Sunday, 20 February 2011

Reclaiming the Monster

For the longest time now vampires have been de-fanged. This is not all due to Twilight and the swathe of books that have been released showing moony vampires brooding over teenage girls. After all, Buffy came a long time before Twilight - and the Vampire Diaries (the original release of such) happened when I was a teenager. Anita Blake was hunting - and having sex - with the monsters years ago. I want to present you with ten novels (not including Dracula, we've all heard of that one - or I would hope we had!) where the vampire is a PROPER bad guy.

1) Salem's Lot - Stephen King

Stephen King recently advised the aspiring young writer of horror tales to keep away from vampires, and the other classical monsters, as they have been done to death, and maybe that's good advice for the novice, but it's worth noting that this, only his second published novel, is one of his very best. The book concerns one Ben Mears, successful writer, who is returning to Jerusalem's Lot, the town where he spent his youth. And of course, it's not exactly as he remembers it. Here King deliberately underplays the human aspect of the vampire, giving us instead the the hideous aspect as first shown in the classic flick Nosferatu.

2) Let the Right One In - John Ajvide Liindqvist

In this novel the emphasis is on the monster being the least monstrous of the characters on show - but that doesn't prevent these vampires from being pretty damn nasty and definitely scary. Blood is spilled and throats torn out by a vampire that has the visage of a young girl - some shocking stuff.

3) Room 13 - Robert Swindells

Room 13 is a childrens novel written by the acclained awardwinning childrens' authour Robert Swindells. Published in 1989, and awarded the Children's Book Award, the novel centres around a group of friends, on a school trip, who stay in a creepy guest house on Whitby's West Cliff. The novel takes advantage of Whitby's sinister and gothic ties and weaves a story of suspense that has earnt its place as a firm favourite of children wanting the thrill of a little horror and suspense. Once again Whitby finds itself inexcribably connected to a vampiric encounter. I read this novel as an eleven-year-old and delighted in the ghoulish horror - the slow unwinding of the tale grips and does not let go.

4) Department 19 - Will Hill

Cheating a *tiny* bit here, since Department 19 isn't officially released yet but one thing I loved about Will's debut is the fact that the vampires are truly horrible. They have fiendish plans, kidnap people and kill in hiedous ways! As I said in my review: And what villains! Did someone say sparkly vampires? With a T-Bone, Hill has wiped them from existence – his vampires are the real deal! No sexy mooning after teenage girls. We have here three dimensional characters, with motivations such as envy, revenge and bitter memories. No two vampires are alike, just as no two people can ever be the same. With villains like Alexandru, you genuinely believe that none of these characters are safe as the blood begins to spill. Chilling.

5) The Children's Hour - Douglas Clegg

This one is rather difficult to track down, but it is well worth it if you are looking for some scary as hell vampires. Author Joe Gardner travels with his family to his childhood hometown of Colony. He has avoided the town and his horrific memories of it for years and now finds himself facing the friends and family members who stir up unpleasant memories. As soon as he hits the town line, he begins to hear the nightmare voices of the past once again calling him. Meanwhile, Colony is being terrorized by something....something evil that steals its children. Joe reunites with figures from his childhood to try to stop the terror only to find his own wife and children in harm's way. Clegg easily takes his place next to King with this strong piece of horror writing. You'll be hard pushed not to put down the book through fright...

6) Der Vampir - Heinrich August Ossenfelder (written: 1748)

This poem is widely accepted to be the first instance of vampires appearing in literature - can you imagine the horror that must have thrilled through people upon reading these words?

My dear young maiden clingeth
Unbending, fast and firm
To all the long-held teaching
Of a mother ever true;
As in vampires unmortal
Folk on the Theyse's portal
Heyduck-like do believe.
But my Christine thou dost dally,
And wilt my loving parry
Till I myself avenging
To a vampire's health a-drinking
Him toast in pale tockay.

And as softly thou art sleeping
To thee shall I come creeping
And thy life's blood drain away.
And so shalt thou be trembling
For thus shall I be kissing
And death's threshold thou' it be crossing
With fear, in my cold arms.
And last shall I thee question
Compared to such instruction
What are a mother's charms?

7) The Giaour - Lord Byron

Another poem, and this one an epic. Once again it is a very early instance of vampires appearing in literature. I don't want to harp on about it, but, honestly, we're so blase these days about the idea of horrific creatures sucking the blood and life from people - can you imagine encountering something like this for the first time? And Bryon does not hold back at all in his vivid imagery:

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;

There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.

8) I Am Legend - Richard Matheson

Another influential example of vampire science fiction was I Am Legend by author Richard Matheson in (1954). The novel is set in a future Los Angeles overrun with undead cannibalistic/bloodsucking beings. The protagonist is the sole survivor of a pandemic of a bacterium that causes vampirism. He must fight to survive attacks from the hordes of nocturnal creatures, discover the secrets of their biology, and develop effective countermeasures. "I Am Legend" was one of the first works of fiction to offer a scientific explanation for vampirism; it changed the vampire genre forever. I'm not fond of the novel, but you can't deny both its influence and the terrifying nature of I Am Legend.

9) They Thirst - Robert McCammom

They Thirst details the relentless possession of Los Angeles by vampires, who quickly transform the city into a necropolis. The City of Angels, however, is only the first step of a planned worldwide conquest by the unholy creatures. It is deliberately kept out of print by the author, but, if you can get a hold of this one, it is well worth the hassle. Another horrific example of vampires who aren't going to declare their undying love.

10) The Stress of Her Regard - Tim Powers

Okay, check out this part of the plot: Crawford marries Julia. Julia's stepsister Josephine is present as the maid of honor, but neglects to complete the marriage rite and the newly wed couple leave for their honeymoon. The married couple enjoy their first night together and Crawford is wakened later, being made love to by someone. Although Crawford believes it is his wife, he wakes later to discover her horribly disemboweled body next to him in the bed. How creepy does that sound?

Hopefully, the ten works of literature above should give you something to be going on with if you want to put the fangs back in your vampires and enjoy some proper horror writing.

Do you have any you wish to suggest to me?


  1. Not exactly "vampires-as-bad-guys" (I don't read much horror), but as for less fluffy vampires... What about Anne Rice? In the earlier ones, there's something quite sinister about the vampires. Eventually, Mrs Rice became rather over-obsessed with the word "love" (way too often in 'Blood & Gold', but we can ignore that one and others that came after Memnoch.

    Tom Holland's "The Vampyre" is also pretty good (your mention of Byron reminded me). Nice, slow-burn, followed by evil ending. Kristin Kathryn Rusch also had a grisly one (one could consider it a 'harder' True Blood) - "Sins of the Blood", I think it was called.

    This is a nice list though, will try some of these out.

  2. How about The Historian by Kostova? I thought that was pretty good . . .

  3. Vampire Junction by S.P. Somtow was pretty good - I think I read that in the early 90s. And of course Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu.

  4. Definitely The Historian. Vampire Scholars are the scariest you can get. "I do declare young Royce, it's mighty time we slake our thirst on this rapscallion..." :D

  5. ooh, The Stress of Her Regard, GOOD book!! Tim Powers rocks.

    I'm recently obsessed with Jasper Kent's freaky scary first in a series, TWELVE, and not to spoil it, but it involves Vampires. they don't sparkle, they aren't sexy. they soldier for money, and they are hungry.

  6. The Passage, by Justin Cronin. The vamps in that are not nice guys.... great book too

  7. Stress of her Regard, one of my favourite books ever! Also agreeing with The Vampyre, The Historian and early Anne Rice.

    I read one recently Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews, the vampires in that are definitely not friendly or even attractive, more vessels to be controlled.

    Going to check out some of the other mentioned here :)

  8. Necroscope and its sequels by Brian Lumley feature some pretty nasty vampire types.They are vicious, violent and a lot of fun to read.

  9. The Stress of Her Regard, loved it when I read it. Looks like its out of print now? Come on publisher types sort yourself out!

    How about Kim Newmans Anno Dracula series...

  10. I think I need to read They Thirst. Swan Song by Robert McCammon is one of my favourite books ever but as yet I’ve never read anything else that he has written. I’m sure They Thirst is actually lurking somewhere in the depths of my to read pile, I’ll have to investigate!

    I’m planning on re-reading Salems Lot at some point as well. It’s probably been 15 years since I read it so don’t remember it very clearly but I’ve been seeing it mentioned quite a lot recently and its whetting my appetite. Will fit in nicely with the Stephen King Reading Challenge that I am taking part in.

    I can’t think of any other suggestions that aren’t on your list. I’m awaiting the paperback release of The Passage by Justin Cronin as that sounds good.

  11. The Vampires from The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. More of a biological monster definitely not the glittery type and as they infect good people rather unsettling.

  12. I really wanted to like The Stress of Her Regard, given that The Anubis Gates is one of my favourite books, but it drags and drags and drags and drags...

    Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin is pretty enjoyable. I read it fairly recently and while it's no great work of literature by any means, it's got steamboats and vampires in the southern USA and provides a fairly good antidote to all that trashy True Blood crap.

    Saw a pretty good vampire film tonight: Thirst by Park Chan Wook. It's a Korean film based in part upon Zola's Therese Raquin and it plays with ideas of bloodlust/lust and needs and desires in general, the lengths we go to in seeking things missing from our lives, and so on. Worth seeing, anyway.