A friend of mine recently ranted about a dichotomy in modern vampire fiction. On the one hand we see the Byronic immortal longing to find true love. Then we find the human-shaped sharks with just enough humanity to be cruel. Easy to find examples, really. Look at Edward Cullen from Twilight, Barnabas Collins in all the many incarnations of Dark Shadows, Countess Marya Zeleska in the film Dracula’s Daughter as well as the title character in Varney the Vampyre. Then take a gander at The Lost Boys, at the creatures in 30 Days of Night or From Dusk Till Dawn.
What’s most interesting, though, are those undead characters about whom folks argue. The ones who don’t seem totally one way or the other. At least, not to everyone.
An obvious recent example–Abby in the motion picture Let Me In. This is the English-language adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s brilliant novel Let The Right One In about an eerie and somehow touching relationship between a misfit little boy and the child vampire who moves next door. The American film starred actress Chloe Grace Moretz as Abby, the vampire. Reviewers almost immediately drew up into two camps about her character. One saw Abby as a lonely child who hated being alone and found a friend/love/companion in Owen (played by Kody Smitt-McPhee). The other looked at the exact same performance and saw an immensely clever animal, a manipulator of vast skill pressing all the right buttons to recruit a new slave.
Dracula himself has seen the same debate played out. Some insist the Count must only be a vicious predator of great charisma, much as Christopher Lee portrayed him in all those Hammer horror movies. Others prefer a more tragic characterization, far more like Gary Oldman in the Francis Ford Coppola film.
So which do I prefer? More importantly, which choice did I make when writing my own version of Carmilla?
Essentially, both. One of the problems I have with most versions of the story is how they see Carmilla herself as an unremitting predator and really nothing
much else. Apart from anything else, that surely makes for the least interesting choice possible. More, I would posit the story itself does not back that up. Consider how Carmilla resists feeding on Laura for nearly a month after she arrives. If you examine the times given, you’ll learn Carmilla did not wait so when targeting Berthe, an earlier victim. More, she even suggests leaving early, before starting to drink Laura’s blood! Seems like a case of mixed feelings to me, between conflicting desires.
Something else to consider–an issue LeFanu brings up in that subtle, intriguing way he has. When Carmilla is not visiting young women to feast upon their blood, where is she? She’s evidently not alone. We know she has an older female companion who says she’s the girl’s mother, complete with coachman who seem unpleasant in a quite visceral manner. The Polish television version actually hints
they might be dead people (a nice touch). Certainly they do not seem very pleasant company.
Might it not make sense Carmilla feels lonely? Might long for some more congenial company with which to spend the centuries?
Frankly, this leads to another question, at least as far as I’m concerned. Compare in your mind’s eye how the visit to Laura’s home might seem to Carmilla as opposed to where she usually spends her time? A beautiful home, with pleasant company, everyone treating her exactly like an ordinary human girl. She can pretend to be alive. Can brush the hair of this girl she evidently finds so very attractive.
At heart–and I’ve seen this even in the process of collaborative writing–I don’t agree with the premise of “Oh well, she’s a vampire so she must be evil!” For one thing, what a vague concept! What does one mean by evil? I usually get the impression they presume vampirism infects people with sociopathy. This even makes some kind of sense sometimes, as in The Strain where the entire nervous system restructures itself–or Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the soul leaves the victim to be replaced by a demon. But even then, the most interesting vampires nearly always end up those who retain or regain some aspect of their humanity. Drusilla is still mad, after all. Spike makes for a far more fascinating character than The Master.
So that governed how I wrote the title character. Yes, she’s a vampire. A monster who preys upon other human beings. A predator who must have found some way to emotionally ‘live’ with her means of survival. Certainly capable of great ruthlessness. Yet…also capable of affection, loneliness, regret, even love. I also frankly suspect has a deep melancholy streak that surfaces when the funeral of her victim strays into view.
“Everyone must die! And all are happier when they do!”
That line speaks volumes, or at least it does to me.