From the Gothic to the glittery, Margot McGovern finds ten vampire reads to get your blood pumping.
Stephenie Meyer’s (once) crazy-popular Twilight has just turned ten. Errr gerrd that makes me feel old. But moving on. To celebrate (and to show E. L. James that she’s not the only writer who can play at lazy money grubbing) Meyer has re-written Twilight with the characters’ genders swapped. Yay, feminism? This new sparkly offering is called Life and Death and Bella and Edward have been reimagined as Beaufort and Edythe. I know. Vomit. Even as a former Twihard, I just… I can’t… WHY IS THIS HAPPENING??!! Instead of putting myself through hundreds of pages of awful in order to determine just how awful the awful is, I settled for this rather amusing summary.
Glittering unpleasantness aside, I’m still Team Vampire. What other monster is so brimming with potential? Is at once so feared and so desired? So human?So fun? Vampires possess such wonderful duality and Otherness: alive yet dead; sophisticated, yet animal; refined, yet untamed; us, yet not. And because they are not ‘us’—are something foreign, unnatural, monstrous—they can do the things we cannot. They are a symbol of the perverse and the forbidden: the desires we feel but cannot own. And so we love and fear them in equal measure. And like us, they are insatiable—such perfect vehicles for drama: always driven, always seeking. And their immortal life comes at the cost of infinite deaths—what a dark deal that is. It’s no wonder these creatures of the night continue to transcend genre and hold us in their thrall.
With that in mind, here are ten of my all-time favourite vampy tales:
‘The Vampyre’ by John William Polidori (1819)
Dracula is often credited as the story that started our obsession with blood sucking seducers, but, in fact, it was Polidori’s short story, ‘The Vampyre’, published some eighty years prior, that saw the vampire move out of folk lore and into Gothic literature. The tale was originally credited to Lord Byron and it’s believed that Byron served as inspiration for the vampire Lord Ruthven.
Polidori wrote the story as his contribution to the famous competition held by Byron and his friends while they holidayed together by Lake Geneva in the summer of 1816. It was this same competition that saw Mary Shelley produce the story that would eventually become Frankenstein (1818).
‘The Vampyre’ follows the story of a young Englishman, Aubrey, who befriends the mysterious Lord Ruthven. The pair travels together and Aubrey witnesses Ruthven’s death. Aubrey is therefore astonished to find Ruthven alive and well upon his return to London, and his surprise deepens to horror when Ruthven has his sights set on Aubrey’s sister.
Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1871)
A young woman, Carmilla, comes to stay with a wealthy family under mysterious circumstances and befriends the family’s eighteen-year-old daughter, Laura. Carmilla sleeps most of the day, sleepwalks at night and won’t join in the family’s prayers, and soon after her arrival a mysterious illness begins to claim the lives of young women in the neighbourhood.
Sex was nigh on unmentionable in Victorian literature, but it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see Carmilla as the archetypal lesbian vampire who would go on to inspire an entire sub-genre of vampire fiction.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
The infamous tale of Count D has been adapted, reworked and reimagined time and again in the two-hundred-plus years since its publication. For those of us who grew up watching The Count on Sesame Street, Dracula may not inspire the terror it once did, but it’s still a damn good read.
For those who don’t know the story: a young lawyer, Jonathan Harker, travels to Transylvania to meet with his firm’s mysterious client, Count Dracula, and help him secure property in London. During his stay at the castle, he encounters all manner of supernatural nasties.
Soon after the Count’s arrival in London, Lucy Westernra, best friend of Jonathan’s wife, Mina, falls victim to a mysterious illness. When her malady cannot be explained by regular physicians, Professor Van Helsing is called to investigate. Mysterious deaths and supernatural occurrences are reported across the city and Van Helsing, Jonathan and Lucy’s various suitors team up to form the Crew of Light and rid London of the scourge, but in doing so they leave Mina unguarded and alone at night.
I feel it would be remiss of me to mention Dracula without including Stephen Fry’s brilliant parody, ‘The Letter’. YOU’RE WELCOME.
Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)
First in ‘The Vampire Chronicles’, Interview With the Vampire is the story of the vampire Louis and his maker, Lestat. Louis, in particular, finds it hard to come to terms with being undead and to find a place for himself in an ever-changing world. He travels the globe seeking answers about his kind: where did they come from? What is their purpose?
In Louis, Rice takes the Gothic vampire and recasts him a tortured hero. Richly imagined and deeply sensual, Interview With the Vampire is a sweeping story about the search for identity and meaning.
To date, there are elevinty-nine bazillion books in ‘The Vampire Chronicles’ series. My advice is to stop after book three.
Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin (1982)
Yes, before George R. R. Martin delved into Westeros politics, he dreamed of vampires.
When struggling riverboat captain, Abner Marsh, meets the enigmatic Joshua York, he knows something’s amiss, but York has the means to save Marsh’s business from ruin and offers him a deal he can’t refuse. Set aboard a majestic steamer as it makes its passage along the mighty Mississippi, Fevre Dream is lyrical, Gothic and haunting.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2005)
Deeply creepy with genuine moments of sweetness, Let the Right One In is the Sweedish story of a bullied school boy who befriends a vampire. Though from different worlds, both have been tortured and victimised and in each other find a salve for their loneliness and the means to stand up for themselves.
But this story is no fairytale. Let the Right One In deals with heavy themes: sexual abuse, genital mutilation, paedophilia, abandonment and persecution, made all the more unsettling by its young protagonists. A brilliant, harrowing read for those who can stomach it.
Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett (1998)
It was inevitable that vampires would eventually find their way into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. And in this, the twenty-third of the Discworld novels, the Magpyres use hypnosis to take over Lancre Castle. Only Granny Weatherwax has the power to defeat the Magpyres and return the castle to King Verence and Magrat, but Granny isn’t in the mood.
A hilarious, satirical take on the classic vampire tale.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley (2003)
Ray ‘Sunshine’ Seddon, is a fan of all things light and bright and is content in her life as a baker until she is attacked and kidnapped by a gang of vampires. Gang leader, Bo, holds her captive in the ballroom of a great mansion with Constantine, a vampire from a rival clan. Sunshine has been brought to torment Constantine as he slowly dies of hunger; however, Sunshine is no mere mortal and draws on the magic of her ancestors so that she and Constantine might escape. But in a world where humans and ‘Others’ are divided, getting free of Bo and his thugs is the least of the unlikely pair’s troubles.
A fast-paced, action-packed romance you’ll want to devour in one sitting.
Vampire Academy Richelle Mead (2007)
Rose, a Dhampire, is in training at St. Vladimir’s Academy to become a guardian for her Moroi best friend, Lissa. To do so she must learn to defeat the evil Strigoi vampires. However, Rose finds herself distracted by a forbidden romance.
If YA vampire romance is your thing, ‘Vampire Academy’ is your series.
Evernight Claudia Grey (2009)
The ‘Evernight’ series is definitely cashing in on the teen vampire craze, but makes for fun reading if you like your school stories with bite. In this, the first novel in the series, sixteen-year-old Bianca is enrolled at Evernight Academy, where many of the pupils are on their eway to becoming fully-fledged vampires. Bianca’s family is hopeful that she’ll join their ranks, but Bianca isn’t convinced.
There’s also the small problem that she’s fallen in love with the one boy her family and friends forbid her to see.
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