trends, part 2: I see books about dead people…

Drop dead, I grant you...but gorgeous?

Drop dead, I grant you...but gorgeous?

What is it with all these books about dead people?

A series of disturbing images greeted me as I entered the SF/Fantasy section in Barnes & Noble.  It appears that in genre fantasy lately, there’s a fad for necrophilia.  Think I’m joking?  Twilight.  Vampires are dead people, you know.

I admit, I haven’t read the series.  I’m not going to on principle.  Teen romance novels in general don’t appeal to me (usually not enough dragons).  But, Mormon theology aside, the idea of an underage girl getting romantically entangled with an animated corpse revolts me.

Please don’t think I’m some prissy neo-Victorian thinking that the most sex we need in literature is long sleeve clothing and opposite sides of the sofa.  Sex has always been a part of Gothic fiction.  Romantic tension makes vampires more interesting.  A vampire, after all, preys on the people he loved while he was alive.  You just know Dracula is going to go after the girls, albeit with different intention than Don Juan.

But whatever else you can accuse Dracula of, you can’t accuse him of being hot.  The B&N shelves were full of sexy vampires and gorgeous werewolves in tight pants, making out with the prom queen or the captain of the football team.  That’s not what I thought werewolves wanted to do to people.  Or is there another reason our parents told us to wear garlic and pack silver bullets?

I probably wouldn’t mind all that much if the phenomenon had restricted itself just to Stephanie Meyer’s original bright idea.  I enjoy a good vampire story every now and then, especially one that catches me off guard.  Our purpose in writing fantasy should be to push against assumptions, hacking new paths and new words.  So in one sense, it does encourage me to see that sort of impetus in gothic fiction as well as sword and sorcery.

But this?  Not just one book, not even just one series, but dozens?  So that you can’t turn around in a bookstore without witnessing erratic combination of vampires and teen romances?  It seems like an exhumation of all the worst and tackiest of the gothic.  Are we really interested in the gothic as an art form, or are we just tainting our fantasy with ghosts of crushes for New Kids On The Block?

For some suspicious reason, this reminds me of a fad a few years back, when all sorts of books appeared on the market about teenage wizards in modern-day London.

I can’t help wondering whether the Twilight phenomenon has emerged from the same trend.  Teenage wizards became too obvious, so teenage vampires took their place.  With the unconscious implication that falling in love with dead people is ok.

Of course, you could potentially accuse Rowling of the same thing.  After all, Lupin and Tonks fall in love, get married, and have children.  But I think that confuses the issue.  Lupin may be a werewolf, but he’s very much alive.  Rowling treats his werewolfishness as a sort of disability.  The condition proves to be treatable, and not genetically inherited.  Rowling releases Lupin to an understanding of his own humanness, to a dignity above the narrow prejudices against people like him.

I can accept that for a werewolf, especially given the sensitivity of Rowling’s account.  But I can’t go on to give enthusiastic endorsement for vampire romance as a sub-genre.  Vampires, let me repeat, are dead.  The nature, intent, and purpose of vampires are to consume blood to further their animated state.  This also appears in Rowling—the ghoulish thirst of Voldemort in The Philosopher’s Stone.

There is a place for vampires, even in contemporary teenage fantasy.  The gothic, whether as an art form in itself or flavour in other works, speaks to our subtle terrors of death and dying, our fear of dark and shadows, our paradoxical revulsion to our own blood.  It is this—the true grotesqueness and distortion that counterpoints redemption—that the new vampiric romances lose.  They skew fear for thrill, replacing hormonal excitement for the subtle intrusion of the haunted, the numinous.

Frankly, these demented High School Musical aberrations make me want to do something drastic and reactionary, like writing about someone alive and vegan.  I distinctly remember reading more than once that most editors would rather date a werewolf than look at another vampire story.  I guess someone’s needs have changed.

Mine haven’t.  Garlic, please.

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One thought on “trends, part 2: I see books about dead people…

  1. I think it went like this:

    Vampire Folklore: “Vampires want to drink your blood and kill you.”
    Bram Stoker: “Vampires want to kill you, but they’re strangely attractive and hard to resist.”
    Bram Stoker’s Interpreters: “Hmm, sounds kind of like an analogue for romance and/or sex.”
    Everybody else: “Oooo, vampires are romantic and sexy!”

    Interestingly, I’ve read that Stoker was genuinely shocked (or at least said he was…) that some people were interpreting Dracula as a metaphor of forbidden sexual attraction. Certainly in the earliest film adaptations (Nosferatu) the eroticism is all but nil– he’s a monster, plain and simple. (“In a sense, Murnau’s film is about all of the things we worry about at 3 in the morning…” — Ebert.)

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