Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guest Post: Julie Dawson-The fascination with vampires

Today, I'm hosting Julie Dawson author of the paranormal thriller, A Game of Blood.

Before we get into her blog post about the reading public's continuing fascination with vampires, I'd encourage you to check out Operation: Backpack. This charity effort is giving e-books in exchange for a donation that goes to ensuring homeless kids have school supplies.

Now onto our guest post:


Vampires have, in a way, been a part of my life for a very long time.

My first official memory of vampires (besides the Count from Sesame Street), is an old black and white silent movie who’s title I have long forgotten.  I remember it was a Saturday afternoon.  My dad, who at the time was working the night shift, was taking a nap on the couch.  My sisters and I decided to watch TV.  As the oldest, it was my job to make lunch.  So I got lunch together and we all sat on the floor around the TV and settled on a vampire movie.  

Now Monica was only three or four at the time, so she wasn’t really sure what was going on in the movie.  She was just happy to be in the same room with the big sisters I think.  But it got to the scene where the courageous vampire hunters enter the vampire’s lair, throw open the casket, and drive a stake through its heart.  

In retrospect, I should have seen it coming.  Poor dad, oblivious to the danger he was in, slept flat on his back on the couch.  Monica picked up a fork on the coffee table and looked at it curiously for that half a moment that feels like an eternity.  She then looked at the TV, looked at dad, and stabbed him in the chest with the fork.

Tomes have been written on the vampire mystique.  It seems like every six months there is a new book released on the history of vampires in literature.  I suppose I could go on about how vampires represent the desire for immortality, the fear of death, suppressed sexuality and all of that.  Those things are all true in part.  But perhaps the biggest reason why the vampire motif remains so potent is that vampires reflect the worst aspects of humanity, and by vanquishing the vampire we somehow exorcise those negative traits from ourselves.

Though the nature of vampires changes slightly from region to region and century to century, at the center of its black heart is a parasite that feeds off the living to artificially extend its own existence.  Other classical monsters, such as werewolves and trolls and goblins, traditionally have something in their lore that gives them a purpose in the natural order (even if they are themselves unnatural).  They are things that lurk the dark places, reminding humans that there are places they should not go and things they are not meant to know.  But the vampire doesn’t hide in the dark places and wait for us to stumble upon it.  It comes into our cities and homes.  It infiltrates our societies in order to better hunt us.  It is the lord on the hill who has the power of life and death over those in his domain, and is willing to exercise it for personal gain.  It is the succubus that lures men into temptation and then drains the lifeblood from their bodies.  It invades our world, and then kills us and those it considers a threat.

I was just reading an article about a couple of teenage boys who were attacked by a black bear while out camping.  The boys escaped with minor injuries.  The response was to go hunt down and kill the bear.  The bear, though in its natural habitat, was a threat to humans who wanted to use the habitat for their own enjoyment.  So we killed it.  We didn’t care that it served an important role in its ecosystem.  We didn’t care that it was a healthy specimen that would pass on strong genes to future generations.  No, it interfered with our ability to enjoy its woods.  Therefore, it had to die.  

When we look at the vampire, this behavior is what we really see.  Our own willingness to kill and destroy for our own pleasure.  We see the worst in us:  our greed, our vanity, our pride, our willingness to sacrifice future generations for our own immediate wants.  The vampire traditionally has no reflection.  It is, quite literally, incapable of self-reflection in regards to its actions.  Its lack of empathy the result of it’s relentless focus on fulfilling its own desires.  But while it cannot see itself, we can see ourselves in it.  The act of destroying a vampire, therefore, becomes cathartic.  

One of the things that bother me about the popular portrayal of vampires is that it denies these negative aspects.  We have vegetarian vampires now, by the gods!  I think this reflects the hardening of the “me” mentality.  In the past, even if we were careening toward selfish destruction, we had the sense to reflect and ask questions.  We might ultimately make the bad decision anyway, but at least we stopped and thought about it.  We were willing to address it.  But the fact that so many modern vampires are nothing more than sexy, eternally young models with pale complexions signifies that we have stopped even carrying about self reflection.  We have moved so far into the real of narcissism that we cannot even wrap our heads around having to pay a price for our desires.  The notion of having to make a terrible sacrifice to achieve immortality or eternal beauty has become alien.  

That said, however, I don’t think the vampire-as-monster is ready to be pushed aside just yet.  There has been, particularly in the last couple of years, what you could call an “anti-Twilight” crusade to return the vampire back to its actual horrific roots.  I half expect to start seeing “NO SPARKLING VAMPIRES! GUARANTEED!” labels on movies and books soon.  I think horror fans have had just about enough of the fluffy vampire love and are ready to return to the parasite-sucking-the-blood-from-the-helpless.  

One of the things I tried to do with A Game of Blood is portray how the vampire reflects us, and how we have to confront our personal demons in the process.  Mitch Grogan and Darius Hawthorne are flip sides of the same coin.  As Mitch gets pulled deeper and deeper into Darius’ world, he struggles with himself as much as he struggles with Darius.  Darius’ world is seductive, after all.  It is a world full of wealth and power and influence and leisure.  But it is also a world where teenage girls are seen as playthings to be raped and tortured, where children are left orphaned in order to cover up evidence, and where employees that become liabilities are simply killed without any more thought than one would put into throwing a disposable cup into the trash.  Mitch’s battle with Darius is just as much a battle for his own humanity as it is a battle to stop Darius from continuing his homicidal ways.

And that, ultimately, is why the vampire motif still matters.  Because we look into its cold, dead eyes and see the worst in ourselves.  The horror of the vampire is not in how much blood it spills, but in how easily we can become the monster and not even realize it.  

Interesting in Julie's horror take on the vampire? Why don't you check out Game of Blood:

What would you do if a 300 year old vampire decided that you would make the perfect Van Helsing for his own twisted game?

A series of bizzare kidnappings leads detective Mitch Grogan to the home of the wealthy and eccentric Darius Hawthorne. What he discovers there unleashes a chain of events that not only threatens his life, but also his sanity. Grogan finds himself caught up in a deadly game with a three hundred year old vampire looking for a worthy adversary. But how can a burnt-out cop with a crumbling marriage compete against a centuries' old immortal with unlimited resources and supernatural powers?

More than boredom drives the cunning Hawthorne, however. His attempts to push Grogan to the breaking point are more than cruel entertainment. They also serve as a test to see whether or not the mortal is ready to help him hunt an even more deadly foe: one that would see the whole world burn to remove the vampiric corruption from it.


Julie Ann Dawson said...

Thank you for inviting me to your blog, and thanks for plugging the Operation Backpack fundraiser!

J.A. Beard said...

You're welcome.

Anonymous said...

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog