Tag Archives: vampire diaries

The Lure of the Vampire, or Why We Fantasize about Dead People

Vampire lore owes its popularity to Bram Stoker and the release of Dracula in 1897 at the height of the Victorian Era. At that time there were strict rules for how men and women should act in public, such as women never appearing in public or found alone with someone who wasn’t their father, brother or husband. Women’s clothing was generally quite restrictive with high necklines, bustles (to accentuate the behind) and corsets (to cinch the waistline). Necks and ankles were considered “sexy”, only because they were, for the most part, hidden from view.

In the novel, Dracula creeps into both Lucy and Mina’s rooms whilst they sleep to bite each of them on the neck. This challenged a number of social values including men and women being alone without chaperones and men seeing women in anything other than full dress. Women were expected to restrain their desires, yet the female characters in Dracula welcome his penetration (pun intended). The titillation factor was high as a result, which might account for the popularity of the novel in the long term.

Symbolically, blood and the drawing of it have sensual connotations. Blood signifies a woman’s coming of reproductive age. It is associated with the loss of her virginity and subsequent sexual awakening. It is also spilled with childbirth (Kella), all topics that were not discussed in polite company, yet implicitly referenced in vampire lore.

The main thing that’s changed since Dracula’s heyday on the literary stage is the degree of vampiric humanity. Most vampires are young and attractive. They are driven by their appetite for blood, their lust, and their emotions. Many male vampires (think Aidan from Being Human and Damon from Vampire Diaries) epitomize the leather-clad bad-boy popularized by James Dean in the fifties and which a number of ladies still find appealing.

Modern vampires are tragic figures who, lives cut short and often sired against their will, evoke pathos in their struggle against what they’ve become and what they’ve had to do to survive the ages. They are portrayed as broken brooders in search of the one person on earth who is able to fix them. Though they sometimes mate with their peers, they often desire human companionship. Even then they are forever doomed to play Romeo to a still human Juliet, taking star-crossed lover after star-crossed lover only to watch them grow old, perish and die unless he turns her.

In spite of the myriad books, movies and television shows, vampires are still hot, the object of fear and fantasy for so many of us.

Which vampire or vampire story is your favourite? What was it that attracted you to it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Dracula is a page turner

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the gothic horror story that put down roots for modern day vampire lore.

In Dracula, lawyer Jonathan Harker is sent to Transylvania to close a deal on the sale of a house for Count Dracula in England. Confined to a limited number of rooms in Dracula’s castle, Harker goes  exploring where he discovers siren-like creatures and Dracula’s dark nature. Harker eventually escapes, goes nearly mad, and convalesces in a hospital where fiance Mina Murray retrieves him and marries him. They return to England to find Mina’s friend, Lucy, mysteriously ill from blood loss. Harker and Dr. Seward enlist a retired Van Helsing for help. They replenish Lucy’s blood nightly to no avail. Eventually Lucy dies, her body claimed by Dracula. It’s not long before Mina falls prey to the same “illness,” with one strange symptom–she has a connection with Count Dracula. Harker, Seward and Van Helsing use this connection to ambush Dracula and kill him for good at last.

Fan of vampire stories that I am, I had always meant to read the original Dracula, but never got around to it. But after watching NBC’s Dracula, I needed to go back to the archetype to see which characters and events were borrowed from the original and which were new.

In NBC’s Dracula, the count assumes the name Alexander Greyson and pretends to be an American newly arrived in England on business. In a grand spectacle opening, Greyson holds a party at his mansion where he introduces his guests to free, wireless power which sends the oil magnates into a tizzy. At this gala is socialite Lucy Westenra who has invited her friend and medical student Mina Murray and Mina’s boyfriend, reporter Jonathan Harker. When Dracula sees Mina he sees his wife’s doppelganger and is determined to have her, but not by force. To that end, he hires Harker as his assistant, puts him up in a mansion and pays him enough to marry Mina and live happily ever after. The idea is to keep Mina close and gradually insinuate himself into her life. Pursued by the Order of the Dragon, an ancient organization whose members are involved in (among other things I can’t figure out) maintaining a power monopoly and killing vampires, Greyson’s goal is to punish members of the Order for their role in making him what he is today.

Other than character names and the time in which the story takes place, there is little comparison between the original book and the television show. In the book, Dracula has no alter ego and there is no mention of Mina the doppelganger. TV’s Renfield is Dracula’s manservant, a far cry from Stoker’s raving, bug-eating lunatic and Stoker’s Van Helsing is out to kill Dracula, not form an unholy alliance with him in order to seek revenge on the Order of the Dragon. Reading the book  also shed some light on other supernatural works, including  an explanation as to why the brothers on Supernatural bear the last name Winchester and the origin of the title “Vampire Diaries”, adopted because most of Stoker’s novel is told in journal or diary format.

The novel is a page turner at times, boring at others, but worth the time to read.

The series picks up pace midway through episode two and becomes the television version of a page turner. I binge watched the first three episodes and regret not watching the fourth as well (but Once Upon a Time was about to begin and priorities must be set).

Are you watching NBC’s Dracula? What do you think?

“Sleepy Hollow” builds rich mythology

Fox’s Sleepy Hollow premièred last week to rave reviews. Like its predecessors Grimm and Once Upon a Time, Sleepy Hollow offers an interesting spin on an archetypal story.

The town of Sleepy Hollow was a small valley in the settlement of Tarrytown, New York in 1820 when Washington Irving published his short story about a Revolutionary War soldier in search of his head, lost when it was taken by a cannonball. In Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which takes place in 1790, Ichabod Crane is a gangly schoolteacher in competition for the love of Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of a wealthy farmer. His competition is the burly Abraham “Brom” Van Brunt, who sets Ichabod up as an object of ridicule. Katrina sees through Brom’s antics and appears content to give her heart to Ichabod when he meets the horseman and disappears. Katrina marries Brom instead. Other than his horse and a shattered pumpkin, there is no sign of Ichabod to be found. Ichabod considers the horseman might be Brom in disguise during the attack, but the description of the horseman, headless and awash in fire and brimstone, is too horrific to have been pulled off by Ichabod’s rival, given the technology at the time. When the horseman throws his head at him, Ichabod falls from his horse and is never seen again.

Irving’s Sleepy Hollow is a typical horror story. Its setting is a place reputed to have been bewitched by “an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe”. People believe it to be overrun by “haunted spots and twilight superstitions” where they “see strange sights and hear music and voices in the air.”  In this way, Sleepy Hollow is no different than Vampire Diaries‘s Mystic Falls or Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Sunnydale. Similar to these towns, witches, ghosts and evil supernatural entities abound. Irving’s Ichabod is the stereotypical geek, described as tall, lank, “narrow shoulders, long arms and legs,” small head, “huge ears, large green glassy eyes and a long snipe nose.” He is later described as scarecrow-like, hardly the physique one would expect from a leading man. The fact that he would have the girl in the end were it not for his disappearance, shows the advantage of brains over brawn, which may very well be the moral of the story. Also, don’t go out at night, particularly alone and on a path reputed to be haunted by a headless Hessian hefting a pumpkin head.

In the Fox series, Sleepy Hollow is a thriving town with a Starbucks on every corner. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), a black, female police lieutenant finds a decidedly anti-gangly Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) wandering around town and arrests him for a series of murders. People report sightings of a headless horseman and since Ichabod seems to know quite a bit on the topic, Mills enlists his help to try to stop the body count from rising even further. The backstory, we learn, is that during the Revolutionary War, a Hessian soldier mortally wounded Crane, and Crane beheaded him with his sword. They died together, their blood mixing in the field, forever linking their souls. When someone in 2013 resurrects the horseman–believed to be Death, one of the horsemen of the apocalypse–Ichabod is similarly resurrected. Mills convinces her colleagues to let Ichabod go free to help her stave off the supernatural and catch the horseman before the coming of the Apocalypse.

I love the Supernatural-slash-Fringe-slash-X-Files vibe of Sleepy Hollow. I was a little upset when Officer Andy Dunn (John Cho) and Sherriff Corbin (Clancy Brown) were killed off in the first episode, but delighted to see their return in the second. Cho plays a (literal) devil’s advocate with creepy excellence while Brown’s character’s ghost becomes Mills’s Yoda, giving her cryptic clues when she asks for help. Mison is more than competent as the handsome yet fearless hero-type, solving problems with ages old wisdom over technology. Subtle humour is hidden in Crane’s curiosity about the modern world, feeding much of the banter between he and Mills.  Unlike many of the new science fictiony shows of last season (Zero Hour, Do No Harm, Cult and 666 Park Avenue, to name a few), I think Sleepy Hollow can look forward to finishing out this season while building a rich mythology with the potential to move forward for many seasons to come.