Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Vampire Metaphor

I went and saw Fright Night last night and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was funny, it was scary, it had David Tennant in it and most importantly of all . . . it embraced the vampire metaphor that I find so fascinating.

Anyone who knows me (or follows me anywhere online where I may rant about such things) knows that I've been obsessing over vampires and various other creatures for some time now. I've asked the question, "how much can you change something before it stops being the thing it originally was?" And we've had some good conversations and debates and hopefully very few hurt feelings. Last night, watching Fright Night, I was able to solidify in my mind what it is I like about vampires and why the "vampires" of Twilight don't cut it for me.

The vampire, in my opinion, is a metaphor for evil -- more specifically, a metaphor for the devil. It can be stretched and explored in various ways, with there being an original vampire (Dracula or whoever) and then there also being willing/unwilling subjects of his, but the parallels of the traditional vampire are quite striking:
  1. It is common Christian tradition that the devil cannot create life. That is what is at the root of his beef with God and that is why he is so jealous of us. We can create life, he cannot. In order for him to have "offspring," he has to convert people. He has to infect them. As to with the vampire. It has been explained in various ways, from the vampire not having a soul to the vampire technically being undead, but in order for the vampire to have offspring, it has to infect someone. It has to turn someone. It can't reproduce.
  2. In order for the vampire to "turn" people (or just drain them of their blood), he has to get close. He is often seductive or hypnotic (or tempting?).
  3. The vampire can often hide his true form. Sometimes it's just a matter of hiding his fangs, sometimes there's a complete transformation. Either way, you often don't see his/its true nature until it's too late.
  4. A vampire cannot enter your home without you inviting him in. The same can be said for the devil. If you want to avoid evil, if you want to cast the devil out of your life, don't invite him in. Don't give him a place to stay.
  5. The vampire is immortal (until killed). This goes hand-in-hand with Number 6.
  6. The vampire burns to ash in the light of the sun. Or is that the Son? It's hard to say. This is a metaphor/theme that can run very deep, from living your life in darkness and coming out into the light, to the very simple "the Son will always triumph over the dark one."
  7. Crosses and holy water. Not being Catholic, I'm not sure about the strength/power/whatever of holy water, but I find it very interesting that the cross, or the sign of the cross, has the power to repel vampires. In Fright Night, the hero tries to repel the vampire with a cross, but the vampire just laughs at him, saying that he doesn't have the faith it requires to cast him away -- which is really, really, astounding. The hero understands the power of the cross but doesn't have the faith it takes to firmly stand on it -- and is weaker for it.
Of course this is just my opinion and observations. This is how I like my vampire. This is why I find the vampire such a fascinating character, one ripe for storytelling. When you water it down, you weaken the metaphor and weaken the character.

Every storyteller focuses on different aspects of the character and I don't think all of these have to be present in order for a good vampire story to be told, but I would prefer for writers to either embrace the metaphor or make a new one. If you don't like the vampire metaphor, create a new one. Don't call it a vampire. Call it "like a vampire but . . ."

That's just me, though.

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