Until the advent of the mega-successful blockbuster machine that is Twilight, vampires tended not to sparkle under the sun, nor did they shimmer and radiate, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t look like marble statues. Vampires have become so prolific, so ubiquitous, and so commonly used that very few vampire stories make an impression on critical audiences and readers anymore. I can still recall a time when vampires were considered an author’s “big reveal” and that stories were always cooler when there were vampires involved. Don’t get me wrong–I still think that it’s possible for vampire stories to be cool, but rare gems like “Let the Right One In” don’t come along so often. Fantasy and horror writers who have incorporated vampires in their stories don’t strike me as too worried, primarily because it’s a common assumption that if there’s a vampire in your book, it will sell, something which I think has become a great misconception. Traditionally, vampires have gone through periods of extreme saturation followed by a dearth then followed by another burst of too many titles, TV shows, and films.
There’s no denying that Stephanie Meyer’s series of books (and the film adaptations that soon followed) catapulted vampires into the spotlight more than they ever have been before–I would argue even moreso than the days of Buffy. A string of more Byronic, softer, angstier vampires began to pervade bookshelves, airwaves, and the silver screen much to the dismay of hardcore vampire fans. Recent shows like The Vampire Diaries and True Blood show the softer side of the bloodsuckers, although to the credit of both shows, they’ve put the spotlight on expanded storylines that weren’t in the books, especially in the case of the former, and it’s not completely being lovey dovey 100 percent of the time (although it can feel that way at times, but it is, after all, intended to be a teen drama).
I used to be quite disenchanted with the onslaught of paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and YA novels dealing with the Byronic take on vampires, because I’m a die-hard fan of the 30 Days of Night type of vampires (which was why Daybreakers was such a treat), but I do believe that there are still unique texts involving vampires that come out every so often. Books like Enter, Night by Michael Rowe, which deal with a more unique view of the scary creatures.
People’s tastes have changed. The majority of the (largely) female readership wants the softer, safer, more sanitized version of the vampire, and although this image has dominated the airwaves, screens, and bookshelves of late, my view is that the two camps of vampire fans should both be able to get equal billing. Publicists have certainly caught on to this and will promote a work that will skew more to the hardcore vampire fan audience with assertions that the vampires in a particular book/show/movie they’re pitching don’t sparkle, which comes as a welcome relief to the listener.
But when did this shift occur toward the softer, more sanitized vamps? Some are more than willing to place the blame squarely on Anne Rice, whose Vampire Chronicles series certainly put the fanged creatures on the map, and certainly Rice was the first one to bring us into the heads of vampires, even if Louis de Pointe du Lac presented a particularly angsty, emo, and sometimes whiny “woe is me, why am I such a monster” point of view into the fold. It certainly should be worrisome for a character to reflect on the consequences of what they’ve done, who they’ve killed, what they’ve done to survive, etc, and the hunger that twists the vampire’s stomach and makes them into such fierce, unrelenting predators. But despite bringing the reader into the head of such a creature, it wasn’t until The Vampire Lestat that readers could see how the mind of the monster operated, why they hunt the way that they do, and how it makes them feel in all their glory, naked to the world and unafraid of showing what a true vampire can be.
So, while Louis may have introduced the concept (or at least made it a point of focus), I don’t think that Rice is squarely to blame, and while I do think it’s not that unreasonable to assume that Stephanie Meyer must have picked up at least a few of Rice’s vampire novels, I don’t think that reading those served as a direct precursor to her own Twilight novels.
And while I certainly think that the first time I saw a vampire sparkle was in the pages of Twilight, I also think that paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels have been introducing the “romanticized vampire as love interest” well before Meyer. Look at Buffy and her relationships both with Angel and Spike (although, to Joss Whedon’s credit, when they went into vampire mode, they looked and acted like beasts, something that satisfies hardcore vampire fans), or the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter books by Laurell K. Hamilton, whose vampires, most notably Jean-Claude and Asher, could easily have been taken from an Anne Rice novel in terms of the way they look and their emo sensibilities, particularly in the more recent entries into the series.
The books that line the fantasy and romance shelves now are a reflection of readers’ desires for male vampire leads like Angel and Spike, and they dredge up a certain amount of nostalgic attachment to be sure, but when one examines the most popular male vampire leads today–Bones from Jeanine Frost’s series, or Erik from the Sookie Stackhouse series to name a few–they go back to readers’ desires to see handsome, charismatic, noble vamps who are fierce when they have to be but ultimately crumble in the arms of their respective female love interests.
All that said, even though vampires have lost their edge and most hardcore vampire fans (myself included) consider them to be uncool, the “hardcore” dangerous vamps still definitely have a place on screens, shows, and in books and they’ll continue to have a readership, even if the readers who crave Byronic vamps outnumber us. The important thing is that both types should be made available, and both camps can say “to each his or her own.”