I just came across yet another promo tweet for yet another vampire novel. This novel was described as having vampires that actually kill when they feed, and find their nocturnal existence less than an immortal romp. Yes, vampires like they used to be, back when they were vampires. I’m something of a purist when it comes to monsters out of legend. I say ‘something’ because, let’s face it, these are legends. Hard to be a purist about something imaginary, but there are certain core beliefs that we may cling to.
There was a philosophical paper that came out way back when about how, if someone were to discover a skeleton of a horselike creature with a horn growing out of its forehead, we still wouldn’t be able to say we’d discovered a unicorn, since the description of a unicorn is incomplete and ‘real’ unicorns may have three-chambered hearts or something. I wasn’t entirely thrilled with this view, my take on language is more prescriptive. A word means what I say it means, so if I call this item the skeleton of a unicorn that’s what it is. If we later find a sample with a four-chambered heart, that’s a unicorn too. I’m not about to get all angsty over it. But the horn matters a bit. The virginity and the purity matter more.
What I do get annoyed by is when an author whips up some new ‘take’ on a legendary being just for the sake of originality, completely sacrificing whatever it was that made the creature legendary in the first place. Looked at as a metaphor, vampires are people who are so conceited, arrogant, and/or strong-willed that they not only refuse to die, they feed off the lives of others to maintain themselves. Werewolves are people who willingly act like beasts rather than men, etc. Other humans can be ‘cursed’ by those who willingly exist this way (at least, the Universal werewolf can transmit the curse). The physical characteristics are all part of this legend.
I consider it a sign of mediocrity that an author has to come up with something “new” and then try to apply the well-known label to it. I have written a few vampires myself. The villain in A Warrior Made becomes a proto-vampire, and of course ‘Bite Deep’ is all about them. But they are vampires in the classic mode, with some slight liberties taken. ‘Bite Deep’ recasts them as mythological, not merely legendary, and the story is about the salvation of the vampires from the perceived Evil of their nature, but there is nothing in it that contradicts the standard lore. And I have several other fragments, as well. In fact, I have only one story that treats vamps as anything other than blood-sucking monsters, and even in that one the only type that matters is the bloodsucking monster variety. It’s not hard to write stories within the classic limits.
So it kind of irks me when an author creates a creature that has only the slightest passing physical resemblance to one of these legendary beings and calls it vampire or werewolf anyway. While the clearest examples are Meyers’ sparklers, or Ward’s Brotherhood, neither of which are vampires but simply creatures that live a long time and drink blood, so also are vampires that have sex, or make babies. Vampires have traded all that makes life enjoyable simply to prolong it. Barbara Hambly created a techno-vampire when she had a magician who transferred his soul into a computer, using a magic life-sucking crystal to power it. As Dracula says in the movie Van Helsing, “I am hollow! And I will live forever.” If you can call that living.
There are lots who don’t agree with me, given the popularity of the vampire-smut school of paranormal fiction. Where do you stand?