Zombies vs. Vampires vs. Werewolves

July 29, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 1 Comment

They’re out there. So close to human, yet with that spine-chilling difference. And no, I don’t mean monkeys. I’m talking about the undead and their ilk.

Why not monkeys, though? What’s behind the current craze for all things vampire, or any other fantastic being?

These trends come and go. In the 90’s I seem to recall it was aliens and angels. Now we’ve got pirates versus ninjas on the one hand, and vampires versus werewolves on the other. I’d like to get to the bottom of this thing so I can figure out what trend is coming up next – and cash in on it!

I read something recently suggesting that vampirism fans tend either to identify with the vampire or with the victim. Vampires are immortal, and for some reason they always seem to be rich, sexy, charismatic, and fashionably dressed. Who wouldn’t want that? The victims, evidently, who are swayed by the idea of surrender. I gotta confess that neither of these tropes does it for me. Equality or nothing.

I just read The Strain, a terrific vampire book that has very little in common with Twilight. Strain vampires behave more like zombies. (There’s some overlap here with I am Legend). Personally, I find zombie stories much more frightening. The theme behind zombies is the inevitability of death. Notice how zombies always move really slowly, yet catch up with their victims anyway? The Thriller video scared me witless as a child (and evidently I never fully recovered). The decomposing dead, with their rotting clothes and graceless gaits, wanting nothing more than to drag us down with them… Brr! What’s scarier to me is the way the zombie story represents the need for social conformity. “One of us! One of us!” Somehow I don’t think anyone really fantasizes about wanting to be a zombie. Or date one.

Werewolves are possibly the most interesting. The body goes through unstoppable physical changes, and the personality is swept away. Does this remind anyone else of being a teenager? The Incredible Hulk is really a werewolf story, too. It’s compelling to think one of our deepest fears is being carried away by anger to the point that we are no longer recognizable as human. There’s a sense of abiding loneliness, of becoming a social pariah, knowing it, and not being able to do anything about it.

Those who saw Pride and Prejudice and Zombies may have noticed that the newest upcoming offering by Quirk Books is not a vampire book, as expected, but: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Here I think we’re moving away from the type of paranormal character with which readers can identify. I’m not seeing cryptozoology as a strong draw. It seems to me that readers, especially younger readers, want to identify with the protagonist.

This is what bothers me, and how I can tell that I’m becoming an old fogey (at 34). You’ve got vampires out killing people while simultaneously violating any idea of an afterlife with rewards for good behavior. You’ve got pirates, who have all sorts of fun subverting any sense of rewards for being a net economic contributor. You’ve got ninjas, to whom all physical and societal boundaries are meaningless. Where are the ethical considerations in this? It makes me miss superheroes.

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