I’m not a horror fan, but it’s hard to read or watch fantasy without tripping over the more common figures of terror like vampires and werewolves. I think of them as iconic, fixed horrors and am often surprised by the way they are portrayed these days. After thinking about it, I’ve realized that we have to change the legends to fit our modern world.
Historically, vampires aren’t just undead creatures that drain your blood to survive. They are also destroyed by daylight. But I just finished reading a great Austen parody in which a vampire fought in broad daylight, after smearing his skin with a grease to help increase the amount of time he could stand to be in the sun. By my standards, he should have been a pile of ash the minute the sunlight touched him, grease or no grease. But more and more vampires can get around in the daytime, so much so it seems like we’ve forgotten that they are children of the night. But is that so surprising? Thanks to electricity, we can turn on bright, piercing light any time we like, banishing darkness and destroying whatever we thought was lurking in the corner of our bedroom. So insisting on vampires that can’t deal with sunlight seems a little silly.
Werewolves are men who turn into wolves. When I first saw the Harry Potter movie The Prisoner of Azkaban, I was disappointed when Lupin turned into an bony, hairless I don’t know what. In Chapter 28 of The Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling includes a discussion about how to tell the difference between a normal wolf and a transformed werewolf, implying that they are not easy to tell apart. But that thing Lupin became in POA? Put it next to a wolf, and a blind man would know the difference. Here Hollywood stepped in, trying to make something horrific looking (and achieving it), because it’s hard to realize how scary a normal wolf can be. We no longer deal with ravening packs of starving wolves like European peasants did in the past and most of us live with dogs that resemble wolves. Between these two facts, the terror of the animal is so greatly diminished that we have to replace what used to be scary with what will scare us now.
I admit, I’m old-fashioned. I like to think about the challenges life would present if you were a vampire who couldn’t abide the touch of daylight. If you can’t afford an isolated castle full of obedient servants, how do you make sure you are safe in the daytime, when you are in a coma and can’t defend yourself? Or the dangers a werewolf might cause regular wolves, making them targets of a community trying to eradicate a werewolf on the rampage and not worrying about whether or not they are killing the right kind of wolf. But I’m also resigned to these modern takes on old favorites. Kristen Lamb’s post about the modern obsession with zombies helped me realize the truth about horror and monsters: they are shaped to deal with the fears we face today.
I have to hand it to J.K. Rowling, and not just because she and I are on the same page when it comes to werewolves. She created dementors — energy-sucking creatures that non-magical humans cannot see — and made them the cause of depression and hopelessness in anyone they go near. Here is a real monster for the modern world, causing a problem that has touched most everyone directly or indirectly. Dementors are great monsters because they fit perfectly with the fears and problems of our times. Instead of updating a legend, she created her own.
What about you? Are you for or against daytime vampires?