimes it feels like other franchises push things a bit too far within their own setting.
One of such examples could be Underworld which started as an interesting take on vampires versus werewolves story with strong Vampire: the Masquerade vibes (and a splash of fashion from Matrix), but quickly spiraled into a race to create more and more powerful opponents and vampire-wolf hybrids.
The same fate has met Blade, with each movie creating more and more contrived opponents, following the notion that the threat always has to bigger in the sequels, and it leaves me feeling like both franchises took the wrong turn somewhere.
What kind of vampires I’d like to see more
It’s quite a long post already, and I feel like I barely skimmed the surface. I’m sure I forgot about several titles I meant to write about, and then there’s the cornucopia of books, movies, and series I haven’t had a chance to try or perhaps even never heard about.
Nowadays I’m getting slightly disenchanted with the traditional setting, it’s more due to the depicting of vampires themselves: as if they were normal, twenty-something humans. I think that if I came across a book that focused on how the centuries of life can weigh on a person, I’d still be willing to read such a classic take on vampires.
At the same time, I’d love to see something new: vampires in new settings, historical or not, more vampires in spaces, and more vampires that are rooted in cultures that never had their Count Dracula like Asian or African equivalents of vampires. I’m sure these could be fascinating reads.
What about you? Are you fed up with vampires or will read or watch about them all day long? Do you like the classic take on them or seek something new? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.