Aren't vampires 'played out' yet?
There's been a rise in criticism for the vampire in romantic and young adult fiction lately, especially in the wake of wildly popular titles like Twilight, The Vampire Dairies, True Blood, and so on. Lots of readers and viewers would very much like vampires to go back to their frightening horror movie roots. So why do we love vampires in our love stories like peanut butter in our chocolate? Why are they such a staple of the paranormal romance genre? And when did Edward Cullen become the epitome of hot vamp action?
First off, vampire fiction has been around since the 1700s. I used to believe vampires started out as your standard folkloric creature features: evil nosferatu, ugly killers like red caps or swamp creatures. Something you'd never want in your bed. Horrifying, not tragically beautiful.
Actually, though, vampires have always been associated with sensuality and eroticism. From the earliest vampire poetry to ghost stories to early homoerotic and lesbian fiction, mainstream vampire works have made erotic entanglement a strong motif. Your modern day Angels, Spikes, Selenes, Erics, and Edwards aren't really deviations from a horrifying monster-movie norm; it's actually the nosferatu, 30 Days of Night, 99 Coffins vamps who are the deviants.
Not to say the horrifying vamp is a bad vamp. I happen to love the creatures from 30 Days of Night, and would happily set them loose all over my old high school (just kidding).
But why do vamps go so well with sex?
A lot of the early vampire poetry told tales of lovers coming back from the grave for their beloveds, drawn to them beyond death. Most also hinge, of course, on the vampire's need for human blood—a symbol of one's very life. These elements stage a darkly romantic scene already: the defiance of death, the sacrifice of one's own life for their lover. Implicit in these exchanges is a dark intimacy: secret reunions in the dead of night, a partner requiring both your surrender and your protection from the waking world, the exchange of vital fluids. Think of somewhere on the landscape of human flesh where the touch of a person's lips and teeth would not be sexy. Even if you can name one for yourself, I'll bet money I'll find another person who will swear it’s the sexiest place they can imagine being bitten or licked.
Poems of this nature include The Vampyre (1748) and Lenore (1773), and are notable for incorporating erotic overtones in romantic reunions of the living and the dead. So the earliest incarnation of vampires was not 1922's Nosferatu.
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) probably marks the most notable mainstream example of "real" vampire fiction, but it isn't the first such novel. Before that came Carmilla, in 1872, featuring a female vampire seducing a young woman to feed on her while she slept.
Vampires have been seducers and eerie romantic figures from the beginning. There's obviously a danger to them, a mysterious horror and an otherworldly, unnatural machination behind their immortality. That only makes them more alluring. As immortals, they usually represent eternal youth and beauty, so they're often incredibly attractive. They present a mystery, things unknown, so they're intriguing as well. They represent the dual appeal of being vulnerable (they need a human's most intimate and vital gift to survive) and exceedingly powerful (they've conquered the grave). They are wildly counter-culture to everything repressive: they encourage sensuality, defiance, primal knowledge, and surrender to our most basic drives. But at the same time they are intelligent, worldly, and sophisticated. Centuries of life will do that to a person. It also often makes them wealthy.
Really, is there any wonder they are so popular as paranormal romantic icons?
Vampires aren't 'played out', and they might never be. So far they are still thrilling audiences after 300 years of unlife. A couple of disappointing or overhyped additions to the genre aren't going to change that.
It's probably worth remembering that Twilight is a children's vampire novel. It's meant for younger teen audiences not yet ready for Lucy making love to Dracula in the form of a wolf in Bram Stoker's novel, or the constant and incredibly weird sex scenes in True Blood (I'm still trying get over the sight of Bill Compton having sex with Lorena with her head twisted 180 degrees...eugh!).
Vampires like Edward Cullen haven't ruined vampire fiction. Neither did Gary Oldman or Tom Cruise bastardize the genre by turning vampires into sensual, tortured monsters. Vampires have always been sensual, tortured monsters. Some do it well and some do it poorly; some are incredibly over the top (really? 180 degrees?), and some are sparklers. Vampires, however, are really the ones who started the craze for paranormal erotic romance. They aren't just staples of the genre: they are the original supernatural seducers. So don't expect them to be fading away anytime soon.