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Oh yeah, snap, when she'd gotten her hands on his neck, and the blood came, it had been just fine, it was hamburgers and french fries and strawberry shakes, it was beer and chocolate sundaes. It was mainline, and coke and hash. It was better then screwing! It was all of it.
The Queen of the Damned
Happy Halloween, vampire boys and girls. And on this festive occasion lets take a small reminiscent look back at some history.

The Vampire was an incredibly popular figure in literature in England last century, with figures such as James Rymer's Varney the Vampire and Dr. John Polidori's Lord Rutven (a caricature of Lord Byron) being as well known then as Dracula is today. And while the first ever vampire story in english was Johann Tieck's Wake Not the Dead in 1800 the enthusiasm for the genre can be traced directly back to Polidori's The Vampyre, published in 1819 (inspired by the same evening from whence Frankenstein came. For more on this see Ken Russel's Gothic, not a bad movie, but most interesting for its portrayal of actual events). But, even after the release of Bram Stoker's immortal Dracula in 1897, the vampire was slowly dying in England, with only a few short stories and one novel, Stoker's less successful (and, from the first two chapters, really, really, boring) The Lady of the Shroud (1908), being written in the first half of this century. But with the rise of the horror genre in America, spurred on by the success of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft the vampire found a new niche, with a multitude of stories, the very popular I am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson. And then, in 1975, the start of a whole new spate of novels that has not lessened to this day. After almost 200 years, the vampire in literature is still undead and kicking.

So let's look at some of the novels released in the past fifteen or so years, and show how much diversity can be put into your basic blood-sucking fiend as I present:

The coffin-side guide to good reading

by David Carroll

First appeared in Plexus, 1991

Sabella, or the Blood Stone (1980), by Tanith Lee.
But the craving never goes away. The beasts of the field appease, but I am a huntress, and my natural prey strides through the steel prairies, rides the gold mountains of the cities, the neon caves of the towns.

There are wolves on all the hills, even the hills of glass.

Sabella Quey is a perfectly ordinary young women, except that she must drink blood to survive. Overcome by guilt she isolates herself in the wilderness of Novo Mars until a trap set by the dead draws her back into society, and into the attentions of Jace Vincent, the one man capable of destroying her. It may sound silly stated like that, but Sabella is a wonderful novella, told with, as the SMH puts it 'Lee's alert literary self-consciousness', or in other words, she knows what she's doing. Neither a science-fiction nor a gothic tale, it contains elements of both but with an emphasis on characterization inherent in neither as we follow Sabella's life from her initial, fragile state of surety to the utmost despair of a women running only from herself.

'salem's Lot (1975), by Stephen King.

I am afraid.
And in the awful heavy silence of the house, as he sat impotently on his bed with his face in his hands, he heard the high, sweet, evil laugh of a child-
-and then the sucking sounds.
Stephen King recently advised the aspiring young writer of horror tales to keep away from vampires, and the other classical monsters, as they have been done to death, and maybe that's good advice for the novice, but it's worth noting that this, only his second published novel, is one of his very best. The book concerns one Ben Mears, successful writer, who is returning to Jerusalem's Lot, the town where he spent his youth. And of course, it's not exactly as he remembers it. Here King deliberately underplays the human aspect of the vampire, giving us instead the the hideous aspect as first shown in the classic flick Nosferatu. And it is in this portrayal of vampirism that he is perhaps least successful. The villain, Barlow, isn't the most memorable of the vampires I'm looking at (I had to search the book to find his name) and it never explains what they all fed on after the entire town was 'infected' in the space of only about three days. But, honestly, the rest of the book is so great these are actually minor problems. This is vintage Stephen King, from his characterization, his unerring ability to convey the impression that these are real people, in a real world, to his highly emotive but never melo-dramatic style of writing, aiming to terrify, horrify or revulse, in that order. This book is one of the few novels ever to truly scare me.

Hotel Transylvania (1978), The Palace (1978), Blood Games (1979), Path of the Eclipse (1981), Tempting Fate (1982) & A Flame in Byzantium (1988) by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.

I am a stranger
always and ever;
Stranger to death,
stranger to love.

     Francesco Ragoczy
One of the many appeals of the vampire in literature is that it is able to present us with a distorted picture of ourselves. Vampires can look human, can move in human circles, and thus is a perfect device for examining society from an outsiders point of view, and no-one does it better then Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Her series of six novels, of which I've only had the opportunity to read the first three, are all centered around the mysterious and deadly le Comte de Saint-Germain in different periods of history. With setting ranging from Ancient Rome to Europe under Nazi rule he observes history under many different names, and humans often suffer in the comparison. The level of historical research is astounding, many of the characters, including Saint-Germain and one of his alta-egos, Ragoczy are based on actual people and the Hotel Transylvania still exists in Paris. A remarkable and often disturbing series of novels.

The Hunger (1980), by Whitley Strieber.

"She's -- I don't know how to express it. Perhaps the old definition of a monster, the Latin one ... A divine creature, a thing of the gods. Irresistible and fatal."
Before he went strange and started writing books about supposedly real life alien visitors in Communion, Whitley Strieber was a successful horror writer, and this is his best work. With the much publicized move of not mentioning the word vampire once, he has created a memorable creature in the centuries-old Miriam, who is searching for a permanent companion in eternity as her almost-human lovers slowly decay, but can never die. One of the most disturbing aspects of this novel is Miriam's attitude toward us humans, not only as sustenance but as inferior creatures to love as pets. John Blaylock and Dr. Sarah Roberts do an admirable job of trying to prove otherwise. A friend of mine was put off this novel by the lack of adherence to standard vampire lore but to me this didn't cause any problems. An erotic, disquieting and brilliantly told tale. The Hunger has been made into a movie that is remarkable in that it captured the feel, if not the depth, of the original.

The Vampire Chronicles: Interview with the Vampire (1976), The Vampire Lestat (1985) & The Queen of the Damned (1988) by Anne Rice.

You know, it was never merely the need for the blood anyway, though the blood is all things sensual that a creature could desire; it's the intimacy of that moment -- drinking, killing -- the great heart-to-heart dance that takes place as the victim weakens and I feel myself expanding, swallowing the death which, for a split second, blazes as large as the life.
Saving the best for last, here we have a series containing some of the greatest books I have ever read. To me, the hallmark of great fiction is the ability to convey emotion, and during these books we are struck with wonder and revulsion, beauty and horror. Its success lies in the richness of its narrative, as we move from the decadence of eighteenth century Paris to the heights of Rock stardom, and take a few detours in-between, to Ancient Egypt and old New Orleans. The vampires are all alive, the gentle Louis, the terrifyingly deceptive Claudia, the beautiful Gabrielle, Lestat, the brat prince, in love with life and willing to risk the world on a whim. And even the minor characters, like Baby Jenks of the Fang Gang who provided us with this article's opening quote. Interview is Louis' tale, as he records his life for a young man in a darkened room, the second book takes up Lestat's story as he searches for the meaning of his existence. Rumour has it a movie is being made of Lestat, but the chance they will be able to do justice to it is extremely unlikely. And the third novel tells of the awakening of Akasha, the Queen of the Damned. Not Rice's best book, but with still much to recommend it.

* * *

And there we have it, my favourite five books/series from this strange little sub-genre. There are few similarities between them past the basic premise of a creature who survives by drinking the blood of humans, perhaps only the powerful and emotive style in which each is written. And there are others of course, many worth reading, some not. A slightly longer 'short list' would include The Black Castle by Les Daniels, the first in a series of historical novels much like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's, I am Legend by Richard Matheson, the tale of the last human alive in a society of vampires, The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce, a simple yet superbly gothic tale set on the moon, Prisoner of Vampires by Nancy Garden, written for children but with some powerful imagery and nice literary references, and of course Dracula, still powerful after ninety years in print. While I prefer novels to short stories two anthologies I have enjoyed are The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories by Alan Ryan and Vamps by M.H. Greenberg and C.G. Waugh. Of particular note are J. Sheridan LeFanu's haunting Carmilla, Richard Matheson's Dress of White Silk and Tanith Lee's Red as Blood.

So for now at least, the vampire is here to stay. With numerous books, movies, comics, more movies... it's safe for the moment. Of course there are many not worth bothering with (has anyone out there read The Blood of Dracula by Hamilton Teed, published by Mills & Boon) but I think Stephen King's advice will be ignored for a while, and indeed my own contribution to the genre could be found nestled in the silliness of last month's Plexus. So keep your hawthorn stake sharp and be warned, these days not all vampires wear black, though it's certainly good for the image.

Good night out there, whatever you are.

 

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