There are as many opinions on what makes a good vampire as there are copies of Dracula. Whether you like them scary, brooding or barely present (as in the first episode of the new From Dusk Till Dawn) they’re as big a presence in the cultural landscape as rivers are in the physical one.

This open minded approach to others’ tastes isn’t going to stop me being opinionated though, so here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites, and why I think you should like them too.

The Seine

With its slow, graceful curves and sneering French boatmen, this is- oh wait, you wanted the vampires not the rivers?

You know, that would fit the theme of my blog better…

'One more lame joke and you're next, Knighton.'

‘One more lame joke and you’re next, Knighton.’

Dracula

Bram Stoker may not have been the first author to write about vampires, but he’s the one who energised them as a cultural touchstone, who defined the modern myth and made us want to keep coming back for more.

Like many Victorian novels, Dracula’s a bit of a slow, cumbersome read by modern standards. But the group of characters arrayed against the monster is interesting and the atmosphere chilling. You can feel the icy mist creeping in off the sea by Whitby on every page.

If you’re a fan of Dracula, and of all things Victorian, then Whitby is well worth a visit. It inspired a lot of the atmosphere in the book, and if you go up to the ruins on the headland you can feel why. Plus it has a Victorian-style town museum full of the most amazing collection of random stuff, including a hand of glory, a machine to predict storms using slugs, and a sundial made from a cannon ball that killed a man.

What Stoker did was to take that Victorian obsession with collecting oddments from all over the world, in his case mostly fragments of myth, and forged them into something cohesive. He made the modern vampire.

Spike

If you’ve seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer then I probably don’t need to say any more. If you haven’t then shame on you, but I will explain.

Spike is a great example of a character who grew far beyond his creators’ original intent. Starting out as a villainous vampire version of John Constantine – trenchcoat, blond hair, British accent, cigarettes and bad attitude, all present and correct – he evolved into a character at the comic and emotional heart of the show. By turns tragic, pathetic and awesome, he was a tormented soul with a sense of humour, not just one more whining emo vampire.

Spike had such variety of character, such interesting relationships with the others, such twisted motivations, such great lines, that after the show ended he was transferred straight into its sister show Angel, just in time for that series’ great final season.

Spike showed that vampires could be more than villains without losing their dark edge, and that everything Joss Whedon touches turns to awesome.

The Count

OK, OK, so he’s not a classic vampire. But I love puppets, I particularly love Muppets, and the count shows just was a cultural touchstone vampires have become. When even little children can laugh at these monsters then horror has done what it does best – taming our fears, allowing us to live with them.

One, ha ha ha ha ha ha. Two, ha ha ha ha ha ha. Three, ha ha ha…

The Vampire Lanois

The Afghan Whigs made dark, brooding, soulful rock music. Who better to craft an instrumental named after a vampire? It rolls straight on from the previous track Omerta, so here’s both of them in their grinding glory.

Vampires everywhere!

I admit, my selection got slightly random towards the end. And there’s a reason.

A cultural icon isn’t at it’s best when it’s always presented the same way. Not every superhero should be dark and grim or fun and shiny. Not every president on film should be heroic or noble or even corrupt. It’s when we shine a light on something from a hundred different angles that it becomes interesting, giving us new ideas and understandings.

So who are your favourite vampires? What angle would you shine that light from, and why? Answers in the box below, before the darkness consumes you…

 

Picture by davidd via Flickr creative commons

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Comments
  1. everwalker says:

    Constance from Robin McKinley’s ‘Sunshine’ is probably one of my favourites. He’s done in a way that makes vampire society seem complex – rather than all about the blood – and beautifully illustrates a vampire experiencing culture shock when encountering a human perspective. He’s trying to work with a human without trying to jump in her pants (something I appreciate in this post-Twilight fang-porn era) and shows intelligence, fear, humour, courage, honour and bad temper.

  2. wf1019 says:

    I was looking up the ‘I Am Legend’ novel, much more a vampire novel than the mediocre (zombie?) movie, yesterday then this article popped up in my feed. Great stuff. I must say that I’m partial to Spike because of my love for the show, but I also enjoy counting like the Count. It’s amazing that an idea that became somewhat mainstream a little over two centuries ago has taken such a great hold

    • It’s funny how these things shift around isn’t it? I haven’t read I Am Legend (and have very little intention of watching the film) but from what I’ve heard it’s another good example of using the familiar trope in different ways.

  3. Michelle Mueller says:

    I’m still a fan of Dracula. I read it a couple years ago for the first time, and I loved the fact that it’s an epistolary. More than that, I loved that Dracula himself was barely physically present in the novel, yet he didn’t have to be for the story to be suspenseful.

    • It didn’t strike me when I was writing about him earlier, but you’re right, Dracula really is one of those examples of less is more. For anything that’s meant to be creepy, and horror in general, keeping the darkness hidden and leaving it to our imaginations is often far more effective than putting everything on screen.

  4. glenatron says:

    Vampires. Are. Boring.

    That’s not to say they can’t be done well – Fevre Dream is alright, The Stress Of Her Regard is plausibly good and I may well read it, but that is in spite of vampires not because of them. Buffy was awesome for the characters of the heroes and the quality of the writing, which were so high that even vampires couldn’t bring them down. Also I haven’t read Dracula because vampires are boring, so I might get on alright with that. It seems as though the count in that is more like some god of death than the more annoying vampire of annoying modern annoying vampire fiction and sometimes the story that creates the boring cliches is good reading in it’s own right ( see also Tolkien ) but I am not keen to go out of my way to seek it.

    I will let off The Count, though. Every time we hear about the count on election nights, I just imagine a room full of Counts, and all you can hear outside is “ah ah ah ah” in hundreds of voices.

    • I love Fevre Dream! That book made me go ‘oh thank goodness, he can do more than Song of Ice and Fire’. I can see how, if you don’t buy into the whole vampire thing, it really wouldn’t work, but I loved the details of riverboat living.

      • glenatron says:

        Well that’s the thing- I liked it as a non-vampire fan, partly because of the way it subverted or lampshaded a lot of classic vampire tropes. Possibly also the originator of the bloodwine type idea that seems fairly ubiquitous since?

        • I’m guessing that the blood wine connection is a trope as old as vampire tales – two red liquids well suited to tales of depraved aristocracy, I can’t imagine that one got left around until GRRM.

  5. malwen says:

    I agree with your selection of Dracula and Spike. I am not familiar with the others in your list, and have read nothing vampire, as far as I recall, apart from Dracula and the Discworld variant on the theme. So, another I would add to the list is Mitchell from Being Human (such strong contrast between outbursts of outright evil savagery and other times when he evoked much sympathy). Uses of vampire characters that I have found interesting include the series Ultraviolet and the recent revision of the ballet Sleeping Beauty (I could explain for those who have not seen it yet but that would involve a spoiler).

    • Ah, Ultraviolet, another series that was cut short all too soon. I really liked its approach to the whole vampire mythos – it never felt over-stated and the vampires were more menacing than angsty. Plus you can never go wrong with Idris Elba.

  6. skudssister says:

    Not particularly on the theme of favourite vampires but in terms of some interesting ‘vampirish’ novels I have read recently I would suggest The Radleys by Matt Haig (an excellent author by the way – I can also recommend The Humans and I’m about 3/4 through his latest Echo Boy) and The Quick by Lauren Owen. Lots of victorian colour and some interesting vampire urchins.

    Oh, and if you want silly then Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett. I’ve been promised a proof of the second volume by the author and told that it begins with Charles Darwin in an exo-skeleton with his pants round his ankles. So all good, then…

    • I do like a bit of silly, so Gideon Smith’s going on the ‘to read’ list next to AckAck Macaque. I hope his depiction of Charles Darwin is as entertaining as the version in Gideon Defoe’s The Pirates in an Adventure With Scientists, my current high water mark for Darwinian silliness.

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