Breaking Dawn Part 1
Column by Karina Wilson
As Twihards throng the multiplexes for the release of Breaking Dawn Part 1, it’s time to reassess Stephen King’s 1981 hypothesis (in Danse Macabre) that the oral penetration promised by vampires constitutes “the ultimate zipless fuck”. Today’s vampires penetrate both ends simultaneously – at least they do in the stories aimed at grown-ups – and are looking for long-term commitment. When a vampire says “I’ll love you forever”, he really means it.
There are a lot of Horror aficionados who turn their nose up at paranormal romance or urban fantasy, preferring the Kingly bulk of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, or the dry bones of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, and their traditionally carnivorous vamps. However, beyond the bland teen pap (“written” by the likes of Hilary Duff) there are plenty of guilty pleasures to be had with the children of the night. Why should gangs of teens in “Team Edward” t-shirts get all the thrills?
The idea of welcoming a vampire into your home and bed might seem repellent, even downright warped to anyone who read ‘Salem’s Lot or Interview With The Vampire in the 70s and 80s, but somewhere in the 90s, between Anita Blake finally letting Jean-Claude have his wicked way and Buffy giving it up to Angel, vampires stopped being scary and started to embody the Ideal Boyfriend. Did the vampires change, or did we?
Vampires are a nineteenth century creation: the first post-industrial monster was invariably represented as an aristocrat of the old school, perpetuating feudal hierarchies by treating the serfs as a free food supply. The first literary vampire, Polidori’s Lord Ruthven (in The Vampyre) appeared in 1819 and was a caricature of Lord Byron and his cavalier view of women as playthings, to be used for dark pleasures then tossed aside. Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Stoker’s Dracula are ghouls in this mold, bloodsuckers exercising their inviolable right to drain the weak and the needy, the 99%. In the 1970s, Rice’s Louis was a landowner, her Lestat a rockstar. King’s Barlow was a wealthy immigrant who buys up expensive chunks of property in ‘Salem’s Lot. Vampires have always been our overlords. And what use are fancy piles in the country and bank vaults groaning with centuries of accumulated lucre if you can’t use them to grease a little tail?
Money attracts sex. And vampires have never been above flashing their cash: it’s what usually puts the “willing” into “victim”. For the first century and a half of vampire writing, the two-fanged bite was all about sex. Those who found themselves at the wrong end of a blood-sucker’s teeth had somehow transgressed, given in to forbidden sexual desires and unbridled lust, and were paying the ultimate price. Unless a Van Helsing-type looked lively and staked the master vampire within a three-day window, the victim would be going straight to Hell. The message was clear to generations of titillated readers – Tall Dark Handsome Stranger = Beware.
It would perhaps surprise Stoker and Polidori that we continue to devour vampire stories in these sexually enlightened, irreligious times, but they’re still the best pop culture metaphor we have for the discussion of oral fixation, Eros-Thanatos complexes, Transubstantiation, and even homosexuality. As our attitudes towards sexuality have fluctuated, so have our attitudes to vamps. The current popularity of the leather-trousered, Fabio-haired, benevolent vampire is a sign of our sexually schizophrenic age. Penetration needs to be wreathed in fantasy as much as it did in the 1820s.