Friday, March 11, 2011
Vampires and Sex
The first vampires I ever met stalked Salem’s Lot. Man, they were cool. Deadly, too, but with a disturbingly seductive and rotted beauty. The next vampire novel that I recall with fondness was Robert McCammon’s They Thirst, about some of the nastiest bloodsuckers you’d ever want to meet razing Los Angeles in search of gore. Only later did I venture back to the originators, first to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, then to the even earlier Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu.
In those days I preferred the villainous aspects of the vampire. I recognized the erotic attraction that characters like Carmilla and Dracula had for some readers, but I was far more interested in the horror than the seduction. By the mid-1980s, though, when I began to write seriously myself, a change had swept over vampire literature, initiated, perhaps, by Anne Rice’s 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire. Vamps were still dangerous, but the focus fell increasingly on their seductive and romantic qualities. The age of the antihero vampire was “dawning.”
Anthology series and magazines like Prisoners of the Night, Dead of Night, and The Vampire’s Crypt were pioneers in unleashing this new kind of vampire on the world. These were some of the magazines publishing dark fantasy and horror at the time I became interested in writing in those genres, and by then I was ready to embrace the rising trend. I began to enjoy writing about vampires who were not so much evil as they were “conflicted.” My vampires did bad things; they killed and fed. But they often struggled with the “thirst,” and with their own lost—or not quite lost—humanity.
Recently, a collection of my vampire stories was published, called Midnight in Rosary. There’s a werewolf tale or two in the collection. There’s a ghost. But mostly it’s vampires of various kinds and stripes. I was surprised when I was putting it together that I’d written so many stories about vampires in which they weren’t total villains. There are some nasty ones in there, but most of them have a lot more complexity to their characters, and I found I appreciated that.
I was also surprised that there was so much sex in the stories. Most of what I’ve written in my life would fall under the “adventure” heading, and quite often there is no sex at all, or it’s mostly implied. The stories in Midnight in Rosary are different. The sexual descriptions range from the romantic to the graphic, although I doubt anyone who has read a Laurell K. Hamilton book would be shocked. But there’s quite a lot of sex and it is generally integral in some way to the plot. I have to think that it is the vampire thing that led to this. Eroticism existed as part of the vampire equation from it’s beginnings in Carmilla and Dracula, but it has certainly become far more pronounced over the last 30 years. In the modern day it seems almost impossible to write about vampires without some kind of sexual element.
Vampires can be many things to many people, and that has gone far toward making them the most enduring “monster” in all of literature. It’s a major reason why I’ve visited and revisited them so many times in my work.
So, what do you think of vampires? Is there room for really nasty, non-sexual vamps in today's world? Would anyone read such a book?