Many parents use guilt and obligation to puncture
a child's self-confidence, then suck out a life-term of devotion
It is easy, while battling hordes of hungry mosquitoes, to think
of vampires. After all, they too drink blood and fly around seeking
victims at night. And from vampires to monsters in general. A
story called Lila the Werewolf in the excellent Oxford
Book of Fantasy Stories is set in contemporary New York. A young
man awakes to find that his girl friend is not only a werewolf
but that in her changed form she has a taste for local dogs! Their
relationship is fraught with his attempts to protect the neighbourhood
pets from her. But she leaves him eventually, to marry an analyst
who encourages her to glorify her nocturnal transformations.
The story is as hilarious as it is revealing of the confusions
of our age. Whilst some sections of society struggle to suppress
Lila's wildness with powerful drugs, other sections are busy
denying that there's anything to suppress. Either way it's the
poodles that suffer in the end. But is that their fault or merely
their role in the script.?
By contrast, the world of vampires revealed in Anne Rice's novel,
Interview With The Vampires, makes morbid though fascinating reading.
The film of that name does no more than record one gory encounter
after another, but the book goes beyond mere carnography. By presenting
its fictional account of a vampire's life in his own words, it
offers glimpses of a strangely beautiful existence, of senses
as crisp as Belgian lace, of hearing as acute as a bat's, of the
tedium of immortality and the torment of eternal disgrace. But
perhaps the main attraction of the story lies in the way that
it mirrors the real lives of ordinary human beings who, through
choice or circumstance, live beyond the light of social acceptance.
This includes anyone who must maintain a cloak of invisibility
around some personal or professional secret. Just as a vampire
cannot afford to permit a dinner guest to suspect that s/he is
destined to be the meal itself, so too a person whose friendships
or patronage demands that certain social fictions be maintained,
cannot afford to be exposed to the light of truth.
lies in the need to conceal something in order to gain another
thing, a thing which would never be given if demanded openly. Whilst
the vampires of fiction prey on their victims in a literal physical
sense, the vampires of real life hunt in more subtle ways.
Some are villains in the way that fictional vampires are traditionally
presented. They are people who live off the energies of others,
who use another's trust and love to gain advantages which wouldn't
be available otherwise. Spouses are often guilty of this, callously
soaking up the life of a partner, while offering a slave's wage
of attention in return. Children certainly seem to use their
parents like rolls of human toilet paper.
A series of photographs in Life magazine showed a father and his
daughter, posing together at the beach over a number of years.
While the little girl balloons up into a strapping young woman,
the robust and handsome father deflates slowly across the years
into a bravely smiling old man. But a number of parents are accomplished
vampires themselves. They use their twin tusks of guilt and obligation
to puncture a child's self-confidence, then suck out a life-term
of devotion. When they finally die, they leave behind only the
empty shell of a person, rattling with nostalgia and lost dreams.
Some real-time vampires are forced into the twilight dimension
unwillingly: Anyone with a sexual preference which does not fit
within the range of what is currently acceptable, for instance.
Anyone with a physical condition which is viewed as a disability.
Anyone from a social or cultural background which if successfully
hidden, can mean the difference between life and death. They do
not choose their isolation, yet because of it, their senses are
sharpened. They feel insults more keenly, because they see others
receiving the blows that could equally be aimed at themselves.
They are sensitive to nuances of truth in others, because they
live in the shadow of a lie themselves. They are sometimes more
sensitive and compassionate towards others because they fear the
moment of exposure themselves.
The traditional European vampire of film and fantasy is a creature
which can be vanquished only by Christian weapons. As a child
I used to worry that, being a heathen by Christian definition,
I could not honorably raise a crucifix in my defence. I felt certain
that any self-respecting vampire would immediately smell out an
unbeliever and pounce without delay.
Later it occurred to me to
reverse the logic: Being repulsed by Christian icons might mean
that vampires were only attracted to Christian blood. I felt safe,
till Anne Rice came along with her horde of fiends who wear crosses
around their necks in mockery. They are attracted by warmblooded
creatures of all faiths and species. Nothing deters them but direct
sunlight, there is virtually no defence against them, not even
Thank goodness they don't exist! The mosquitoes
are bad enough.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier