How far can writers go…? (Here be Vampires)

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Recently on Twitter, I had a rant (if that’s possible in 140 characters). It was regarding my three cardinal rules of Vampirism; rules that, for me, should never be broken no matter what. They are:

1. Vampires go cripsy in the sunlight.

2. There is NO cure.

3. They’re hungry and you’re what’s for dinner, not their BFF.

A follower replied with a good counter argument, the fact that the most famous vampire in the world breaks one of those rules. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the eponymous character does indeed walk around in the daylight. I argued the toss, of course, and pointed out several factors which exempted Dracula from that rule but I wont discuss them here. Maybe a later post, if anyone’s interested.

But the debate brought up a good question. How far can a writer remove their characters from the existing tropes before it becomes TOO removed?

Let’s stick with the Vampires for this one.

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Vampire!

As far as I’m concerned, this is a Vampire. Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi are creepy, scary and will nosh on your neck as soon as look at you. Vampires are supposed to be scary. And I’ll admit that these films are responsible for much of feelings toward the Vampire trope. When Lee clutches his hands to his face against the sunlight and turns into something resembling the contents of a men’s Working Club ashtray, it hit me as petrifyingly cool. But their source material, the original Dracula novel, breaks the Rules. Bram Stoker took the myths/legends/folk tales and warped them to the benefit of his book. Dracula is seen on several occasions throughout the day. Also, he isn’t killed by a wooden stake (which Stoker states as the weapon of choice) but by knives.

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Vampire?

Now let’s think about Stephanie Meyer. I personally don’t rate the Twilight saga very highly. Sorry. But I’m firmly in Team Stoker. It isn’t the romantic element. Dracula is a gothic romance itself (especially if you watch the Gary Oldman movie version). Anne Rice’s awesome Interview series is more sex than scare and I still love those first few books (lost interest after that, mind). But Meyer breaks my cardinal sins twice. Edward Cullen not only shines like a fairy in sunlight, but manages to be an utter nonce in the blood-sucking department too. Bella should be lunch. A thousand times over.

But now I’m going to argue against myself. Is Meyer’s vampiric interpretation any worse that Stoker’s? He makes vamps able to walk in the daylight, she makes them sparkly. Is there such a difference other than aesthetically?

Not really. But those two novels split readers into opposing camps.

Since I’m obviously incapable of answering this one myself, the question goes to you. How far can a writer take something away from the original material before it becomes a bastardisation, or a renewal of tired tropes? Are we bending the rules to keep it fresh or ignoring them completely? I can think of examples which do both. Let’s see what you lot think…

 

Thanks for reading

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6 thoughts on “How far can writers go…? (Here be Vampires)

  1. They can take characters and tropes anywhere they want, until they break the one cardinal rule in my book, and that’s making something that’s supposed to have an edge into an utter dribbling emo cream-puff.

    I’ve read awesome vamp novels with romance where the vamps never give up their appetites for a whiny human. It’s either ‘I bite you and you become my vamp bitch and hunger for blood alongside me’ or ‘I bite you and you are my lunch’.

    Meyer removed the Vamp from vampire and replaced it with Damp. But this is no dhampir creation who is still capable of great horrors and great hunger. No, this is just a damp squib.

    1. I agree. There’s plenty of scope for expansion without losing the fundamentals. I like the idea of replacing Vamp with Damp. I’m definitely using that at some point hahaha

      Cheers, Ren.

  2. Mostly I would agree with your three rules, my only qualification would be that vampires go all toasty in direct sunlight, Dracula tended to go out on overcast days and he would wear hats to keep the UV down.
    Other than that, I agree with you. I actually had a very similar discussion with my niece during her (very breif) flirtation with the Twilight franchise. (She made a full revcovery by the way and she’s back to mainlining Harry Potter).
    I think it’s fine to move the genre on a bit (IE the secularism ofAnne Rice and Whitley Strieber’s vampires who are indifferent to crosses etc) but I think there still has to be some kind of continuity with the existing tradition, otherwise why call them vampires in the first place?
    I actually wrote a post about this a while ago.

    1. You’re right, Fekesh, as I was saying to Ren, I think it’s about bending the rules rather than breaking them. My explanation of Dracula’s disregard for sunlight can easily be explained as you said, but also his character is written as being an Alchemist and Sourcerer in his mortal years which would give him the ability to stretch his powers beyond the norm. Anne Rice’s ‘no crosses’ rule is a brilliant example.

      Cheers

  3. I think that one of the big questions is how you change the rules if you are going to do that. The Necroscope series by Brian Lumley has a completely different take on vampires that I thought was excellent. They did crisp in sunlight and did have aversions to getting staked through the heart. But the back story is completely different. I don’t want to drop spoilers though. The key reason I think that the changes work is because these vampires were still a radically different thing that just an old human with sharp teeth. They were predators and had a completely different way of thinking. That is key. Vampires aren’t human. They eat humans and are pretty well built to do just that. If they thought the same way they would all go bonkers with the psychological impact of what they were doing. Without that fundamental shift to something different than human they lose the horror factor. And that makes them loose credibility.

    1. You’re absolutely right. It’s all kind of relative to the reader as well. I guess there’ll always be fans who’d rather read Dracula repeatedly rather than risk not liking another author, too. Shame though! Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

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