From Count Dracula to Edward Cullen

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March 21, 2011 by Marcin.Wilczek

Or about the emasculated vampire

 

The vampire has had a dentist extract its fangs. For decades the image of the vampire has served as a virtual bogeyman, and only in the last years has it actually begun to acquire human features.

In order to fully understand the phenomenon of this literary creature of the night, we need to refer to the Jungian notion of archetypes and the figures that embody them. Jung, of course, left the vampire out of his calculation because at his time it was not a significant cultural phenomenon. It was nonetheless gaining momentum.

What started it on this road was definitely the first edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker. In this timeless masterpiece, one of the main roles is played by an undead Transylvanian prince, a man both charming and lethal at the same time, a man who possessed powers which allowed him to take over the minds and bodies of almost anything around him and a man able to control not only human beings but nature itself. In short, an almost perfect creature. It did have one tragic flaw – like the legendary Wandering Jew he is sentenced to an eternal life for insulting God centuries before the events in the novel take place. And the power of God is the only way to destroy him.

Overpowered? Definitely. Tragically flawed? True, too. And yet he was a creature that frightened not only children – he did a great job at scaring adults. Because of his near omnipotence, he struck fear into the hearts of the Victorian reader. Nonetheless, he suffered from a flaw that was unforgivable in any literary hero. He was too stock to even be considered real.

This was the point, as Dracula was never meant to function in the role of, for example, a Hester Prynne, a plausible character with an unspoken ease in eliciting empathy. He was a symbol from the very first drops of his birth’s ink. A rebel against everything the Victorians saw dear – modesty, piety, self-control. He was a raging symbol of what his creator saw as the tragic consequences of disobeying commonly accepted morals – a degenerate monster, in the fullest meaning of that expression. As such he was a perfect poster-child of the Victorian moral campaigns.

This image of a vampire is continued in the early 20th century by the protagonist of the German film Nosferatu, which drew on the ideas presented by Stoker. However, where Stoker portrayed his vampire as an alluring Eastern-European gentleman, Count Orlok from Nosferatu is shown as a physically underdeveloped weakling. His true evil powers lie in his ability to mentally manipulate his victims and make them do his bidding.

The real change, and destruction of the image of the vampire monster came later, first at the hands of Anne Rice (more about her here), and later Stephanie Meyer (again discussed in detail here). In between those two, a coup-de-grace was dealt to the creature by Francis Ford Coppola himself, in his adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. Here Dracula himself attains human features and instead of scaring, elicits sympathy. He is portrayed as a tragic hero on par with any protagonist of ancient Greek tragedy, and the audience, and I personally, cannot help but root for him in his fight for the love of his life. Unfortunately, this interpretation root-canals the final pair of fangs the bogeyman had, leaving the playing field open for vampires that not only do not frighten, but also elicit sympathy from the viewer.

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