Vampire Monday: Margaret Carter
This is the title of a 1989 book about vampires in legend and literature by Brian J. Frost. The phrase summarizes what I consider the main reason why vampires are still popular almost two centuries after publication of the first known prose vampire story in English, "The Vampyre" by John Polidori — their versatility. Werewolves fall into only a few categories — contagious, as conceived by vintage horror films; voluntary users of shapechanging magic or victims of a curse or family hereditary, as in folklore — and they mainly symbolize one thing, the beast within us, whether viewed negatively or positively. Most zombies are either corpses raised by a sorcerer, as in Caribbean lore (not seen much in fiction nowadays), or Romero-type cannibalistic undead. Vampires, on the other hand, come in many types and have been used in literature and film for an almost infinite variety of symbolic purposes. In various works they’ve represented the combined yearning for and horror of the return of the dead, forbidden sexuality, plague and contagion, the threat of foreign invasion, satanic defiance of divine law, fascination with the Other, and the quest for immortality. Vampires can stick close to their horror fiction roots, follow the tradition but with variations such as making the vampire capable of ethical choices rather than demonic or otherwise automatically evil, or diverge into less traditional realms such as vampirism as an infectious disease or hereditary condition, or vampires as a separate species at the top of the food chain.
Another neat thing about vampires is that no matter what traits you want to give your fictional bloodsuckers, you can probably find support in some folklore somewhere. Many of the undead in European folklore rise from the grave as disgusting animated corpses who terrorize and prey their former relatives and neighbors. Others foreshadow the carnal appetites of recent fictional vampires, though. A sexually insatiable Gypsy vampire who returns to his widow’s bed and fathers a dhampir must have some trace of erotic appeal. Although some varieties of Filipino vampires are bloodthirsty female predators hiding a repellent aspect beneath their superficial beauty, the type called “danag” started out rather benign, until hostility broke out between them and their human neighbors. Not all legendary vampires are confined to their graves after sunrise. Like the classic nineteenth-century fictional vampires such as Carmilla and Dracula, who may be nocturnal by preference but aren’t harmed by sunlight, some folkloric vamps roam by day. Some vampires come in grotesque shapes such as the Malaysian monster who flies through the night in the form of a disembodied head with dangling intestines, which she shrinks with vinegar after feeding in order to squeeze back into her body before daybreak. In some European legends, on the other hand, the undead look human enough to mingle unrecognized with ordinary people. In Serbia and Albania it was believed that if a vampire isn’t destroyed within thirty years, he or she can move to another location and start a fresh life under a new identity. Sounds a lot like Count Dracula relocating from Transylvania to England.
Vampires as they're presented in recent fiction appeal to different readers for various reasons. The erotic implications of drinking blood form a perennial facet of the vampire’s allure. The undead hero as an immortal being who has experienced centuries of life offers a perspective on history and culture that human characters can’t. Furthermore, the traditional vampire can usually bestow undying life on his or her human companion. Another element that attracts many female readers is the “bad boy” image, the concept of a dangerous hero who may even have committed horrible acts in his past but has the capacity for redemption. And only the heroine’s love can redeem him. The repentant vampire’s struggles with his conscience and the temptation of bloodlust give the author opportunities for complex character development and philosophical speculation. My personal fascination with vampires started when I read DRACULA at the age of twelve and was mainly focused on the intimacy and eroticism of sharing blood, the essence of life. Later I came to see the vampire as a character type with an attraction similar to Spock on STAR TREK. A vampire looks like one of us but isn’t quite human and provides a slightly twisted viewpoint on human experience. He represents the allure of the alien, yet an alien we can connect with on a deep emotional level because he’s partly our kind.
BIO: Marked for life by reading DRACULA at an early age, Margaret L. Carter started as a horror writer and later expanded into fantasy and paranormal romance. In her teens she tried to create the kind of fiction she couldn’t find enough of, sympathetic to the “monster.” She included a chapter on DRACULA in her PhD dissertation and has written books and articles on vampires in literature, including DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN, about the science fiction development of vampires as a naturally evolved species. Her first published vampire novel, DARK CHANGELING, won an Eppie award (from EPIC, the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition) in horror. In her latest erotic romance novella, BLOOD HOSTAGE, a female vampire and a male vampire hunter join forces to destroy a rogue vampire while struggling with their attraction to each other.
Carter’s Crypt: http://www.margaretlcarter.com
Blood Hostage: http://www.amberquill.com/AmberHeat/BloodHostage.html