On horror/vampire cliches…

I went looking for an old post of mine earlier this evening to show a friend, as I didn’t feel like explaining my stance on vampire stereotypes for the thousandth time. I wrote this on Evolution over a year ago, but I like it enough and think it’s relevant enough to repost. 🙂

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Let’s try the axe murderer.

Or the teen characters whose parents were obviously sleeping around with paramecium.

Wait a sec. That’s an insult to paramecium, who’re much more intelligent …

To be honest, I don’t read that much horror. My preferences are dark fantasy and vampire fiction rather than straight out horror, mainly because I don’t tend to like common horror themes. Stephen King’s Pet Semetary was good, it made me think, but it’s not a book I’d want to read more than once because it was depressing, and this has been my experience with much of horror.

I’ve had the difference between horror and dark fantasy defined to me as this: In horror, generally speaking, the monsters are the bad guys; in dark fantasy, the monsters aren’t necessarily so. I tend to write my “monsters” (vampires, weres, demons, etc.) sympathetically, and the real monsters are more often than not human. (I suppose that really ought say something about my outlook in terms of humanity. LOL!) I just cannot identify with a close-minded human character whose first reaction to something non-human is “kill.”

That said, I do like books in which said character is forced to confront said viewpoint and change; Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake is a good example of this.

But, back to cliches.

I find vampire fiction to be chock-full of cliches. Most vampire fiction relies at least some on traditional vampire legends and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and while I realize a superpowered character needs some weaknesses and drawbacks … I honestly find it a cop-out to focus soley on traditional myth.

For example, garlic and crosses repelling or actively damaging vampires. I’ve never understood this, because … well, why? Just because you’re undead doesn’t mean you’re susceptible to harm by random items, and I find the vulnerability to crosses to be, in a sense, offensive. See, why just crosses and not all religious items? Granted, you could argue that Christians view reaching for their cross as reaching to God for protection, whereas people of other religions might be likely to take a more active stance, but this doesn’t really hold water. In LKH’s books, her vampires were susceptible to, I believe, all religious items, as she had a scene in one of the early books where she showed people on the cop squad wearing Stars of David and miniature Torahs for protection, and mentioned that it was the belief, not the actual item, that protected them.

However. This does bring up an important question.

Why does religious faith harm vampires? Life beyond death does not imply to me lack of religion. I can’t imagine that all vampires are atheists. It’d make an interesting story, or at least part of a book, to have a new vampire question religion, and perhaps have his prior God turn on him because he’s no longer human. (I think I might write that, actually.)

I’ve also had a problem with the susceptibility to sunlight and the reliance on a coffin. Look. In most vampire fiction, you’ve got the clues right up in front of you and it would take an idiot not to figure it out. (Or someone who flat out doesn’t believe in vampires, but that’s almost a cliche in itself in terms of vampire fiction. A little bit of unbelief is fine, but if you’ve got strange shit going on, and all it takes is to put 2 and 2 together … no. That’s when it starts becoming character stupidity.)

There’s probably a few others I’m forgetting about at the moment, but these are the biggies, in my opinion. My vampires don’t have these weaknesses. The closest thing that I have to the coffin is that my world-walking vampires wear a small leather pouch around their neck, or someplace else on their person, containing soil from their home world. And there’s a reason behind this. A lot of my vampires are mages, and their home soil contains blood energy, such as the soil of our planet contains earth energy. The soil doesn’t affect their abilitiy to survive, simply enhances their magical ability.

Fear is fundamental in horror, and to a certain extent in dark fantasy. If the only reason the character doesn’t know what the fuck is going on is because he’s a moron, he loses reader sympathy and there is absolutely no fear involved. But if the common vampire clues aren’t there and the characters have no reason to assume “vampire,” it seems to me it’s a lot scarier.

Yes, because I don’t conform to the cliches, I end up with very high-powered characters. Some might say overpowered because at first glance, there aren’t any heavy drawbacks. Thing is, I depend a lot on the strengths and weaknesses of personality, probably more than many other authors. Sure, you can be stronger and faster than a human, but if you’re arrogant about it, you may well slip up and not realize a cunning trap. Also, you can be outwitted. Brute force isn’t always the answer.

That said, I often do run my vampires as the main/side characters, and, when that’s the case, I don’t give them an easy out because of their advantages. I still depend just as much on personality, and there’s an important factor to keep in mind: No matter how big you are, there’s always someone out there bigger than you. Twisted Evil

I think I end up with a bigger story with a larger scope when I avoid the cliches and easy outs, and … I have a lot more fun with it.

And I hope it’s a lot more enjoyable to readers, too. Wink

2 Replies to “On horror/vampire cliches…”

  1. Not to mention that holy water’s actualy from the tap (even if it’s blessed by the priest, which didn’t happen when Nana refilled the basins–
    I went with her one time because her friend Margaret was ill, and she and Margaret went on Thursdays to sort of tidy up the church. Now, just bvecause I’vve always considered myself a Pagan doesn’t mean I can’t help out my Nana in need right Rest her soul).

    I think there are a few different vampire legends in differenct countries. I have not looked up the Chinese lore, but I really should, because they’re done sketches where the vampires hop around and I wondered about that.

  2. I always thought that Vampires were born of the same philosophical system that sought to explain life by the four humours.

    At the time of their death, they become some sort of elemental, I suspect Air. That’s how they fly, turn to mist, etc. Their spirit, which is air, remains locked in the body when it should be going up or down.
    This extreme unbalance to Air gives them power, but also weaknesses from the other humours they’re now cut off from.

    They drink blood because that’s stealing the life of another being, a magical transfer rather than an altered digestive system. IIRC, blood was Water and Fire. They can’t produce it, so they have to take it.

    They haven’t got an Earth of their own which would protect them from certain influences. They have to protect themselves with bags (or boots or cushions) holding an Earth they have a mystical attachment to.

    The religious symbols brandished at a Vampire work as an attempt to restore the Natural Order, Elements in Balance. As Undead, they very much disorder the Balance. God dislikes disorder so pointing out a symbol of the Ultimate Lawgiver causes them to lose their artificial connections to Fire, Water and Earth. Pain.

    Personally, I’ve never understood the Christain preoccupation with the Cross anway. If there’s anything i’d take as the ultimate symbol of the promise of Christainity, it would be the empty grave or the stone rolled back from the door. If i invented the vampire legend, the sight of a bloody figure nailed to a tree would give the monsters happy little hard-ons and make their mouthes water. Vampire lollipops would look…well, maybe that’s going too far.

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