When I began writing my first book, Biting Back: A No-Nonsense (No Garlic) Guide to Facing the Personal Vampires in Your Life (Llewellyn, 2010)—and that was well over six years ago, mind you—I remember I was anxious, even then, that the national fascination with vampires would pass before I could finish my book proposal and mail it out to prospective agents. Obviously, I needn' have worried: vampires are as least as big or bigger now than they were then—and the question that people are starting to ask (and I know, because they're starting to ask me) is "How come?" Why, they want to know, are so many of us engaged in this love affair with the Undead, and what is it about vampires that makes our love for them so enduring?
Well. To begin with, I don't think there's an adult on the planet who hasn't been bitten by at least a few vampires in his or her life, so right off the bat, we can see that the myth of the vampire has the almost irresistible quality of empathy going for it. Consciously or not, every one of us knows exactly how it feels to have a vampire on our necks, and the so the legend of the vampire resonates, to one degree or another, with all of us.
Most of us have felt the bite of "small v vampires"—by which I mean the universally-known but not-quite-lethal wounds we've received from critical or ungrateful spouses and family members, conniving or advantage-taking coworkers and employers, self-centered or backstabbing friends and neighbors, or even telemarketers we can't persuade to stop calling the house; these are among the most prevalent vampires that sink their teeth into us every day, and their feedings have become so routine for many of us that they feel like an almost "normal" part of our lives—as repetitively unavoidable as scrubbing the toilets or taking out the garbage.
Others of us, I'm sorry to say, have more experience with the bite of "Capital V Vampires," by which I mean the rather less common but infinitely more destructive attacks we suffer (or have suffered) at the hands of physically and emotionally abusive partners or spouses, or under the "care" of acutely toxic parents and cruel relatives who injured us terribly when we were children and are (perhaps) still feeding on us today. Then, too, there are those among us who can't seem to escape the insatiable appetites of our own "inner vampires"—those hideously vicious critics that live in our minds and can never get their fill of telling us we’re not smart enough, strong enough, rich enough, thin enough, pretty enough, or plain old good enough to be worthy of living our lives the way we want to. According to them, we're not allowed to have the job or education, social status, or feelings of self-worth we need to in order to so much as buy the clothes we'd like to—until, that is, we are "size-worthy" of doing so. These are the voices that mock us again and again, saying, "Nope—you haven't made the grade yet. You're still not smart-strong-thin-rich-pretty-or even a good enough person, yet, to really start your life the way you'd like to." They feed on tricking us into believing we have to wait until we're worthy of living: until there won't be any moments left to stay "on hold," and our time will be up.
Whether we've been bitten one or both these types, though, we can all relate to the feeling of something or someone coming into our lives and taking from us what our spirit knows good and well is rightfully ours: the gift of life that God gave us, and the free will we were granted to live that life as we wish.
And as far as I'm concerned, that's the bottom line when it comes to what's really on the vampire's menu: all they're really interested in consuming are the hours and years of our lives that we wanted to spend doing something—anything—other than feeding and attending to their insatiable appetites. And since every single one of us knows how it feels to be drained by a vampire, we recognize it in the mythology: when we see it, we see ourselves, and of course we're entranced. How could we be anything but?
When you stop to think about it, there's a lot in vampire mythology for us to identify with: As we watch or read we must—consciously or not—recognize in these fictional vampires our own real-life vampires' penchant for living in the dark, for tricking us, lying to us, and for ambushing us at the exact moment we finally start feeling safe again. We observe as Dracula shifts shape from man to wolf to bat, but how many times have we fallen for our own vampires' shapeshifting in real life, seen them change from monster to charmer to innocent, while we've tried our best to deny what we're seeing? And how often have our own vampires reminded us—just as all vampires do with their victims—that they are the ones who have all the power, and that we're nothing but pathetic weaklings who couldn't possibly live without them (in spite of the glaringly obvious fact that it is they who feed on us)?
And once we recognize the vampire, on the page or on the screen, it only follows that we, as hosts to our own vampires at home, should want to keep reading, keep watching. After all, we're dying to find out who'll win the fight.
Will it be the vampire? If so (we subconsciously conclude), it may be that our personal vampires will the contest for our lives, too.
On the other hand, if it is the "host," or the "victim-turned-slayer" who wins the battle, then (subconsciously again) we have reason to hope for our own victory and subsequent freedom, too.
And what about these "victims-turned-slayers," anyway—aren't they typically people just like you and me? Aren't Dracula's Jonathan Harker and television's Buffy the Vampire Slayer the same as us: victims of the vampire who start out as non-believers but emerge, finally, to become dedicated slayers? Like them, almost none of us see ourselves as the stuff slayers are made of—we're just everyday people who, like our mythological counterparts, are reluctantly cast in the role of facing our vampires and saving ourselves. No wonder it feels so great to see little Buffy kicking the holy crap out of her vampires! We perceive her to be as unlikely a hero as we perceive ourselves to be—and what could possibly give us more reason for hope than that? After all, if a 16-year-old Valley Girl can find a way to slay her vampires, then maybe we can, too.
Finally, there are the symbolic lessons we take from watching our mythological vampires slain: these are the rules for slaying our own vampires that we, on some level, understand and adapt to our own lives. One of the rules we're taught is that no vampire can possibly survive prolonged exposure to natural, or true light. Does this mean, metaphorically speaking, that if we bring our own vampires "into the light," or out into the open and tell the truth about them, that they, too, will eventually turn to dust? I wonder what a psychologist would have to say about that—or a priest. Isn't bringing the truth into the light where it can be seen the basis of all psychological therapy? And isn't confession to a priest where we begin to find freedom from the errors we've made that have been separating us from our God, ourselves, and our brothers and sisters everywhere?
It's no wonder to me that the vampire holds us in its thrall; it parallels our troubling relationships in real life as no other mythological creature can do. I mean, let's face it: there's just no way we can relate to werewolves or zombies in the same way. All that fur and mindless slopping around—whom among us can relate? And who, for that matter, would even want to?
The vampire is here to stay—not because it's sexy, and not because it's just a product of fabulous marketing, either. We will always be enthralled with mythological vampires because most of us are living with the real thing every day—and because we're looking for a way to reclaim our will and our lives from them, too. Somewhere inside we recognize that the solutions we're seeking can be found in our beloved vampire stories—and we're right to think so.
Mythological and fictional vampires not only demonstrate, in the most entertaining way, the tricks of their trade and how we can learn to spot them, but also offer us a way to find the door through which we'll eventually demand they take their leave—to get the heck out once and for all, and go find somewhere else to feed.