Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween

What's with the sudden glut of vampire-themed books and films?

As I recall, my first meeting with a vampire occurred in 1948, at age 12, in the film Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Bela Lugosi played Count Dracula, reprising his more famous 1931 title role as the thirsty bloodsucker from Transylvania. I have no memory of neck or fang from that outing, but a few years later I came across this passage from Bram Stoker's defining 1897 novel:
I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one's flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart.
Now that I remember.

Since then I've been pretty much out of touch with vampires. Never saw an episode of Buffy. Never read Anne Rice. Haven't touched a Twilight book or seen the movie. Even Jane Austen, it seems, now cavorts with the undead, although not on my watch.

Still, the scientist in me asks: Why do vampires never die -- culturally speaking, I mean? Why are they flourishing now, in our supposedly scientific age? And why does our appetite to bite and be bitten cut across gender? Those puncture wounds in my adolescent neck, a la Bram Stoker, have pretty much healed over, but they may hold a hint to the answer.

Part of the answer may be obvious: We want to live forever. But with eternity on our hands, who wants to sit around on a cloud playing a harp. The tag line on the ads for the Twilight film is "When you can live forever, what do you want to live for?" Ah, now that's the question.

I know there has been a mountain of scholarship on this subject, but I haven't sought it out and so will indulge my own speculation.

Being a vampire means having all the advantages (in fantasy) of living forever -- and the chance to be deliciously naughty too, without guilt, because it's really not your fault.
Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck.
Those puncture holes in your jugular mean the usual rules don't apply.