Vampires, Werewolves: They Suck Us In

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The allure of the supernatural

If you take a look at local bookstore shelves or just turn on the TV lately, you might notice the fierce, shirtless Viking, the elegant gentleman from another age and the simply sexy construction worker have been given another layer of fantasy – as vampires and werewolves.

These monsters have been with us forever, certainly since 19th century novels The Vampyre and The Wolf-Leader. But, every decade has its own version of these creatures, from the campy horror films of the 1940s and 1950s to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, which gained a huge following in the 1980s. Her books are credited for letting vampires out of their confining coffins and for giving readers permission to turn their nightmares into dreams.

Now, we have our choice between the “want-to-but-shouldn’t” abstaining angst of the Twilight book and movie series to the Southern-soaked True Blood HBO series that blends the undead with politics, drugs and religion. Paranormal has become an accepted (and robust) subdivision of romance publishing and many big and small-screen vampire stories have literary roots by authors such as Charlaine Harris and L. J. Smith.

The proliferation is enough to make any observer ask why. Why vampires and werewolves now, especially sexy ones? Is it the lure of eternal youth? The pull of supernatural abs?

Sign of the times

Some pop culture experts speculate the glut and glory may echo our troubled times. Many modern vampires struggle with their own morality while real people are the victims of blood-suckers on Wall Street. Others say it’s just another variation on the bad boy thing.

It’s a cultural phenomenon local erotica writer, Victoria Rouch, has thought and written about. She said she finds it interesting that the stories can cover so much ground, from clever to absurd. She delved into the genre with her book, Blood Lust.

First, she said, the current popularity of vampires and werewolves has a new element. This time, the creatures of the night have brought their friends.

“There are were-animals of all sorts, angels, fairies, zombies,” she said. Not to mention necromancers, wizards and shamans. The books by Laurell K. Hamilton and the True Blood TV series are just a couple of examples. Who would have guessed a small town in northern Louisiana, for example, would be home to synthetic-blood-drinking vampires, werewolf and werepanther packs, witches and the fey?

For Rouch, the variety of vampire depictions is interesting. While she has difficulty imagining a grown woman attracted to the Edward Cullen character in Twilight, she thinks Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Dracula is pretty sexy.

“I think overall, it’s about power,” she said. “Women are attracted to power.”

This supernatural dominance plays a role in romantic fantasy, because you’re not really responsible for your actions if you’re under a supernatural spell or “glamoured,” as humans tend to be in the True Blood series.

Werewolf and vampire stories are also pervasive because the characters go back to much older fables and speak to our collective unconscious, a part of the mind containing psychic material that one is rarely aware of but influences one’s behavior.

UNCW graduate student Ashley Relf is working on her thesis about monsters in children’s literature with the help of Jungian analyst Dr. Jenny Yates. Werewolves and vampires can both be seen as members of the vast archetypal cast that populate our unconscious, she said.

Stories about “shapeshifters” or the ability to turn into an animal are found in Greek and Native American stories and myths. Human-animal beings are seen in prehistoric cave paintings. This ability can symbolize duality and a psyche in flux.

And, although Rouch does not personally find werewolves attractive, she points out that she can understand their appeal: “It’s a nice way to have a boyfriend and a dog.”