Sunday, January 8, 2012


Reshma E. John

Why choose Vampires?
Vampires throughout the course of literature have been of immense fascination to horror fiction enthusiasts. Its initiation during the “vampire craze” of the 1720’s and 1730’s with poems like John Polidori’s The Vampyre being published, to todays ultra modern vampire covens as seen in the Twilight Series, are evidence to the shift in the portrayal of these “deadly predators”.
Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, now over a hundred years old has endured and proliferated like no other monster known in literature. Today film-makers and writers continually resurrect the count, producing and reproducing new variations of the once ‘unnatural’ creature to a more ‘humanised’ version of him. Discussions of the Gothic genre, the genre by which Dracula, likewise any other vampire novel, can be closely identified with, show that the Gothic exposes and explores the desires, anxieties and fears that both society and the individual attempt to suppress, in order to maintain stability. This can be seen in the Twilight series, where Bella Swan has to juggle between the real and the almost unreal world that she is thrust into by fate.
The border line between the original and the make-believe is the core focus of this research where ‘wishful thinking’ of writers are at its best. Taking a mythical creature and turning it into legendary characters, maintaining the Gothic relevance, is of critical importance. Thus, the research will be conducted on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series.

To fully comprehend the dynamics of vampire literature it is necessary to understand its origins. Vampire myths, legends and folklore have existed throughout the ages all over the world. They have appeared in some shape or form in almost every culture and society. Vampire myths are as old as human civilization itself. The myths change from culture to culture and from geographical region to geographical region and they have evolved as time has passed. Ancient folklore talk about people who are undead after being buried, under the pretext that vampires were created when a rabid dog or cat passed over the grave or a supposed evil spirit had taken possession of the body. European legends held the notion that vampires had a bloated appearance; ruddy, purplish or dark in colour attributed to the recent drinking of blood and blood seeping out of the mouth and nose. In the coffin, they lay with their left eye open and were clad in the burial shroud. Teeth, nails and hair were believed to grow. This description was equally true for women as it was for men who were believed to be vampiric. Towards the 18th century a more Romanticized outlook came about which was initiated by John Polidori’s The Vampyre. But one can also see that a marginalized literary phenomenon known as the ‘Gothick’ genre has also influenced the development of vampires as a subject of literary interest. The ‘Gothick’ novel or romance was derived from the late Victorian and early 20th century period as a sub product of the main stream Romantic movement. It came as a reaction towards the excessive rationalism of the Augustan age to be replaced by a more vigorous, primitive life. The early novels of horror were characterized by their stereotypical old castles, sensibility ridden maidens, evil, sinister villains, monks, abbeys, ghosts, inflated and melodramatic diction. There has been an obvious revival of interest in Gothick novel during recent years especially in the form of vampire novels which portray them as suave, charismatic, heroes or villains who drink blood to retain beauty and are vulnerable to sunlight. Varney the Vampire and Dracula are examples of such during the 19th century and the Twilight series, The Vampire Diaries, True Blood and Vampire Academy, in which the descriptions are modernized to fit into the present scenario `are examples of 21st century vampire novels. Horace Walpole, designer of the ‘Gothick Villa’ is considered the Father of Gothick era. The Castle of Otranto was readily received under his pseudonym. The interesting fact here is that these novels were mostly written and read by women. For instance, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Mrs. Radcliffe, who filled her pages with the doings of the Villain. The ‘Gothick Villain’ who was portrayed as a gigantic sinister figure and the secret conspiratorial societies such as the Illuminati, the Rosicrucian’s and the Jesuits provided the fodder for the American writers in the gothick genre including Poe, Hawthorne and Melville.
The Gothick novel, thus, is a specialized form of the historical romance, a form of fantasy about past and alien beliefs, cultures and events which may be considered horrid, barbaric, superstitious, English, German or even Oriental and which has a meaning for the present audience.

Vampires were considered hideous bloodsucking creatures that prowled the night and preyed on the weak, poor peasants and paupers. Today’s image of the erotic vampire is based on the 19th century European vampires. The modern vampire myth was born in literature through text such as Carmilla and Dracula. These vampires of the 19th century fiction were romanticized; they were the sensual, dark and erotic creatures that indulged in their needs and desires without the constraints and boundaries of humanity such as moral, religious and societal rules and restraints. The sexually repressed Victorian era turned the vampire into the embodiment of dark desires and sensuality of the times. The vampire became something not only terrifying but also highly attractive and alluring.
Dracula is told primarily through a collection of journal entries, letters and telegrams written or recorded by its main characters- Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, Dr. John Seward, Lucy Westenra and Dr. Van Helsing, and shifts among the first person perspective of several characters. It clearly belongs to the Gothic genre for the pleasure and for the anxiety and horror which inform the responses of the characters. Pleasure is produced from the freedom from constraints, from the release of energies and desires normally repressed in the interest of both social and mental stability. David Punter, the author of The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day, says that “Dracula is one of the most important expressions of both the social and the psychological dilemmas of the 19th century; what makes the text so distinctive is Stoker’s location of psychological fears specifically within the late Victorian society. The novel also focuses on the aggressive female sexuality with the evident threat of the emergence of the New Woman and her rejection of conventional feminine roles. The Gothic exposes and explores the desires, anxieties, and fears that both the society and the individual, in their striving to maintain stability, attempt to suppress. It is interested in the exploration of the forbidden, in the dissolution of certainties and above all it is associated with transgression. The text transgresses by crossing the boundaries of ‘real’, all barriers broken down and all secret spaces penetrated. Dracula clearly belongs to the Gothic genre in its association with the disruption and transgression of both social and psychic limits and boundaries. The count himself can be seen as the ultimate embodiment of transgression: as shape-shifter he has no stable fixed identity, as vampire he ‘straddles’ the boundaries of life and death, as undead he are both absent and present.

‘This was the being I was helping to transfer to London, where perhaps for centuries to come, he might, amongst its teeming millions, satiate his lust for blood, and create a new and ever widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless.’ The proliferation of vampires in the twentieth century would suggest that in one sense, Dracula has indeed achieved what Jonathan Harker had feared. Vampirism has spread through cities across the world in the minds of hundreds over time. In addition to the numerous rewritings of Dracula in both film and literature as the readers demands have grown there are innumerable vampire books to choose from of which the Twilight Series was the latest book on this supernatural phenomena that took the world for a joy ride of myths, legends, covens and romance. The four books in this series by Stephanie Meyer, takes the reader through four years of the life of a teenage girl named Isabella Swan, who is all of sudden the pivotal point of two most deadly worlds.
The four books are written in the form of personal accounts of events in first person narrative shifting form one character to another, emphasising on the protagonist, Bella’s thoughts. It is evident that the author has drawn inspiration for this method of narration from the Dracula. Throughout the series themes of love, sacrifice, natural and supernatural transformation, pain, moderate levels of gothic transgression, and the war between good and evil can be seen. Edward Cullen and Jacob Black play a pivotal role in Bella’s life.

Though the two texts fall under the same genres of Gothic or rather paranormal horror romance, there are several evidences of the obvious distinctions in them. The portrayal of these supernatural creatures differs with the writer of the novel making it further fictional. The earlier novels abided by the traditions and rules or rather according to the myths and legends. As the centuries come and go these legends and myths are moulded to suit the writer or to what the writer perceives would intrigue the readers. There are fewer similarities to account for between the texts of the late 18th century on vampires and supernatural as compared to those of the 21st century. Few of the similarities and dissimilarities between Count Dracula and the Twilight vampires are as follows:

1. Unearthly beautiful and erotic.
2. They don’t eat normal food.
3. Both have to be dead to become “the undead.”
4. Drinks blood and even eats animals when necessary.
5. Both can move quickly and climb walls and trees with high speed.
6. Extremely strong.
7. Stephanie Meyer has used the same technique as Bram Stoker to narrate the story. Stoker used journals, diaries and personal accounts whereas Meyer uses the first person narratives of the main characters to let the reader know what is happening.
8. Both the Cullen’s and the Count are well off financially.
9. There is a certain level of social status and ranking offered in both the texts. In Dracula, the vampire is given the status of a Count, whereas in the Twilight Saga, there are rulers amongst the ‘cold ones’ who act as the controlling agents.

1. Count Dracula’s weakest time is during Sunset. Twilight is the time when the Cullen’s are the strongest.
2. Count Dracula becomes younger as he drinks blood whereas the Twilight vampires remain stunted in the age they were converted into vampires.
3. Dracula sleeps in coffins whereas with his eye open, all through the day. The modern vampires live in an ultramodern house with all hi-tech facilities, and beautiful bedrooms, but they don’t sleep at all.
4. There are no mirrors in Castle Dracula as the counts reflection will not be seen in it and thus his true identity will be revealed. The Twilight vampires don’t have such inhibitions. They can very well see their reflections.
5. Garlic was used to drive Dracula away as he cannot endure its pungent smell. The Twilight vampires have no such problems and even go to the extent of cooking normal human food for Bella.
6. Dracula can be destroyed only by running a stake or knife through his heart. In the Twilight series the vampires can be killed only by fire, werewolves or other vampires.
7. Holy objects can repel the count and his new vampire creations, but in the modern version of vampires, crucifixes and wafers are not enough.
8. Count Dracula could not survive on animal blood, whereas the Cullen’s could do so.
9. The counts eyes were always flaming red in colour. The Cullen’s eyes change according to their diet.
10. Count Dracula had hair even on his palm. The Cullen’s were almost like wax models, impeccably sculptured that glitters under sunlight.
11. Dracula had fangs and pointed ears. The Meyer vampires don’t have fangs or pointed ears.
12. The Cullen’s and the Volturi have unique powers.

As a conclusion to this study on Vampirism, I would like to highlight some very basic factors that have been quite apparent in my research – the past century has dealt with vampires in literature, art, films, etc. and has increasingly become kinder to these creatures in their portrayal of their behaviour and lives. These mythical creatures have turned from monstrous creatures into objects of desire. The beauty of vampires that was earlier used by them to ‘hunt,’ now is seen as just a physical thing, which the vampires themselves have evolved enough to learn not to ‘misuse.’ The vampires are no longer viewed as unfit to mingle with civilization, as they are diligently proving worthy of admission to normal lives. Earlier as they were considered to be ‘sinister villains’, the fact that they are going to hell was certain, now however, they seem to have been given a chance by the world today which seems much more open-hearted than they were hundred years ago and are no longer considered damned. While Count Dracula, the famous vampire of Bram Stoker’s creation was enough to dread you sleeping in case you see him in your nightmares, on the other hand, Edward Cullen of the Twilight series, is now the ultimate man of a girl’s dreams.

Kathleen Spencer, Gothic fiction critic, says that the original worlds of Gothic fiction were that of a distanced world, set back in time and away in space whereas the later gothic novels insist on the modern settings and not on the distance between the world and the reader. The modern texts on vampirism are more of a humanized form where the boundaries between the reader and the monster are very narrow. The good and the demonic forces in one are at constant conflict such that the line between the actual monsters becomes almost invisible. The previous chapter provides ample evidence as to how the notions have moved away from the original or what one considered the original at one point of time. The writers have more liberty to consider and manipulate the myths or the facts that they have been presented with, to “play around” with the supernatural and give them abilities that they were never attributed with before. The humanization of paranormal or supernatural Gothic forces is apparent in the 21st century texts such that one may wonder that if Bram Stoker himself were alive today, he might have written Dracula in a different light with unique abilities and flawless looks and probably not very sinister in taste.


Total no. of words: 2205 (excluding synopsis and headings)