I am done with the words ‘paranormal romance’ and all that accompanies them. Specifically, Vampires.
Vampires are complicated.
But why rag on vampires? People already know they’re on on the way out if not completely tired by now (I just googled an article called ‘why Vampires refuse to die’ and it was from all the way back in 2008). Twilight is over, vampires are over.
Or should I say, vampires as a trend are over. Vampires as plot devices, I fear, will remain eternal (I apologize, Dracula and Anne Rice fans. Vampires don’t do it for me).
When vampires were a trend, people liked to talk about what they ‘meant.’ What ‘vampire’ was code for. And then zombies became en vogue, and everyone wondered a) what zombies were now culturally coded for, and b) what supernatural being would become the new face of cultural critique. A popularly accepted view is that vampires, and specifically romantic vampires – especially the ‘good’ ones that refuse to drink blood, are metaphors for resisting sexuality and protecting the conservative, virginal principles of our (always) female protagonists.
Honestly, I think the vampire’s draw as a trend had less to do with their narrative potential and more with wish fulfillment (He’s a super special vampire but he picked YOU because you are amazing) and Twilight copy cats (even when they end up better than Twilight).
‘Vampire’ is also quick shorthand for powerful alpha male who’s also attractive and mysterious and the whole immortal and supernaturally strong fighting machines lets a normally tame YA or Romance book have some big action scenes without the lead love interest being a thug who starts fights. It’s no accident that 99.9999% (actual statistics, definitely) of recent vampire books feature vampires devoid of traditional vampiric traits – inconvenient (and, if your dude has to be hunky and mysterious; kind of lame) thing like burning in the sun, sleeping in coffins or turning into a back.
Except Marceline. Of course the one exception (that I can think of) to my generalizations lies in Adventure Time, show of a generation. Marceline is moody and attractive like a modern vampire, but also terrifying as balls and of the turns-into-a-bat and burns-in-the-sun variety.
Marceline: adorable to terrifying in 4 seconds
Honestly, I never really like vampires. I mean, I read Twilight right when it came out, ie, I purchased a used copy on amazon after seeing it in a Scholastic Book Order Catalogue (of the kind you got in school, where you’d check off the books you wanted on a list, send them a check and then three weeks later you’d get to school and there would be a pack of books on your desks – it was AMAZING), received an second hand ARC copy and of course, loved it immediately.
I admit it, in 8th grade when I first read Twilight before all the hoopla I thought it was the shit. I was into it. To be fair, this love waned fairly quickly. By the release of New Moon I purchased the sequels more out of irony and bitter-ender devotion rather than with my original glee. A few years ago I sold my original Twilight ARC on ebay and made $115. A high point in my life.
Here’s a signed copy that recently sold for $650.
Origin story aside, despite my initial enjoyment of the Twilight books, I never sought out any of the many paranormal romances published to cash in on Twilight’s huge success. I think the reason my 13 year old self responded to Twilight had less to do with the fact that it featured vampires and more with the following:
a) Bella is ~a nerd! so clumsy! so relatable!~ but everyone loves her anyway, so it’s definitely wish fulfillment which I wasn’t yet immune to
b) Twilight was an intense love story (as in, it’s true love right away, no real world concerns, etc) but also very chaste and uber earnest
c) The stakes, too, are intense. Like, wow, she’s almost dying. And not in some completely dumb, Romeo & Juliet way. While now I roll my eyes at such melodrama, at 13 I ate it up.
d) I had read virtually no romance before it.
To illustrate how different my 8th grade literary tastes were, my favorite book series at the time was Micheal de Larrabeiti’s The Borrible Trilogy, a 70’s era British trilogy about runaway orphans who turn into Borribles, kids with pointy ears who can live forever if they stay true to the non materialistic Borrible life. It’s super violent (the plot of the first book is that in retribution for invading their territory, the Borribles assemble a team to murder the 7 leaders of this other tribe), dense(my copy is a 700+ page omnibus) veeeeery English(there’s basically a translation guide in the back for us yanks). For a time I was very proficient in English slang.
A selection of Borrible covers, including the omnibus version (first left), the one I knew and loved and broke the spine of repeatedly
tl;dr, these books were my favorites at the time, and had absolutely nothing to with anything adjacent to Twilight. Also, an opportunity to wax rapsodic about a weird ass, if little known, series.
I DIGRESS. My brief love affair, for whatever reason, didn’t result in a love of all things vampire. Or, in general, other paranormal romances. I think the closest I came (and it’s a pretty weak comparison) is when I picked up Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series in 2008 or so. But the vampires in the TMI series are ornamental, not the main draw.
This may be heresy, as, like I’ve mentioned, I’ve read very little in the way of Vampire teen lit. No Vampire Academy, nothing P. C. Cast, no Blue Bloods, no… whatever else there is. I’m not intrigued. Maybe there’s some supreme vampier epic out there (um, Dracula? Come on, self) that demonstrates the narrative potential of vampires, but I remain uninterested. In fact, when I learn something is vampire – adjacent now, there had better be some twist in there (of course, by now, the twist would be that modern vampires behave like their traditional counterparts with the burning in the sun business) for me to indulge it at any level.
What do you think? Are vampires still a worthy guilty pleasure or cultural metaphor? What Vampire masterpieces am I drawing a blank on?