For Love Of Do-Good Vampires: A Bloody Book List

Ian Somerhalder, Paul Wesley

hide captionThe Vampire Diaries television series follows Damon and Stefan Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder, left, and Paul Wesley), two vampire brothers at odds with one another. While the domesticated Stefan falls in love with the very beautiful, very human Elena (Nina Dobrev), Damon plots to lure his brother back into a life of bloodsucking and brutality.

The CW

We've been inundated with vampires this past decade, and we don't simply mean bloodsuckers like Bernie Madoff.

In the 1980s, it's true, there was a similar surge of interest in vampires, with Whitley Strieber's The Hunger and the wildly popular novels of Anne Rice. But the past few years have seen a new crop of intriguingly different vampires — seemingly conflicted souls, from Bill Compton in HBO's True Blood to Stefan in the CW's television series The Vampire Diaries and, of course, Edward Cullen in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books.

Even here at NPR, if you look at the archives, there have been at least 20 recent stories about vampires. What is it about our society now — the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times — that's making vampires so popular? And why are most of the vampires we are seeing struggling to be moral?

A confession: In the past nine months, I've read 75 vampire novels. I'll get to why later, but let's first step back in history.

Vampires have been a constant in folklore around the world, but our modern notion of the vampire came out of a particular cultural moment in 1816. Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori came together in a chalet in Switzerland to do a kind of literary exercise. Out of that retreat came Shelley's novel Frankenstein and Polidori's Vampyre, the first vampire story in the English language. And there was a reason, rooted in immense changes that were under way in the world of ideas.

Helen Chandler, Bela Lugosi i i

hide captionTod Browning's 1931 film Dracula, released in the chaos and uncertainty of the Great Depression, turns in part on the character of Mina (Helen Chandler), who manages to maintain her i—ocence — and—ontrol — despite having suffered at the hands of Bela Lugosi's vampire.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Helen Chandler, Bela Lugosi

Tod Browning's 1931 film Dracula, released in the chaos and uncertainty of the Great Depression, turns in part on the character of Mina (Helen Chandler), who manages to maintain her i—ocence — and—ontrol — despite having suffered at the hands of Bela Lugosi's vampire.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"A shocking thing was occurring," says Strieber, the author of two other vampire novels in addition to The Hunger. "Science was beginning to seem to be able to challenge the very nature of life itself."

Since then, vampires have been used again and again as a way to speak of our fears and concerns.

"It's almost this perfect vessel," says Eric Nuzum, an NPR colleague and the author of The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula. "If you want to understand any moment in time, or any cultural moment, just look at their vampires."

Take Bram Stoker's Dracula.

"It was written at the end of the 19th century, at a time when England had some of the largest ports in the world," says Benita Blessing, who teaches modern European history at Ohio University. "Here you have a ship arriving from Eastern Europe, bearing soil from another country, and a plague-like person who is going to bring death and destruction. The concerns at that time were foreign illnesses, unwanted immigrants. What Dracula is about is the fear of what we might today call globalization."

The famous Bela Lugosi film of Dracula came out during the Great Depression, in a time of economic and social chaos. The surge of interest in vampires around the 1980s is often attributed to the pressures of the Cold War and the spread of AIDS. That was the era of Anne Rice's vampire series and Strieber's The Hunger.

"It was a period," says Strieber, "when people were waiting for something to go wrong as the Soviet empire was collapsing. People wondered: Would they push the button in a desperate attempt to survive? And those feelings entered the unconscious."

In fact, there were about four times as many vampire movies made in 1980 as there were in 1990. Perhaps after the Berlin Wall came down, there was just a lot less fear to write and think about.

What about now? Why the renewed interest?

Kimberly Pauley has written an incredibly funny vampire book for teens that turns the genre on its head; it's called Sucks to be Me. She believes vampires are attractive right now because we're in a time somewhat similar to the Depression, another "time of chaos," she says.

"Vampires are immortal; they are not hurt by the goings-on in everyday life," Pauley says. "They stand above it. I think that is the most appealing factor about a vampire — that no matter what is going on in the world around you, you are going to make it through."

A vampire's near-immortality is probably why I ended up reading 75 vampire novels. I'd been caring for a seriously ill loved one, and as a result, I had been spending a lot of time thinking deeply about issues of mortality. I had also occasionally fantasized what it would be like not to have to think about that.

Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer i i

hide captionHBO's True Blood turns in part on the character of Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), another morally upright vampire, who's in a relationship with the human Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin). As in Diaries, Bill is constantly being pressured by his vampire brethren to embrace his gory appetite.

HBO
Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer

HBO's True Blood turns in part on the character of Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), another morally upright vampire, who's in a relationship with the human Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin). As in Diaries, Bill is constantly being pressured by his vampire brethren to embrace his gory appetite.

HBO

But what I started noticing as I read all these novels and looked at all the recent television shows featuring vampires is that their near-immortality isn't the most interesting thing about them. Almost all of these current vampires are struggling to be moral. It's conventional to talk about vampires as sexual, with their hypnotic powers and their intimate penetrations and their blood-drinking and so forth. But most of these modern vampires are not talking as much about sex as they are about power.

Take the CBS show Moonlight, which aired for only one season in 2007-2008. Mick St. John is a private investigator who is also a vampire. In one scene, he's trying to reason with a violent rogue vampire by telling him, "We have rules."

The rogue responds, "There are no rules: I'm top of the food chain."

"This is the central question of so many vampire novels and films, " says Amy Smith, a professor of English at the University of the Pacific. "If you had power over people, how would you use it? 'We can do what we want' vs. 'We were human, how can you treat humans as if they were cattle?' "

People keep going back to these stories because they illustrate a tension that exists in real life, Smith says.

"For example, if you earn more money than someone else, you find that you have more power: How will you use it?"

Smith teaches courses on Jane Austen and the literature of war, as well as a course on vampires in literature. She says the issue of power is both personal and global.

"How do you treat someone you love, for example?" she says. "The core question is always: Does might make right?"

The question comes up again and again in True Blood, the HBO series based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. In True Blood, vampires have emerged from hiding to become mainstream citizens drinking a form of synthetic blood. Bill Compton, who was turned into a vampire after the Civil War, is trying to re-embrace his humanity. In one scene, he voices his envy for a teenager who's become a vampire just recently, in the modern world, and doesn't have an evil and violent past to confront.

"It's so different for her," he says with sadness and yearning. "When I was made, one had no choice but to live completely outside the human world, as an outlaw, a hunter."

Whether it's Bill Compton wanting to embrace his humanity in True Blood, or the entire Cullen family rejecting humans as nourishment in the Twilight saga, these modern vamps are all struggling to be moral even though they are predators by nature. Which brings us to a question: Who are we?

Author Whitley Strieber says we humans are just a different kind of predator.

"Our prey is our planet," he says. Today's fear is not the Cold War or AIDS, it's the fate of the Earth: "We sense that there is something wrong with the environment, that the planet itself may not be able to sustain us very long, and so we are beginning to romance death once again."

Maybe it gets back to that very American notion that we have laws and constitutions to keep our baser instincts in check. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote recently: "We are beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality."

Exactly. Maybe that's why vampires aren't really a fad. Because — except for that all-but-immortal thing — they really are us.

Margot Adler's Vampire Book List


New Moon

1-4. The Twilight Saga

by Stephenie Meyer

The four books — Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn — have sold millions around the world. I confess I enjoyed them all. Not everyone likes these "sparkling vampires," but they definitely fit into my reluctant-vampire thesis. The Cullen family is lovely, including the doctor, his wife, the handsome Edward, two other kids and my personal favorite, Edward's sister Alice Cullen. Then there are the werewolves: In this saga, the werewolves and the vampires are kind of like the Capulets and the Montagues. By the way, the vampire baseball scene in the first film may not rival the Quidditch matches in Harry Potter, but it's still fun.


Dead Until Dark

5-13.The Sookie Stackhouse Novels

by Charlaine Harris

There are nine of these so far, starting with Dead Until Dark and ending with Dead and Gone, and more are coming. They take place in northern Louisiana; much of the action plays out in two bars, Merlotte's and Fangtasia. The books are the basis for the HBO series True Blood. In this alternate world of today, the Japanese have developed a synthetic form of blood, and vampires can "come out of the coffin" and live among humans. Sookie Stackhouse is a mind-reading waitress who falls in love with Bill Compton, a vampire who was turned after the Civil War.


14-15. A Touch Of Dead

by Charlaine Harris

A Touch of Dead contains the complete Stackhouse short stories; a short-story volume, Many Bloody Returns, also has a Stackhouse story.


16-18. The Hunger, The Last Vampire, Lilith's Dream

by Whitley Strieber

Whitley Strieber's three vampire novels; the most famous is The Hunger. Strieber's idea was to imagine vampires as not supernatural, but simply as a different, stronger, nearly immortal species. Much more the standard horror view of vampires. Miriam Blaylock — played by Catherine Deneuve in the 1983 film — is truly rapacious.


19. Let The Right One In

by John Ajvide Lindqvist

A novel from Sweden with a young voracious vampire. Very much a horror story, but also a morality tale of what happens to the bullied child. The movie is exquisite, if terrifying.


20. Sucks To Be Me

Sucks To Be Me
by Kimberly Pauley

Some of the best recent vampire novels are for teens, including my favorite, Sucks To Be Me. Pauley turns the genre on its head, imagining some pretty dreary, all too normal, nerdy vampires making their way in the regular day-to-day world. The heroine finds out her parents are vampires, and she has to make a choice. It's not easy as it seems, and the book is laugh-out-loud funny. In the soon-to-be-published sequel, Still Sucks To Be Me, she becomes a vampire but has to fake her death, leave her friends, live in a yucky town and still obey her parents.


21. Suck It Up

by Brian Meehl

Another great teen vampire novel, this one starring a pimply, unattractive, geeky vampire, who still gets to be the first officially "outed" vampire in the world.


22-25. The Vampire Diaries

by L.J. Smith

There are plenty of novels for teens published after the breakout of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer that involve high-school students. The original Vampire Diaries series includes four short novels — The Awakening, The Struggle, The Fury, Dark Reunion. There is a current TV show based on the books, with a lovely protagonist, Elena, and two incredibly handsome vampire brothers, one evil and one good.


26-29. Blue Bloods

by Melissa de la Cruz

Imagine Gossip Girl, plus vampires. The series is based on an outrageous idea — so completely over the top that it almost works. The families that came over on the Mayflower, the 400 "top families" in American society, are really vampires, reincarnating over and over. So, many of the people going to elite private schools on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and wearing Prada bags are really vampires. (Perhaps that's why they don't eat and look like social X-rays!) But besides being the reincarnation of people like Miles Standish, the author also presupposes that they go back so far that they are the reincarnation of the original archangels. East Side socialites as vampires? Totally believable. Archangels? No way! There are four books so far in this series: Blue Bloods, Masquerade, Revelations and The Van Allen Legacy.


22-25. House Of Night

House of Night
by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Hogwarts for vampires? Yes, Harry Potter had his wizard school, but there are at least two series that give vampire teens their own school. First up: The House of Night series, six books written by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast, a mother-and-daughter team from Tulsa, Okla. Marked, Betrayed, Chosen, Untamed, Hunted and Tempted. Vampires are chosen almost randomly, and they have to enter special academies, where they go through a program and slowly change — or die. This series is quite well-done, and has a lot of goddess theology and ritual in it.


36-39. The Vampire Academy

by Richelle Mead

Four books so far: Vampire Academy, Frostbite, Shadow Kiss, Blood Promise. The academy here is very Russian, and the main heroine is not a vampire but a particular type of human-vampire mix who becomes a bodyguard for one strand of royal vampires. These are the good vamps. There are also your basic evil vamps, the strigoi, who kill.


40. Undead And Unwed

by MaryJanice Davidson

The first of a long series of books with "undead" in the title — Undead and Unemployed, Undead and Unpopular are others. Frothy, light, too much fashion. I didn't want to go further after the first one.


41-50. Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter

Guilty Pleasures
by Laurell K. Hamilton

There are some 18 or 19 of these novels, some of them as long as 700 pages. Many of them almost reach the level of porn — a kind of R-rated Buffy. Anita Blake is a gun-toting, knife-wielding vampire executioner, whose day job is as an "animator" raising zombies from the dead, so people can question their ancestors: "What did you really mean by that in your will?" In the first book, Guilty Pleasures, Anita is a fairly prudish and religious young woman who has only had sex once, with her college fiance, who then left her. She would never get close to a vampire. By Book 10, Narcissus in Chains, Blake is having relationships with two vampires, including the amazing Jean-Claude, as well as the Ulfric, or king of the local werewolf pack, plus several were-leopards, and she is becoming more powerful and less human. Totally over the top, with sex and violence, including S&M, even torture, more so with each book. But Hamilton has fascinating characters and unusual relationships. It's kind of like a car wreck: You can't turn your eyes away.


51-55. Blood Ties

Blood Ties
by Tanya Huff

This is a great series that creates a love triangle of amazing power and tension. Blood Trail, Blood Price, Blood Lines, Blood Pact, Blood Debt. Victoria Nelson is a former cop forced to leave the force because of vision loss. She becomes a private eye in Toronto who often works with an active-duty cop, Celluci, who is clearly romantically interested in her. But she also teams up with Henry Fitzroy, the gorgeous bastard son of Henry VIII — and a 400-year-old vampire. (He works as a romance writer in the books, and as a graphic novelist in the TV series.) The three of them solve crimes, almost always with a supernatural twist. But the best part in both the books and the TV show is the unresolved tension between the three protagonists.


56-58. The Smoke Trilogy

by Tanya Huff

Same author, but not as successful. A series of three books, Smoke and Shadows, Smoke and Mirrors, Smoke and Ashes. The series takes place in Vancouver with Henry Fitzroy and his sometime-lover. More occult crime. Didn't do much for me.


59. Interview With The Vampire

by Anne Rice

Clearly one of the first reluctant vamps. I personally do not like the gothic trappings of the Anne Rice world, but this is clearly a book that influenced the genre. There are many other Rice novels, The Vampire Lestat, etc.


60. Dracula

by Bram Stoker

It's quite a gothic slog, but much of the current view we have of vampires comes from this 1897 novel. It wasn't the first or even the second in the English language, but it has staying power. The 1931 film with Bela Lugosi should be seen.


61-62. Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story; Suck: A Love Story

by Christopher Moore

These light, funny novels take place in San Francisco, and these vampires definitely try to do the right thing. The best thing about the novels is that Moore resurrects the character of Emperor Norton, based on the 19th century historical person who claimed to be emperor, and San Francisco humored him by accepting his money and posting his proclamations.


63-64. The Society Of S; The Year Of Disappearances

by Susan Hubbard

These are very literary works by a professor of English — serious novels involving a family of vampires and the coming of age of a young adolescent. Elusive, complex, poetic and sophisticated.


65. Hotel Transylvania

by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

This is the first book of a huge series that goes through all kinds of historical periods, following the vampire Comte de Saint-Germain. Haven't read the others, but this one is excellent.


66. The Vampire Tapestry

by Suzy McKee Charnas

Five related stories featuring the mysterious vampire Dr. Edward Weyland. Quite beautifully done.


67. The Delicate Dependency, A Novel Of The Vampire Life

by Michael Talbot

There are some who believe this is the best vampire novel ever written. Here, vampires are truly another species, and both responsible for most of human culture and dedicated to preserving it, though they don't much care about the present human population. A very odd, mysterious and mesmerizing read. Out of print, but available in used book marts.


68.Those Who Hunt The Night

by Barbara Hambly

A Sherlock Holmesian mystery plus vampires. Takes place in 1907.


69-71. Red Moon Rising, Malachi's Moon; Craven Moon

by Billie Sue Mosiman

I liked these books. There are three different kinds (nations) of vampires in these stories, and they are chosen in the dream world, depending on their spirit: predators, naturals (who live as humans) and cravens. The first book is about the coming of age of Dell, a natural, and the last two are about her son, Malachi, a dhampir — half-human and half-vampire.


72. Eternally Yours

by Stephen Juers

I am guessing this is self-published. It is a journal of a man who was made vampire at the time of the American Revolution and charts his life until the present. Good idea, but flawed.


73. Fledgling

by Octavia Butler

The late Octavia Butler was a very talented African-American science fiction writer, and this book is an exploration of difference, prejudice and race, with a half-human, half-vampire protagonist who's a genetic experiment and can operate in the daytime.


74. The Dead Travel Fast

by Eric Nuzum

A lighthearted nonfiction jaunt through vampires in fiction, history and the present.


75. The Vampire Archives

The Vampire Archives
by Otto Penzler, Neil Gaiman, and Kim Newman

It calls itself the most complete volume of vampire tales ever published. Almost a hundred selections — and most valuable, a bibliography that includes about 5,000 novels, short stories and other works. Seventy-five is clearly just the tip of the iceberg.


On My Bedside Table Now

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, and I am Legend by Richard Matheson. And everyone is telling me I forgot The Vampire Files — some 12 novels by P.N. Elrod. Urban fantasy set in 1930s Chicago, featuring a hardboiled P.I. named Jack Fleming.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: