Some thoughts on Vampires in recent fiction:

This covers fiction I have read. It’s an essay/annotated list perhaps, but don’t expect any deep criticism, at best just something close to a series of reviews. There’s an awful lot of vampire fiction out there, & a lot of it is pretty awful.[i] And there are some recent novels I haven’t caught up to yet, some of which I expect to be quite good. My case is fairly straightforward; I had read some vampire fiction, as a sub-category of dark fantasy, and enjoyed them; then I decided to give a course on Twentieth Century Vampires in Winter 2005, & felt I should read a lot more. That’s where this list began, & as I read (some) more, I have added to it, for pleasure only.

The question is: what is a vampire? There are all the ‘factual’ answers, the studies of myths & legends,[ii] but there are also all the many variations on a theme that various writers have invented to make their particular narratives work. There are some good critical studies, the one I like the most being Nina Auerbach’s Our Vampires, Ourselves (1995)[iii].

So the big one is Dracula, as represented in Dracula,[iv] where he takes centre stage for only a small part of the narrative(s). But a lot of the qualities of vampirism, as suggested in this novel, have held pride of place in the narratives that follow. Shapechanging (although not usually that of the human shape, just into other forms, & even into mist), the fear of christian symbols, garlic, the loss of reflectivity (non-appearance in mirrors, etc. but what about cameras?), the need for one’s ‘native earth’ to ‘sleep’ upon, death by wooden stake & cutting off the head, and being undead. And of course, the seductive quality, and the power to alter the minds of those they want to seduce, to control them, & the ‘glamour’ to hide the revolting truth of their dead & decaying bodies. These seem to be the main points, & they either appear in other fictions, or are refused, usually by pointing to the ‘falsehoods’ promulgated by Dracula, whether consciously or because Stoker believed the wrong legends.

Many later novels & films have pretty well carried on the ‘traditional’ version inherited from Stoker’s famous novel. But the variations are often more interesting than slavish copies. Parody can be fun, as Fred Saberhagen delights in demonstrating in The Dracula Tape (1975;1980), wherein Dracula, far from ‘dead,’ explains how he outfoxed the foolish Van Helsing & is awaiting the final return of his beloved Mina Harker, who lived out her life with Jonathan but will now live ‘forever’ with him. Saberhagen has written a many more novels with Dracula in them, but I suspect they are less interesting.

Mina fascinates other writers, though, especially in the latter part of the century, where the way she is reduced to a mere secretary seems unfair to feminists. Elaine Bergstrom has written two novels in which she features as protagonist, Mina (1994) (by ‘Marie Kiraly) & Blood to Blood (2000), both under the subtitles of ‘The Dracula Story continues…’. There’s far more sex, & certainly far more assertiveness in Mina (& in one of Dracula’s sisters; he is dead) than in the original.

On the whole, vampires are more or less as constructed in Dracula. This is the case in many films, & also in such TV shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (where, in a memorable episode, Dracula appears, is almost beaten, & escapes). It seems to be the case in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, beginning with Guilty Pleasures (1993), set in an alternate world where vampires & other supernatural figures have achieved legal status in the US & some other countries, but not all want that, and merry mayhem follows. A human who becomes ever more adept at handling occult powers, Anita runs into more violence over her thirteen books (thus far) that most heroes, excepting perhaps Buffy, ends up with a vampire lover, & later some beasts as well. But then, Buffy had Angel for a time, too, & then Spike. The idea that some vampires can be ‘good’ is essential to such ‘romances.’ Still, the vampires seem only able to ‘live’ at night, can be burnt by the sun, killed by fire, & a stake, etc.. On the other hand, there are other attempts at such alternate worlds in which vampires exist & may or may not be legal citizens. In Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Sins of the Blood (1994), there are parts of the US in which vampirism, defined as an illness, is legal, but also where slaying is allowed. She pits a sister (who is a slayer) against a brother who has become a vampire when he entered adolescence.

The vampires in Barbara Hambly’s Those Who Hunt the Night (1988) & Traveling with the Dead (1995), romps set in turn of the 20th century Britain & its Empire, also seem to be pretty Dracula-like, but they have their tribes, etc, &, again, some are better than others; a morality is at work among them. Kim Newman changes the game somewhat in his Dracula series, beginning with Anno-Dracula (1992), where Dracula is Queen Victoria’s consort, & so most of the British nobility has changed over (& so are ‘his’), but he also introduces a strong female vampire, of another ‘family,’ who does not seek the power Dracula desires. Indeed, she ends up fighting him, & he is driven from England, to turn up, in The Bloody Red Baron (1995), leading the Germans in WW1.The third volume of the series, Judgment of Tears: Anno Dracula 1959 (1998) takes his vampires into the depths of his alternate 20th century. Newman knows his pop history as well as his history, so he mixes fictional & actual figures with abandon, & has a great old time. There is horror, but it’s cut with humour, something that many horror writers do well.

One of the funniest series of vampire novels has to be Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels, which also hold Romance thrillers up to a sly ridicule. Dead Until Dark (2001) introduces Sookie & her alternate world. She lives & works as a cocktail waitress in Bons Temps, Louisiana, where they don’t usually see vampires, but a rather gorgeous one turns up, & it turns out that Sookie, who is telepathic, can’t read his mind, which makes him the most likely beau she might ever find. Of course there are murders, & in the next few books, meetings with various vampire bosses, who fight for territory, and Sookie keeps getting into trouble & solving problems, a delightfully unpredictable & unexpected hero. Living Dead in Dallas (2002), & Club Dead (2003) get Sookie into some really strange situations, & to the point where she dumps her dead boyfriend. In Dead to the World (2004) & Dead as a Doornail (2005), Sookie gets together with her ex-boyfriend’s boss, & then has both of them trying to save her as someone tryies to kill off all kinds of ‘two-natured’ folk. Actually, each of the novels works as darkly comic suspense, the twists of plot neatly deployed, & the wit of the highly intelligent if poorly educated Sookie carrying the storytelling. These are lightweight but highly entertaining novels.

But if dark comedy is one way of writing horror, romance is another (as Dracula demonstrated at the very beginning). One of the finest exponents of romantic horror is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, who has written a series of novels about the vampire St. Germain, set in a variety of historical times & places. Rather than the villain, St. Germain is the hero, a ‘man’ of deep moral & artistic values, who exerts himself on behalf of civilization against the forces of barbarism wherever he may find himself. Beginning with Hotel Transylvania (1978), the series has continued for over 20 years and is now up to 18 volumes. Yarbro’s point, clearly, is that humans are all too capable of horror, of monstrous acts, & that there is no need to create supernatural monsters to do the bad stuff. In fact, St. Germain is usually trying to save people, especially the people he cares for, from the blind lusts, the appalling misogyny, fear of the Other, & simple love of violence that operates in so many people. In a separate trilogy, A Flame in Byzantium (1987), Crusader’s Torch (1988), and A Candle for D’Artagnan (1989), covering the early years of Byzantium, the years of the Crusades, & the France of Louis 14, she also tells the story of Atta Olivia Clemens, one of St Germain’s greatest loves, whom he saved & turned in Nero’s Rome. All of Yarbro’s novels reveal the depths to which humans can fall, yet they also sing a Romantic hymn to love, which is always physical as well as spiritual in her novels. Clearly, her vampires can be ‘good,’ but they do sleep all day, would be killed by sunlight, need their native earth, etc. On the other hand, her good vampires need little blood, but rather survive as much on the energy of the love their human lovers offer them. And just how St Germain became a vampire is odd, some ritual of his ancient tribe to make him a servant of their god. How he became ‘human’ again, over several centuries, is one of the stories she tells, in Out of the House of Life (1990), which also tells us more of Madelaine de Montalia, his greatest love, from the first novel, who is given another tale in In the Face of Death (2001). But she has now written him into so many historical moments that he has become almost a spirit of civilization holding out against the repeated advances of barbarism. Yarbro is also working on a trilogy, Sisters of the Night, about Dracula’s three ‘wives’: The Angry Angel (1998) and The Soul of an Angel (1999); these are darker, and more in tune with the traditional vampire narrative since Dracula, but they also turn the conventions eccentrically.

Recently, I’ve noticed that some writers have started to create vampires who are different from the conventional composite. A kind of spiritual vampirism operates in the ‘race’ of Others in Tim Powers’s The Stress of Her Regard (1989), which places these creatures who offer artists brilliance at the cost of their families in the milieu of the Byron-Shelley circle. But they are immortal, & they do kill. This representation of another race is interesting, & has been tried in a number of ways. John Gideon’s Kindred (1996) offers a separate race which ‘reproduces’ by choosing people full of righteous rage & offering them a jewel full of power. Here the ‘vampires’ kill in appallingly violent ways, taking sexual pleasure from doing so. Lewis Kindred, the protagonist must resist the temptation, & eventually does. Kindred is interesting for the way it uses the whole Viet Nam experience as context for Kindred’s & his friends’ encounters with this horrifying phenomenon. A new writer, Jon F Merz has started a series of horror thrillers, narrated by a Vampire ‘Fixer,’ someone born & trained to maintain ‘the Balance’ between the two races by taking out any vampire who upsets it, or who might alert ordinary humanity to the presence of the Vampire race among them. In The Fixer (2002), The Invoker (2002), The Destructor (2003), and The Syndicate (2003), he has slowly explained the history of this separate species, close to homo sapiens but different in its need to drink human blood, which provides a special energy that helps them live much monger, be stronger, etc. But most of the ‘myths’ are untrue in his world, including the shapechanging (although there are also such beings); &, of course, his Vampires are not undead, they are as alive as you or me. Like other such ‘detective’ series, this is light but fun. There are at least two others, one of which, the Vampire Files by PL Enrod, set in Chicago in the 1930s, is also narrated by an ex-newspaperman, who found out his lover had obviously changed him when he was shot & died – but didn’t. Beginning with Bloodlist (1990), it has now reached 11 volumes, all narrated in light noir style, and involving some neatly twisted private eye conventions. Jack Fleming is a pretty traditional Vampire, however, although he tries to survive on animal blood. Elrod also has an historical series, about Jonathan Barrett, Gentleman Vampire: Red Death (1993), Death and the Maiden (1994), Death Masque (1995), and Dance of Death (1996).

Simon Clark’s Vampyrrhic (1998 [2002]) is more straightforward horror, a thriller etc. The ‘vampires’ here, as in many other recent books, are not traditional, but rather the result of an act by the god Thor, who brought an army of dead warriors back to unlife to serve a particular family, the leader of which was supposed to lead them in an attack on Christianity. Now, in the late 20th century, the last male in the family is still supposed to do so, despite being a doctor & against it. The vampires are really background, the horror to be resisted, while the 4 people, 2 men, 2 women, who are reincarnations of the original 4 from the past who were supposed to enact the god’s revenge, form the core of the story in their desperate resistance to the vampires’ attack. It’s a good horror novel, but works on the basis of the usual fear factor, to be overcome at great cost.

Michael Cross’s After Human (2004) certainly presents as a ‘vampire’ novel, but it isn’t really. It is strange, bitter, almost nihilistic, oddly vamped (!) toward a kind of satire, a work in which God, the angels or old gods, immortal more or less, ‘feed’ upon human illusions & faith. There is an over-the-top grand guignol representation of violence throughout, as the ‘son’ of another ‘vampire’ goes on a killing spree, eventually stopped, while perhaps a new god is produced. Is it in the near future? Is it reality shown to us by the author while we continue to believe there is some validity to life? It does, I guess, demonstrate that the idea of ‘vampire’ is a useful metaphor for the way everyone feeds on everyone else, etc. but it does not really add to the genre of vampire fiction; rather it utterly deconstructs that as well as just about all morality, faith, hope, etc..

Richard Laymon is apparently one of the hottest horror writers around, lauded by the likes of Stephen King, so I thought Bite (1996) would be fairly interesting as a vampire novel. It’s more a thriller with horror overtones, & presents a really odd couple of characters as protagonist/heroes: the narrator, Sam, who has loved Cat since they were teenagers (now 26). She appears at his door in the middle of the night asking him to help her destroy a vampire that has been molesting her for some time. He is still so smitten he will do anything for her, & before the novel is over pretty well has. Okay, she has been brutalized by her husband & the ‘vampire’ (with his steel teeth, etc.) but her, & then Sam’s, morality is rather skewed. Who ‘deserves’ to be killed, & why does she get to judge? The idea that there are many ‘vampires’ out there, whoever preys on another’s weakness, is perhaps valid metaphor, but we never really know if the one using Cat is anything more than a kinky human being, even if they do kill him with a stake. Yes, Sam gets his girl, they make love, they live happily ever after, but the rather sick ambivalent moral structure of the novel sticks in this reader’s craw. And I never really felt that much for either Cat or Sam.

Katherine Ramsland’s The Heat Seekers is praised by Whitley Strieber (& she wrote The Vampire Companion about Rice’s books), & it is a fairly exciting thriller of a group of vampires & the few humans who know about them, & in the case of twin sisters, can even help them in their particular fight against an ancient evil much greater than them. But it’s slowed down by a huge number of expository lumps as a young member of the kamera explains to the reader what they are & how they differ from & are like the traditional vampires. So it’s a lot slower than it should be, & some explanations feel like they’ve just been introduced to allow the plot to continue (although they mostly add up by the end). Some good moments, & a fairly interesting new form of vampire, but less than it might be in subtler hands.

Michael Romkey has written a number of vampire novels, which I have not seen. American Gothic (2004) is his most recent, & it’s rather interesting, starting in New Orleans during the Civil War with a man almost ruined by grief for his murdered wife & children. As he has no fear of death, he proves a suitable convert to vampirism, which allows him to wreak revenge upon the southern army by putting a mad plan into Lee’s head before a major battle. Later, he comes to wish he could regain his soul, become more human, & in two later times & places, Haiti 1914 & San Francisco 2000, he tries, fails, & then sort of succeeds at behaving with some humanity toward ordinary humans. The novel is as interested in those who come in contact with him as him. It was good enough to make me want to read a few others & see if some of the same characters (the other vampires) or the same characteristics appear. So I got The Vampire Virus (1997), the 4th of the I, Vampire series. It has to do with a vampire cult in ancient South America, & the surviving Conquistador turned vampire who has tried for centuries to keep the hidden city & its rituals from discovery. What’s interesting is the way Romkey ties contemporary disease-control research, this ancient civilization based on blood sacrifice, and The Illuminatii, a group of powerful vampires who maintain their place in the world, and even support research into their being, among whom are numbered Beethoven, who appears in the novel, & Mozart, who apparently turned him. I suspect there is more about them in the earlier novels, but don’t know that for sure.

L A Banks’ Minion (2004) was first published in 2003, but the paperback is revised partly due to fan input. Okay, but that does suggest that an Afro-American ‘slayer’ has something going for her. Banks is writing out of a ‘spiritual’ background that seems to take a lot of this seriously; or, rather, she takes religion seriously, & is using the vampire & slayer as symbolic icons of the ongoing battle between Light & Darkness, in which all great religions participate. So she has created a ‘Neturu’ as well as Master Vampires, & a new hybrid demon & vampire that is creating havoc & bringing vampires & their depredations to human awareness. Most of the novel is about the young Neturu, Damali, who is a rap artist (rap? whatever), & her Guardians, but quite a bit is given to the rogue Master Vampire, Fallon Nuit, & also to the one man she has felt love for, Carlos, who has gone with the Dark Side to rise in criminal circles, & by the end has been turned to vampire; but he also feels strongly for Damali, & in the moment of his turning he is also taken over by the Vampire Council, which wants to bring Nuit down, as his détente with the lower demons is endangering their safe rule. So, an interesting mythos. And the story, the first of a series of ‘Vampire Huntress’ novels, in which Damali will be tested to the limit, I guess, moves pretty well, yet has real problems for me. First, there are far too many expository lumps, which the reviewers who rave about it obviously didn’t mind. And then, for someone with a MA, she falls into appalling grammatical problems at times. Not in the speech, but in the descriptions, where the novel does seem to be trying to be fairly well written; & it keeps falling down, although it still reads as a fairly gung ho thriller. Certainly, the use of an Afro-American heroine is a neat twist, & could be culturally significant. As, too, perhaps is the highly religious sub-text, which may be specific to the USA today.

T.M Wright is another apparently top-notch horror author of the present day; his The Last Vampire (1991)is an interesting twist on the usual version. It begins in 2047 in a world of people who mainly connect via their ‘Books,’ ie, computers. Some spirit comes to the narrator & asks to use his Book to tell his story.  Apparently that happens & the rest of the novel is Elmo Land’s fragmented, repetitious, memoir, so to speak. Born in 1908, he is turned in 1919, & around the turn of the millennium, lives through an atomic war. Not many people are left, & he ends up with another kind of killer, who takes some time to come to terms with his desires.. His memories include his acts as a vampire, doing what he has to, & his slow change to something more ethereal perhaps after most of humanity has done itself in. an odd book to say the least. As a vampire Elmo only desires to ‘eat,’ yet he cannot even really enjoy that, as he doesn’t taste or feel. Indeed, the older he gets, the less he is able to use any senses. In that sense, he is in no wise a traditionally sexy, if ‘evil’ vampire at all.

Poppy Z Brite has written a couple of vampire novels. The are powerful evocations of late 80s, early 90s Goth culture, in which her interest in homo-erotic violence moves the narratives: Lost Souls (1992) & Drawing Blood (1993). She has written many other horror fictions, & in 1994, she edited Love in Vein, a collection of vampire erotica. But much of it seems to have little to do with either vampires in the usual sense, nor with erotica, although sexual violence does play a large role. Many of the stories seem to deal with figures who barely register as vampires, although perhaps the way they use others makes them vampiric in a metaphoric manner. A couple of the tales are interesting for the way they play off the vampire’s erotic image, & a couple deny it by referring to the deadly need at work. The final story has vampires sexually involved with each other as well as with humans, some of who, they turn. The sex is highly violent, but also highly sexual in intent. An intriguing volume, but it doesn’t really offer much new in the way of vampire ‘lore.’

As I slowly tracked down some of the recent ‘classics,’ I found it rather incredible that King’s ‘Salem’s Lot (1975) was the most difficult to lay my hands on. But then it came into print again in late 2004. It’s King’s 2nd novel, & there are some problems with the style, but it is also one of his most over-the-top, gross-out, horror novels, with an ancient vampire most nasty, & a whole town ready to turn, most of the people already corrupt in various small town America ways. A fine hero (a writer), a boy who knows what he’s dealing with, a lovely woman who doesn’t believe enough & is destroyed, & continual suspense. The only real problem being that the townspeople turn so fast, it seems odd that the whole world isn’t vampires by now (but maybe only towns turn, then they all destroy themselves or something). It’s certainly one of those King can’t put down tales.

I did find a copy of Dan Simmons’s 2nd novel, Carrion Comfort (1989), which is a huge horror/thriller, in which the ‘vampirism’ is, as the good, ordinary human characters put it, a form of psychic vampirism. The story covers continents, & ranges in time from the early 20s to the early 80s, with a lot of it dealing with the Death Camps in Nazi Germany, where one of the ordinary humans first met one of these with ‘the Ability,’ yet somehow managed to survive & escape. But that ‘monster’ had been involved, & still is in the novel’s present, with 2 women who also have the Ability to control others, to enter their heads & take over their bodies. One of these, a kind of Southern spinster, narrates sections of the novel, including events the small group of those who have been harmed by them are also involved in. but there are more than those three, including some very powerful men, who run politics and much else. Simmons’s narrative adopts the perspectives of both the good people & the ones who have the Ability, thus accentuating the many differences in assumptions & perspective on both sides. Saul, the Jewish camp survivor, argues that they have no morality, or rather no moral centre. The novel almost completely supports that POV, but by having a first-person narrative by one of them, it lends her something of a rationale, albeit one that the rest of the narrative reveals to be fantasy mostly, although one given a strong sense of reality by her power. But, as we see her through other eyes, & also see how unreal some of her assumptions are, her narrative can only fail to convince us of her POV. Still, she survives, & so the horror is left hanging at the end, even though many have been defeated. It’s sure a hell of a narrative ride, all 884 pages of it.

The same can be said for Children of the Night (1992), the title taken from what the ‘real’ Vlad Tepes in this novel sees as the only poetic line in what he calls the ‘abominable, awkwardly written melodrama, that compendium of confusions which did nothing but blacken and trivialize the noble name of Dracula.’. Simmons knows how to construct a thriller, here one looped truly terribly with what David Annandale has called the horror rhisome, plus an intriguing scientific explanation for vampirism in a faulty gene & the mutation that found a way to compensate in those who would otherwise die of white cell anemia. The story is set mostly in Romania just after the fall of Ceausescu, a country still out of control, in which a certain economic vampirism can be found in the rich American couples who can come & take whatever child they want from the terrible orphanages. A priest about to become ex-, a doctor who specializes in blood diseases, & a young Romanian medical student become involved with a special orphan who has a strange blood disease. Dr. Kate Neuman is able to get the USAmerican Disease center to put all its immense abilities to work solving her adopted son’s disease because doing so might open up possibilities for curing AIDS & other diseases. Then her world is overturned when black clothed thugs attempt to steal her baby, & seemingly cannot be killed. Eventually they do kidnap her son, killing some other doctors, her ex-husband, and friends in the attempt. Seeking the help of Father O’Rourke, with whom she is falling in love, & who is losing his vocation as he works to help the poor children of Romania, & Lucian, the student who may not be trustworthy she returns to Romania & a nightmare of tracking the strigoi, being captured by them, escaping, & attempting the near-impossible quest to rescue the baby (who is to be the next leader of the strigoi) from the thousands of them gathered to see his investiture as their king at the real Castle Dracula. In the background, & offering his history as a mad dream while he apparently sinks toward the true death, is Vlad himself, the centuries long king of the strigoi. The lengthy climax is as thrilling as anyone could want, & a bit unbelievable, with just enough horror frisson at the end to leave readers up in the air. On one level, the novel is interesting for its representation of Romania in the early 90s, when it was written, & for some of the political asides & implications that emerge from time to time. On another, its heroism is finally individualistic, that USAmerican vision of good triumphing, in almost a spirit of entrepreneurship. Yet, as a good horror novel, it does not allow good to triumph completely, & the ending is highly ambiguous.

Nancy Baker is considered ‘[t]he dark star of Canadian vampire writers,’ at least by Maclean’s. Blood and Chrysanthemums (1994) is her 2nd novel, and I suspect it is a follow-up to the first, The Night Inside. Certainly, it reads as if the back-story of two of its protagonists, the young Ardeth and the older Dimitri, whom she had rescued from experimental torture, is something its readers should know. Here they are hiding in Banff, & beginning to face some relationship problems. But the novel is also the story of a 1000 year old Japanese vampire, who has never met another like him, & who had to find out what he was on his own as there was no mythology associated with vampires in ancient Japan. His story, as written by him in his journal, is what lifts this novel out of the ordinary. Baker belongs to the Romantic Vampire tradition, but she does not sugarcoat the dangers, nor the savagery, possible among vampires. Nevertheless, both Ardeth & Dmitri, & even Fujiwara, try to hold on to honour if not humanity. It’s well-written, on the whole, & in many ways a delightful entertainment.

Frances Gordon (Bridget Wood) has written a number of dark fantasy & horror novels; her vampire tale is Blood Ritual (1994), a version based on the other ancient evil, Elizabeth Bathory, who bathed in blood rather than drinking it. In this story, her family, very long lived most of them, have carried on the tradition, indeed, the ritual by which, invoking ancient gods as well as bathing in fresh young blood, they stay young. The youngest members of the family, but also in direct descent, are Catherine, who, haunted by Elizabeth & driven to secret murders, enters a convent to try to pay for her sins, & Pietro, who loves her & who seeks his escape by a different means. Meanwhile a journalist has seen the elder, desiccated members of the family & been blinded by them; he eventually goes back, with a young nun who falls in love with him. The family tricks Catherine into returning by telling her Pietro is ill. In fact, other members of the family, seeking to take over the leadership, have captured him. Gordon sets up a terrific thriller out of this. She alters between the story of the historic Elizabeth & the present day mystery; there is lots of sadism from some of the Bathorys, & romance for Michael & Sister Hilary, & a final fiery cataclysm that’s wholly satisfying. And, at one point, one of the Bathorys makes the point that Stoker got it wrong; you don’t drink the blood, you bathe in it to preserve your youth. That Elizabeth’s little chant is a version of ‘the blood never failed me yet’ is an added little blasphemy.

Tanith Lee has a future SF vampire tale I have not read. I found The Blood of Roses (1990) in a 2nd hand store & it looked like a rich historical vampire fantasy. Well, it is a rich ‘historical’ fantasy, with a lot of time spent developing a deeply detailed medieval world, but it is really a ‘religious’ fantasy with a bit of vampirism in it rather than a vampire tale. But then, as some other works have suggested, the Christian invitation, Take, Drink, does smack of vampirism. In this world, the Christus religion is still fighting a Tree worshipping paganism. But the story concerns certain characters, most of whom turn out to be supernatural constructions, brought about by a forever young god-like being who is the result of the cutting down of a world-tree. He enters the Church & then turns it towards his own Way, partly by introducing a secret ritual of blood-drinking. He also attempts to conceive a ‘daughter’ of his mind who will bear a ‘son’ also his, but this supposedly ephemeral being discovers a human strength & stays around to do battle with the thing who made her. The novel goes back in time & then forward, as we learn of the ‘life’ & ‘death’ of the young man before learning about the death & life of the godlike being who created him, & then, slowly of the others & their battles. It’s a very complex piece of narration, in which various forms of ‘vampirism’ do occur, but they are not the core of the novel’s conceptual development, which is much more an attack on a certain kind of religious existence.

Mick Farren has a series about a nosferatu colony, which began with The Time of Feasting (1996), a wicked & often funny, certainly bent, tale. Farren has created another ‘history’ of nosferatu (his beings really don’t like to be called ‘vampires’), in which extraterrestrials have visited the Earth for millennia, & created ‘perfect warriors’ which were too perfect, & had to be destroyed. This happened around 14,000 BCE. A few escaped the ‘sunbombs’ & death rays, & over the centuries, turning ordinary humans, became more like humans themselves, till by now they look like the popular representations of vampires. At any rate, their DNA makes them predators on humans, whose blood they need to survive. Most of the myths about them are wrong, but they do die in the sun or by a wooden stake through the heart. In Feasting, Victor Renquist, a 1000 year-old nosferatu, is the Master of a small colony in New York, & troubles surround him as the need to kill for human blood rather than subsisting on blood supplies from a hospital mounts & a raving ex-priest stumbles upon their secret & their home. A young nosferatu is challenging Renquist, & starts a killing spree that could endanger them all. The older nosferatu remember the destruction of 1919, when a Catholic bishop realized they were real, & organized a killing pogrom against them; even after being told the history, he refuses to hide his killings, & the NYPD are soon after what they believe is a serial killer. Farren presents a number of characters & their stories, including a pair of cops, the crazy Kelly, & various of the nosferatu, including Renquist’s long time partner, Cynara, the woman he turned during the Nazi era, Julia, who is much more devious than he realizes, & the rest of the colony, a rather eccentric group to say the least. He’s good on the way they think, & by representing their killing of humans as part of their nature, he also then allows them to be as complex as any of the humans, so that we can admire them when they earn that admiration. Much happens, & in the end, those who survive the chaos brought about by the young one’s recklessness escape to LA. Often witty, full of neat allusions to pop & high culture, & full of either the author’s or the nosferatu’s deep cynicism about the human race, this is one of the better recent novels in the tradition. The Church, for example, is clearly run by power-hungry bureaucrats, who do not want to know that such creatures exist. Kelly, the ex-priest is an alcoholic fanatic, whose belief that God has sent him on a mission the narrative mocks. Most of the humans Farren shows us are already rotten with corruption or power, & humanity as a whole, as the nosferatu recognize, seems bent on destroying itself & the earth. A kind of satire, almost, but also a solidly constructed thriller, in which we are invited to root for the supposed ‘bad guys.’

Darklost (2000), the 2nd novel, continues the ever more complex tale of Renquist & his colony in Los Angeles (where Farren lives). Not only is there a ‘darklost,’ someone halfway to becoming nosferatu (a woman Cynara had seduced), but there is a religious cult challenging Scientology, the Apogee, & one of its triumvirate of leaders has a knack of connecting with real dark powers that then overwhelm him & almost destroy them all. Darklost is a wonderfully cynical novel, yet also an often moving one. The nosferatu staring to change in the wild world of LA, the women feeling a need for another male, the darklost problem needing to be solved, & the possibility that the Cthulhu ‘god’ the mad leader of the Aogee is trying to bring forth is actually an ancient weapon of the Nephilim that could destroy all of humanity – all these combine in a kind of supernatural thriller, with sleazy Hollywood types, corrupt cops, & an aging movie star very like Brando seeking immortality. Before it’s all over a lot of blood has been spilt & drunk, the city has suffered a weird riot, the nosferatu have saved humanity, & the colony has 2 new members. All of which sets up the next novel, as its inner workings have undergone a change too. Farren handles his varied cast of characters with panache, provides more of the history of the early nosferatu as well as the early history of Renquist, & provides a violently satiric view of LA, & of humanity as a whole.

More Than Mortal (2001) takes Renquist to England, and an odd little ‘family’ of three female nosferatu who live near an archeological dig that is about to discover an artifact that could give away the secrets of both the nosferatu and their long gone makers. He and they must decide what to do to prevent this, and later have to deal with a mad Scottish clan of nosferatu who live in isolated medieval splendour. Much riotous violence ensues, & Renquist eventually needs the help of his assassin friend, Lupo, as well as the three women, who are a trial. But most frightening is that the artifact turns out to be a more powerful being, a ‘merlin,’ one of the creations used to control the human world for the Masters, which now intends to do so for its own reasons. At the end, being so much more powerful than the nosferatu, it escapes. Throughout, Farren represents both the occult paranoid history and the nosferatu, & their interactions, their culture so to speak, with his usual wry cynical humour.

Underland (2002), the final volume of The Renquist Quartet, actually manages to slyly and indirectly comment on US paranoia following 9/11 by introducing a deep black undercover branch of the National Security Agency, Paranormal Operations and Research, which is run by another (power-)mad person who also wants to achieve immortality. They kidnap Renquist,  because they need him and his right-hand man, Lupo, to try to infiltrate a world below Antartica where certain members of the Third Reich escaped after WWII. But that’s just the beginning, for there are an unorthodox NSA operative, Julia, the nosferatur Renquist made back in Hitler’s Germany, who has always tested the bounds of clan loyalty, and another race below the Earth who might be trying to conquer the world. This is a first rate, if definitely weird, thriller, from Renquist’s capture, through his agreeing to join the attempt to infiltrate the Underworld, to its complexly unexpected climax. Once again, Farren manages to complicate conventional political paranoia with a savage dose of learned occultism. He has mastered the satiric occult thriller that addresses various fears of the moment while also playing up to the desires all vampires seem to reply to. These are definitely vampires for our times….

So I put together the course, & we began with early stories in The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories (which contains a bunch of good ones from the late 19the century to the present) & Dracula, which most of the students had not read, although they certainly knew a lot about more recent works. Here’s the reading list:

Suzy McKee Charnas. The Vampire Tapestry.

Mick Farren. DarkLost.

Stephen King. ‘Salem’s Lot,

George R.R. Martin. Fevre Dream.

China Miéville. The Scar.

Anne Rice. Interview with the Vampire.

Alan Ryan, ed. The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories.

Dan Simmons. Children of the Night.

Bram Stoker. Dracula. Broadview Press.

Whitley Streiber. The Hunger.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. The Palace.


Then we took up some of the better known ones from the 70s & 80s, the Rice, which is the first of her Vampire Chronicles, & perhaps the best written of them, & the King. One understands how Interview with the Vampire (1976) became something of a cult hit, especially after The Vampire Lestat (1985) revised it & started pulling together Rice’s ‘vampire history,’ but the writing is over-ripe, & in the many later novels the lack of editing shows as the sentences fatten up unforgivingly. Interview with the Vampire has a certain Romantic mournfulness, a sense of loss that tells. And the way the killing is eroticized sets the tone for many later vampire fictions. The ‘tragic’ tale of Louis, Lestat, & the child vampire, Claudia, certainly caught many readers’ imaginations. And Rice has become a phenomenon, even as her writing has become less & less interesting, which is to say I couldn’t read her after The Queen of the Damned (1988), although I did end up reviewing Blood and Gold (2001), a really dumb and badly written version of art history. There are so many better vampire fictions, it’s too bad she caught on as she did.

Much more interesting, & better written, is George RR Martin’s Fevre Dream (1982), also set in the US South, & in the 19th century, but with an intriguingly implied history for the vampire race, as well as 2 protagonists, one vampire, one human, who try to make things better. Martin uses the vampires to show up slavery in an intriguing fashion; as well, he sets up an extreme conflict between an ancient & evil vampire & the younger one who wants to stop the killing. But perhaps the most interesting character is Abner, the steamboat captain who helps the good vampire & eventually comes to work for the anti-slavery forces as a result; & who, in the end, comes to his friend’s aid in finally finishing off the bad guy. There’s a nicely judged ethical conflict, as well as interesting characterization & historical evocation of the boat trade on the Mississippi.

Whitley Strieber’s The Hunger (1980) is a modern classic, with a film based upon it to boot. Not as well written as some criticism leads one to believe, it is a fascinating novel, for both its setting up of a history of a separate species and its representation of a singular member of that species who interacts with humans much more than the others of her race. Strieber also makes use of medical pseudo-science to suggest that Miriam’s species has a special blood that keeps them alive, makes them almost immortal. The novel follows the disintegration, after some centuries, of Miriam’s last lover, who is finally losing the powers her blood gave him, alongside Miriam’s seduction of the brilliant doctor, Sarah, whose work with blood might lead to some answers that could offer humanity a safe form of longer life. In fact, this research narrative turns out to be something of a red herring because in the end Miriam turns Sarah, who cannot face her need to kill, & then must escape New York to save herself. All her past lovers – and one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is Miriam’s remembering dreams of her past life, in which we see her in various situations in ancient Rome, medieval London, etc – can’t really die but rather turn into shadows of themselves, kept by Miriam in various small coffins. Miriam is an intriguing creature, for she has a kind of ethics, yet is necessarily a predator on human life. Strieber doesn’t quite manage a balance between admiration & horror; or perhaps the context between the two is the purpose of the novel.

Twenty years later, after publishing a bunch of pseudo-scientific ‘non-fiction’ books on extraterrestrials etc, Strieber returned to Miriam’s life in The Last Vampire (2001). Strieber’s not a great writer but he does have some intriguing ideas about his blood-eating species. In this just-prior-to-9/11 thriller, he introduces the CIA, a special unit that seeks & destroys vampires in their lairs, first in the Far East, just before Miriam comes to attend the once-every-hundred-years conclave. She arrives to find all the ‘Keepers’ (their name for themselves) destroyed & in her fear, fleeing to Paris, she leaves a remnant of a human she fed upon behind for the CIA man, Paul Ward to find. This sets up a suspenseful chase narrative. He can’t believe any of these ‘things’ could travel or navigate modern life; she can’t believe that humans have found a way to kill her kind. But in Paris, Paul discovers that other agencies in Europe & Egypt are far ahead of him & his crew. They almost capture & destroy Miriam but she manages to escape to New York & her lover/servant, Sarah (yes the woman from The Hunger, whom she has resurrected & who is still seeking ways to control the need to feed on blood), & a young woman she also wants to ‘blood.’ (Strieber has clearly thought a lot about his species & their place in human history in the intervening years: as Keepers, they seem to have interfered in human evolution, breeding for the best food, but perhaps they have done so too well, as humans are now smarter & more civilized, so much so that they have developed technologies that give them equality with the stronger, faster, supposedly more intelligent Keepers; thus they are now able to destroy them.) over the ages, the Keepers have occasionally tried to breed humans who can carry some Keeper blood, & Paul, unknown to himself is part Keeper; this makes him astonishingly attractive to Miriam, who has only the last of her 4 eggs & wishes to have a child. In the end she seduces a captured Paul, but although he is utterly in love with her he also hates her & her kind, & still intends to destroy her, after she bears their child. The novel moves with thriller precision, while adding a lot of information about the history of the Keepers, although not all of it. Questions remain at the end.

In Lilith’s Dream: A Tale of the Vampire Life (2002), Strieber tries to construct the whole ‘history’ he’s been hinting at in the previous 2 books in the Hunger sequence. As this (now post 9/11) novel begins, Paul & his wife, another CIA agent, have raised his & Miriam’s son to the age of 17 (so it’s set in the near future of its ‘history’) without telling him that he is half human & half Keeper. Ian’s a brilliant, strong, willful, & highly ethical young man, but his father has not trusted him to know what he is & this is a danger. Miriam, along with all the other Keepers in the world, has been destroyed, as has Sarah, but Leonore, the other woman blooded by Miriam has survived & become a pop star. Paul wants to get her, but the CIA no longer wants to have anything to do with his quest now. And in the Egyptian desert, waking after a long sleep in her hidden cave, the mother of them all (all the Keepers, from another world, from what & where?), Lilith emerges, & finds herself alone in a modern world she doesn’t understand. Strieber intertwines her, Leo’s, & Paul’s stories as they all move to where Ian will form the centre of their attention, for he is a potential Keeper male as well as a new type of human being. There is a kind of dark comedy in Lilith’s slow coming to understand her circumstance & the new, powerful, human world where she cannot rule as either goddess or empress. There’s a pathos in Paul & Becky’s arguments over Ian & Paul’s anger at not being able to control events (he also has Keeper blood, as does the family of his Egyptian counterpart, whom he meets during their chase after Lilith, Leo, & Ian, when the two woman more or less abduct him). What happens in Egypt, when Lilith tries to turn him into a Keeper & her lover, leads to a series of ‘amazing’ revelations about both Keeper & human history & evolution. I think I’d rather have it be what Miriam thought she knew, but perhaps spiritual uplift, even if somewhat unfocused, I mean all suddenly there & why, is Strieber’s major shtick, after all.

The Palace (1978), the 2nd of Yarbro’s St Germaine novels, does Romanticism right (as opposed to Rice, as far as I’m concerned). This time in 15th century Florence, with the vampire count trying to preserve the highest human values as preserved in art, & admired by his friend Laurenzo dé Medici, from the depravations of the religious fanatic, Savanarola. As usual, St Germaine falls in love, fights to preserve his own ‘life’ as well as those of the people he loves, & battles ignorance & avarice, etc.

One of the finest novels ever about vampirism is Charnas’s The Vampire Tapestry (1980). A Fixup far too complex to easily summarize, it is a series of stories about perhaps the only vampire in existence, a sole genetic aberration, as he tries to adapt (once again) to human society in the late 20th century. Superbly intelligent (as he must be to wake & survive over & over again), he becomes Dr Edward Leyland, an anthropologist, a professor doing dream studies (which allows him to get blood without anyone catching on), & gets into trouble when a worker at the university realizes what he is. In this first story, ‘The Ancient Mind at Work,’ Leyland actually gives a lecture in which he puts forth a scientific hypothesis about how a singular ‘vampire’ (himself) might have evolved. When he attacks this woman & she wounds him, he is forced to flee & is captured by an occultist who hopes to use him. In ‘The Land of Lost Content,’ that man’s nephew, a nerd, discovers a kind of compassion for this ‘monster.’ Later, in ‘Unicorn Tapestry,’ Leyland has to enter psychoanalysis in order to prove he has ‘recovered,’ & convinces his analyst against both their wishes that he is what he says he is. In the final two stories, ‘A Musical Interlude,’ & ‘The Last of Dr. Weyland,’ he teaches in New Mexico, attends an opera with unforeseen results, & is captured again by the mad occultist, whom he must convince he can change. In the end, he eventually goes back to sleep because he has begun to care too much (as perhaps he has many times before) for his prey. The 5 stories which make up the book are brilliant, complex in their emotional and intellectual characterization. It’s sui generis, a take on vampirism unlike any other.

The final novel we read for the course was China Miéville’s The Scar (2002), which I confess I chose because I had read his first two novels & a friend had told me this one had vampires in it. It does, but they are in no way central to a highly complex novel of ideas, set in the same astonishing ‘steam punk’ secondary world as Perdido Street Station, & with a few of the characters from that book. In The Scar, following the apocalyptic conclusion of the earlier novel, one of the characters who feels she is being sought, attempts to escape from the city-state of New Crobuzon. The ship she takes is itself taken by a famous pirate floating ‘city,’ where most of the action takes place. Armada is huge, made up of a huge number of pirated ships, where, unlike New Crobuzon & elsewhere, everyone is equal, even the ‘remade,’ even the ‘vampires,’ who are elsewhere despised. There’s only one hitch, no one can ever leave. There are various ridings in Armada, including Dry Fall, where the vampires rule, & provide superb protection for their inhabitants, all for the price of a small ‘goretax.’ The only vampire who has much to do in the narrative is Dry Fall’s leader, the Brucolac, but Miéville provides a lot of neatly inserted sociological insights concerning the floating city & its inhabitants, usually as part of contextualizating the actions & thinking of the major characters. The Scar concerns the activities of a collection of characters brought together by chance, on Armada, whose leaders, The Lovers, seek to catch a monster from another universe to power the city across all the seas. There’s also a spy desperate to get information back to New Crobuzon, & the feeling linguist he recruits, all unknowingly, to his cause. All of which has little to do with vampires, except for the way that Miéville plants a deep allegorical sense of economic & political vampirism, especially in the way New Crobuzon uses its power to control as much of the world as possible. The Scar is a brilliant, powerful, novel, but (as my students argued) seemed to have a limited relation to most vampire fiction. That’s okay, however, because it’s so good.

Douglas Barbour

[i] For example, there’s a huge sub-genre (of the horror sub-genre, ‘vampire fiction’) of ‘Romantic Vampire fiction’ (I guess you’d call it) written by authors with such names as Sherrilyn Kenyon, Savannah Russe, Karen Marie Moning, Rosemary Laurey, etc.; I confess I read one such, & decided that I didn’t have enough time to spend more of it on these. They are, I am given to understand, very popular. Not that I absolutely resist a certain Romanticism (see below on Chelsea Quinn Yarbro).

[ii] See, among others, Matthew Bunson’s The Vampire Encyclopedia (1993), Paul Berber’s Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality (1988), and Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally’s Dracula Prince of Many Faces: His Life and Times (1989).

[iii] Auerbach has good references to other studies; but there have also been some interesting ones from post-colonial and other perspectives, since.

[iv] One of the best editions is that of Glennis Byron (Broadview Press 1997), which has a strong ‘Works Cited and Recommended Reading’ as well as useful appendices and a fine and subtle Introduction.