‘Twilight’ to ‘True Blood’: Why we suck the evil out of vampires

May 25, 2011 | 1:33 p.m.

GUEST ESSAY

"Twilight" (Summit Entertainment)/"True Blood" (HBO)/"Underworld" (Screen Gems, Inc.)/"Blade" (New Line Productions)

Vampires are everywhere in film, television, novels, comics and beyond and there’s no end in sight. But when did they shift from malevolent predators to conflicted antiheroes? Those are the questions asked by  Christopher Farnsworth, a writer living in Los Angeles whose latest novel, “The President’s Vampire,” is on sale now.

It used to be you’d never see a vampire as the good guy. After all, a vampire, by its nature, hunts and kills human beings. There are centuries of folklore detailing how mankind has been forced to defend itself against these lethal parasites. That’s not a reputation you lose overnight.

But today, vampires have moved into the light – metaphorically speaking, anyway. Edward Cullen and his family of vampire vegetarians – who only drink animal blood – are only the most famous examples. The ranks of on-screen vampire good guys includes Bill Compton from “True Blood,” Angel and Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Nick Knight from “Forever Knight,” the title hero from the “Blade” films and comics, Mick Angel from the “Moonlight” series, Selene from “Underworld” and maybe a dozen more that even I’ve never heard of.

"Dracula" cover (Dell Comics)

Like everything else, however, comics got there first. Comic books have been turning vampires into superheroes since at least 1966, when Dell Comics tried to turn three of the iconic Universal horror monsters into heroes. A direct descendant of Dracula put on a purple bodysuit and a bat-shaped belt-buckle and swore an oath to fight injustice. Was it a concept ahead of its time — or just a concept with bad timing? Either way, the series lasted all of three issues.

But the idea endured and evolved. The Marvel character Blade crossed from comics to film and back again. The Japanese anime “Hellsing and “Vampire Hunter D both feature bloodsuckers who’ve turned against their own kind. And the Confessor from Kurt Busiek’sAstro City is basically Batman with fangs.

Then there’s the bookshelf and all the novels about vampiric heroes: Fred Saberhagen’s Thorn series, Anne Rice’s Lestat, P.N. Elrod’s Vampire Files, Jon F. Merz’s Lawson Vampire books, and (ahem) my own creation, Nathaniel Cade, a vampire who works as a secret agent for the president of the United States.

Vampire heroes are so common now that I felt it necessary to reestablish Cade’s credentials as a killer. He might drink cow’s blood by choice but he’s a predator by nature.

For me, that goes back to a single page from Marvel’s classic ’70s horror comic, “The Tomb of Dracula.” The series was about a team of vampire hunters tracking the Lord of the Undead. But when we passed around the issues in grade school, my friends and I often found ourselves rooting for the bad guy.

"Tomb of Dracula" (Marvel Comics)

Part of this was because the creators put Dracula up against even worse villains, like, say, Satan. And Dracula had his own code of honor. Which led him to pick up a cross against a horde of zombie-like undead who threatened the children who’d given him shelter for a night. That scene is burned into my memory just like the cross burned his hands. I’m not the only one. Blogger Final Girl (a.k.a. Stacie Ponder) has a great piece on the issue. The final line of the book: “The dark ones attacked us … but there was a good man here. He told us to believe in the power of God … and that he was going to chase the dark ones … all the way to Hell itself!”

As much as I disliked vampires – I read the comics and watched the movies for survival tips rather than entertainment – I was impressed. For a moment, the face of ultimate evil finds redemption defending the innocents.

"The President's Vampire" (G.P. Putnam's Sons)

But that’s the dichotomy that drives all these stories in one way or another: the gulf between killer and hero. In my first book, Cade puts it like this: “Someone has to protect the meek until they can inherit the earth.”

Of course, Dracula went back to eating people soon enough. It’s possible too many sparkly vampires have inspired a similar backlash. Colin Farrell seems more like a serial killer in this summer’s remake of “Fright Night.” Vampires are ugly, big and scary in”Priest” and Justin Cronin’s  “The Passage.” And no less than Abe Lincoln will be chopping off vamp heads soon in a theater near you.

Then again, Edward and the “Twilight” film franchise will be back in “Breaking Dawn,” and Johnny Depp will play Barnabas Collins in “Dark Shadows,” and the BBC’s “Being Human” is a U.S. spinoff now. And, well, I’m going to write about Cade for as long as people will read about him. I’m not ready to seal the coffin on vampire heroes just yet. Vampires have haunted us in every culture because they’re so perfectly adaptable as metaphors. There are still plenty of scary things out there in the dark. Maybe it’s comforting to think one or two might be on our side for a change.

– Christopher Farnsworth

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Comments


20 Responses to ‘Twilight’ to ‘True Blood’: Why we suck the evil out of vampires

  1. Chris says:

    I believe Joss Whedon is at fault for all this mess.

    • Victoria Salter says:

      Joss Whedon is not at fault for the start of all this "mess". The idea of a good vampire goes back way longer than you probably think. There is an old legend of a type/group of vampires known as the Stregoni Benefici. Although, they still drink blood to stay alive, these vampires actually help sick people and they are mortal enemies with the evil vampires.
      There is also a story called "Aylmer Vance and the Vampire". This one was written in 1914 and it features a vampire that saves a couple from dying.
      Also, whether or not he whole idea of good vampires is actually a mess is debatable. I personally stories that feature good guy/gal vampires because they can help to show that there really is good and bad in everyone, no matter how despicable their type, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, race or other stereotype may be.

    • Martine says:

      Why is it a "mess"? I am really at a loss for why people dislike positive portrayal of vampires. If you don't enjoy it, then just don't read the books, don't watch the films. There is no correct way of depicting a fictional being. Writers do much more untraditional things then heroic vampires! They write about pagan gods living in modern times and renting out their services. They write about demons and angels playing poker….but no one gets upset. But change vampire from monster to hero and you are bothered? The question is why?

  2. David Rubin says:

    Great well-written article! I liked the comic book references & scans too. I think vampires are popular because they are immortal, strong and ageless. These qualities appeal to everybody; imagine being young and strong forever! Vampire movies & stories usually have action & suspense too. The "Twilight" movie series has young attractive "cool" vampires interacting with humans and this caught on with movie audiences. (I found the latest "Twilight" film with vampires teaming up with big werewolves a lot of fun to watch.) But I don't care how old a vampire looks as long as the movie has a good story, action, suspense and lots of interesting sets & locations. Vampire movies usually provide all these thrills. And Christopher Farnsworth's book "The President's Vampire" sounds like a great title for a vampire movie!
    There are also songs about vampires. Here's some lyrics from my song "Vampire Man" from my Adventure album:
    "I fly through the night on leather wings, feeling more alive than I've ever been. Look at the people on the streets down below, afraid of their shadows and what they don't know. But I ride through the clouds in the empire of the night…"
    David Rubin Official Website: http://www.davidrubinmusic.com

    • madsircool says:

      Vampires are immortal…….well, no. Even if they were real they can still be killed.

      Vampires are strong……Vampires, even if they were real, are quite vulnerable. Lets see how ell a vampire handles the sun…

      Vampires are ageless…..what? Vampires are basically just the body of the victim of other vampires…they can be of any age..except in Hollywood where represented life ends at 25.

      • David Rubin says:

        madsircool raises some good points. Although I did not make it clear, I was referring to movie vampires, not claiming that "real" vampire creatures exist and fly around killing people, etc. Movie vampires can be killed but they are immortal (not invulnerable) in the sense that they don't die from natural age-related diseases. Movie vampires are strong (not invincible) in the sense that they are stronger than normal average humans represented in the movies. Movie vampires are ageless in the sense that they retain the appearance of the age that they were when first becoming a vampire. Of course, there might not be any laws or rules for movie monsters other than the writers or directors decisions but I wrote about my impressions of all this. Anyone is free to disagree. "..except in Hollywood, where represented life ends at 25." Good point! This brings up the issue of age-ism in Hollywood (and perhaps the subject of another article?)

  3. Lightningbarer says:

    It gives me literal chills to think of the damage that has been done and continues to be done because of the idea of Vampire stories like Twilight, True Blood etc. I can take a Vampire hero only so far, with Joss Weadons Angel I can somewhat understand it-he's not a Vampire as the series explains(Gehayi explains in a perfect way here :http://das-sporking.livejournal.com/157386.html)
    But the idea of a 'Dangerous, dark, brooding guy' that the female lead creams herself for bothers me beyond reason as it's shown 'almost exclusively' as a good thing. Wasn't the original statement in fiction that it's BAD to be with them and the heroine suffers because of the relationship?

    Go for the Vampire Hero all you want, I just don't want to see another cookie cutter version of Edward Cullen plastered as a great guy when he's a dick.

    • Fae says:

      I don’t think noting True Blood there is fair entirely. Yes, it has its fair share of nice vampires but it also has its predators and monsters. For every nice vampire there are at least another three bad ones. And in the end Bill doesn’t turn out to be so nice – even though he is trying to change his diet.

      Twilight however is fair game.

  4. Shirley says:

    You forgot to mention Vampire Diaries…………………..just sayin…

  5. micahblackburn says:

    Great article! I remember reading those Dracula comics when I was younger. They belonged to my older brother who was more into monsters than I was. I remember the friction I experienced, my young mind not quite prepared for the fact that I was rooting for the villain, or that the villain was just more interesting than the heroes.

    It set the stage for a life time of loving vampires I suppose.

  6. Dan Chmielewski says:

    Chris Farnsworth's Blood Oath and the President's Vampire are amazing; perfect beach reads for the summer. I sure hope they get made into movies

  7. Tyler says:

    I don't mind the trend of turning vampires into good people – but it has to be done right. For instance: I'm not a big fan of Twilight, but I love the Pact Arcanum series by Arshad Ahsanuddin (http://pactarcanum.com). I typically like vampire books with a lot of war in them- regardless of whether the vampire is a hero or not.

  8. Luca says:

    Mick St John

  9. george says:

    over a decade ago i read some books about Anita Blake vampire hunter i think it was by laurell k hamilton… anita is a necromancer who finds herself in a love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf… its violent and dirty and not at all shiny and smelling of bubble gum… a decent read if you can find it

  10. Tiggs says:

    True Blood is violent, and dark if a little over the top. Its Twilight that has dirtied the vampire myth and genre. It focuses on making the vampires the 'good guys' while making it ok for 1-d girls to be in abusive relationships.
    True Blood's vamps are more anti-hero's. they are never shown to be sparkling examples of goodness. While Sookie does get involved in a not very desirable relationship, she is smart enough to stand up for herself, as shown at the end of the last series.

  11. KEVIN STRILCHUK says:

    KEVIN STRILCHUK
    8004 CHURCHILL DRSW
    CALGARY ALBERTA
    CANADA USA T2V2S4

    INFORMATION TO MARVEL COMICS FANS OF TOMB OF DRACULA SPECIAL COMICS FOR MARVEL BLADE THE VAMPIRE HUNTER OF SPIDER MAN SPECIAL PAGE OF TOMB OF DRACULA IN MARVELOF HORROR OF VAMPIRES FROM TO NEW YORK CITY AND LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA USA WE TO GET A VERY SPECIAL BRITHDAY CARD FOR ME I AM 41 THIS YEAR 2011 IS COMING SOON IN SEPTEMEBER 22ND ON THEURDAY NIGHT I AM BIGGEST FANS FOR YOU WE TO SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER 22ND IS MY SPECIAL BRITHDAY FOR ME I AM BIGGEST FAN IS KEVIN STRILCHUK FROM CALGARY IS A VERY SPECIAL GIFT FOR ME I LIKE TO GET A VERY SPECIAL COMICS FOR ME I LIKE SPIDER MAN VS X MEN TO SEE ALL SHOW IS COMING ON FOX KIDS SHOW OF SPIDER MAN AND MARVEL X MEN FROM THE SHOW ON FOX KIDS CHANNLE I AM SAY HOME AT CHURCHILL DR SW IS KEVIN FROM TO CALGARY YOU GOOD LOCK THE SHOW OF SPIDER MAN TO KEEP THE COMICS OF TOMB DRACULA COMICS IN TO THE NIGHT OF VAMPIRE WE NOT FOUND THE COMIC FOR ME YOU GOOD LOCK FROM TO NEW YORK CITY AND LOS ANGEELS

  12. Scott says:

    Trust me vampires don’t think there invinsible they just want to be safe by doing what the leader says to do. There is no dillussion vampires need blood but they don’t want to hurt in anyone for stupid behavior. Wether or not you beleive him differs because you all made decisions about me before you read his complete file. That’s the problem entirely the decisions are already in our heads before you even speak to them or understand the shoes they have to fill. If he was clear on things it would be a different story so he guesses at what he thinks you guys want him to do and when it’s not he is not at fault because he doesn’t know. Therefore basing decisions on inaccurate scenarios is totally wrong. If he knew then you could. To sit and bitch and moan all the time is because the vampires tell him nothing. He feels very alone and by himself. He is doing his best to try and not pick human victims or cause damage. Everybody should keep in mind the potential good aspects he can supply. For example I could mix and mingle with all sorts of vampire domains, domains they didn’t teach At Yale. Give a guy a break stop with the. Negativity and if you even knew this vampire he is probably safer than all of you. You just see him when he is searching for blood and he can get or ratted. Look bottom line is once he learns how to properly do something he will do it. Arrogance is a horrible quality to have and he thinks some in the vampire hierarchy don’t like him. Better take a look outside times have changed and he can protest everyone if given the option to help in a safe manner. If someone is trying to hurt his friend then in certain situations call for judgement calls. Isn’t that what it’s all about helping and protecting. He is the last one who wants to get hurt but he will if it helps. So all those vampire slayer elite who think poorly of him should come and have a conversation, they would know then his appearance may seem like he wants blood but in reality I would rather not. Decision making based on a sheet of paper is not always the best method. He’s not even asking for a break but deep down the guy is human and he is the way he is and that’s not going to change. Is there room for changes of course but he won’t be labeled an outsider because of his looks he wants equal rights like you have. When you can’t see his teeth he looks like all of you.he knows he can fit in but he is not going to be scared and start off with preconditions. He deserves the same standing and he excluding him would be a mistake.

  13. Scott says:

    I’m tired of this look at my record there is no history of violence or anything you negatives are saying. If you notice all I do at home, computer. Is everyone so sqweeky clean to be so harsh. I ran up a credit card bill over seven years ago. For a few thousand dollars. Thats it a few tickets here and there yes but overall nothing to the extent negatives are saying. Did I have a few personal issues yes but effect nothing and completely honest is no ones business. Gossip is evil and never the truth.

  14. saje says:

    Anne Rice gave us the human vampire. Though by the time she came around I was already a fan of the Saberhagen books and, I believe, had encountered a couple more series with vampire protagonists. That Dracula comic you mention, interestingly enough, is something I too remember as being pivotal in my view of vampires. I must have been about ten or eleven. This was around the time I was reading Salem’s Lot, so I was getting a lot of vampire stuff rolling around in my head.

    Is it any wonder that I grew up to write vampire novels? Admittedly, they’re not ONLY vampire novels, but vamps and ‘thropes play a major part.

    I’ll have to look for your book. It sounds interesting.

    • Martine says:

      I absolutely LOVED Saberhagen's Dracula . So clever and funny. I still just don't understand why people have the opinion that their idea of vampires is somehow the "right" one. No other mythic creature gets this response. I could write about a harpy that is heroic, and people would say "wonderful and creative". Not "OH NO! A harpy is supposed to be an evil winged servant of Hades!!"
      I always hated the original the passage in Dracula where Van Helsing somehow saves Lucy by pumping unmatched blood into her system! Saberhagen made me feel a lot better.

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