ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Finally this hour, time for a dispatch on the mixed-up lives of vampires. They are best known for sucking their victims' blood. But somehow, vampires manage to be eerily attractive - at least in pop culture. Two series are dominating bestseller lists - the "Twilight" books and the "Southern Vampire" books, which are the basis of HBO's latest hit, "True Blood." Both have vampire heroes who practice remarkable restraint, as NPR's Lynn Neary reports.
Mr. BELA LUGOSI (Actor): (As Count Dracula) I am Dracula. I bid you welcome.
LYNN NEARY: You don't see much blood or fangs for that matter in the 1931 film, "Dracula." But when Bela Lugosi leans over his victims, he is one creepy guy. And when this vampire wants a pretty woman, he takes her with no remorse. Vampires or something like them have been part of culture since ancient times, says my colleague Eric Nuzum, who has written about the creatures in his book, "The Dead Travel Fast." And while vampires cannot see their own reflection in the mirror, Nuzum says, they are a perfect reflection of the culture which creates them.
Mr. ERIC NUZUM (Author, "The Dead Travel Fast"): You look at vampires from any given era and you see what they thought was frightening. You see what they thought was sexy, and what they thought was forbidden.
NEARY: The latest craze, Nuzum says, is the romantic, even chivalrous vampire. Take "True Blood" for example. The HBO's series is set in a time when vampires prowl openly through small-town America and even campaign for their civil rights. Sookie Stackhouse, a young, pretty waitress, falls for a vampire named Bill. And like any young woman, her interest only intensifies when others object to her new crush.
(Soundbite of TV series "True Blood")
Ms. ANNA PAQUIN: (As Sookie Stackhouse) He's not like that.
Unidentified Woman: OK, OK. You spoke to him for like a minute. You don't know how many people he sucked the blood out over the last - many centuries he's been alive.
Ms. PAQUIN: (As Sookie Stackhouse) But he's so not scary.
Unidentified Woman: Sweet Jesus in heaven. Sookie, he is a vampire.
NEARY: "True Blood" is based on the "Southern Vampires" book series written by Charlaine Harris. She inhabits her fictional world with both good and bad vampires. But in Bill, she creates as a genteel vampire who protects Sookie from the worst of his kind - even as he tries to reign in his own baser instincts. And of course, says Harris, his restraint makes him all the more alluring.
Ms. CHARLAINE HARRIS (Author, "Southern Vampire"): Yes, definitely. Gosh. I could rip you limb from limb, but because I think you're so great, I'm going to be very, very careful. That's got to be kind of intoxicating.
NEARY: But the gentleman vampire, who has stolen the heart of teenage girls everywhere, is Edward, the hero of Stephenie Meyers' "Twilight" series, soon to be released as a movie. Edward's fans live vicariously through his romance with high school sweetheart, Bella.
(Soundbite of movie "Twilight")
Ms. KRISTEN STEWART: (As Bella Swan) You're what you are. Your skin is hell white and ice cool. You don't go out into the sunlight.
Mr. ROBERT PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) Say it out loud. Say it.
Ms. STEWART: (As Bella Swan) Vampire.
Mr. PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) Are you afraid?
Ms. KRISTEN STEWART: (As Bella Swan) No.
NEARY: Edward and his clan refuse to feed off humans, and it is that choice, says Meyer, that makes him so popular.
Ms. STEPHENIE MEYER (Author, "Twilight"): These are vampires who should be these creatures who exist to hunt humans. I mean, they are evil and they choose something different. They find another way. And I think that kids respond to the idea that it doesn't matter where I am in life. I always have a choice.
Ms. NINA AUERBACH (Author, "Our Vampires, Ourselves"): Vampires aren't supposed to be restrained. They're all our hungers. That's why they're vampires.
NEARY: Nina Auerbach, author of "Our Vampires, Ourselves," believes every age gets the vampire it wants. In the 1960s and '70s, she says, vampires took young women away from their narrow lives and transformed them. It's understandable, she says, that with the advent of AIDS, uninhibited bloodsucking may have lost some of its appeal. Still, she finds this latest crop of vampires kind of boring.
Ms. AUERBACH: And these are very abstinent vampires. The implication being, if he truly loves you, he will not do it to you. And I'm old and I thought if he truly loves you, you would have a wonderful time together.
NEARY: Whether they terrify, entrance or court their victims, vampires are always on the prowl. Waiting for that moment when the moon comes out, and the cultural spotlight shines on them again. Lynn Neary, NPR News Washington.