Vampires are the new black.

Every generation or so, vampires seem to make a comeback. It's not that they ever go away (they are, after all, undead) but they fade out of popular mythology and then are resurrected after a fashion by some new take on the old legends.

For a long time Anne Rice wore the mantle of Queen of the vampires and her Vampire Chronicles ushered in a new era for the bloodsucker: one of eroticism, reflections, eternal angst, rock gods, and cultural awareness. The argument that her vampires were too romantic, too materialistic, and too beautiful was often made by detractors and it's true that physical ugliness did not prowl eternity in her books and the vampires more or less lived enviably lavish lifestyles full of mansions and money. But the one thing they still were, despite the lifestyle upgrades, were drinkers of blood. In their own ways they were still monstrous. They fed on blood, they craved it, it kept them young and fed their erotic desires, and they preyed relentlessly on mortals. Mortals caught a vampire's more enduring fancy to their ultimate demise: Louis was created by Lestat as Lestat was created by Magnus - the young and beautiful were fair game to be beloved by an immortal and then turned just as swiftly into a like companion. All other mortals were prey to one degree or another. Rice's vampires either grasped at some semblance of morality, like Lestat, by feeding only on killers and criminals, or they considered the seething entirety of humanity to be fair game for their insatiable appetites, like Akasha. Whatever else she embued them with they were still essentially classic vampires. Creatures of the night. Drinkers of blood. The immortal undead.

Vampires have made yet another calculated move back into popular relevance, this time largely at the hands of Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame. Every time someone re-invents the vampiric wheel there are loyalists to cry foul. Those that found Bram Stoker's version of the undead to be the best literary account would have balked at the materialistic androgynous eroticism of Rice's pantheon of immortal beauties. But before Stoker left his indelible mark upon the mythos in 1897, there was John Polidori's The Vampyre in 1819. And before that any number of poems on the subject and before that all the disparate legends and superstitions about the dead rising to feed upon the blood of the living that pepper the histories of cultures as distinct as Colombia, Southeast Asia, and Persia besides the European nations famously tied to vampire lore such as Romania. Though Bram Stoker's Dracula is widely held as the quintessential vampire novel, the folklore that birthed the vampire is so widespread and, in fact, common, that it opens itself naturally to a continual rebirth as every new author or filmmaker puts their spin on a classic tale. In that way, Stephenie Meyer's take on vampires is no less valid than Anne Rice's whose own re-imagining is no better or worse than Lord Byron's poetic take in The Giaour. It is somewhat disingenuous for a self-professed student of vampire lore to dismiss out of hand a spin on vampires simply because it is modern or different. After all, what of The Hunger? How does that rendering of vampirism fit in with the more classic mythology? And yet I consider it an important film in the genre.

But what Twilight and the spate of very modern vampires seem to embrace now is a disregard for that which makes the vampire so intrinsically fascinating and, in fact, vampiric to begin with. Namely a sense of the monstrous. Vampires are monsters in the most sweeping generalized use of the term. They may wrestle with eternal ideas of good and evil, like Rice's Lestat, and they may desire a more moral approach to the nature that drives them but all incarnations thus far have found them unable to escape the constraints of their basic reality. They are trapped in darkness, literally and figuratively; prowling the night for life to feed upon. It is this essential monstrous quality that Meyer has done away with, creating her vampiric Cullen clan in the image of ethical vegetarians who want only to blend in with humanity. The Cullens do not, as a rule, drink the blood of the living but feed instead upon the blood of animals. The Cullen 'siblings' still attend school though Edward is over one hundred years old. They avoid sunlight not because it will turn them to ash, as is the case in most vampire lore of note, but because their flesh sparkles gorgeously in direct sunlight. So the romance between Edward and the mortal Bella becomes one without the necessary element of monstrous danger. Certainly Edward can smell her blood and desire it but he is accustomed to living without it, to feeding on substitutes, and to being a part of humanity in their daylight hours and more or less on their terms. It robs vampires of the vicious dark quality that so marks all their other incarnations: try to imagine feeling as threatened if Lucy Westenra had been seduced by a sparkling vegetarian high schooler instead of Dracula in wolf form. The subsequent wooing of Mina Harker would have held much less frightening power if the only danger to her was falling in love and one day, perhaps, voluntarily joining her husband in glittery immortal beauty. Vampires today have been neutered. They have been de-fanged and given a PG rating. They are little better than brooding stalker-ish matinee idol boyfriends to the young and restless.

It is this disregard for the essential truth of what makes a vampire that bothers me the most. Every generation now has it's vampire lore. The 80s had Kiefer Sutherland and The Lost Boys. The 90s had Buffy keeping vampire hordes at bay in sunny California. But children of this millennium are being done a great disservice because they can't fear their vampires, they can only swoon over them. So though it is perhaps disingenuous to cry foul at Meyer's wantonly successful Twilight series, I do. I weep for the sanitizing of once magnificent creatures just to make them palatable for the tween set. Vampires deserve better.

One day they will rise again, fangs and blood lust intact, outraged.
I hope it's soon.