What Ever Happened To Scary Vampires?

The fine fellows over at SfSignal are having a conversation about what ever happened to scary vampires, and when and how they devolved into sexy vampires.


Let me share my own humble contribution to the conversation with my readers here, and solicit your comments.

My own personal theory is that romance in stories is more dramatic when the heroine is attracted to a man who is more powerful and more scary than she is. Those of you who do not think Lord Darcy is intimidating to Elizabeth Bennet must have read a difference version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE than did I*. Glance at the lurid covers of lurid romance novels in the supermarket, and you may notice a pattern: not only is the woman swooning in the arms of the male lead, the male is usually a figure of untamed masculine power, pirate or a Red Indian or a hot-blooded duel-fighting bravo with his shirt ripped open.

With no offense meant to any feminists in the audience, part of the appeal of romance is the appeal of a powerful, dangerous, and forbidden man — a manly man. Normally there is a tension between the needs of feminism (women do not want to be domineered) and the needs of romance (woman want a domineering man).

Urban fantasies and Buffy wannabes reconcile this tension by having a strong female protagonist, usually a vampire-slayer with a werewolf boyfriend, be attracted to a forbidden man of the enemy camp, namely, a vampire. Ordinary men (think of Riley from BUFFY) are simply not manly enough to compete with, and certainly not manly enough to impress, a monster-hunting chick with superhuman strength or mad kung fu skillz.

If the guy is a vampire, the romantic lead can be as masculine and as old-fashioned as need be, as well as being as dangerous and (most importantly) someone society FORBIDS her to love, without necessarily offending any modern feminist ideas. Very few men these days are persons women are forbidden to love: old barriers of race and religion and class do not have much story-telling power in them. The vampire-as-hunk stories can both appeal to the modern girl by having a strong female lead, and appeal to the old fashioned romance by having the man be a forbidden apple.

As mentioned by other answer above, this idea of vampires as dangerous male seducers dates back to Lord Byron (who, I believe modern science now proves, was a Nosferatu); but I suggest that there has a general distaste for dangerous and manly men in literature — the macho figure is often a figure of fun rather than admiration — which leaves a void for supernatural macho figures like vampires to fill.

As for the vampiress, from siren to vili to succubus to mermaid, all dangerous blood-drinking females of the darker parts of elfland have always been portrayed as sensual and irresitable. I cannot bring to mind even a single she-vampire from any story who was an ugly old hag. So that is nothing new.

Now, whether you find this trend disquieting and unhealthy is a separate question. Myself, I think there is something distinctly morbid about it. My seven-year-old son cannot walk through the aisles of bookstores these days because so many images of horror and skeletal rottedness leer from the blood-dripping cover art to every side of him. Perhaps he is over sensitive; or perhaps we have all been desensitized.


* FOOTNOTE ADDED LATER: ‘Lord’ Darcy is a character in Randall Garrett rather than Jane Austin, whose lead is Mister Darcy, so obviously I did read a different version.

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