Finally, it’s the last day of my “Why I like vampire novels” mini-series. We’ve had history, folklore, romance, perfect characters and awful characters. And to finish, here is one fairly obscure one – a metaphor for everything – and what is for many people, probably the most obvious reason – the erotic power.
Part Six – A Metaphor for Everything
Most commonly, vampirism tends to be interpreted as a metaphor for sex. All those penetrating fangs and fallen women tell their own story. Beyond that though, they seem to have been as a metaphor for all sorts of things: foreign invasion’ AIDS, the transition from child to teenager or teenager to adult , homosexuality, race. As long as the story doesn’t hit the reader over the head with this connection, I think this can add a real frisson to a novel.
In The Cavaliers, vampirism is fundamentally all about class. You could basically replace every reference to “vampire” with “rich, upper class male.” Underneath all the paranormal romance, there’s a gentle dig at the astonishing statistics regarding the number of Cabinet Ministers who went to Oxford and Eton, and who in many cases, were members of elite dining societies like the one the book portrays. I loved Oxford from day one, but in the first few weeks, everything felt so utterly alien, that if someone reliable had told me that some of the students were vampires, I could almost have believed it.
Part Seven – The erotic power
Let’s face it, vampires are sexy. Fair enough, a big part of that is the tendency of modern authors to make them incredibly good looking and in many cases to liberally sprinkle their books with sex scenes (I’m undoubtedly guilty on both counts!). However, I also think it goes beyond that. Dracula for example is in no way intended as a romantic hero, and his description makes him sound quite hideous, but rather like the devil in Paradise Lost, there’s still something about him, especially in his scenes with the lady characters, that draws the reader towards him.
The Vampire Diaries was the first vampire series I read, and it still holds a special place in my heart, however many nominally more grown up or technically better written books I read. In that series, there are no sex scenes at all, but there are scenes of talking, of kissing, and of sharing blood, that are some of the most romantic and yes, erotic, scenes I’ve ever come across.
I think it probably comes down to a combination of a highly charged power imbalance between the human and the vampire, the forbidden nature of what’s going on, and the ever present hint of danger.
Oh and then there’s the blood-taking or blood-sharing (depending on your individual’s vampire’s tastes and manners). I can’t quite come up with a sensible reason for why I like these scenes so much. Even allowing for mesmerisation, it would be pretty horrible in real life (I honestly nearly bleed to death once – long story – and it wasn’t sexy at all) but they work for me and presumably a lot of other readers. I suppose it’s more of the same – power, danger, it being forbidden – only much more so than mere sex. I think all of this is yet another reason that so many readers of vampire fiction also seem to enjoy the new crop (sorry!) of BDSM novels – to a lesser extent, the kinky sex brings some of these elements into play.
With blood though, I think there are two final elements. First blood seems to have had a special resonance in many societies, whether it’s human sacrifices, drinking cow’s blood to become a man, women on their period being considered either unclean or magical, or communion wine. In this context, the idea of someone drinking your blood is simultaneously repellent and magical, part of a grand mystical tradition and utterly outside of the realm of normal human experience. And by some sort of weird transubstantiation, thousands of readers turn that into something sexy.
Phew, that’s my list done. Did I miss any of your personal reasons for loving vampire novels?