Sorry for the delay – things have gotten ahead of me and I didn’t get a chance to sit down until right this second.
I’d like to shine the spotlight on monsters I have an affection for on Mondays, and give examples of some of my fave books/movies that feature them.
So, this week, since I’m running late, we’ll go with an easy one (and probably one closest to my heart).
Vampires, my friends, vampires.
I like monsters in general because there’s so much you can DO with them (har har, not like that – this isn’t erotic horror). As a straight creature, a monster should be as fascinating as it is terrifying, even if the author/filmmaker doesn’t show a lot of it. What makes that creature tick? What’s its story? Why is it doing what it does? Is there any way to escape it (or even help it in some cases)? Monsters can also be good metaphors. Look at all the different interpretations of Frankenstein. Look at the subtext of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There is more going on there than just a story about a mad scientist or an alien invasion, respectively. Not only did those plots appeal to concerns of the time, but they’ve become timeless. Every generation deals with the repercussions of playing God. Everyone deals with the looming threat of conformity and absorbing into a “better” environment. Those are still issues that ring true to this day, and there are smaller metaphors in each that can be slanted any number of ways.
That is why I love vampires. There’s so much to them, so much so that they affect us just as much as they did hundreds of years ago (albeit in a different way). Think of it: people were genuinely scared in towns and villages in Eastern Europe (and other places) that their corpses would come back and attack those they knew in life. There has been evidence in archaeological digs that discover bones with stakes through their chests. People genuinely believed that vampires existed. It is a scary thought – that person that understood you in life, who you loved or saw on the street every day, suddenly is after you for food and doesn’t have a care in the world that you’re a living, thinking human being. You’re suddenly beneath them on the food chain.
In modern fiction they’ve become a hell of a metaphor, whether it’s as that Nietzsche superman figure at the top of the food chain, that creature that mortal laws can’t touch, whether it’s because the vampire is sometimes shown to be soul-less and out of the realms of anything good and/or spiritual, whether they’re the cool kids in school that we all long to be noticed by but probably shouldn’t talk to, or whether it’s a metaphor for sexual repression and primal hunger that we all confront, too.
There is so much to DO with vampires. These days the romance genre has taken them in hand, and slightly changed their inherent fear-factor, but there are still plenty of titles that can give you a shiver, or a lot to think about. And if you like the sexy vampires, that’s okay, too, as long as you remember that at their finest, at their true, core center, there’s a price to that attraction. That’s probably one of the scarier aspects of dealing with a vampire, too…you can fall in love with them, but even if you’re not food, you’re still going to pay a price for that love. You’re still offering up your humanity to something that you may not know the full story about, something that could potentially turn on you if it gets hungry enough.
So, my favorite vampire titles of the moment…
– Lord of the Dead by Tom Holland – This is a historical-based story with the working premise that Lord Byron is a vampire. This is a phenomenal read whether you like Byron or not. The plot moves a little slowly, but it’s worth it because you have to understand what makes the characters stick to be fully affected by the vamp-factor later on. Bravo to Holland for working in so much of Byron’s history and making it make sense in a paranormal context. The descriptions are lush and vibrant, the transformation scene is disturbingly creepy, and Byron’s decisions as a vampire are frightening because they tend to make sense.
– The Sonja Blue Series by Nancy A. Collins – This is one of the first splatterpunk titles I ever read. I will warn you, it is graphic with a capital ‘Oh My God.’ But, this is also one of the best vampire series I’ve read, hands down. I do feel it meanders a bit by the third book, and at times it seems like the author has taken too much on, but I love what she does with the Kali myth, and Sonja as a whole. Sonja is an anomaly, a “live” vampire who becomes a slayer. Her vampiric part tends to act like a voice in her head, daring her to do things and attempting to lead her down the inhuman path. This also acts as a precursor to a lot of other urban fantasy titles, because it revolves around the premise that creatures live among us in disguises that only those of us with Sight can see. There are also werewolves, trolls, and other baddies if you read through all three original books and the short story collections. Be warned, Sonja’s transformation is a graphic one, and in general there are descriptions that aren’t for the faint of heart. The emotions run raw and ready, and you’re drawn into Sonja’s conflict the further you read. You do feel for her and I like that the resolution between her and her sire isn’t necessarily a typical one. She does not have an easy time of it, and the violence and gore really do lend itself to making the vampire characters believable. This is more true to character than True Blood, scarier than Dresden (Nothing wrong with either of those, but this series tends to be my preference). Think Underworld, but with a really, really more visceral and full-reaching scope.
The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein – This is a new title to me, and one I wasn’t expecting to like. It’s much more of a gothic-style horror (meaning it’s subtle and shadowy, not outright gore). The narrator is recounting experiences she had as a teenager in boarding school (If I remember right this took place in like the sixties or so). It’s basically a variation of Carmilla, where this mysterious girl comes to school and is a wedge between the narrator and her best friend. Through her diary entries, you see the narrator determined to accuse Ernessa (the new girl) as a member of the undead, until she starts to doubt herself and her sanity. It’s also hard to really know as a reader what you believe, which I like. I also like the metaphor that it’s not just Ernessa who is a vampiric character – Rebecca the narrator becomes obsessive in her tracking and adoration of her friend Lucy. This is a great insight into the dynamics of teen girls, plus a really creepy, entrancing read. I haven’t been able to find the movie version yet, and I’ve heard mixed things about it, but I’m looking forward to it.
– Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story by Adam Rex – I love this book. I think I read this three times in a week. What happens when a nerdy, awkward teen gets turned into a vampire and finds that he’s doomed to be a nerdy, awkward teen for eternity? I like that neither of the main characters is a hundred percent likeable – in fact, their second bananas are much more endearing. And that makes for an interesting, entertaining read. This book doesn’t take itself seriously, yet it captures teen dynamics really well. From crushes to best friends to getting with someone you can control, it really covers some bold ground. There’s also a great reality show subplot, but it’s done well and doesn’t become the focal point in the main character’s journey. I also love that it spoofs one of my favorite movies and uses those rules with a masterful hand (Seriously. He uses a movie as his manual on how to be undead. It’s awesome). From comic geeks to foreign exchange students recovering from strange disease ‘the google’, from vampire meetings to the shocking finale (truly, I didn’t see that coming at all), this isn’t just a great YA title. This is a damn good book, period.
– Dracula by Bram Stoker – A classic. Read it, know it, you’ll understand what makes a good vampire story so much better with this as a reference. There is so much subtext in here it will blow your mind, and it’s a great intro to the technique of using correspondence as a narrative.
– The Vampire Book: Encyclopedia of the Undead – This is a great jumping off point. From folklore to pop culture, this will get you school on things you may not get in fiction/film and why it’s related to vampires, or it could be a good way to catch up on things you haven’t read or seen yet.
So how about you? What are some of your favorite titles with teeth? What do I need to check out still?