I've been reading a lot about vampires lately. One of the articles I read started out with this sentence "Not since Buffy slayed her last victim and Ann Rice had a return of faith have there been so many vampires in the library." How true, how true. That line came from an article entitled "The Rise of Vampire Literature". It is no coincidence that one of the largest segments of the audience for vampire literature is the young adult. This is a time when there is much confusion, lots of nagging questions, endless problems, and a frightening array of choices. Growing up can be a daunting prospect involving separation from family and the burden of becoming a responsible adult.
Norine Dresser, in her book American vampires (1989) reports findings of a survey she conducted among college and high school respondents who were identified as vampire fans. They were asked to list those things that appealed to them. The top result was sexual attraction. The vampire represents the forbidden, the mysterious and the exciting. The next most popular response was Immortality, living forever as a youth with vitality and energy. The third most popular was Power, the ability to control others or to dominate the opposite sex, the ability to drain life or to bestow eternal life. The fourth most popular response, Blood Lust. The fifth, the Beauty, Elegance and Sophistication of the vampire. And the sixth most popular response, Marginality, the vampire as someone "different", an outsider and also persecuted for that difference.
Ms. Meyer does a good job of incorporating all these elements in this, the kick-off book to her Twilight series. She manages to successfully capture the passion of a teen's first love. Bella Swan moves to Forks, a small town in Washington state, where it is damp and dreary, to live with her Dad. There she meets the mysterious Edward Cullen, who just happens to be a vampire. This is their love story that Ms. Meyer has reportedly said came to her in a dream. As Bella learns more about the mysterious Edward and his family, she is thrown into a dangerous adventure, and called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the one she loves.
I think it's extremely interesting that Ms. Meyer is a Mormon mother of 3 who has never seen an R-rated film in her life and just happens to write a series of vampire novels that is the most popular thing since Harry Potter. She obviously knew how to tap into the vast reservoir of teen angst in her storyline. And though sexual attraction is at the top of the list for vampire lovers, Ms. Meyer's Twilight has sex without sex. It has all the trappings of sex, all the feeling of a sensual experience, but none of the real sex, so it has won over part of the adult audience because of its chaste portrayal of young love. Here's another direct quote that drives the point home: "The literary vampire presents a mirror, even if a dark mirror, to the adolescent and shows that all the problems they may face can be resolved. All the mysteries, whose solution permit you to join the ranks of the adult, can be fathomed." [from Vampire Literature: Something Young Adults Can Really Sink Their Teeth Into" by Joseph De Marco]
To peruse a list of literary vampire books, rather than the urban fantasy or horror variety, click here.
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