Thursday, January 05, 2006

Van Helsing's Heirs

In keeping with my theme of 2006, this is another stolen discussion topic from the MarsCON programming ideas page. This one comes to us curtsey of Minneapolis/St. Paul writer Catherine Lundoff.

Catherine asks her panelists to consider these questions: Are slayers and hunters heroes or villains? Why do the vampires (or other critters) so often win in the end?

I think these are interesting thoughts because for me they tap in a question I asked myself at the very beginning of this blog: what on earth makes vampires so damned sexy?

Van Helsing should be the hero. I think when Dracula was first published in 1897, Van Helsing was meant a force of good in the novel. Dracula is a seductive evil that spoils the virtue of young Ms. Mina Murray (among others).

But when I review my memories of the novel, I can hardly give you any concrete impressions of Van Helsing's character. In fact I had to look up in Wikipedia to see if reading about him sparked anything.


Dracula, however, is singularly memorable. The book is named after him, after all, and not for the slayer.

So, why isn't Van Helsing the hero?

I think that the problem comes from the fact that even at their most alien (when being cast as demons in "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" or even as alternate species or space aliens) vampires are often depicted as very "human." In a way, they're kind of uber-human because they've left all the mundane trappings of life behind and have been reduced to humans at their essence (blood?) as hunter/predators (which we all know we are, deep in our hearts.)

And, as I've discussed previously, I find that kind of Romantic (with the capital R) vampire to be the most successful. A good hero needs a good villain. And, if the vampires are just mindless, hungry beasts, then their hunters might as well be shooting quail or ducks for all that the story interests me.

So the hunters have to be morally ambiguous. They're killers. And one of the big questions vampire literature asks us is -- aren't we all?

That's why the critters often get away in the end. It's a big, fat morality play in which two sides of the same dark coin are being played out. Van Helsing representing the "moral" killer, the one who kills for "justice" and with the trappings of the Church (crosses, holy water, etc.) vs. the unrestrained beastial passionate killer who feeds on others for self-serving, self-indulgent reasons.

Both are evil. But I think the modern reader comes to the self-righteous killers with a lot more baggage, a lot less willingness to forgive. He is the Inquisitor, the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities....

The vampire is just our passion -- our lust for life -- gone a little too wild.

The image for this post came from

1 comment:

anne frasier said...

nice image!