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).

1 comment:

  1. This actually is addressed some in TWILIGHT. The Cullen family (almost uniquely among vampires) feed on animals instead of humans. Edward describes it as living on a diet of tofu (he thinks--he's never tasted tofu).

    Methinks there's also the question of how much blood a vampire need take. Anne Rice's creatures nearly always kill (which I find unbelievable), so a few hold on to their moral grounding by deliberately hunting those who've killed other human beings and feel no guilt. Mind you, this is a problem simply because evil people don't taste as good as nice ones. Interesting detail, that.

    In END OF THE LINE (my web series a-birthing), vampires really need to feed from living humans. But most are "sippers," namely they only take a swallow or so from lots of different people--doing minimum harm to themselves and others. Donors are prized, of course, but since the Bite is addictive still more ethical ambiguity arises. Plus a tiny minority with react to any vampire bite by going into shock and dying (like those allergic to bee stings). No simple answers, in other words. Heh heh.