24 November, 2008

The Vampire Appeal: An Essay for Susan

After my last post about the beautiful, but deadly vampires that had been forgotten in the lists of hottest vampires of all time, Susan broached the question: What makes vampires so appealing. Of course, being the lifelong vampire lover that I am, I could not let this question go unanswered.

For many of us, the first brush with death comes early in life. Be it the loss of a beloved family pet or even more tragically, a friend or family member. I was seven years old when the reality of my own mortality sunk in. While I had been through the funerals of a couple of great-aunts by this point, it hadn't quite made sense to me what was going on at that time. It wasn't until my grandfather died that the truth started to sink in. Everyone dies, and there's nothing we can do about it. Quite a revelation for someone so young. Like many other children who attended church, my questions at that time were steeped in religion. Some said upon dying our souls went to heaven, my Roman Catholic neighbors said purgatory. Either way, it meant leaving Earth, a prospect that didn't seem appealing to me at the time.

Being only seven, I didn't struggle with it very much, but it had sparked something inside of me that would drive a lifelong search for answers about the truth. Now before I diverge from my intended path, let's just say that when at least three teenagers I had known on some level wound up dead during my time in high school, it really opened up a can of fear. Teenagers tend to be self-destructive simply because they are laughing in the face of their own mortality. It's a "you can't touch me, Death" sort of game that nearly all teens play on some level. This began my obsession with vampires.

Many of the myths surrounding vampires made them seem dull and listless, but the novel and film industry found sex appeal. Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee lured the lovelies in with hypnotic powers, but in the 1970's Anne Rice gave literary birth to Lestat de Lioncourt. A tragic, Byronic rock star of a hero, Lestat made clear the agony and ecstasy entwined around both life and death. Lestat's suffering made the ability to live forever seem exciting and dreamy, while many of the fledgling vampires he created seemed loathe that life went on and on for ages.

In the face of eternity, many believe impulsively that they would want to live forever. The young who are in their prime believe that eternity will always feel so fresh and exciting, but then there are those who have lived past that wonder who might not be so quick to choose eternity. Eternity to someone who has lived a full life might seem like too much. One of the greatest appeals of the vampire is the opportunity to continue. Knowing that one had an eternity to live would make it easier to relax. "No need to climb Mount Everest today, I have all eternity for that..." There's no hurry. Since many people spend their days thinking about how there isn't enough time to get it all done, it can take away from the quality of life and make you long for more time.

Sure, they make vampires beautiful in fiction. We need only look at the lists that have been popping up all over the net with the release of Twilight to see the sex appeal is definitely there, but what about the story? Bella Swan tells us that the entire Cullen family is indescribably beautiful. It practically makes one ache just to look at them, but Bella's real reaction and attraction to Edward does not begin until after he saves her life the first time and she discovers what he really is. Again, there it is. The potential for more time.

In a nutshell, the physical appeal of the vampire is only a small fraction of what draws us to them. In essence, they are freedom from death, the opportunity for more time in a world that is absolutely governed by time.


Laurie said...

You just absolutely nailed it, Jenny. Right on the mark - aside from my family roots in "old" New Orleans and the whole Anne Rice obsession at a very early age, I did have ongoing tragedies involving deaths of loved ones much earlier than most of my own peers. The idea that one could live forever brought me great comfort during an extremely painful period of my adolescence. Very thought-provoking post.

Susan said...

Very well said, Jenny!

Thank you.

Jacquéline Roth said...

I think vampires connect to something primal in humanity. There is something essentially sexual about blood and the intimacy of drinking another's blood. Beyond that the entire gothic element to the situation lends that dark forbidden feel to the vampire culture.

Morgan Mandel said...

How true, Jenny.
You are absolutely correct.
Thanks for sharing some deep thoughts. The older I get, the more I think of what it is I still need to accomplish. (I'm afraid it won't be that NANO book though)

Morgan Mandel