The Age of Vampires

by Barbara Emrys

This Hallowe’en, let’s take a minute to consider our fascination with zombies and bloodsucking vampires. Death is both a terror and a curiosity to most of us. Naturally, we cringe at the idea of the ‘walking dead,’ with unstoppable bodies and insatiable appetites. We cringe, but still can’t look away. There’s something about fiends and demons that intrigues us. There’s something about vampires we’re drawn to…something familiar, maybe.

Vampire mythology has been with us for a while, but its popularity is still strong. Vampire stories are everywhere these days, crossing cultural lines and adopting contemporary themes. Detestable characters are portrayed as ‘relatable.’ Many people are grossed out by the idea of vampires, I guess, but that doesn’t stop audiences from wanting more. So, what is it about these stories that keeps us entertained…and strangely sympathetic? 

Storytelling is always about one thing: the human experience. It’s all we humans know. Whether the protagonist is an animal or an alien, every story is about you and me. Great stories reveal us as cowards as well as heroes. They caution us and they comfort us. Stories paint word-pictures about our lives and our problems. They reflect our feelings and philosophies. You could say the human mind is on a never-ending quest to explain itself, and nothing explains it better than a good vampire story. Really.

By now we’ve come to see vampires as sorry souls, cursed by a terrible event. At some point in their past they were bitten, infected, and turned into monstrous creatures. How awful! How sad! And it’s not their fault! Sure, vampires commit gruesome acts, you say– but vampires can also feel remorse. They’re tragic characters, vulnerable and misunderstood. Vampires are victims, right? They were innocent once, forced to taste corruption, and now they feed on the blood of other innocents. Poor things! They don’t want to do it…they have to! 

You may think the undead aren’t anything like us. Zombies are brain-eating, unfeeling automatons, after all…and we’re not, right? Vampires live in darkness and perish in the sunlight; once infected by evil, they must infect others. What has that got to do with normal people? Well, as I said, every story is about us. Mythologies describe how we came to exist on this planet and how we should conduct ourselves while we’re here. Classic fables describe our best and worst qualities. So let’s take a lesson from our own storytelling: let’s see what the walking dead might be telling us about ourselves.

Vampires thrive on the body’s life-force, exactly the way you do. You feed on emotional energy– your own and everyone else’s. Emotion, like the blood that runs in your veins, is real. Thoughts are not. Even so, thoughts can make you afraid or angry, jealous or insecure. They can make you feel good about yourself, or wretched. By manipulating emotions, your mind gets to feel real. In time, that sensation of realness becomes a craving, a compulsion. 

This makes bloodsucking very relatable, I think. We drain the body’s energy by keeping our stories alive– and we hide that glaring secret from ourselves. Vampires, too, keep their secrets hidden. Exposed to sunlight, vampires burn to ash. Exposed to truth, our lies can’t survive. Same idea. We may not be exactly like vampires, but we’ll go on behaving like a species of night-stalking predators until we wake up; until we step out of darkness and shine a light on ourselves. 

We can start by admitting what we’re doing– and what we’re eating. We can stop picking at ourselves. We can curb our appetite for poison, any old time. We can ingest small doses of truth until truth is the only food we crave. Like sensible ghouls and vampires, we can change our feeding habits and be impeccable again.

This holiday season, consider all the stories people have shared over the centuries. Their messages may be wrapped up in riddles, but listen closely. Make the characters relatable to you. All stories are about the human experience. They’re about your experience. Ask yourself, “How can this little parable give me some important insights, here and now?” And answer the question– honestly.