Monday, December 27, 2010

Chapter 59: In Which There Was Never Such a Stupid; The Admiral Said So Himself

The previous chapter was awesome. The descriptions worked well to build suspense and emotion, and we finally got to explore another facet of the story's supernatural element. It made me feel that, however slowly it moves, the story has direction once again.

Chapter 59 (THE WARNING. -- THE NEW PLAN OF OPERATION. -- THE INSULTING MESSAGE FROM VARNEY.) does start off slowly. Jack vascillates between being legitimately funny and being written into that really annoying forced humor where you just want to laugh so the author will be satisfied and stop. He probably would have ruined Chapter 58 if it hadn't been so good to begin with, and I could really do without him here.

Chillingworth tells the Admiral that they've made a mistake: they should have let Varney enter the house, then tried to catch him on the way out. There have been so many instances of the characters behaving in really stupid ways around the vampire, so it's nice to see them learning from it.

But back to Jack. Someone commented a while back arguing an alternate interpretation of Varney the Vampire: Varney is not a real vampire, and all the supernatural elements are just smoke and mirrors. While that theory doesn't convince me based on the text itself, sometimes I find it plausible that it's what JMR was going for -- but if it was, I think he executed it ineptly.

Because that awesome suspenseful scene at the end of Chapter 58? Was just Jack being a complete idiot.

I mean, this could be an interesting plot device if JMR didn't just consistently have stuff happen and have characters immediately retcon it in the next chapter. I don't think "it's all smoke and mirrors" would make Varney a bad story. But there's got to be more suspense, more mystery, something more involved than this f***ery.

I must give JMR some credit for the end of the chapter, however, because he brings back that Varney I know and love. The smug, manipulative a**hole who breaks into someone's house at night and then invites them to breakfast the next morning.
"That's about the coolest piece of business," said Mr. Chillingworth, "that ever I heard of."
Indeed it is.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chapter 58: In Which The Book Can't Get Any Awesomer Than This

Man, over a year working on this blog (however intermittently) and I'm only just nearing the end of Book 1. If you haven't yet realized how ridiculous Varney the Vampire is, that should teach you something.

The previous chapter concerned the Admiral and Dr. Chillingworth trying to catch the vampire in a trap, ending just as they heard a mysterious noise. In Chapter 58 (THE ARRIVAL OF JACK PRINGLE -- MIDNIGHT AND THE VAMPYRE. -- THE MYSTERIOUS HAT.), we immediately learn that it was only Jack.

I hope y'all skipped ahead instead of waiting two months to find out how that cliffhanger resolved, because that's got to be a hell of a letdown.

Apparently Jack has gone out and gotten drunk, and the Admiral tells him off for ruining the plan to catch the vampire while Chillingworth keeps trying to break up the fight, with as little success as you might expect. The dialogue feels a bit forced, but works well enough to express the character dynamics. And actually the resolution of the problem is pretty funny, if as abrupt as I've come to generally expect from JMR:
Jack staggered after him, and they all reached the room where the admiral and Mr. Chillingworth had been sitting before the alarm.

"There!" said the admiral, putting the light upon the table, and pointing to the bottle; "what do yo think of that?"

"I never thinks under such circumstances," said Jack. "Here's to the wooden walls of old England!"

He seized the bottle, and, putting its neck into his mouth, for a few moments nothing was heard but a gurgling sound of the liquor passing down his throat; his head went further and further back, until, at last, over he went, chair and bottle and all, and lay in a helpless state of intoxication on the floor.

"So far, so good," said the admiral. "He's out of the way, at all events."
As soon as that's done, they hear something again, and we get this interesting exchange:
"Hist!" said the doctor. "Not a word. They come."

"What do you say they for?" said the admiral.

"Because something seems to whisper me that Mr. Marchdale knows more of Varney, the vampyre, than ever he has chosen to reveal. Put out the light."
The ensuing scene where Varney sneaks into the house feels needlessly padded, even for JMR. For example:
He turned his side to the apartment, and, as he did so, the bright moonlight fell upon his face, enabling Mr. Chillingworth to see, without the shadow of a doubt, that it was, indeed, Varney, the vampyre, who was thus stealthily making his entrance into Bannerworth Hall, according to the calculation which had been made by the admiral upon that subject.
Really? That's really how you're going to do the reveal of the vampire, with a rambling sentence repeating what we knew from the first half of the chapter? I suppose I should just be glad that my gut feeling was wrong and this wasn't just another red herring.

Anyway, they try to catch Varney, but end up only grabbing his boot. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that Chillingworth suddenly grew a spine:
"Yes, you are done," said the doctor; "why didn't you lay hold of the leg while you were about it, instead of the boot? Admiral, are these your tactics?"
The chapter actually ends on a high note, so I'm just going to keep quoting passages I like.
"D -- n it!" he said, "this puts me in mind of old times. Blaze away, you thieves, while I load; broadside to broadside. It's your turn now; I scorn to take an advantage. What the devil's that?"

Something very large and very heavy came bang against the window, sending it all into the room, and nearly smothering the admiral with the fragments. Another shot was then fired, and in came something else, which hit the wall on the opposite side of the room, rebounding from thence on to the doctor, who gave a yell of despair.
I love this bit because JMR has suddenly hit upon the exact right amount of detail for the situation. Even though the second paragraph is worded so matter-of-factly, I got a strong sense of the characters' emotions -- particularly the confusion over what or who, exactly, has caused this.

Then we get a bit more of drunk!Jack antics before the Big Reveal:
At this instant there was a strange hissing sound heard below the window; then there was a sudden, loud report, as if a hand-grenade had gone off. A spectral sort of light gleamed into the room, and a tall, gaunt-looking figure rose slowly up in the balcony.

"Beware of the dead!" said a voice. "Let the living contend with the living, the dead with the dead. Beware!"

The figure disappeared, as did also the strange, spectral-looking light. A deathlike silence ensued, and the cold moonbeams streamed in upon the floor of the apartment, as if nothing had occurred to disturb the wrapped repose and serenity of the scene.
This. Is. F***ing. Awesome.

Seriously, these three paragraphs are probably the awesomest thing that has happened since Varney the Vampire began. Generally, waiting until Chapter 58 (a full quarter of the way through the book, although JMR wouldn't have known at the time) to really start exploring the supernatural mythos is a colossally stupid idea... and actually, that's not untrue here. But I've been waiting so long to see some kind of payoff, and I am incredibly happy that JMR can still manage to surprise me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sponsored Post: Vampire Store

New post coming on Sunday; thank you all for your patience! In the meantime, go visit Vampire Store! The site offers product links for many popular vampire series, such as Twilight and Dark Shadows.

If you're looking for vampire media, you might be interested in the informative book reviews and other blog posts. There's even a few general resources, such as this look at explanations for vampirism.

Altogether, a nice vampire site to check out!

Monday, November 22, 2010

In Which the Blogger Calls Attention to Her Entirely Predictable Absence

Sorry, guys. My health has just been s*** lately and I have not done much writing of any kind this month. But here, have a slightly related article about Star Wars vampires to tie you over for the next two weeks or so until I get back on track.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chapter 57: In Which I Suddenly Enjoy Waiting for the Vampire

In the previous chapter, we finally got back to the Bannerworths just as they finally moved out of their house. Chapter 57 (THE LONELY WATCH, AND THE ADVENTURE IN THE DESERTED HOUSE.) begins with a nice melodramatic description about the night:
It was one of those nights to produce melancholy reflections -- a night on which a man would be apt to review his past life, and to look into the hidden recesses of his soul to see if conscience could make a coward of him in the loneliness and stillness that breathed around.
It goes on like that for a while until we get to the personified Bannerworth Hall, which is getting all emo because the Bannerworths deserted it:
It seemed as if twenty years of continued occupation could not have produced such an effect upon the ancient edifice as had those few hours of neglect and desertion.
All this leading up to Admiral Bell and Dr. Chillingworth sitting in Flora's room with weapons, waiting for the vampire's return. Why they think the vampire is going to return that night other than the plot saying so, I'm not sure, but I'm not about to argue too much when it appears that something exciting might be about to happen.

By the way, here's exactly what I mean about the Admiral being funny when he's playing off someone:
"... as to our efforts being crowned with success, why, I'll give you a toast, doctor, 'may the morning's reflection provide for the evening's amusement.'"

"Ha! ha!" said Chillingworth, faintly; "I'd rather not drink any more, and you seem, admiral, to have transposed the toast in some way. I believe it runs, 'may the evening's amusement bear the morning's reflection.'"

"Transpose the devil!" said the admiral; "what do I care how it runs? I gave you my toast, and as to that you mention, it's another one altogether, and a sneaking, shore-going one too: but why don't you drink?"
It turns out the Admiral has set a trap, locking up all the windows except for one, under which he's placed some precariously balanced crockery.

Naturally, there's a cat scare right after he says this, by which I mean a cat knocks over the crockery. But I actually really like that bit. It actually builds the suspense, rather than JMR saying something is going to happen and either a) making it happen immediately or b) making it happen ten chapters later after we've forgotten about it entirely.

They find the cat, put out the light, and hear a whistle from the garden, and with that cliffhanger I'm actually looking forward to reading the next chapter.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Digression: The Vampyre Site

Working on an actual post for before I go to bed tonight. In the meantime, check out my new site, The Vampyre Site! There are already a bunch of articles and short stories about vampires, as well as resources about everyone's favorite vampire opera, Der Vampyr. (Okay, so there aren't that many vampire operas to pick from.)

I noticed a while ago that none of the online versions of Varney the Vampire contain all of the illustrations (and few even have a couple), so I'm working on scanning those in to add to the website, plus some more stories & resources that I have to add in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chapter 56: In Which the Bannerworths Finally Leave

So, the previous chapter had no sign of Varney, just some more irrelevant filler. At least Chapter 56 (THE DEPARTURE OF THE BANNERWORTHS FROM THE HALL. -- THE NEW ABODE. -- JACK PRINGLE, PILOT.) marks the return of the characters we know and love occasionally tolerate: the Bannerworths & co.

The Bannerworths have finally decided to leave the hall instead of holding another drawn-out meeting about it, the Admiral having convinced them it was a good idea way back in Chapter I'm-not-looking-up-a-link-right-now.

Henry says to the Admiral: "here we are, trusting implicitly to you"; and for some reason the phrasing of that line just strikes me as funny. I know the awkwardness is just classic JMR dialogue, but it sort of has the feel of overeagerness, a shifty-eyed "of course I trust you; I haven't left some kind of sinister surprise for you when we leave."

Or maybe it's just me. It'd never happen, in any case.

The Admiral reassures Henry that he can defend himself against the vampire, and reassures Flora that she will at long last be away from her attacker. The Bannerworths (and Jack, who is accompanying them as comic relief) say farewell to the Admiral (and Dr. Chillingworth).

With the separation of Jack from the Admiral, JMR seems to be trying out a new running gag wherein Jack says something in sailor slang and the others stare blankly. Actually I can't tell if it's a running gag yet and not just a one-off, but from the way it was abruptly shoehorned into the beginning of the chapter ("Oh, it's a seaman's report. I know what he means; it's quicker and plainer than the land lingo, to my ears, and Jack can't talk any other, you see," says the Admiral) and then appears towards the end, that's what it feels like.

It's not funny for the same reason that a lot of JMR's attempts at humor aren't funny (see also: the last chapter): because they don't involve interaction. The Admiral and Jack are funny when they interact with each other. The Admiral is funny when he interacts with other people. Jack is a little too forced for me to find him funny most of the time, but he's funny when there's an actual interaction, and not just him saying something that's supposed to be funny and no one else really understanding it.

At any rate, the Bannerworths reach their destination uneventfully, and we've got to wait until the next Sunday post (which shall hopefully not be on Wednesday again) to find out what happens after the big cliffhanger at the end of this chapter: why can't the Bannerworths enter the garden yet????

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chapter 55: In Which the Mob Stumbles Around in the Dark Because It's Funny, I Guess

So this week's Wednesday post is on Friday. Don't judge me.

Previously in Varney the Vampire, the mob watch Varney's house burn and presume (or, perhaps, hope) that he's dead. In Chapter 55 (Chapter LV. THE RETURN OF THE MOB AND MILITARY TO THE TOWN. -- THE MADNESS OF THE MOB. -- THE GROCER'S REVENGE.) is, I suppose, a coda to the overly-long episode of the mob attacking Varney.

The mob leaves the house after the fire burns out (excuse me, after "the termination of the conflagration," because it has more syllables). They go back to the village and, since burning down Varney's house was clearly not enough excitement for one night, decide that they're still bored and play practical jokes on each other.

It occurred to me as I finished this chapter that it was full of accidental suspense. For example, some guys decide it would be great fun to see who can jump over a muddy ditch. Some of them jump in and turn into ginormous drama queens about how now they're wet and muddy and are clearly going to die. Having seen a few horror movies, my first thought was that Varney must have been hiding in the mud at the bottom of the ditch and they were going to discover them/he was going to attack them.

Same thing in the middle of the scene where some guy decides to get revenge on some other guy by throwing pitch at him. As he's trying to figure out how to scrape pitch off some pickets, he reaches down and "found he had inserted his hand into something soft." Surely this must be something to draw us back to the main plot, right? But no, it's just a pail of pitch, and there are some more unfunny antics to finish up the irrelevant chapter.

Chapter 56: In Which the Bannerworths Finally Leave

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chapter 54: In Which Varney Obviously Isn't Dead -- He's the Title Character

Sorry about the lack of posting last Sunday; I was sick all last week and so devoted myself to work that doesn't take a whole lot of attention, like reformatting old books or waiting an hour for my old POS laptop to start up.

In the previous chapter, the mob set Varney's house on fire. Chapter 54 (THE BURNING OF VARNEY'S HOUSE. -- A NIGHT SCENE. -- POPULAR SUPERSTITION.) begins with the sergeant reporting back to his superior officer about the fire. The superior officer sends him back for information, presumably so that JMR can repeat the whole thing about Varney supposedly dying in the fire for the benefit of readers who came in late.

The man who reports the summary of previous events to the sergeant starts out as kind of a smartass but gradually becomes helpful, offering to report to the superior officer himself. But he mentions that Varney is a vampire and suddenly no one will take him seriously.

Meanwhile, the mob continues to watch the fire well into the night, afraid to venture into the dark in case the vampire is still alive and ready to attack. I actually rather like the last bit of the chapter, so I'll quote it in its entirety to increase this post's word count:
The hours passed away, and the house that had been that morning a noble and well-furnished mansion, was now a smouldering heap of ruins. The flames had become somewhat subdued, and there was now more smoke than flames.

The fire had exhausted itself. There was now no more material that could serve it for fuel, and the flames began to become gradually enough subdued.

Suddenly there was a rush, and then a bright flame shot upward for an instant, so bright and so strong, that it threw a flash of light over the country for miles; but it it was only momentary, and it subsided.

The roof, which had been built strong enough to resist almost anything, after being burning for a considerable time, suddenly gave way, and came in with a tremendous crash, and then all was for a moment darkness.

After this the fire might be said to be subdued, it having burned itself out; and the flames that could now be seen were but the result of so much charred wood, that would probably smoulder away for a day or two, if left to itself to do so. A dense mass of smoke arose from the ruins, and blackened the atmosphere around, and told the spectators the work was done.
Since I'm getting frustrated with short chapters/chapters with not much to say about them and want to get through this book a bit faster, Wednesday posting shall (hopefully!) resume this week. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chapter 53: In Which The Military Suddenly Doesn't Care About the Mob

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Varney keeps a wine cellar full of blood. Maybe.

(Finally, my Internet connection is back! It's like it knows when I'm trying to make a blog post, or something.)

So, this chapter begins with the mob setting Varney's house on fire, just in case he's still hiding in there. And then there's this whole thing about how if vampires got married they wouldn't want to live forever and ha ha women are awful isn't that hilarious.

And then the military shows up and everyone's like, "Ho hum, can't prove who did what so might as well not worry about it. Serves Varney right for not getting out of town when people started accusing him of vampirism." Seriously?

I feel terrible for this being so short as well as late but I swear to God that is all that happens.

Chapter 54: In Which Varney Obviously Isn't Dead -- He's the Title Character

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chapter 52: In Which Varney Makes a Cameo

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The mob's attack is drawn out about three chapters longer than necessary.

Chapter 52 (THE INTERVIEW BETWEEN THE MOB AND SIR FRNCIS VARNEY. -- THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE. -- THE WINE CELLARS.) begins with what is probably the most egregious padding I've seen so far in Varney the Vampire:
"Hurrah!" shouted the mob below.
"Hurrah!" shouted the mob above....
"Down with the vampyre!" they shouted.
"Down with the vampyre!" shouted they.
Either that or it's an attempt to attract younger readers to the story. "See Dick run. See Jane run. See Dick stake the vampire. Stake, Dick, stake!"

Then the mob comes across Varney, and what can I say about Varney except that I love him.
"Gentlemen," said Sir Francis Varney, rising, with the blandest of smiles, "pray, gentlemen, permit me to inquire the cause of this condescension on your part. The visit is kind."
It's just amazing how subtle he is, how his calmness is so consistently the most threatening thing about him. On the one hand it works because it's a bit crazymaking -- "he's acting so calm and clueless, perhaps he's not a vampire after all and we're just imagining all this" -- and on the other hand it speaks to just how powerful the vampire is -- if you're about to attack someone and he's so confident that he doesn't even try to defend himself, either he's monumentally stupid or you're about to get f***ed.

Of course, Varney's bluffing a little, because rather than face the mob he mysteriously disappears. Which segues nicely into the next few hundred words of padding, which essentially amount to "where did he go?" and "he's a vampire!" repeated ad nauseum.

The really interesting bit in this chapter, however, comes after the mob raid Varney's wine cellar:
"What are you drinking?"
"What wine?"
"Danged if I know," was the reply. "It's wine, I suppose; for I know it ain't beer nor spirits; so it must be wine."
"Are you sure it ain't bottled men's blood?"
"Bottled blood, man! Who knows what a vampyre drinks? It may be his wine. He may feast upon that before he goes to bed of a night, drink anybody's health, and make himself cheerful on bottled blood!"
"Oh, danged! I'm so sick; I wish I hadn't taken the stuff. It may be as you say, neighbour, and then we be cannibals."
"Or vampyres."
"There's a pretty thing to think of."
Vampires disguising their blood as wine -- another vampire trope I had no idea showed up so early. (Any early vampire lit experts know of an earlier fictional appearance? I checked what I knew of but couldn't find one.) The suggestion, of course, causes the mob to become paranoid and dump all the wine.

But was Varney's wine cellar actually filled with blood? We've seen Varney refuse wine in the past, suggesting that he can't consume any food or drink besides blood, so why would he keep so much wine in the house? On the other hand, he has food and drink available when Henry and Marchdale visit, so he must keep it around for guests as well as to keep up appearances.

The main problem, however, is simply that (unless any blood-drinkers in the comments care to correct me on this) blood tastes nothing like wine, so if the mob just thinks the wine tastes a little funny I'm going to chalk that one up to their paranoia. I've seen the "vampire tricks human into drinking blood by pretending it's wine" trope in other vampire fiction, which seems to rely on the nonsensical premise of "if it looks vaguely similar it must taste the same."

People who believe that, remind me never to eat anything you cook.

Chapter 53: In Which The Military Suddenly Doesn't Care About the Mob

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chapter 51: In Which Conveniently, No One Gets Hurt

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The mob try to attack Varney by knocking on the door.

I know I've been picking on chapter titles too often lately. But really, I was surprised by the title of Chapter 51 (THE ATTACK UPON THE VAMPYRE'S HOUSE. -- THE FURY OF THE ATTACK. -- THE FORCING OF THE DOORS, AND THE STRUGGLE.). With all the trouble trying to knock on the door in the previous chapter, I'd have thought it would take them until at least Chapter 52 to figure out that they should try to force it.

The mob, despite being my favorite character for a while, has quickly fallen from my favor. Oh, how fickle the minds of readers (and the characterization of JMR!). At any rate, I rather like the person who's opening the door and mocking them after their ineffectual attempts to open it: "You had better cease that kind of annoyance."

So he tries to scare the mob off with a gun, but conveniently can't aim well enough to kill anyone. Then there's a needless repeat of the mob's conversation from earlier in the chapter ("Let's kill the vampire so he doesn't suck our blood while we sleep!" "Hurrah!").

Then the mob actually makes a successful attack, and I'm not sure where their sudden competence comes from. Although conveniently none of the servants get killed, just knocked out -- and you know what, I'm finding JMR's tone a little weird in these "conveniently no one got hurt!" lines. I mean, with all his previous tut-tutting about how awful and immoral the mob was, you'd think killing innocent humans on the way to a vampire would be a good way to show how evil they were. But for some reason JMR abruptly switched to an (occasionally funny, I admit) comedy in the previous chapter, and once again I'm stuck not quite knowing what his point is and where he's going.

But in the next chapter Varney actually converses with the mob, so that should be something, at least.

Chapter 52: In Which Varney Makes a Cameo

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Chapter 50: In Which JMR is a Chapter Behind

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The mob are arrested in the most boring way imaginable.

As we start Chapter 50 (THE MOB'S ARRIVAL AT SIR FRANCIS VARNEY'S. -- THE ATTEMPT TO GAIN ADMISSION.) -- wait, isn't that the exact same chapter title as the previous chapter? F*** you, JMR.

Thankfully in this one, the mob actually does arrive at Varney's house, and predictably starts clamoring for his death. In tones of "rage and disappointment," apparently, which just makes me picture the mob wagging their fingers at Varney and sternly warning him that if he doesn't start being a good little vampire they'll make him sit in the corner without his supper.

And then Varney would slaughter them all and drink his supper from their blood-spurting wounds. The end.

But let's return to the actual story. Somehow the members of the mob who escaped before the others were arrested got a tip that Varney would be at home, because where else would you hide when a mob was coming to kill you?

Their plan to defeat him is as follows:

  1. Approach quietly, so as not to warn him.
  2. Knock on the door.
  3. Prop the door open with a stick so they can force their way in.
  4. ???
  5. Profit!
Or something to that effect. It predictably goes awry when no one answers the door, leading to this wonderful line:
The knock for admission produced no effect; and, after waiting three or four minutes, it was very provoking to find such a wonderful amount of caution and cunning completely thrown away.
Not knowing what else to do, they knock again, and I rather like this little exchange, too:
"Well?" said the man who appeared at the little opening.
"Oh," said he who had knocked; "I -- "
"I -- that is to say -- ahem! Is Sir Francis Varney within?"
"I say, is Sir Francis Varney within?"
"Well; you have said it!"
"Ah, but you have not answered it."
"Well, is he at home?"
"I decline saying; so you had better, all of you, go back to the town again, for we are well provided with all material to resist any attack you may be fools enough to make."
And so the chapter ends on the biggest cliffhanger of all time, with the mob scratching their heads and probably wondering if they should just try knocking again.

(SPOILER: That's exactly what they do in Chapter 51.)

Sponsored Post: Coolest Vampire Art Gallery

Time for another sponsored post -- The Coolest Vampire Art Gallery! I haven't seen enough vampire art galleries to know if this is the coolest, but it seems pretty cool to me. The site has several categories of vampire art, including posters for Dracula films, female vampires (I found some particularly nice stuff here, but I was having trouble with direct links), and (of course) Twilight.

Of particular interest to vampire artists: the new site owner of The Coolest Vampire Art Gallery has set up a section for members to display and sell their own vampire artwork. You can set up a gallery for free to promote your work, or sell prints through the site for a fee.

So go check out The Coolest Vampire Art Gallery while you're waiting for me to write a real post tonight!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Digression: Vampire Story vs. Story with Vampires

This is a bit rambly. Consider yourself warned.

So this question came into my mind when I was watching Blood Ties (3 a.m. Eastern time on Lifetime! not that I stay up that late) and started comparing it to Forever Knight. There are a great many differences between the shows, but the major difference is the presence of the vampire.

In Forever Knight, Nick is the center of the story, and his struggle against his vampire nature is the driving force of the show's long-term story arc. In Blood Ties, on the other hand, the story is about a human, Vicki. Henry helps introduce her to the world of the paranormal, and the fact that he's a vampire lends a particular tone to the show, but the main story wouldn't change much if he were a different kind of supernatural creature.

But then again, you could say that about any story. When there are only so many basic plots and it's the details that make the stories different, it's not really fair to randomly swap out those details and claim you're keeping the essence of the story.

I haven't fully thought this through, but I wanted to open it up for discussion: what's the difference between a vampire story and a story with vampires in it, or is the difference even significant enough to be worth noting?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chapter 49: In Which the Mob is Easily Captured (Except for the Ones Who Escape)

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The mob stakes a vampire. Maybe.

If I still had the delusion that the chapter titles in Varney the Vampire had anything to do with their contents, Chapter 49 (THE MOB'S ARRIVAL AT SIR FRANCIS VARNEY'S. -- THE ATTEMPT TO GAIN ADMISSION.) would be a disappointment. Thankfully I was cured of that unreasonable expectation around Chapter 3.

The chapter begins with the soldiers and police trying to figure out what to do about the mob. The soldiers soon enter the room where the mob staked a dead body and are immediately Shocked and Appalled. They try to capture the mob; the mob threatens to resist; they shoot at the mob, who are similarly Shocked and Appalled that things have turned violent; and the mob scramble over each other trying to escape.

JMR quickly reassures us that the soldiers were firing blanks, just in case we don't believe the soldier who quickly reassures the onlookers that they're firing blanks. In any case, the mob is soon subdued and marched off to jail.

In the midst of all this, some of the mob escaped and headed off to Varney's house. I imagine we'll hear about this in a chapter or three. The only thing really memorable about this one is how oddly distant and disinterested the narration seems, as if JMR has run out of things to lecture us about.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sponsored Post: Vampire Empire

So I'm selling ad space now--yay! For my first post of this kind, I'm talking about Vampire Empire, a site about (in the site owner's words) "history to cult classics to phenomenons no one saw coming."

The main part of the site showcases some very nice vampire artwork -- I think this one's my favorite, but I also love how the first painting of Lucy from Dracula captures the novel's themes of sexuality and violence. The site also offers custom vampire art.

In addition, there are sections on classic and popular vampire stories, such as Dracula, Interview with the Vampire (is that old enough to be considered a classic, in terms of vampire stories?), and True Blood (which reminds me, I'm still somewhere at the beginning of Season 2).

Anyway, you should check it out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chapter 48: In Which a Vampire Finally Gets Staked (Maybe)

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Varney checks up on the Bannerworths and the mob discovers a "vampire."

In Chapter 48 (THE STAKE AND THE DEAD BODY.) begins with a sentence masquerading as a paragraph, which I read three times and then gave up on:
The mob seemed from the first to have an impression that, as regarded the military force, no very serious results would arise from that quarter, for it was not to be supposed that, on an occasion which could not possibly arouse any ill blood on the part of the soldiery, or on which they could have the least personal feeling, they would like to get a bad name, which would stick to them for years to come.
It continues fairly soon with the woman at the end of the previous chapter, who thought a dead man was a vampire. Other townspeople crowd around the body to examine it. They summon a man who saw the body a few days ago, who confirms that it looks fresher now than it did when he first died.

So they decide that they must drive a stake through the body. Interestingly, the heart isn't specified as it is in many vampire stories; just the stake itself, "it was currently believed, inflicted so much physical injury to the frame, as to render his resuscitation out of the question."

The act itself is carried out by a handful of drunk guys unaffiliated with the current on-lookers -- I suppose that's so JMR (who puts on great airs of horror and disgust at the violation of the body) can continue looking down at the mob while mostly viewing them as stupid and misguided, rather than evil.

Was the guy actually a vampire? It's hard to say, although JMR comes down pretty strongly on the side of "no, and you're stupid for believing that there might be vampires in a vampire story."

But whether he was or wasn't, the problem with this scene is that it exists only so JMR can do what he's done every single chapter since the mob was introduced: smack us over the head with how stupid and uncivilized they are. The whole "drive a stake through the heart/cut off the head of someone who might have been turned to prevent them from rising" is a classic vampire trope, and in most stories it works because we are familiar with -- and care about -- both the character who's dead and the character doing the staking. It becomes a poignant moment of angst, reinforcing the loss of the loved one and demonstrating that the vampire slayer will do whatever it takes to stop others from getting hurt.

The mob is a sort of character, certainly, but by bringing in some random guys to do the deed, JMR fails to show the impact of the staking on that character. Worse than that, he gives the mob someone to look down on -- someone who's reviled for doing the dirty work that, if the mob is correct in their assumptions of vampirism, needs to get done. Like so much of the story, it's just all too convenient.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chapter 47: In Which We Encounter an Odd Combination of Fiction and Folklore

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Nothing much happens that we haven't been over before.

Chapter 47 (THE REMOVAL FROM THE HALL. -- THE NIGHT WATCH, AND THE ALARM.) begins with -- of all things! -- an argument between Henry and the Admiral over who gets to keep the furniture when the Bannerworths move out. It's amazing how dull the Admiral can get when thrown into such a context.

Thankfully they're interrupted by Varney's servant, who comes under the pretense of seeing how they are after the "flurry and excitement." It's just so very Varney: a smug reminder -- I'm still here! -- coupled with an underhanded, passive-aggressive "oh, I didn't hurt you, did I?"

To express their displeasure, they take the servant and stick him under the water pump. I guess that's what one did before the invention of toilet bowls.

Anyway, we then return to the mob. There's an interesting bit here when they're trying to figure out how the butcher got out of his coffin:
...nothing was more natural, when anybody died who was capable of becoming a vampyre, than for other vampyres who knew it to dig him up, and lay him out in the cold beams of the moonlight, until he acquired the same sort of vitality they themselves possessed, and joined their horrible fraternity.
So we have the whole moonlight thing again, not just as a healing source but as a necessary step in the process of making a vampire. The importance of moonlight is interesting in and of itself, since it doesn't seem to have a basis in folklore but rather in Polidori's "The Vampyre." Since Varney the Vampyre is one of the earliest pieces of vampire fiction, it illustrates the beginning of vampire stories building on each others' established universes as well as folklore, until the folklore gradually becomes all but forgotten.

(See also the criticisms of Twilight along the lines of "if Meyer had researched vampires she'd know they can't go out in the daylight!" There are many reasonable criticisms of Twilight but "it doesn't follow trends that other authors made up" is hardly one of them. But I digress.)

Then we move to a young man who has recently died of a sudden illness. A woman screams that he is a vampire, because "[his body is] fresher now than on the day on which it died, and there's a colour in its cheeks." (The idea that rosy cheeks indicate a vampire does come from folklore, although the appearance is just a natural part of the decomposition process, as JMR points out a few paragraphs later.)

JMR makes a point to tell us how crazy and delusional she is, and I'll spare you another rant about how the mob are the only ones acting logically based on the universe they're living in and the small amount of information they know.

Chapter 48: In Which a Vampire Finally Gets Staked (Maybe)

Digression: Vampire Reviews

So I've been working on my other project, Book of the Movie, and have a couple of video reviews about vampires:

Closed captioned version on YouTube

Real post coming later, though; don't worry!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chapter 46: In Which the Bannerworths Decide to Move (Again)

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Who is good? Who is evil? Who is getting bored?

Chapter 46 (THE PREPARATIONS FOR LEAVING BANNERWORTH HALL, AND THE MYSTERIOUS CONDUCT OF THE ADMIRAL AND MR. CHILLINGWORTH.) is a short one, which is good, because my ability to focus has not been great lately.

We leave the mob and return to the Bannerworths, who are still arguing about whether or not to leave the house. I thought we'd been through that three or four times already.

Henry consults with his mother. She agrees to leave, and they briefly discuss the suicide of Henry's father. While they believe he killed himself because he couldn't pay his debts, he apparently mentioned some hidden money in his dying moments. I'm sure this will come in handy at some convenient time later on.

Chillingworth brings news about the mob, which has grown such that the local authorities cannot control it. The Bannerworths are most concerned about the possibility that more people will find out about their connection to the vampire. This concern goes all the way back to Chapter 4, but is perhaps more dangerous/embarrassing for the Bannerworths now that there's a bit more proof (from the mob's perspective at the very least) of the vampire's existence, rather than just secondhand rumors.

In the end, the Bannerworths decide to move the next day. There's really nothing else to say about this chapter.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Digression: Posting Schedule

I am thinking of dropping my regular posts down to one a week; things are just getting hectic again. Any thoughts/preference for days?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Chapter 45: In Which the Mob is My New Favorite Character

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The prisoner returns but does not stay for nearly long enough.

Okay, I've been putting this chapter off for too long. It isn't bad, I just needed to get my thoughts together.

Chapter 45 (THE OPEN GRAVES. -- THE DEAD BODIES. -- A SCENE OF TERROR.) begins right where Chapter 44 left off, with the mob trying to dig up a grave. There's an interesting little passage where JMR once again pounds in the idea that the mob--not vampires--are the evil ones:
"Sons of darkness; you're all vampyres, and are continually sucking the life-blood from each other. No wonder that the evil one has power over you all. You're as men who walk in the darkness when the sunlight invites you, and you listen often to the words of humanity when those of a diviner origin are offered to your acceptance."
And then they dig up Miles the butcher. The coffin is empty, save for a brick.

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, I don't get the sense of a mindless, faceless mob that JMR wants us to have. They are acting impulsively and without hard evidence, certainly, but at least they are acting like there is actually a vampire in the story.

Compare this scene to the one where Our Heroes open Varney's coffin and find it empty. There's the same sort of pointless waffling to pad out the chapter, to be sure; but entire tone of the scene is different. Our Heroes, being the fine upstanding gentlemen they are, have no sense of urgency or panic. They spend most of the rest of the chapter, and too many chapters after that, arguing and angsting over how it cannot be a vampire because that would be Most Illogical.

The mob is real and human, and their reactions make me feel like I'm actually in a vampire story, rather than some bizarre alien parody of human emotion. So mostly I'm just still perplexed that JMR wants us to see the mob as the bad guys, since they (as an amalgam, since they don't really have individual characters yet) are the ones I have identified with throughout the last several chapters.

Chapter 46: In Which the Bannerworths Decide to Move (Again)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Digression: I Suck Again

Meant to post something today to make up for missing Wednesday, but had a hard time getting through this next chapter.

Instead, started reading Fred Saberhagen's novelization of Bram Stoker's Dracula for Book of the Movie.

It has vampires, so it is totally relevant.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Digression: The Vampyre

Sorry for the missed post on Wednesday. Here instead of a real update is a post about The Vampyre by David Campton, as mentioned in my sleeping pill-induced post about my vampire-related reading list. This isn't a proper review, just a few scattered thoughts on the book.

Let me first say that I don't like the Polidori's "The Vampyre" very much. I feel bad criticizing it too much, especially the plagiarism aspect, because of the circumstances surrounding it: in short, Polidori never meant for the story to be published. But the main thing for me is that it's written in that 19th century short story writing style I detest, where the story doesn't really take place in real time but in narration that glosses over the specifics of the actions -- rather like I'm reading a summary of a longer, better book.

So it feels like "The Vampyre" would be a good candidate for a novelization, and that's probably still true, but David Campton's novella isn't it. The characters are boring, Ruthven isn't terribly scary, and there's a lot of padding in the beginning of the story, before Polidori's original plotline really starts.

As for the ending -- it's not really a happy ending, which puts it a step above the other adaptations I've read (I mean, I love Der Vampyr, but seriously, not everything needs a happy ending). However, it's a stupid ending. Basically, Aubrey is able to save his sister from marrying the Earl of Marsden (i.e., Ruthven), and together they defeat the vampire by... having him accidentally trip backwards onto a fishing spear. And then they leave his body lying in the moonlight, so he recovers and escapes. So the characters can't defend themselves without deus ex machina and then are too stupid to use the deus ex machina to their advantage, hurrah!

Know of any novelizations of "The Vampyre" and are they any good? All I've seen are plays and operas, which range from okay to very good on their own and bad to meh in terms of an adaptation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chapter 44: In Which There Are No Chapters 41 through 43

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Charles and the others can't decide whether they want to kill the vampire or protect him. I can't decide why I should care.

Chapters 41 through 43 of Varney the Vampire do not exist. This is ostensibly a result of the many errors Penny Dreadful printers made; as far as mistakes go, misnumbering chapters is certainly better than misremembering your own characters' names. Based on the content of the last few chapters, however, I wouldn't be surprised if Chapters 41 through 43 existed and disappeared, but were so convolutedly repetitive that we don't even notice.

Anyway, Chapter 44 (VARNEY'S DANGER, AND HIS RESCUE. -- THE PRISONER AGAIN, AND THE SUBTERRANEAN VAULT.) brings us back to the prisoner, whom we met all the way back in Chapter 29. Again, this is a very well-written scene, capturing the spirit of the prisoner's hopelessness with only one or two laughably over-the-top lines. The brief section ends with Varney appearing, having escaped from the angry mob, and the prisoner's reaction:
"Villain, monster, vampyre!" he shrieks, "I have thee now;" and locked in a deadly embrace, they roll upon the damp earth, struggling for life together.
Both of the prisoner scenes display a wonderful subtlety otherwise unseen in JMR's writing. We don't know who the prisoner is; we don't know why he's there; we don't know what Varney has to do with him -- but it keeps my interest because it feels like deliberate suspense building, not unintentional confusion.

Meanwhile, back at Bannerworth Hall, more redundancy ensues. Flora wants to leave. Chillingworth is too much of a stubborn prick to believe that he actually saw a vampire. Blah, blah, blah, it's all so boring. The Admiral generously offers to relocate the Bannerworths (well, less "offers" than "you're coming with me because I say so"), but even that just feels like a rehash of the scene where he buys Bannerworth Hall.

Finally, we return back to the mob. A strange person who "knew something of vampyres" informs them that all the recent deaths in town were the result of the vampire; therefore Varney must be stopped, and the bodies must be exhumed so they cannot become vampires themselves.

The rest of the scene is clearly meant to showcase how savage and irrational the mob is for taking the suggestion to heart, but it doesn't make sense because we are in a universe where vampires exist. The people in this story have evidence that vampires exist, and in this universe people killed by vampires do seem to come back as vampires themselves. Digging up the bodies of the recently deceased isn't pleasant or "proper," but I can't condemn the mob for acting more rationally and realistically than the main characters.

Chapter 45: In Which the Mob is My New Favorite Character

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Digression: A Funny Video & My Reading List

Yesterday, I moved around pill bottles in my bathroom so they weren't scattered around on the counter. Today, I accidentally took a sleeping pill when I woke up instead of the pill I normally take in the morning. Obviously the old system was working just fine.

Anyway, I owe you a chapter especially since I just did a digression on Sunday, but I don't think my brain has that kind of focus. So, here's a funny video from the guy who does the "I'm a Marvel, I'm a DC" parodies.

Also, let's talk about my vampire-related reading list. I also organized my books last night, so I got a good look at the stuff I have around and keep forgetting to read.

  • Skinners: Blood Blade, by Marcus Pelegrimas -- I found this at the library the other day and thought I'd give it a try. I can't comment much on the story since I've only just gotten past the obligatory-backstory-of-how-this-guy-became-a-vampire-hunter bits, but while I'm not in love with the writing style I think the author's doing interesting things with the vampire mythos so far.
  • Night Child, by Jes Battis -- I picked this up when Half Price Books was having a sale. Seems like a "CSI -- but with vampires!" thing, which I kind of like, although I'm only about a chapter in.
  • The Vampire Files: Bloodlist, by P.N. Elrod -- I bought this six months ago and promptly lost it. Found it again in the move. I have heard so many good things about this series and keep putting off reading it.
  • The Vampyre, retold by David Campton -- Found this on clearance for $1; it's a short novel based on John Polidori's "The Vampyre," put out by this company Fleshcreepers which apparently sells retold horror classics for young readers. I skimmed through it enough to see that they the author gave the story a happy ending, which is bulls***, but it piqued my interest nonetheless.
  • Laws of the Blood: The Hunt, by Susan Sizemore -- Another one I read a few chapters of and then forgot about. I enjoyed Susan Sizemore's Forever Knight tie-in novel, but haven't read any of her other stuff yet.
Comments on any of these? Like/dislike/recommendations?

Finally, I've been working on a new project, Book of the Movie, for which I just put up the introductory post I wrote a few days ago. It's been a while since I did anything with video (I used to edit music videos for my old fandom in high school), but I'm just really psyched about sharing another one of my bizarre and obscure hobbies.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Digression: Vampire Mob

For those of you who haven't seen this already, I found an interesting link at Suburban Vampire yesterday for a new web series called Vampire Mob. From their press release:
Vampire Mob follows Don Grigioni, a hitman and vampire, who just found out his mother-in-law is moving in, for eternity. Don became a vampire because "it was a good fit" for is nocturnal life of crime. He never planned on biting his wife, Annie, and making her immortal, "but then I got hungry." Annie felt bad that her mom would die one day and bit her, never discussing it with Don, and now mom needs a place to stay and blood to drink. With Don’s hit business slowing down, the last thing he needs is more "grocery shopping" to do.
They're releasing the episodes based on how many views they get, rather than on a set schedule, with the first episode up already on the Vampire Mob website.

I'll reserve my comments until I've seen the whole thing, since the first episode is basically just exposition. But I noticed in the previews for Episode 2 that it has Kirsten Vangsness in it, whom I absolutely adore, so I plan to keep watching.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Chapter 40: In Which the Mob is Generally Useless

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Someone finally figures out how to kill Varney. Somehow this makes them evil.

Every time I think I've read the most boring chapter in Varney the Vampire, JMR ups the ante. It's like he's mocking me from beyond the grave. Anyway, Chapter 40 (THE POPULAR RIOT. -- SIR FRANCIS VARNEY'S DANGER. -- THE SUGGESTION AND ITS RESULTS.) is one of those chapters where nothing really happens and even the interesting characters suck.

First, we get this extended rant about how evil women are for gossiping, because clearly the readers have forgotten about the rant at the end of Chapter 39 already. Chillingworth feels terrible for mentioning anything to his wife -- JMR seems to have forgotten that Chillingworth has continually dismissed the possibility that Varney is a vampire or that vampires exist in the first place.

The mob searches for Varney so they can kill him:
"Drive a stake through him," said a woman; "it's the only way, and the humanestest. You've only to take a hedge stake, and sharpen it a bit at one end, and char it a little in the fire so as there mayt'n't be no splinters to hurt, and then poke it through his stomach."
Aside from the amusing concern about how the wooden stake might give splinters to the vampire you're trying to kill with it, the detail of driving the stake through his stomach (or "poking" it -- could you sound any less badass when you're talking about killing a vampire?) is interesting. I'd always taken "through the heart" for granted, but it makes a bit more sense to me due to the vampire's connection with blood specifically and the heart being one of your most important organs in general.

Then again, all of the methods for killing vampires are fairly arbitrary, especially when you get to some of the odder ways to kill vampires in folklore, like putting a lemon in its mouth or sprinkling poppy seeds over its grave.

So Henry and Chillingworth try to dissuade the mob, but they just go off to search the woods. They plan to defend the vampire, because they're just that f***ing honorable ("We'll have a fight for it yet," says the Admiral; "they sha'n't murder even a vampyre in cold blood"). It's Henry's reasoning, as usual, that makes no sense:
"No, no," said Henry; "no more violence, there has been enough -- there has been enough."
CONSISTENCY, PLEASE! Weren't you just last chapter dueling the vampire? Didn't you shoot the vampire with the intent to kill him, then receive the bullet back from the vampire and see that it did him no harm? You've already acknowledged (unless things change in the next chapter) that Varney is a vampire. If you haven't done enough violence to kill him yet, there hasn't been enough violence.

How can I manage to give a rat's ass about what happens to the characters when I can't even understand their basic motivations? What do Henry and the others want -- to kill the vampire, avenging Charles and protecting Flora, or to defend Varney against accusations of vampirism and threats of death, because... the plot requires it?

Because JMR feels some sadistic need to pad his word count, we get this random scene where Jack knocks some guy into a ditch (because... I'm not even going to worry about why); Marchdale delivers a speech about Varney's motives that should inspire Varney/Marchdale slashers everywhere; Varney escapes to the Ancient Ruins of Ruinyness and somehow manages to disappear; and when the mob catches up to him we're treated to a complete rehash of the scene where they search for him in his house, except different because now they're in ruins.

Why can't we go back to Flora? Her characterization may not be consistent, but at least I understand what's going on with her and why.

Chapter 44: In Which There Are No Chapters 41 through 43

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Chapter 39: In Which the Duel Goes Awry

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The duel is planned. Marchdale gets jealous. It doesn't seem to affect the story one way or the other.

At the end of the previous chapter, Varney was preparing to tell the Admiral what to do in the event of his death. In Chapter 39 (THE STORM AND THE FIGHT. -- THE ADMIRAL'S REPUDIATION OF HIS PRINCIPAL.), Varney says that if Henry "should chance to send a pistol-bullet through any portion of my anatomy, prejudicial to the prolongation of my existence," the Admiral should lay him in the moonlight.

We saw the moon heal Varney back in Chapter 5. The idea goes back to Polidori's "The Vampyre," wherein the vampire is resurrected by moonlight (and, of course, my third favorite opera Der Vampyr), although I'm not sure whether or not it has its roots in folklore.

It's a moot point in this chapter, though, because Varney doesn't die. Henry shoots him, while Varney refuses to fire back. The Admiral scolds him, saying that refusing to fire is "not the proper thing," but Varney responds:
"Why, look you here," said Sir Francis Varney, stepping forward and placing his hand to his neckerchief; "look you here; if Mr. Henry Bannerworth should demand another fire, he may do so with the same bullet."
I love how Varney's playing with them here. Will they learn anything from this experience? Since the Bannerworth saga goes on until Chapter 100ish, I'm not holding out hope. Varney could bare his teeth and drink a human dry while being pelted with bullets and grenades to no effect and juggling neon signs reading "HULLO I AM AN INDESTRUCTIBLE VAMPIRE" and somehow Henry Bannerworth would still think it reasonable to challenge him to a duel. For honor, or something.

Anyway, the duel ends abruptly when a crowd of women, fueled by rumors from Dr. Chillingworth's wife, show up to burn the vampire. Varney high-tails it out of there. JMR goes off on a rant about how evil women always gossip and can't be trusted, but if they're a serious threat to the vampire while five men with guns can't figure out how to kill him, more power to them.

Chapter 40: In Which the Mob is Generally Useless

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chapter 38: In Which the Duel Subplot Becomes Even More Contrived

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Everyone challenges Varney to a duel. Oh, the hi-larity.

Chapter 38 (MARCHDALE'S OFFER. -- THE CONSULTATION AT BANNERWORTH HALL. -- THE MORNING OF THE DUEL.) starts out with Dr. Chillingworth and Jack Pringle meeting Varney on behalf of Henry and the Admiral, respectively. They fret about Varney not having a second, and I have to admit that while the situation itself seemed more forced than humorous to me, I did crack a smile at Varney's nonchalance.

Anyway, Varney argues that he cannot find a second because he has no friends. Chillingworth stands his ground, and finally Jack offers for the Admiral to be Varney's second in the duel with Henry. (Really, JMR? Could this conflict become any more manufactured?)

They agree on a place and time, but as Jack and Chillingworth are leaving, who should they come across but Marchdale! I'd hoped he had left the story entirely, but apparently he's just jealous that Henry broke up with him and got with Chillingworth on the rebound upset that Henry chose Chillingworth as a second instead of him. Chillingworth refuses to trade places without Henry's consent, so Marchdale tags along back to Bannerworth Hall.

The Admiral, learning of Jack's plan, is totally fine with it except for the fact that he won't get to face Varney first. Marchdale begs Henry to be his second; Henry asks the Admiral if he cares, and I rather love the reply: ""Oh, I! -- Yes -- certainly -- I don't care. Mr. Marchdale is Mr. Marchdale, I believe, and that's all I care about."

We return briefly to Varney and learn that he has avoided the duels so far because he just really doesn't want to hurt anyone. But now he's backed into a corner and can't avoid it! Poor, poor Varney, first forced by his vampire nature to attack helpless women, then forced by a society he isn't really a part of to accept pointless challenges!

But finally we come to the duel, and Varney takes the Admiral aside to explain what to do if he gets shot. If my suspicions are correct, this whole scenario seems like a very ill-thought-out way to finally reveal a bit more about Varney's vampiric nature and what exactly happens to him when he "dies." Which gives me something to look forward to in the next chapter, at least.

Chapter 39: In Which the Duel Goes Awry

Thanks for joining me for the Blog 30 challenge. It's been fun, but I can't sustain this pace forever. Regular posting will resume on Wednesdays and Sundays, with perhaps a few digressions in between.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Digression: What Makes a Good Vampire, Part 2

Now that I've discussed some traits of vampires in a few fictional works I enjoy (see Part 1 and Part 1.5 of this series), I'm finally ready to answer my own question: what makes a good vampire?

A good fictional vampire -- whether it is sympathetic or villainous -- has a balance of three type of vampiric traits: the benefits, the drawbacks, and the catch.

The Benefits

Vampirism must have some benefits, or no one would want to be a vampire. (In a story where vampirism is an epidemic, vampires are the risen corpses of evil people as in folklore, or vampirism is otherwise not generally a choice, however, the benefits may be slim.) Typical vampiric benefits include:1
  • Immortality.2
  • Super strength.
  • Super speed.
  • Extreme sexiness.3
  • Flying.
  • Hypnotism.
  • Cured diseases.4
The Drawbacks

Vampirism must have drawbacks to balance out the benefits, however, to prevent vampires from becoming overly powerful. Typical vampiric drawbacks include:
  • Cannot abide garlic, holy objects, silver, running water, or sunlight.5
  • Violent urges.
  • Become unconscious and corpse-like during the day, leaving them weakened.
  • Infertile.
  • Cannot ingest food except for blood.
  • Cannot have sex.6
  • Cannot see their reflections.
The Catch

Still, the drawbacks do not often make the vampire's supernatural power less appealing. Would you give up food7 for the ability to live forever? I know I would.

So what we need is a catch: a drawback so major that it serves to make vampirism a lot more complicated and less appealing. Basically, the catch is what neatly answers the question, "If being a vampire is so awesome, why doesn't everyone do it?"

The catch, in my experience, falls into five basic categories (although there is some overlap):
  • Uncertainty of success (it's difficult to become a vampire -- e.g., because the vampire must stop feeding just before the human is dead, as in Forever Knight, or because the process is painful, as in Twilight -- and there is a strong possibility of death).
  • Loss of personality (e.g., losing one's soul, as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or suffering potential drastic personality changes, as in Forever Knight).
  • Eternal bondage (becoming attached to one's sire and even compelled to obey them, as in Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries).
  • Separation from other vampires (e.g., the urge to attack other vampires and defend one's territory, as in Tanya Huff's Blood Books).
  • Compulsion to kill (either a need to kill while feeding, as in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, or a need to kill someone within a certain time limit, as in Der Vampyr 8).
Bottom Line

In my mind, a good vampire must have a catch as well as regular old drawbacks and weaknesses. The catch makes vampirism go from sounding like a good deal to something more complicated than human life, and adds a real conflict to human/vampire romance instead of just Generic Angst.

I honestly don't care about any other traits. I have some preferences, but I'll accept a lot of "non-traditional" benefits and drawbacks -- and even non-traditional vampires, like the emotion-sucking rather than blood-drinking White Court in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files -- as long as they make sense in context. What I won't accept, however, is a story that regales me with how awesome and consequence-free vampirism is and then tries to convince me that the average human wouldn't choose it.


1 Items on this list are not necessarily compatible with each other or with the other lists. Each one must be taken individually. ^
2 Technical immortality, at least; fictional vampires do not generally die of old age, but in many stories can be fairly easily killed. ^
3 Does getting vamped make one sexy, or do only sexy people get vamped? ^
4 That is, becoming a vampire cures the diseases one had as a human, not that vampires can cure diseases themselves. ^
5 The reasons and effects of sunlight vary: most commonly they burn, although some powerful vampires are merely weakened. And sometimes they sparkle. ^
6 If only this drawback were not so rare in today's overly saturated vampire romance market. ^
7 Vampires have no physical need for food, so it just means giving up a sensual pleasure rather than a necessity for living. ^
8 I mention Der Vampyr so much not because the concept is well-executed -- rather, the whole "must kill three people in a day" thing is mostly a way for the hero to kill the vampire on a technicality, by delaying the third victim, instead of attacking him outright -- but because I think it's a concept with much potential for ambiguity. While a person might reject super powers if they had to kill every time they fed, for example, it's easier for a well-intentioned vampire to make the ends justify the means if it's just one person (or three people), once a year. ^

Monday, June 28, 2010

Digression: What Makes a Good Vampire, Part 1.5: Blood

Club Vampyre: Guilty Pleasures, The Laughing Corpse, and Circus of the Damned

I realized soon after I posted Part 1 of this digression that I hadn't mentioned an important aspect of vampirism: what kind of blood is necessary. The way vampires have to feed in order to sustain themselves is not only a potential drawback of vampirism, but a way to separate the good vampires from the evil ones.

Let's start with an example I didn't mention in the last post: the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton. In one of the books, a vampire tries to drink animal blood in order to avoid harming humans, but as it turns out, only human blood can sustain vampires. On a steady diet of animal blood, their bodies start to break down.

Because of this limitation, feeding on humans in Anita Blake's universe is not an inherently immoral (or morally questionable) act. Rather, the issue is consent. All vampires must feed on humans to live, but only evil vampires feed on humans without permission -- an illegal act, as well as immoral.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Sixth Season (Slim Set)

Contrast the limitations on vampire feeding in Anita Blake with those in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Vampires in the Buffyverse can sustain themselves just fine on animal blood, with no negative physical or psychological effects. Only evil vampires feed on humans, and they almost always kill their prey. Because feeding on humans is not necessary, it is not something that good vampires do.

Forever Knight - The Trilogy, Part 1 (1992 - 1993)

Forever Knight is perhaps somewhere in between. As in Buffy, it is not necessary for vampires to feed on humans. Vampires can sustain themselves on the blood of animals or even other vampires, or drink stored blood from human donors rather than biting a human outright.

However, drinking animal blood does have a few drawbacks. First, vampires sense human memories and emotions through their blood. It's not necessary for vampires to gain these memories in order to survive, but it's part of the thrill of the hunt and the rush of drinking blood.

Second, drinking blood is closely tied to sex. In fact, if you take the word of the show's creators, male vampires cannot have sex (the whole "no/slow circulation = no erection" problem), so biting symbolically takes the place of sexual intercourse. Drinking animal blood, then, is akin to sexual deviancy. Some vampires (carouches) prefer it, but they are looked down upon.

On the other hand, the issue of morality is a bit more fuzzy. Most modern vampires in the show drink bottled human blood not because they don't enjoy killing humans, but because they think it's stupid to endanger vampires by killing too many humans in the same area when bottled blood works just fine. Nicholas drinks animal blood not because drinking human blood is objectively wrong, but because animal blood is lesser, and he's trying to wean himself off blood entirely.

I'm glossing over a lot, and I'm ignoring a number of fictional vampires with different restrictions on blood drinking, but otherwise this post would go on forever. (It still turned into an entirely separate post just on blood drinking, rather than a conclusion on what benefits and drawbacks vampirism should have.) But once I started writing, I realized that blood was an important enough subject to address separately.

On the one hand, allowing vampires to live on animal blood seems to focus on the technicality of vampires needing blood, rather than the symbolism associated with blood drinking. It also makes the vampires less ambiguous: if it's not necessary to drink from or kill humans, vampires only do it because they like to. (This is not to say that the idea can't be handled well, and I think Forever Knight does that.)

On the other hand, requiring vampires to feed on humans allows them an easy way out for bad behavior: "Oh, you poor vampire, you couldn't help hypnotizing that person and feeding without their permission, or killing that human by feeding on them; it's just in your nature." This isn't bad when it's addressed in the story as part of the vampire's struggle against his instincts, or when the issue of non-consensual feeding has intentional creepy and morally ambiguous overtones. More often than not, however, the connection between blood and sex has Unfortunate Implications amounting to "it's okay to rape someone if it's In Your Nature."

So what's the best way for vampire stories to handle the issue of blood drinking? More on that in Part 2 of the series on What Makes a Good Vampire (consider this Part 1.5).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Digression: What Makes a Good Vampire, Part 1

Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, Book 4)

After I wrote my post about Twilight, I got into a conversation with a friend about Twilight vampires compared to vampires in other stories. Her main complaint was that vampirism in Twilight doesn't have enough drawbacks.

Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven't read the books. However, I think that whenever "just vamp her and everything will be okay" is a reasonable solution to a romance between a human and a vampire, vampirism doesn't have enough drawbacks. Basically it just causes a humongous plot hole: if the only drawback for vampirism is Generic Angst, why doesn't everyone do it?

I've mentioned Tanya Huff's Blood Books before, because I think they're a great example of how to create realistic obstacles for a vampire who wants to be with his human love forever. Essentially, there cannot be too many vampires in any one place in order to avoid suspicion and keep the food supply up. Therefore, vampires have developed an instinct to fight any vampire who enters their territory, regardless of how well they got along when one or both of them were mortal.

(Spoilers for Blood Pact and Blood Debt follow.)


In Blood Pact, Henry -- the vampire -- vamps Vicki, his human lover, to save her life. After briefly teaching her how to hunt and survive as a vampire, he leaves to stake out a new territory. In Blood Debt, however, he needs her help on a case, and so they must learn to resist their instinct to kill each other.

Eventually, they realize that, with the growth of cities giving vampires more food sources and better places to hide, vampires' instinct to kill each other is no longer relevant in modern times. While this works well for rekindling a romance between Henry and Vicki, it negates much of the conflict in the previous books.

(End spoilers.)

Marschner: Der Vampyr

Let's look at another very different obstacle for the vampire, laid out in Heinrich August Marschner's 1828 opera Der Vampyr. The libretto, by Wilhelm August Wohlbrück, was adapted from John Polidori's short story "The Vampyre" and J.R. Planché's theatrical adaptation, The Vampire, or the Bride of the Isles.

The vampire in Der Vampyr, Lord Ruthven, is clearly the villain, but a sympathetic one. The "catch" to his vampirism is that he must kill three woman once a year in order to remain a vampire. (The idea that the vampire must kill once a year to survive is implied in "The Vampyre" but not stated outright.) Like Varney, he attacks humans not necessarily because he wants to, but because his existence compels him to -- which is not to suggest that he doesn't enjoy it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete First Season (Slim Set)

Let's look at a more well-known vampire story: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Vampires in Buffy drink blood, but don't experience most of the usual drawbacks: not being able to eat human food, needing to stay in a coffin all day, being allergic to garlic, or not being able to have sex.

On the other hand, the "catch" to becoming a vampire is huge: you lose your soul entirely, and your body becomes an unambiguously evil killer. This works well in Buffy, because vampires are, for the most part, the enemies. There are a few sympathetic vampire characters, but they have something different about them: Angel has his soul, and so is moral, and Spike has a chip in his head, so he can't hurt humans even though he wants to (and then eventually gets used to the idea).

Of course, this falls apart as the story goes on and vampires as a whole start becoming more developed. In particular, why is Harmony suddenly fine to work at Wolfram & Hart in Season 5 of Angel, when she has neither a soul nor a chip? The main problem with vampirism in Buffy is that soulless, unambiguously evil vampires work fine when they're your enemies, but are difficult to handle, without increasing numbers of "special exceptions," when they become main characters.

Forever Knight - The Trilogy, Part 3 (1995 - 1996)

Let's contrast this with an earlier TV show: Forever Knight. Some of the vampires are sympathetic, while some are just plain evil, and some are well-intentioned but misguided. Any change in personality is not a result of the vampirism per se, but the fact that power corrupts, and that most humans who suddenly gain immortality and superpowers will use them unwisely.

To balance this out, vampires in Forever Knight have more of the drawbacks that Buffy vampires lack: problems with garlic, not being able to eat human food, and (according to the show's creators, although not explicitly stated in the show itself) not being able to have sex. In Nick Knight's eyes, the simple fact that he isn't human is enough of a drawback in and of itself, but I don't count that because it's a personal preference, not an objective limitation.

Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood

Now that I've given an overview of vampire traits in just a small handful of my favorite vampire stories, it's time for the big question: what makes a good vampire? Unfortunately, I've gone on a lot longer than I originally intended. So stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, wherein I conclude my thoughts on the best balance of benefits and drawbacks for fictional vampires.

Part 1.5: Blood