I used to love vampires. When I was a kid, the idea of Christopher Lee imprisoned in a castle just waiting to rip the throat out of an unfortunate passer-by, scared the crap out of me. Salem’s Lot did the same thing to middle-class America, and to a middle-class English kid too. As a nine year old I thought if it could happen in the States, it could happen here. I Am Legend reinforced this fear, but then it all started going down hill in the 80’s.
First there was Lost Boys, a brilliant modern take that I loved – and still do – enjoy thoroughly. Near Dark was more brooding, more serious and readdressed the balance of fear. But then Buffy the Vampire Slayer arrived, and while it was fun, vampires became dumb. After that it just went south and vampires have been denuded and diluted over the last two decades, turned into something that doesn’t resemble the fears of Matheson, Stoker or the makers of the Hammer movies.
The problem with using such an icon in fiction and movies is there are many vampire fans out there now, and when you read that vampires exist in a story it can attract readers of those stories. But when the vampires advertised in your book aren’t their version of what a vampire should be like, it’s gonna annoy the vampire faithful. Thanks to True Blood, the Twilight books, countless vampire-softcore porn both commercial and self-published, the modern vampire is a brooding teen-to-twenty something, immaculate, pretty, and charming, someone to be mooned over as well as feared. There are exceptions, books that have tried to get back to the bare bones or have a wit that makes the rise above the norm – Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula being one, but I haven’t bought a vampire novel in years now; this creature and his troupes have become trite.
When I wrote vampires into my Secret War books way back in 2001, I wanted to go back to the basics, the mythology of how the likes of Stoker could have dreamt them up – to make them scary again. I wanted to tinker with their lore, make them more grounded and show how the legends were abused by chinese whispers. In most cases, the creatures in my books are referred to as vampires because the locals call them so, not due to the facts which are very un-vampire like. It’s this thing we do to transfer those anxieties that can’t be rationalised, onto our greatest feared myths because it’s more comforting to know our enemy than not. Thus the disappearances of hunters are down to Big Foot, the slaughter of live-stock has been caused by werewolves, and immortal, half-daemons are in fact vampires.
So what about my vampires? Well for a start, they’re called "vampyre", and for another they’re not about sex, which is bound to disappoint some. My vampyres aren’t afraid of crosses, do not suffer garlic, and a stake in the heart will just annoy them. Some will lose cohesion in direct sunlight (their skin is extremely sensitive, and with some, is almost gossamer), but all will perish once decapitated. They do not drink blood. They drink wine, or spirits, or ale, because it tastes good – not because they need to. They eat because they can, not because they are hungry. They are undead. They are animated by the spirit of a daemon who does not need food, drink or blood to keep going. Their energy is a constant, coursing through the cells of the host, keeping them alive and immortal.
Really they are half-daemons, creature’s seduced by the promise of immortality but enslaved as servants to Count Ordrane of Draak, the super-half-daemon if you will, hell-bent on enslaving the rest of humanity. They are the Knights of the Lost, the brotherhood of half-daemons who believe they are masters of their own fates, when in fact their fate was sealed the moment they allowed themselves to be turned.
There is nothing glamorous about being one of these vampires. In one of the later Secret War books, Baron Horia tells Captain William Saxon that he made the choice after seeing his grandfather die of pestilence, slowing rotting away piece by piece. He did not wish to go the same way.
Fear drives my vampires to becoming the undead.
And really that’s what they are, undead, not truly alive or free. They exist only on the whim of daemons, and that is slavery not matter how you look at it. Is it tragic? For some, maybe, but it was their choice, their cowardice that made them so. It’s difficult to turn a man or woman into my vampires unless you really want to be one – too difficult to be done on a whim as so often happens in the flood of vampire-related fiction these days. There is nothing romantic about it. No ideal that makes them attractive. The undead are naïve at best; cowardly in the worst cases.
All this amounts to one thing: my vampires aren’t vampires in the modern sense, and its the modern sense that has won-out. I think there might have been room for my vampires say in the 70’s, and definitely when Stoker’s books came out, but not now. They just don’t fit the bill.
So during the revisions of the first book, I’ve deleted references to the name “vampyre” and replaced them with the “Knights of the Lost” and “undead”; truer references.
The Secret War books aren’t vampire books. Not in any sense of the word. I don’t want to be seen as mis-selling a fantasy series by saying otherwise.
But more importantly, I think vampires have had their day. For me, in a modern world of serial killers, cannibals, flesh-eating viruses, zombies and religious fundamentalists, vampires no longer frighten me.
And that’s the scariest thing of all.