by Sven Ullenbjorn
Master of the macabre Neil Gaiman has said it. Allison Flood, writing for the Guardian.co.uk, has said it. Horror grandmaster emeritus Stephen King didn’t quite come right out and say it, but he did hint very strongly at it. Even die-hard (Twi-hard?) fan boards across the Internet are starting to wind down as Twilight-clone TV shows and books attempt to ride the megalithic teen angst powerhouse’s frayed and fading bought-at-The-Gap coattails, while fans of True Blood (aka the anti-Twilight, given its graphic just about everything) just seem confused after last season’s bewildering ending. All of this seems to point to one inescapable conclusion: If vampires don’t go back into the coffin for a while, they’re unlikely to survive the intense scrutiny they’ve received in recent years.
But is this really the case? Yasmine Galenorn, author of the Otherworld series, doesn’t seem to believe so. Neither does J.A. Ward, author of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Both of these feature vampire protagonists in page-scorchingly erotic situations without sacrificing their innate scariness or the things that make vampires attractive. Galenorn leans more heavily toward the Stoker model, while Ward seems to draw on vampires in the vein (pun very much intended) of Blade. Both of these authors make the same point, and it’s one that has been echoed by authors from the hallowed halls of high fantasy to the grimiest, grittiest streets of Karen Marie Moning’s alternate-reality Dublin, Ireland: Vampires aren’t dead yet, so let’s put away the stakes, folks!
Fanged fiction has certainly weathered a pretty brutal period of late, with Stephanie Meyer’s sparkling, nearly virginal “vegetarian” vampires on one side of the equation and Charlaine Harris’s creepy, sexy, Southern-fried bloodsuckers on the other. To write about vampires in such an environment is to invite well-intentioned but too often wildly inaccurate comparisons to one or both of these heiresses to the crown vacated by Anne Rice in favor of her Christian fiction. Many authors flatly refuse to even touch the genre…subgenre…thing, for fear of being pegged as literary kin to one or the other without mercy. Even people on the street, when asked about vampires, often give looks that cross a sarcastic roll of the eyes with the expression one gets when suffering sudden, sharp trauma to the groin area (occasionally even adding in retching sound effects, just in case the questioner happened to misinterpret the response somehow). Authors who have founded their entire livelihood on vampires are now forced to duck or become apologists for one side or the other. Larry Correira, author of the Monster Hunter International series, put it this way: “I blame it on Twilight. In real life, vampires only sparkle when they’re on fire.”
While all this sound and fury swirls around vampire fiction, many authors are turning their eyes toward faeries, were-beings of every conceivable description, and that perennial and flexible standby, ghosts. Some are casting even further afield, mining the often ignored but culturally wealthy Far East, Africa, and Amerind lore for inspiration in every genre from straight erotica to children’s tales. The dreaded but rarely heard of gaki of Japanese lore (think a cross between a vampire and a demon, but may feed on blood, emanations from prayer [Mercedes Lackey, Children of the Night], smoke from burning incense, or souls), the naagloshii of Navajo myth (according to my sources, this spelling is inaccurate, and that’s a good thing, because to name this skinwalker is to risk summoning it), and other such “things that go bump in the night” are offering fresh blood for authors of all stripes, from Jim Butcher to up and coming romance authors.
Still, the vampires do retain their devotees, as the sales figures for vampire romance novels prove. There’s something undeniably attractive about the junction between the ultimate celebration of life and the eternal ending of life that vampires inhabit which encourages plain old vanilla humans to fantasize about standing there under the moon with a darkly beautiful stranger, unsure whether the stranger wants a companion for eternity or just a quick snack. It is this same juxtaposition of desire and dread that fires the imagination of so many who read or write about werewolves.
So, are vampires dead? One could argue that they aren’t, but they certainly need a rest. Stephen King prescribes twenty to twenty-five years back in the coffin before they attempt another resurgence, but I personally think that ten or so should be enough. What do you think?
Thanks to J.S. Wayne for letting me come over today, and thank all of you for your comments!
Sven Ullenbjorn is a novelist in becoming who resides in Stockholm, Sweden. His first novel, Fangs For Leaving Me, is scheduled to be released through Amazon KDP in March. This article is his first for www.lovereading.co.uk.