Bloodsucking Fiends

I just finished a book called A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Against my better judgment, knowing that it was a vampire story. We’re years into the vampire fiction craze, and I have to admit that I still don’t get it. Why do people love to read about vampires? And why on God’s earth would anyone want to date one?

“In profile he looked like a medieval knight lying atop a tomb in Westminster Abbey: long legs, long torso, long arms and a remarkably strong face. I mentally traced the line of his forehead with an imaginary finger, from where it started at his uneven hairline up slightly over his prominent brow bone and its thick, black brows. My imaginary finger crested the tip of his nose and the bowing of his lips.”

That was on page 85. I should have stopped right there. The nausea should have tipped me off, but I kept reading anyway.

This vampire lived before the Common Era. He apparently knew Jesus and Lazarus, fought in the Crusades, and hung out with Shakespeare. What on earth would a woman my age have in common with this man? Wouldn’t he find my relative immaturity boring, to say the least? Edward and Bella, Angel and Buffy. Really old men who are lucky to have retained their perfectly chiseled looks, hanging out with teenage girls. Isn’t that incredibly gross? Or is it only gross if you actually look old?

Also, these creatures are always described as cold to the touch. When I think of cuddling under a blanket on a chilly winter night, a warm-blooded being sounds like a far more appealing partner than a bloodless thing without a pulse. And can you imagine doing the deed with an icy cold creature? I’ll leave that visual for you to contemplate. I suppose that’s why they make warming gel.

Another problem I have with vampires, or at least the ones in this particular book, is how much emphasis is placed on their sense of smell. Why would you want to hang out with a creature that is constantly sniffing you? I suppose you’d be a little more attentive to hygiene than usual, but I really can’t think of many other plusses to being sniffed by a man-dog. I guess the point is to emphasize the wolf-like qualities of said sexy vampire, but my mind simply goes back to dogs that poke their noses in inappropriate places. I prefer not to be sniffed by men that I date. I suppose some women feel differently.

Why does every female who dates a vampire end up subsuming her identity for a pallid, otherworldly creature that wants to drink her blood? I understand the archetypal significance of hunting and being hunted as a metaphor for mating. However, doesn’t the whole vampire experience take hunting to an uncomfortably non-metaphorical level? The main character in A Discovery of Witches gives up a promising career to go timewalking with a vampire lover that she’s known for three weeks. The creature won’t even consummate the relationship, by the way. But that’s an issue for another blog.

When you date a vampire, you accept that some part of this creature you’re ogling always wants to kill you. Isn’t that a little disconcerting? I can see how it can be compelling to consider the vampire’s monkish self-control as he tries not to drain the life from your body. On the other hand, on some level, this creature that you’re dating wants you to be lunch. Women certainly have a way of becoming consumed with men, but that’s quite a different situation than being consumed by a man. Literally. Your hemoglobin, his num-nums. Shouldn’t that bother these women more than it does?

I cannot think of a single book in which a man becomes romantically consumed by a female vampire. Maybe I am just not as fluent in the literature as I should be, but most of the relationships are either females being consumed by a male vampire or a homoerotic experience where one male consumes another. The degree to which we want to surrender ourselves to a creature of the night, banishing all ego, all pride and all self-respect, even if it is only in the fictional world, is disturbing at best. Are women (and some men) really so desperate for male approval, companionship and attention that they want to be utterly taken over by an otherworldly thing so long as it’s masculine?

Obviously, I don’t understand vampire lust. I’ll be keeping my stake, my garlic and my holy water close at hand. I’ll also hang onto my identity and my sense of self. I’d prefer not to be drained, literally or spiritually, by some strange construct of the ideal male. I’ll also avoid reading more vampire novels. This craze will just have to pass me by.

7 thoughts on “Bloodsucking Fiends

  1. I was disappointed with this book. Mind you, I haven’t read it, but the eye-rollingly awful passages you read to me while you slogged through it were really disappointing. I was hoping this would be more than just “Twilight for grownups.” Clearly it is not.

    “Dracula” (only using quotes cuz I’m not smart enough to figure out how to use italics in this comment box) was all “I’m going to use this vampire thing as a sexual metaphor because we’re all Victorian around here and therefore I can’t write straight-up erotica or some proper English country gentleman will glare down his brandy snifter (is that a word?) at me”- okay, it was actually quite a bit more than that- but the point is, vampirism stood for something. When the female characters in the book are consumed by ye olde Count, the story carries multiple levels of meaning, but that meaning never seems to be “OMG, like, this guy is beautiful and I must drop everything in this story so far that has defined my character and just follow him around like a pathetic doll.” Or, at least, that’s my take after not reading the book in many years. Lucy (right? I think) is a tragic figure and therefore we really won’t want Mina to suffer the same fate. All while being oppressed-sexual-longing and stuff.

    Stephen King made vampirism a frightening disease. So did Justin Cronin (although you could argue “The Passage” is really a zombie novel dressed up like a vampire novel).

    Lame women mooning over dead dudes (although I would not put Buffy and Angel in this category- because, well, Buffy rules the world) is a strange way to use vampirism. Too bad this book didn’t go beyond that.

  2. Bob Evatt says:

    I’m not exactly a connoisseur of vampire lit, but come to think of it, there really aren’t too many examples of men being preyed on by female bloodsuckers. Though there’s one exception… I’m halfway through Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files books, and he just survived his second or third encounter with a female vampire. Without going into spoilers the encounters are sexual or sex-tinged, but one of them completely goes against the predator/prey thing in a fairly interesting way.

    If you’re not familiar, Harry Dresden is a noir-style private detective in modern Chicago that’s also a wizard, and deals with all manner of supernatural threats/mysteries. I swear the series is much better than I’m making it sound, partially because he comes nowhere near to getting laid in most of the books I’ve read so far. 😛

  3. Wendy Goldstein says:

    I read the same book recently, and it was so heavy handed in so many ways. I ended up just not taking it in the least bit seriously and treated it like a slight step up from one of those Harlequin romance novels. I did enjoy some of the details of history mentioned, but that was about it.

  4. Erin says:

    There is the Thirst series by Christopher Pike (yes, I still love reading Christopher Pike books) about a kick-ass female vampire who hung out with Krishna.

  5. Melissa says:

    AWESOME commentary. I’m getting flashbacks to my PhD program in American Studies (HA!). Great deconstruction, and this is also feminist without being obnoxious (yeah. Warming gel. I may have ruined my work keyboard with the coffee I just spluttered all over it). The point really IS that the genre is highly gendered and reinforces notions of female passivity, masochism, and inferiority (as ROMANTIC. Barf). As I once described the two Twlight books I unfortunately read (that’s about 10 hours I’ll never get back), it’s essentially PG-13 porn. And I haven’t read this particular book, but it sounds essentially the same. They use the same writing techniques that dominate Harlequin romance novels and just add insult to injury by positioning the women as ESPECIALLY passive and LITERALLY (potential) victims. I’m intrigued by The Dresden Files as described above, though, and might actually have to read them just to see if employing a female vampire as the story’s vehicle does for the vampire genre what Unforgiven did for the Western. If so, I may be a fan, as I LOVE LOVE LOVE genre disruptors.

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