Examination Thesis, 2012
81 Pages, Grade: 2,0
2. The Image of Vampires in Contemporary Fiction
2.1 From Evil Monsters to Sympathetic Creatures
2.2 Sympathetic Vampires
2.3 Humanised Vampires
2.4 Romantic Heroes
2.5 The Changing Role of Women
3. Plot and Important Characters of The Vampire Diaries
4. The Image ofVampires in The Vampire Diaries
4.2 Physical and Psychological Traits
4.3 Weaknesses and Death
4.4 Powers and Abilities
4.6.1 Vampires and Humans
4.6.2 Vampires Among Themselves
“Every age embraces the vampire it needs.” -NinaAuerbach (Our Vampires, Ourselves 145)
The vampire is one of the oldest and most powerful archetypes in modern media (Gordon and Hollinger 1). As a creature of the night, he belongs to the group of the most popular Gothic monsters (Abbott 1). The notion of the vampire is mainly based on the folklore of South East Europe (Ruthner 16). Over the course of the last two centuries, the vampire has become an instrument and popular subject of fiction and the myth has been retold, extended and reinvented through literature, film and television (Abbott 87).
The first vampire stories in English were published in the 19th century. The most remarkable stories from this period are John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819), J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) (Melton xxiii-xxiv). In the 20th century the United States became the focal point of vampire stories (Abbott 6), with a specific resonance in the genres of horror, fantasy, and mystery. Over time, stories concerned with vampires have gradually increased in popularity, reaching a climax in contemporary popular culture with the infiltration of the genre of romantic teenage drama. During the last decade, successful films and television series such as The Twilight Saga film series, Buffy - The Vampire Slayer, Angel, True Blood, or The Vampire Diaries have created a kind of“vampire hype”, primarily targeting teenage girls (Dorn 205).
There have been endless representations of vampires in fiction and this precludes a single definition. However, vampires are associated with several longstanding traditional and stereotypical characteristics (Pattis and Sigl 273). It is fundamental for vampires to survive on blood, to have fangs that leave behind two puncture marks in the neck, to be immortal and at the same time dead with a living corpse, to loathe sunlight and to be in some way associated with the coffin. In addition, vampires stop aging from the moment of their transition (Brittnacher 148). They have always been supernatural and powerful creatures that are physically and mentally superior to humans (Clarke 9). Ann Davis describes the vampire as embodied heterotopia because of his or her immortality and unification of life and death (396). Vampires are both dead and alive and therefore torn between two worlds, embodying life as well as death (Ruthner 12).
Contemporary writers and film-makers have in particular attributed new and sometimes unique characteristics and rules which apply specifically to their own vampires (Clarke 9). Vampires are therefore anti-essential as there is no universal or consistent set of characteristics, but rather a growing variety of different transformations. Vampires have gone through a process of constant change and their varying images have evolved (Murphy 57) throughout history and culture, something which is at least in part the result of the changing attitudes towards them. Nina Auerbach emphasises the existence of different types and forms of vampires by stating that “[t]here is no such creature as ‘The Vampire’, there are only vampires” (5).
The American writer Lisa Jane Smith, better known as L.J. Smith, deals with incidents of the supernatural in her books, concentrating principally on stories involving vampires and witches. One of her most famous works is the novel series The Vampire Diaries, which was published in 1991 (Melton 648), long before the onset of the current vampire phenomenon. However, it was not until after the release of the television series that the novels reached the height of their popularity.
The television adaptation of The Vampire Diaries first aired on 10 September 2009 on The CW Network (Jesionowski 339). The premiere was watched by more than 4.8 million viewers in the United States (Melton 695). The show was developed by Kevin Williamson, who is both head writer and executive producer, and Julie Plec, who is co-executive producer (Jesionowski 340). The three main characters and series regulars Elena Gilbert, Stefan Salvatore, and Damon Salvatore are played by the Bulgarian-Canadian actress Nina Dobrev and the American actors Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder. Although many story lines and characters have been altered in the television series it is nevertheless based on the novel series by L.J. Smith. Currently the most successful television series on The CW Network, The Vampire Diaries is now in its third season and is to be renewed for a fourth, starting in September 2012. The Vampire Diaries infuses the genre of teenage and young adult romantic drama with elements of horror and the supernatural, an established and very effective technique of doubling and blending different genres in modern popular culture (Robson 245).
This thesis undertakes an analysis of the image of vampires in contemporary fiction with particular reference to the first three seasons of the television series The Vampire Diaries. Through an investigation of how the image of vampires has evolved and changed over the course of the 20th century, I will show that the contemporary vampire is not merely the embodiment of demonic evil, but rather a supernatural and complex creature that is closely related to the human species and which combines both good and evil characteristics.
In the second chapter I will address the development of fictional vampires, focussing mainly on the image of vampires in contemporary popular culture and their differing types and personalities. I will then present background information concerning the plot and main characters of The Vampire Diaries in the third chapter to facilitate the understanding of my subsequent analysis. The fourth chapter constitutes the greater part of my thesis and considers the representation of vampires in the television series The Vampire Diaries. Various good and evil aspects of vampires will be investigated in order to build an integral whole of their image in the television series. I will initially deal with the origins of vampires, followed by their physical and psychological traits, their weaknesses as well as their powers, their interaction with human beings, their integration into society and their relationship with humans and other vampires.
The image of vampires in fiction has gradually changed during the last two centuries. Furthermore, it is difficult to define a universal representation of vampires within a specific time period. Nowadays there is no single portrayal, but rather a huge range of different types and personalities depending on the particular genre to which they belong (Klewer 22). In the beginning, vampires could be found in the horror and fantasy genres of literature and film. Contemporary vampires appear mostly in the drama and the romantic genres, which are mainly addressed to female teenagers and are combined with mystery and supernatural elements. Nevertheless, the horror aspect of the vampire genre has gradually been losing its emphasis.
In this chapter, I will first analyse how the vampire was presented in the early stages of the genre and the roots of its subsequent evolution. In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century the image of vampires as the embodiment of evil was relatively stable and homogeneous. From the 1970s onwards there have been significant developments regarding vampirism. I will focus on the three main types of vampire shown in fiction over the last four decades and investigate the sympathetic vampire, the humanised vampire and the vampire as a romantic hero. There may be various characteristics that are not clearly definable and which cannot be attributed to a specific type of vampire. It is therefore inevitable that some of the characteristics described correspond to more than one type of vampire or that certain vampires are comprised of more than just one type. Lastly I will deal with the role of women in the vampire genre and show how women have gained in importance, evolving from victims into strong personalities and even vampiric protagonists.
From their beginnings in the 19th century and up until the 1970s vampires were considered to be ancient, evil, bloodsucking mythological monsters. They were associated with horror and fear, a perception reinforced by their non-human physical appearance as well as their non-human behaviour and characteristics. Vampires were one of the most well known embodiments of evil (Clements 4). However, vampires have also always been related to elements of seduction, sexuality and romance.
In both literature and film, vampires such as Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu or Bram Stoker’s Dracula do not look like humans. They have a strange posture and wear peculiar clothes that make them look like non-human and unfamiliar creatures. Vampires are presented as antagonists and aristocratic antiheroes who threaten and kill human beings, using their supernatural powers to satisfy their needs without any sense of remorse. They do not establish a bond with their victims before murdering them. Presented as soulless demons arising from evil, these vampires invariably appear as natural enemies of human beings that consequently need to be engaged in combat.
Due to their physical appearance and their strange behaviour, vampires are not part of society but rather from a different world. They suffer from a lack of sociability, rarely cultivate relationships and therefore live solitary lives. For instance, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a wealthy aristocrat who lives alone and isolated in his castle. Vampire stories belonging to the horror genre do not focus on the relationships between vampires and humans. As vampires behave in a way that is different from and often hostile to humans, it is difficult to envisage them establishing a relationship founded on equality and mutual understanding with any human being. Vampire characters are generally static with little evolution or change. Traditional vampires do not usually offer any psychological insight and therefore prevent identification with or sympathy from the audience. In their early manifestations vampire stories are never told from the vampire’s perspective.
Yoshitaka Inoue distinguishes three stages of the image of vampires in fiction (88). As stated above, vampires were represented as dangerous and evil monsters, demons that frightened people and which were excluded from human contact. They became fascinating and noble characters over time, exhibiting a closer relationship with human beings. Vampires have since been portrayed as emotional and introspective individuals tending toward both human appearance and features. This constant process of change implies that vampires are very dynamic in nature and never become outdated, adapting to the current time, place and culture of which they are part (Strübe 135). Vampires are always inhabitants of the given time and culture.
Over the course of the last two centuries vampires have lost their religious status (Zanger 19). They have become less and less affected and damageable by garlic, holy objects such as crucifixes and holy water because of the modernisation of society and the vampires’ adaptation to it (Klemens 309).
Vampires have become secular (Abbott 137), yet are still in possession of superhuman powers.
From the 1970s onwards, internal narrative structures have increasingly occurred in vampire stories (Abbott 82). The most famous example of this shift from external to internal narrative voice in the 1970s is Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, narrated in the first person by the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt. As a result, the vampire becomes a viewpoint character (Klewer 323). Internal narrative structures provide insight into the psyche and thoughts of the vampire and foster the possibility of both identification and compassion. Prior to this it had been virtually impossible to develop any sense of empathy as the workings of the vampires’ feelings were impenetrable. Since then these once evil monsters have evolved into sympathetic vampires that have increasingly appeared in popular culture (Dorn 18).
In the 1970s sympathetic vampires started to occur in literature and film. Internal narrative structures were employed to tell the story from the vampire’s perspective. Because he is portrayed in a different light, this type of narrative resulted in both the demythologisation of the vampire (Zanger 19) and a convergence with human appearance and manners. These new vampire tales were no longer just horror stories; instead they began to incorporate features of other genres such as romance.
Sympathetic vampires are largely a phenomenon of the 1980s. Colette Murphy refers to these modern vampires as “new vampires” (57). They are not static characters with little depth and change, but rather dynamic and complex creatures that are hard to define and which unite good and bad elements of the vampire existence. Sympathetic vampires are no longer just evil, threatening and single- minded bloodsuckers; recognisable human aspects of their existence are also incorporated. However, these vampires still have a “fear factor” and an association with gruesomeness and horror (Dowdle 182).
Sympathetic vampires have not ceased in killing humans to satisfy their needs. They have merely begun to query their existence and way of life. They behave like humans to a certain degree, allow insight into their souls, feelings, and minds, and give both other characters and the audience the opportunity to empathise with them (Gordon and Hollinger 2). For instance, they are capable of human emotions such as remorse. Sympathetic vampires are self-reflexive creatures that have an evolved psyche and who question or even loathe their predatory nature, which in turn is something they cannot suppress. Hence, they are often portrayed as tragic figures (Pattis and Sigl 272).
Although sympathetic vampires are marginal figures (Will 156) who do not aspire to sociability, there is at least some degree of interaction with humans. Vampires and humans start to infiltrate each other (Inoue 89). In addition, vampires have come to more resemble humans. Nevertheless, sympathetic vampires are still outsiders who are excluded from society (Carter, The Vampire as Alien in Contemporary Fiction 27). In this regard, Ann Davis interprets vampires as the embodiment of otherness because they are not able to live a life that conforms completely to human existence (399).
The telling of stories from the vampire’s perspective has rapidly gained in popularity over the last few decades and consequently authors and film-makers have further explored the characterisation of their vampires. Aside from sympathetic vampires, there have been various other portrayals of vampires. Both humanised vampires and those representing romantic heroes and lovers have recently been the most frequently represented.
During the last two decades, a new image of vampires has loomed large in television, film and literature. This kind of vampire arouses more than sympathy: it is represented as derivative of the human being, closely related in both shape and behaviour. They have outgrown their solitary lives and prefer living a far more communal life (Zanger 18). Other characters as well as the audience may become intrigued and are able identify with humanised vampires because, with the exception of their supernatural powers, they are essentially anthropomorphic. Nevertheless, they have continued to be mysterious creatures.
These creatures are far more complex predators than the vampires of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. They have a soul as well as psychological depth (Klemens 309) and are less often compared with vicious and demonic monsters. Humanised vampires are organised and self-reflexive creatures with evolved psyches, distinct psychological traits and the capability to feel emotions such as love, guilt, fear and remorse. Veronica Hollinger states that modern vampires are “monsters-of-choice” (201) by virtue of having the option to choose their own way of life.
There is no longer an irresistible urge to feed on human blood in order to survive. There are now alternatives such as drinking animal blood. Humanised vampires have a strong sense of self-control and are able to decide whether to kill human beings to satisfy their needs or to relinquish fresh blood. In fact, humanised vampires have a sense of the immorality of killing innocent humans. They are often blood-abstinent for ethical reasons (Bliss 108). The modern vampire fights an internal battle with himself in an attempt to avoid becoming evil (Bailie 144). Merely feeding on blood no longer suffices in order to live a satisfying life. At some point in time immortality requires taking pleasure in life and sharing that pleasure with others.
Vampires have become less frightening and seek to adjust to the behaviour and habits of the society in which they are living. As opposed to early representations of vampires in fiction, modern vampires are dynamic and unstable characters with their own distinct identities that evolve constantly and who start to rebel against their destinies at some point in their lives (Pattis and Sigl 269). Humanised vampires form an integral part of the human world. They maintain their social lives, establishing relationships, pursuing a profession, engaging in hobbies, and enjoying cultural life. These kinds of vampires develop complex social skills and live domesticated lives (Gordon and Hollinger 2), with the result that they can live among human beings without necessarily being identified as vampires.
Besides the archetypal characteristics that have already been explored, filmmakers and authors apply all sorts of characteristics that permit vampires to appear familiar in different ways. There is a whole new way of portraying vampires. However, the free play of addition and subtraction of forms and characteristics is restricted. Supernatural characteristics are necessary in order to make a distinction between vampires and human beings. Vampires do not exist in the same way as humans do even though they may look and behave like them (Klemens 311). They are neither non-human, nor inhuman, nor all-too-human (Auerbach 6), but rather more than human, superhuman, or beyond human.
A new species of vampire has emerged in popular culture over the course of the last fifteen years. In the television series Buffy - The Vampire Slayer, the spectator became acquainted with a whole new type of vampire which had not appeared before. This new type is a tamed creature that protects human beings, especially those for whom the vampire has feelings, from all danger.
As stated above, the modern vampire is capable of a wide range of emotions. He cannot, as a matter of course, ignore love, which is itself the strongest feeling among the human species. Hence, vampires start to have relationships and appear as mostly teenaged (Clements 1) and romantic heroes, enchanted in the main by a beautiful heroine. They have not yet taken on the mantle of being boyfriends (Murphy 57). The demonic model of solitary, frenzied killers has vanished, at least for the time being. Vampires barely seem frightening; instead they are described in literature as attractive and seductive (Carter, The Vampire as Alien in Contemporary Fiction 29). In television and film, vampires are generally played by young, attractive actors and actresses. They function as lovers, objects of desire and sex symbols (Dowdle 182), particularly for female viewers.
Stephenie Meyer’s vampire-romance novel series Twilight illustrates the best- known example of the romantic relationship between a vampire and a human being. The novel series became a worldwide bestseller in 2005 and was adapted into a film released in 2008. The story concerns seventeen-year-old Isabella Swan, who falls in love with the mysterious vampire Edward Cullen. After being forced to fight for their unusual relationship because of various difficulties, Isabella marries Edward and is finally transformed into a vampire by him after the complicated birth of their half-vampire, half-human child. Some vampires are in fact able to happily exist in an altered life (Carter, The Vampire as Alien in Contemporary Fiction 31).
In parallel with this new type of vampire, the genre of vampire stories has itself been modified. In American popular culture in the 21st century it focuses primarily on a target audience of teenagers and children who long for romantic and alluring heroes (Wilson 38). Previously, vampire stories had been addressed mostly to adults. It is notable that contemporary vampire stories mostly portray male vampires as romantic heroes who have relationships with human girls. There has not been a popular story in which the vampire is female and falls in love with a male human being. This implies that the genre of romantic teenage drama specifically targets female adolescents.
Women have always played an important role in the vampire genre. In its early stages, women were usually presented only as victims of evil and bloodthirsty vampires. Over the course of the last two centuries, the image of women has changed, simultaneously precipitated by among other factors the changing role of women in society. During the last two decades in particular, women have been foregrounded as protagonists in fiction and represented chiefly as emancipated hunters, lovers or vampires themselves and less often as victims (Melton 823). For example, the television series Buffy - The Vampire Slayer depicts the teenager Buffy Summers, who has been chosen as the one to hunt and combat the forces of evil, particularly vampires. She is portrayed as a tough and strong young woman capable of handling all manner of danger and who appears as powerful as her male opponents.
The most famous example of woman as lover is to be found in Stephenie Meyer’s novel series Twilight. Isabella Swan is personified as the equal lover of the vampire Edward Cullen and never functions as victim. Edward Cullen does not threaten Isabella or feed on her. In the television series The Vampire Diaries, the female protagonist Elena Gilbert is also the embodiment of a vampire’s girlfriend: she is equal to him, holds her own opinions and makes her own decisions irrespective of approval from her vampire boyfriend Stefan Salvatore.
With increasing frequency, female vampires have emerged and acted as emancipated protagonists (Klemens 308). Their behaviour is sometimes even more violent than the behaviour of male vampires. Vampiresses are relentless and cruel in the killing of their victims. In the following chapters, the role of women, especially as vampires, will be further explored by illustrating the ways in which women are represented in The Vampire Diaries.
The Vampire Diaries finished shooting its third season at the end of April 2012 and to date is the most successful television series on The CW television network. Because the story is gradually becoming more complex and the number of characters is increasing, I will provide relevant information about both the plot and principal characters in order to facilitate the understanding of my subsequent analysis of the image of vampires in The Vampire Diaries.
The television series starts with seventeen-year-old orphan Elena Gilbert, who lives with her younger brother Jeremy Gilbert and her aunt Jenna Sommers in a small town called Mystic Falls. Elena’s parents died in a car accident a few months earlier. Elena keeps a diary in which she writes her daily feelings and thoughts.
Back at school after the summer holidays, Elena meets the mysterious new student Stefan Salvatore and is immediately intrigued by him. Elena and Stefan fall in love with each other and start a relationship. Elena notices Stefan’s bizarre and mysterious behaviour when, for instance, he suddenly disappears or seems to have secrets that he does not want to talk about. While investigating the reason for Stefan’s strange behaviour and reticence, Elena discovers that he is a 162-year-old vampire who stopped aging at the age of seventeen. Nevertheless, due to the strength of her love, in time she leams to both cope with and accept Stefan’s fundamental nature.
Alongside Stefan, his older vampire brother Damon Salvatore appears in Mystic Falls, returning to his birthplace for the same reasons as his brother. Elena bears a striking resemblance to a vampire called Katherine Pierce, who used to be the lover of both Stefan and Damon and who also turned them into vampires in 1864. Realising that she resembles Katherine, who is her ancestor but unrelated to the Gilbert family, Elena finds out that she was adopted as a baby. Her birth parents are her alleged uncle John Gilbert and the vampire Isobel Saltzman. Damon also falls in love with Katherine’s doppelganger Elena. However, she decides in favour of Stefan but cultivates a friendship with Damon. Elena develops romantic feelings for Damon over the course of the seasons, most notably in season three.
Initially, Damon pretends that he has only returned to torture his brother Stefan because in the 1800s he had also had an affair with Katherine and had forced Damon to drink human blood in order to complete his transformation into a vampire. In spite of this, their brotherly bond intensifies over time as both seek to protect Elena, their mutual love interest, from danger.
At the beginning of the television series Stefan has been blood-abstinent for many years, whereas Damon is a bloodsucking and evil vampire who does not hesitate in killing the innocent residents of Mystic Falls. He transforms Vicky Donovan, the sister of Elena’s former boyfriend Matt Donovan, into a vampire. Since Vicky cannot control her craving for blood, Stefan and Damon have to kill her. However, Damon becomes gentler over the course of the seasons, not least because he and his brother do not wish to cause distrust among the residents of Mystic Falls by killing people. Meanwhile, Stefan finds it difficult to control his thirst for blood, but is eventually able to bring it under control with the support of Elena and his brother Damon. Periodically, the good and evil attributes of the Salvatore brothers are alternately foregrounded.
Elena’s best friends are similarly not ordinary people. Bonnie Bennett originates from a witch bloodline, Tyler Lockwood is a werewolf, and Caroline
Forbes becomes a vampire in season two, transformed by Katherine. Alaric Saltzman, a new teacher at Elena’s high school, turns out to be a vampire hunter and Isobel’s husband. He plans to kill Damon, who had turned his wife into a vampire several years earlier. Over the course of season two, Alaric and Damon become partners and friends of sorts.
The Founder’s Council is an organisation of civil servants who, aware of their existence, unofficially protect Mystic Falls from the threat of vampires. Among others, Tyler’s and Caroline’s parents as well as John Gilbert are members of the council. At the climax of season one, they try to defeat all of the vampires in the town by means of a device that is able to identify and harm them. Some of the members learn to accept the presence of vampires after realising that their children are involved in the supernatural events occurring in Mystic Falls.
Damon wants to open a tomb for vampires, which is located underneath a church, in order to release Katherine, whom he believes has been trapped there for more than a century due to a witch’s spell. However, Katherine had been released from the tomb in 1864 and had not told Damon or Stefan that she was still alive. After a while Damon accepts that it would seem Katherine never really cared for him. At the beginning of season two, Katherine returns to Mystic Falls and for the most part causes trouble in town by threatening and killing innocent people.
In the middle of season two, the original and oldest existing vampires, brothers Elijah and Klaus Mikaelson, who cannot be killed in the same way as other vampires, arrive in Mystic Falls in search of Elena. Since their mother Esther was unfaithful to her husband, Klaus is from a different bloodline; a werewolf bloodline, thus making him a hybrid. Klaus needs the doppelganger Elena in order to activate his werewolf side, which was suppressed through a curse spoken by his mother with the aid of a witch spell and Katherine and Elena’s ancestor Tatia. In addition, Elena’s blood is necessary to create more hybrids. About five hundred years earlier, Klaus had tried to use Katherine, the first doppelganger, for the same purpose. However, Katherine arranged for herself to be turned into a vampire as the doppelganger is of no use when she is not human.
Elijah wants to find Elena in order to prevent the ritual in which Klaus needs a special moon stone and a witch and must then kill a vampire, a werewolf and the doppelganger at her birthplace during a full moon. He wants to eliminate his own brother because he knows that Klaus would become too strong as a hybrid. By the end of season two, Klaus does indeed accomplish the sacrifice and becomes a hybrid, being both a vampire and a werewolf. John, Elena’s birth father, saves her life by replacing Elena’s exhausted life force with his own.
Just as Damon is about to die as the consequence of a werewolf bite, Stefan discovers that drinking Klaus’ blood is the only way in which his brother may be healed. In return for his blood Klaus demands that Stefan stays with him and again becomes the killer he once was. Drinking increasing quantities of human blood and killing yet more innocent people, Stefan is for some time drawn further into the dark side.
In the middle of season three, Klaus’ mother Esther and his other siblings Rebekah, Finn, and Kol are resurrected and released from their coffins, which Klaus had been transporting with him for many centuries. Klaus’ stepfather Mikael had already tried to kill him but failed and died by Klaus’ own hand. His mother Esther, a powerful witch, even plans to destroy all of her children as they are an abomination of nature. Similarly, Elena’s friends, particularly Stefan and Damon Salvatore, persist in their search for alternative means of eliminating Klaus as his very existence poses an ongoing threat to Elena. However, when an original vampire dies every vampire who belongs to the same bloodline also perishes. First of all, Damon and Stefan must find out from whose vampire bloodline they originate before they kill any original vampires. They cannot murder all original vampires since this would result in the destruction of the whole species of vampires, including themselves. At the end of season three, Esther transforms Alaric Saltzman into an original vampire so that he becomes strong enough to kill all original vampires. He dies in the season finale; so too does Elena, who unintentionally becomes a vampire in the process.
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