Quite a few books starring vampires live on my bookshelves. Anita Blake, the heroine of Laurell K. Hamilton’s series, loves a vampire named Jean-Claude and a werewolf named Richard. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher features vampires from the Red Court, the Black Court and the White Court. Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty series stars a shapeshifter while a few vampires make appearances, too. A number of authors, including Maggie Shayne and Charlaine Harris, combine love and mystery with a healthy (unhealthy?) dose of the undead. And of course, Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles are classics.
On television, I still miss the recently cancelled Moonlight, which I understand is to be repeated in the near future on Sci-Fi Channel. Lots of us watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, both series featuring Angel, the vampire with a soul, and Spike, a not-so-nice vampire we loved anyway, as well as a host of others. Forever Knight, a cop drama with a vampire on the night shift trying to atone for his un-life and yearning to become human, was a favorite of mine back in the day. TV’s love of vampires goes back to the daytime drama Dark Shadows, at least in my memory. I’m sure there were other such programs in television’s early years.
Nowadays, the Winchester brothers in Supernatural have been known to stake a few vampires, among other things that go bump in the night. And HBO’s new series (based on books written by Charlaine Harris with protagonist Sookie Stackhouse) True Blood captures new fans each and every week.
At the movies, who can forget Interview With the Vampire, a hit for Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt? Or the classics with Bela Lugosi? There are too many movies to mention, including parodies made famous by George Hamilton and Leslie Nielsen.
Now we have the latest vampire phenomenon, a series of books beginning with Twilight and written by novice author Stephenie Meyer. The movie from the first book, released last weekend and starring Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, grossed nearly $70 million in its first weekend, almost twice what it cost to make. Summit Entertainment immediately announced plans to film New Moon, the second book in the series.
What’s the fascination with vampires? No matter the medium, vampires draw attention, keeping their secrets in the midst of human communities, whether they be the villain of the tale or an anti-hero like Edward Cullen in Twilight. Even in the two Twilights – both of which, unfortunately, move too slowly and left me wishing for something other than what they are –vampires enthrall readers and moviegoers.
A quick study on Wikipedia shows the vampire phenomenon began long ago, probably with the story of Vlad III, born in Transylvania and the ruler of Wallachia (a region of Romania) from 1456 to 1462. Vlad was known as Dracula and Vlad the Impaler. He killed tens of thousands of people, impaling most on a sharp pole, with some accounts saying his victims included up to 100,000 Turkish Muslims. At the time Romania was fighting off an invasion from Turkey, and Vlad was a folk hero to many Romanians.
The name Dracula means son of Dracul. That term is the title given to Vlad II by a secret order of knights known as the Order of the Dragon, an order that vowed to uphold Christianity and defend Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire from the Ottoman Turks. Vlad II wore the emblem of the order and as ruler of Wallachia, his coins bore the dragon symbol.
Many stories have used the Dracula theme, including an 1819 short story by John Polidori, The Vampyre, and an 1871 story, Carmilla, by Sheridan Le Fanu. Then Bram Stoker, in his research of Romanian history, found the name and used it for his villain in his 1897 novel of the same name. The rest, as they say, is history.
The vampire quickly bewitched his way into mainstream literature, spawning discussions in every medium, college classes and websites. The undead remain, to the delight and horror of millions of readers, moviegoers and television fanatics, promising to lure each of us into their spell. I consider myself under such a spell, so vampire novels will continue to appear on my bookshelves. I just can’t help myself!