Sigh… how did I get here?
I’ll be up front. I’ve never been a fan of the vampire genre. I find the concept itself to be intrinsically disgusting, and many of contemporary storylines are suffused with darkly sensual themes and either borderline or explicitly demonic elements. But since my last topic involved human aspirations to godhood, this seemed an appropriate (perhaps even necessary) follow-up, given the role that vampires have come to play in the popular imagination. I will also confess that I have, in fact, read the Twilight saga from beginning to end – I may as well salvage the experience from having been a complete waste of my time.
Though tales of blood-drinking creatures, spirits, and demons have been found in the mythologies of virtually every ancient culture (and even some extra-biblical Hebrew/Jewish traditions), “vampire” legends as we understand them today began in 18th-century Southeastern Europe (the Transylvania region of present-day Romania, in particular, as well as Serbia). Even here, however, there is a clear contrast between contemporary depictions. There is nothing “romantic” or “alluring” in any of the original folk-tales. The creatures they portray are hideous and repulsive, the products of a very real fear that in some places persists to this very day. In the 18-century, sufficient mass hysteria rose in the Transylvania region as to prompt official inquiry from the Hapsburg government (the physicians involved seriously examined whether the creature could possibly have a basis in reality; a more detailed account is available from the Wikipedia article here). As late as 2004, Romanian police arrested a group of villagers for desecrating the corpse of a man they believed to be a vampire (news article available here), and in 2012, a fresh “scare” occurred in at least one town in Serbia (news article available here).
Whether there is any real-life basis for any of these myths and fears is a question beyond the scope of this writing. But a good starting point for any biblical analysis of the vampire genre is the fact that oral ingestion of blood (of any kind) is not only forbidden in the Old Testament (Gen. 9:2-4; Lev. 17:14) but declared impure in the New (Acts 15:29). For this reason, virtually all vampire stories until the last few decades have portrayed the creatures as uniquely evil – their existence representing direct blasphemy against God. At times, the Devil himself was considered a vampire (Marigny, Vampires, pp. 24-25).
So how should Christian writers approach the vampire genre? Another scriptural principle that comes to mind is the following:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)”
However, I do not believe this rules out all ‘dark’ (or even supernatural) elements whatsoever in fiction. Some of the most powerful – and beautiful – stories in all of literature are suffused with vivid descriptions of darkness and evil. Classic works such as John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov come readily to mind as well as multiple volumes of Dickens. The dark elements therein serve to emphasize the ultimate power of Good, which shines even more brightly from the contrast.
I do believe, however, that all such darker aspects of a story must be present for this purpose and not for their own sake. The specifics can be debated as to exactly where this line begins and ends, but any writer considering themselves a Christ-follower should ask (and seek to answer) this question: “Am I really making goodness – and God’s glory – shine forth more brightly or simply littering my story with manure?”
So how would we apply this to the vampire genre? Some would draw the blanket conclusion that it is completely off-limits to Christian writers. But as with the question of extra-terrestrials in fiction (a link to my previous post on this topic is available here), I believe a more nuanced approach is possible. I’ve come across at least one story, The Christian and the Vampire, that has received positive reviews for exploring (through a fantastical lens) how to share the Gospel with those who consider themselves “irredeemable” (such as people deeply involved in Satanism). I can only speak through hearsay since I haven’t read it myself, but an in-depth review is available here.
I would therefore suggest the following for any Christian authors trying their hand at this genre: firstly, vampires and vampirism should clearly be portrayed as evil, with all occult elements of the storyline cast in a villainous light. This is, incidentally, the approach taken by Bram Stoker in his classic novel Dracula. The entire storyline is one of Good vs. Evil, additionally forming a symbolic parable that pits Victorian ideals of progress and classical liberalism against feudalistic barbarism and despotism – personified in the figure of its antagonist, Count Dracula. The Count is explicitly portrayed as an agent of the Devil, with his backstory revealing him as a formerly human sorcerer who used demonic means to rise as a vampire after his death. He is motivated by an insatiable lust for power and must be stopped at any cost lest he dominate the world and bring about a dark, Satanic age.
Second, avoid overly gratuitous and graphic descriptions. Again, this approach harks back to Bram Stoker, who actually conveyed dramatic effect through his use of minimalism. Almost all the horrors that take place in his story are implied rather than described.
Third, make sure any positive portrayals of vampiric story characters do not cast vampirism itself as an ideal to aspire to – any “redeemed” vampires would either return to their human state or be exorcised of a possessing demon. I’ve come across some additional stories (once again, by hearsay) that take just this kind of approach (a link to one is available here). The characters in question would also give up their blood-drinking lifestyle thereafter – this kind of existence is not something I believe should ever be romanticized.
There are other creative approaches available as well, some of which overlap with these aforementioned principles. One is to provide a naturalistic explanation for vampirism that dispenses with occult elements altogether. An idea I’ve entertained on occasion (but will likely never develop) is a storyline whereby vampires are, in fact, the product of an ancient experiment in genetic engineering – perhaps connected with Nimrod’s regime and the Tower of Babel. They could also be explained as the hybrid offspring of fallen angels (an increasingly common but slightly overdone story premise in Christian speculative fiction). Or perhaps the vampire legend could be portrayed as having a factual basis in a human sub-culture rooted in the pre-Flood world (I hope to eventually write a book series set during this period – the contemporary “vampire subculture” presents one of the most striking visual pictures of how I would imagine the world in Noah’s time).
A final, original concept that intrigues me personally would be a story that is not about vampires per se, but rather about the perverse fascination the modern world has with vampires. I’ll explore this topic further in Part 2 next week.