Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero – review

Author: Susannah Clements

First published: 2011

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Vampires first entered the pop culture arena with Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula. Today, vampires are everywhere. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Twilight Saga to HBO's True Blood series, pop culture can't get enough of the vampire phenomenon.

Bringing her literary expertise to this timely subject, Susannah Clements reveals the roots of the vampire myth and shows how it was originally immersed in Christian values and symbolism. Over time, however, vampires have been "defanged" as their spiritual significance has waned, and what was once the embodiment of evil has turned into a teen idol and the ultimate romantic hero. Clements offers a close reading of selected vampire texts, explaining how this transformation occurred and helping readers discern between the variety of vampire stories presented in movies, TV shows, and novels. Her probing engagement of the vampire metaphor enables readers to make Christian sense of this popular obsession.

The review: I came across this through a Facebook Group and an article by Anthony Hogg. Now I am not a Christian (by a long shot) but the concept of the book seemed intriguing to me and I am always open to hearing a different viewpoint. Of course the joy of the vampire genre is that it is open to multiple interpretations and, as an archetype, the vampire is a malleable beast.

Clements covers the four vampire shows/novels mentioned above and the works of Anne Rice and attempts to show that the vampire has gone from the embodiment of evil to a romantic hero – as the subtitle relates – and of course this is true, except where the vampire is the embodiment of evil still, such as in such up to date series like 30 Days of Night. But she is not wrong that there is a definitive romantic movement in the genre. Interestingly she plots a secular course, where the tamer the vampire becomes the more secular the tale.

This was an interesting suggestion, though I’d suggest that the secularisation of the vampire is more to do with the general secularisation of society than it is the move to the romantic vampire, for instance in (and citing again) 30 Days of Night we have a rather secular take on the myth without the romance and with plenty of evil brutality.

Clements does, in my opinion, miss some directions she might have taken. She correctly argues that Dracula is a Christian novel. However her concentration is on the hunters and the apotropaic icons used in the novel. I think there was as much argument to be found in the fact that Stoker thought Dracula meant Devil, that he gave the Count the pseudonym Count De Ville and suggested he was schooled by the Devil in the Scholomance - indeed over time Hammer make the character, quite literally, the Antichrist.

Clements argues that Twilight is the most secular of the main series she looks at and her arguments are sound. Whilst Edward worries for Bella’s soul it is almost a throwaway comment and barely explored. However I think that the attitudes shown in the novel might reflect on the author’s social outlook and, being from quite an active religion, that may also reflect on her faith but this is not explored in here.

I think it would have been interesting to have explored I Am Legend as the movie took a totally secular novel, ignored or twisted the point of the climax of the book and created a very pro-Christian narrative. However that is just a wish list moment.

The book was well written and well argued, it was interesting to look at these things from another direction. It contains indexing and a bibliography - always a plus point. A worthy volume. 8 out of 10.

10 comments:

JaredMithrandir said...

Stoker's novel is Catholic/Anlgican, not Christian.

Twilight was written by a Mormon author, which is very apparent. So equally as close to being Christian as Stoker's.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Jared I often find your comments insightful and challenging, thus look forward to them. But that is just a bizzare statement mate...

Catholicism is a Christian religion.
Anglican is a Christian religon.
(Stoker was Church of Ireland btw)
Mormon is a Christian religion.

Which ever way you dice it Dracula is a Christian book written by a member of the church of Ireland (probably moving to C of E in London) that clearly uses Christian iconography as a central plot device of his novel.

Twilight was written by a Mormon author who is therefore Christian. It is not very religous directly but reveals some of the social underlays that are probably born out of her religous views.

JaredMithrandir said...

Depends on your Perspective. I come from a perspective that sees such religions as the Antithesis of Biblical Christianity.

I know such internal distinctions are irrelevant to you. But if this is a Christian Author her considering Stoker Christian tells me their a pretty Liberal one.

Vampire literature has always been pretty Secularized. Just changing in what ways they desire to Superficially bring in religious ideas.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I still don't see it... what bible (there are various)... old or new testament (distinctive from Judaism to Christianity)

Arguably only Catholicism (being the Church of Rome and the earliest surviving Christian sect after their alleged genocide of the Gnostics) has a claim to pure Christianity - after all a lot of the biblical teachings/dogma comes from Paul (a Roman) and the prescribed gospels of the various sects were chosen by the Roman Council of Nicaea.

Stoker is fairly hard core Christian - there is distinction between protestant and catholic/orthodox idolatry, the use of religious apotropaic measures, searing of unclean flesh, the satanic origins of Dracula…

But you are right, they mean nothing to me and the various sects are much as a muchness to me…

but as someone who was brought up in a CofE and then catholic household I can see the roots, I might think it’s all bunkum but it is certainly there in much of the early vampire literature – it might have been devolved to tropes (and via that secularised) through cinema and literature from the late 50s onwards but much early literature was explicitly or implicitly Christian.

JaredMithrandir said...

Catholicism is NOT the oldest Church, it formed over the 4th through 12th Centuries.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Is it not - tell me an older sect of Christianity that still exists and is recognised, and which can trace itself to before the Church of Rome, today?

From wiki: Catholic tradition and doctrine hold that the Catholic Church is the one true church founded by Jesus Christ in the 1st century AD in the province of Judea of the Roman Empire

Whilst the Council of Nicea came together in AD 325 - to bring uniformity to Christian dogma - the church of Rome does trace itself back.

Now, I accept you may not agree with them and their claim, fair enough but the fact is they are as Christian as any other Christian sect.

Anthony Hogg said...

Good afternoon Jared,

I know we're you're coming from. You're taking a fundamentalist approach to the subject. That, I understand - but only if you view the works as a literal manifestation of supernaturalism. They're not, though. They're novels.

Surely you can grasp Christian motifs in the work, whether or not you necessarily agree that their authors were "true Christians."

You can distinguish Biblical Christianity from such things, sure. The churches might not be up to your benchmark, but I'm sure you can also appreciate why they're categorised as Christian churches, even if they deviate from the core texts.

That's the spirit with which you should read Andy's review: it's not about which is the right church, but the Christian themes each author has brought to the table - no matter which denomination they happen to belong to.

JaredMithrandir said...

Baptists have always been around, we've just been underground.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I accept that its your view, but it still doesn't stop other denominations being Christian.

JaredMithrandir said...

I've made a couple Blogspot blogs. Thier not Vampire related but they demonstrate some of my Spiritual views. You can find them trough my blogger profile here.