Saturday, March 11, 2006

Vampires and the Cross Part Three

As the vampire genre has grown, however, so the concept of why the holy symbol effects the vampire has developed. The holy symbol is now nothing more than that; it is the faith behind the symbol that is all-important. No matter what symbol is used, if the person who wields it has faith in it then it will be a potent weapon against the undead.

Stephen King tackled these issues in his novel “’Salem’s Lot”. In “’Salem’s Lot” the priest, Father Callahan, is a drunk who has lost his way. Yet when the protagonists investigate the Marsden House it is he who opens the way after the enormity of the situation rekindles his faith.

“When they got out, he led them without stopping to think about it. An eagerness – the old eagerness he was sure had gone forever – seemed to seize him as he approached the door…. …. ‘In the name of God the Father!’ he cried, and his voice took on a hoarse commanding note that made them all draw closer to him. ‘I command the evil to be gone from this house! Spirits, depart!’ And without being aware he was going to do it, he smote the door with the crucifix in his hand

“There was a flash of light – afterward they all agreed there had been – a pungent whiff of ozone, and a crackling sound, as if the boards themselves had screamed. The curved fanlight above the door suddenly exploded outwards…”

Stephen King – ‘Salem’s Lot

This is an impressive show of faith, yet it is short lived. When confronted by the source of the vampiric infestation, Barlow, Callahan’s faith falters. Barlow challenges him to put aside his cross and face him faith against faith. Callahan’s refusal to drop his symbol of faith and trust in the faith itself proves his undoing, he has more faith in the symbol than the essence behind the symbol.

“The cross trembled in Callahan’s hand and suddenly the last of its light vanished. It was only a piece of plastic his mother had bought in a Dublin souvenir shop…”

Stephen King – ‘Salem’s Lot

Outstanding in this confrontation is the exchange between vampire and priest. Before his faith falters just the act of speaking the name God causes Barlow pain. Yet it is Barlow who explains to Callahan, and thus the reader, what has gone wrong.

“The cross… the bread and wine…the confessional… only symbols. Without faith the cross is only wood…”

Stephen King – ‘Salem’s Lot

Juxtaposed against this is the vision of the vampire created within the “Dracula 2001” (2000) series. In this Wes Craven produced series, the source of vampirism – Dracula - was originally Judas, prevented from dying until he asks God for forgiveness. The concept behind this holds water well; silver (used in some versions of the myth) is deadly because of the 30 pieces of silver paid for betraying Christ, for example. Of course, in this series the Christian holy symbols are deadly (for lesser vampires) or painful for Dracula. The question is begged, however, how would this version of Dracula respond to the Star of David or a statue of Buddha?

The faith of the wielder was again used to great effect in “Fright Night” (1985) in which the cross wielded by Peter Vincent, vampire hunter, is useless when he has no faith. Unlike poor Father Callahan from “’Salems’ Lot”, Vincent’s experiences increases his faith, rather than causes him to loose it.

Similarly in the seminal “From Dusk ‘til Dawn” (1995), Harvey Keitel’s preacher, Jacob has lost his faith, due to the loss of his wife in a car accident. It is being confronted by the vampires that causes him to regain that which was lost and become a “Mean {mumble} {mumble} servant of God.” This leads to a marvellous scene in which he creates a cross from a pump action shotgun and baseball bat, crossed together, that can both keep the undead at bay and shoot them if necessary.

Yet, whilst most of these examples are rooted in Christianity, the bottom line is that it could be any symbol, so long as there is faith. This is taken further in S P Somtow’s Timmy Valentine books. In these incredibly Jungian books, as people loose faith in their symbols, so the symbols loose power, yet it is also important that the vampire has no faith in, or fear of, the symbol.

“But in the end it is the Buddha image on its silver chain, glancing his cheek. It gouges the feelingless flesh, and then, suddenly, he smarts. He is startled. He steps back. Religious icons could not hurt him. He knew that. Timmy had told him. It was all in the mind. The symbols had lost their power over the millennia.

“Or had they? He rubbed his cheek. Numb. Numb.

“‘It took Timmy Valentine a thousand years,’ said Chit, ‘to get over his fear of garlic and crosses and silver. What makes you think you can do it in a few months?’”

S P Somtow – Vanitas

Anne Rice, in her “Vampire Chronicles” treats the question of holy symbols in a similar way. Her vampires are not affected by symbols, yet at times through history they were. A phase of vampirism, when the vampires believed that they must be servants of Satan, caused them to react violently to the cross, or any other Christian symbol. The beauty of this approach was that it was not the beliefs and faith of the wielder of the symbol but of the beholder that was key.

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