For a group of ravenous and villainous blood-sucking beasts, vampires have been remarkably glamourized, especially in the past five to ten years. With the Twilight craze, and more recently The Vampire Diaries, not to mention all of the vampire-related urban fantasy books that have spawned since. But along with these vampire stories have come a sharp focus on the sex appeal of vampires. After all, vampires were created as supernatural sexual fantasies . . . or were they?
To think about that question, we have to go back to the first of the vampire stories. Carmilla and Dracula, the first two of the vampire stories, were written stories published in the late 1800s. There was some vampire lore prior to that, but these two stories represented the first ventures into vampire-lore in popular literature. Carmilla, written by an Irish gothic writer, was about a young woman and her susceptibility to a dangerous female vampire and her homosexual advances. The vampire Carmilla only chose female victims, clearly establishing her, like most vampires, as a predator.
Dracula, coming 26 years later has much the same prototype. He’s a predator, although the original story was not as seeped in sexuality as later adaptations might have you believe. He victimizes the weak, at one point even giving another woman his blood so that he’s able to control her. While Carmilla and Dracula have many differences, as the first two iconic stories on vampires, they have something very important in common: vampires are predators.
The cultural context here is important as well. These vampire narratives were written and published during the rather frightening outbreak of STDs, syfilis especially. The people who originally read these stories would not have been thinking “Wow, these vampires are so cool.” They would have been thinking of those victims. Vampires were no more sex symbols than were child predators.
Of course, like all cultural icons, vampires have experienced a massive evolution. The original message that they propagated, one advocating for abstinence and warning against the dangers of sexual promiscuity, eventually became culturally irrelevant. So things changed. Then Buffy the Vampire Slayer was born. The tale of sexual deviance was no longer the primary message, or even a present message at all. Instead it was a story about female empowerment, a young woman who could not only handle herself, but could be entrusted with the protection of the world against a force as deadly as vampires. But while they had little to do with sexuality, vampires were still unquestioningly the bad guys. They were still predators, only in a more literal sense.
With future adaptations of vampire stories, however, the sexuality of vampires made a comeback. It had twists occasionally, such as the reformed vampires like Angel or the Twilight vampires, but the comparisons of bloodlust to sexual lust were an integral part of the story. These still function like stories discouraging sexual infidelity, but the vampires have a choice. They can be good or bad, if they exercise enough control (which, coincidentally, has happened with virtually every traditionally evil fantasy icon in the past twenty years, especially witches). This can be seen especially clearly in The Vampire Diaries, which in its first season provides juxtaposition between good brother vampire Stefan and bad brother vampire Damon.
But are current vampire stories made with the same ideas? Should we be hopeful for vampire stories instead of skeptical of them, given the noble ideals that lie in their creation? That’s difficult to tell. Vampires were created as predators representing the consequences of irresponsible sex, and arguably casual sex in general. But that same sentiment doesn’t exist in modern urban fantasy, meaning that vampires are being used for other purposes. So what purposes are current writers using them for? That’s the question that we ought to be asking.
The answer to that can be wide and varied, depending on the writer or filmmaker. Generally speaking, however, the convention of the good guy vampire has represented a shift from the vampire as a sexual predator to the vampire as the object of a sexual fantasy, ironically giving an idea quite literally the opposite than the fantasy monster’s original intended use. But even that is not without its asterisks and exceptions. Stephenie Meyer was asked by her editor to have premarital sex in her Twilight series and refused. In fact, while that book series uses the sexual allurement of the vampire in ways that ought to appall Christians, the primary love interest Edward is staunchly against premarital sex.
Indeed, the convention of the vampire as a narrative tool has become so huge that broad-stroke judgments about its inclusion are no longer possible. But given the facts of its inception, that it was originally intended to warn its audiences against casual sex, it can hardly be dismissed as a medium that is always employed as a sexual fantasy. I’m not suggested that you go watch True Blood, which contains more sexual content that can possibly be worth justifying, but the fantasy creatures themselves are not always inherently for propagating deviant sexuality. Vampires can be great instruments in literature for forces of good, not just to propagate darkness and evil. Sometimes cautionary tales, telling us what not to do, are every bit as powerful as narratives that give us explicit instructions, if not more so.
You can read our review of Dracula here.