30 Days of Vampires: The Weight of Gravitas

30 Days of Vampires: The Weight of Gravitas

Alex BledsoeAlex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland and twenty minutes from Nutbush. He’s been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Alex now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls, writes before six in the morning and tries to teach his two sons to act like they’ve been to town before.

He’s the author of the Eddie LaCrosse high fantasy/hardboiled mysteries (“The Sword-Edged Blonde,” “Burn Me Deadly,” “Dark Jenny”), two novels about vampires in 1975 Memphis (“Blood Groove” and “The Girls with Games of Blood”) and the first Tufa novel, “The Hum and the Shiver.”

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Anne Rice, whose status in the world of vampires is secure whatever drek she continues to publish, recently raised a ruckus from the notoriously humorless Twilight fans by saying, in part, that compared to Edward Cullen and company, “My vampires possess gravitas. They can afford to be merciful.”

There’s no doubt that in the beginning, certainly in Interview with the Vampire and its epic follow-up, The Vampire Lestat, her statement is true. Her ongoing saga has, alas, diminished that accomplishment. But the loss is not entirely hers alone. The vampire as a cultural figure has suffered a tragic loss of gravitas, and now occupies a space somewhere between Marlon Brando in The Wild One and the Count from Sesame Street.

This isn’t a result of romance novels, although it’s manifested mostly in thatBLOOD-GROOVE genre. It’s instead a symptom of our society’s refusal to acknowledge real, spiritual evil. Ask anyone to name an evil person now, and you’re likely to get one name: Hitler. The evil of the moment might be mentioned (i.e., pedophile coaches, terrorists, dishonest bankers) but for evil with a name, there’s generally only one. It’s as if we as a society decided that Hitler was some weird inverse messiah, taking all the true evil onto his shoulders. What we’re left with are pseudo-evils: mental illness, sexual perversity, religious intolerance, unrestrained greed.

The first landmark vampire, Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, is evil. No doubt, no ameliorating circumstances. It’s implied he was an evil man, and that his evil has only grown exponentially after he’s become a vampire. And because of this evil, he has gravitas.

Rice gave us a vampire who felt guilty about his actions in Louis, but she also gave us the (initially) gloriously unrestrained Lestat. He was evil, but joyously so, delighting in abhorrent actions because he believed his existence held no “higher purpose.” But it’s tricky to maintain that level of nihilism with a character you come to understand (and I’m speaking from experience with my own vampire, Baron Zginski). Eventually your identification becomes sympathy, and then evil becomes merely the result of some external cause, not an internal sickness of the soul. And with that sympathy comes an inevitable loss of gravitas.

The vampires of True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and of course Twilight lack this gravitas because we’re meant to sympathize with them. They become, not embodiments of evil, but unfortunates suffering from a “condition.” There’s nothing wrong with this as an idea–Dark Shadows milked it for untold hours of daily drama–but it’s also a very overused one. It reduces the need for blood–once a symbol of draining the very life from a victim–to the level of insulin shots for diabetics, something that carries no moral weight at all. And it leaves this great genre figure as pallid and bloodless as any of its casualties.

Gravitas is a result of certainty. Superman has it because he’s certain of his goodness, and he’s an icon. Dracula, another icon, is certain of his evil. Lestat is certain of it. Barnabas Collins, however, is not. Edward Cullen is not. Bill Compton is not. They’re perfectly acceptable as characters, they just lack the weight of certainty. And without it, they’ll never be anything but mere acceptable characters.

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15 Responsesto “30 Days of Vampires: The Weight of Gravitas”

  1. Lori Devoti says:

    Interesting post, Alex. I can see where you are coming from and certainly understand that many feel vampires should be evil, but I don’t agree that a vampire character who is lacking a certainty of his/her evil is then doomed to being merely “acceptable.”
    There are many other aspects of character than can and are used to make these less-than-pure-evil characters great.
    In fact pure evil can be for many be a tad boring compared to a character who is fighting that evil.
    Different tastes. (slight pun there I guess) :)
    As an aside, if asked, I don’t know if Hitler is the first name that would have come to my mind. Someone like Mengele or Elizabeth Bathory and unfortunately a number of others do come to mind. Their hands-on approach makes them impossible to forget.

  2. sue brandes says:

    Very interesting post. I kind of like all kinds of vampires. I go with how the author sees them in each book and or movie.

  3. Interesting post, fascinating viewpoint. You are a new author for me and I’m always up for a good vampire story whether it be evil or fighting evil. I’m looking forward to reading your work.

    I’m not sure I understand what you are saying here. Are you saying that to be more than “mere acceptable characters” the vampire must be evil, or just be certain s/he’s evil or just assured of themselves? Or just full of angst over the fact that s/he doesn’t just have a condition, a disease but is (traditionally) the walking dead and therefore cannot be allowed to associate with the living? Ah no, I perhaps think I see, are you saying the characters these days are not fully developed, “well rounded” characters for whom the reader is privy to all of their inner most thoughts therefore are not more than “merely acceptable”? And by “mere acceptable characters” do you mean they will not remain time tested, famous characters?

    Do you think Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s St. Germain vampires have gravitas? I do. I think J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood’s vampires have gravitas.

    Again interesting discussion.

  4. SandyG265 says:

    Interesting post. Although I enjoy reading about evil vamps I don’t feel that they all need to be evil.

  5. orchid7 says:

    I do have to say that to some extent I agree with what you’re saying. I get irritated with vampire characters in my books that are too easily defeated or come off as being rather wimpy and whiny. Vampires are a part of a fantasy world, and when I delve into a paranormal book, I don’t really want to read about someone who could be my neighbor. I want someone dark and a bit scary. Vampires were supposed to be the ultimate predators, and the older ones in some of the better vampire books I’ve read were extremely powerful as well. They weren’t whiny or shiny, and they were almost impossible to kill. They come from the “horror” genre for a reason. Even when I’m reading a paranormal romance with a vampire as the hero, I don’t want him to be soft and vulnerable. He should be dark, brooding, and somewhat scary. Just my opinion!

  6. Diana says:

    Hey Alex. Okay, this is just my humble opinion because although I do agree with you on some points in your post, I don’t agree that vampires like Barnabas Collins, Bill Compton or even Edward Cullen are merely “acceptable.”

    I tend to think that vampires reflect the culture they manifest in. In the 18th century, vampires were blamed for deaths that common lore could not explain and thus were seen as evil, demonic creatures.

    In the 19th century with books like Varney the Vampire, The Vampyre by John Polidori, and even Dracula by Stoker, the vampire was still portrayed as an evil creature, but even then a certain romanticism regarding his (or her) nature was starting to bleed through. (no pun intended).

    I don’t think people in today’s society refuse to acknowledge “spiritual” evil. I think all of us are quite aware that evil exists, but that it tends to be expressed in ways they may not be as dramatic as a vampire sucking people dry, but are even more frightening due to the everyday nature of that evil. A trusted adult abusing children. An employee slaughtering co-workers with an automatic rifle. Warlords in strife-torn countries stealing food intended for starving children. Sorry, but no vampire ever written can hold a candle to that kind of evil.

    But what makes vampires like Angel, Bill Compton and Edward Cullen interesting is that they are trying to fight their lust for blood and their capacity for murder. Sure, that too can become a cliché, but vampires like them can be seen as a road map for the potential each of us carries within ourselves to give in to our baser instincts. They show us that we can, if we use the power of our will, resist being abusive and hateful and murderous. They also show us that perhaps we can handle our own addictions, whether it be for drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping, whatever.

    I don’t have a problem with the vampire as “hero.” The best heroes, after all, are flawed in some way and it’s watching them struggle to overcome their flaws, their own personal demons, that gives hope to all of us. To me, the vampire due to his very nature can’t help but be drawn to or be seen as a source of evil and darkness and horror. However, he can also achieve a fascinating dimensionality when that evil and darkness and horror is contrasted with a desire to not do evil, to refuse to be the harbinger of terror and to want to embrace the light even when that light is denied them.

    Plus, I think there’s room enough in fiction for all kinds of vampires. Evil, dark, scary ones. Conflicted, brooding, sympathetic ones.

    The vampires you mentioned are what they are because I believe they speak to something in the collective twenty-first century psyche. That makes them, I think, more than just acceptable.

  7. Cathy P says:

    Hi Alex! I prefer the acceptable vampires over the dark and evil ones. Sorry, but I disagree with you.

    kscathy@yahoo.com

  8. Angela says:

    I’d like to read the books where the vampire is evil as I like to read horror and romance alike

  9. tammy ramey says:

    thank you for the great post today and for giving me something to think about. i hope you have a Happy Holdiay Season.

    trvlagnt1t@yahoo.com

  10. Kimberley Coover says:

    Interesting point of view. I think that just as humans are different so then are paranormals. If everyone is all good or all evil – boring- the inner conflict between the two sides is what makes everything more interesting

  11. wanda flanagan says:

    Interesting post though I have to disagree vampires lacking a certainty of their evil in my opinion isnt merely acceptable its that inner struggle that makes their story intersting .I prefer the struggling conflicted vampire over evil hands down
    Happy Holidays to you and yours

    flanagan@mebtel.net

  12. Deb P says:

    I’m into romantic Vampires.

  13. MJB says:

    Alex –
    Thank you for this interesting post. The first thing I did when I finished reading it was look up the dictionary definition of gravitas, just to be certain that I knew what it meant. According to Merriam-Webster, gravitas means “‘high seriousness’ as in terms of a person’s bearing or treatment of a subject.” Without having read Ms. Rice’s commentary on Twilight, I can only guess that part of her problem with it is that the vampires lack the complexity and depth of character that her vampires have.

    I agree with the idea that Edward Cullen lacks gravitas because, to me, his internal struggle wasn’t of any consequence if compared with, for example, Angel, who literally struggled with his good (Angel) and evil (Angelus) parts of his nature. I think that if an author creates a vampire with enough internal struggle that is indicative of the basic existential questions that us mere mortals battle with, it does not seem as important that these vamps be all evil, all the time, for them to have gravitas. To me, it is the quality of the struggle and the aptitude with which the author is able to express the intensity of their “soul”-searching that creates gravitas.

    Even if the vampire is so inherently evil that s/he would never consider this to be a problem or something to change, even for all of the blood found in the local high school cheerleading squad, that character will only have gravitas if this belief is so strong that evil – in all of its manifestations – is that vampire. (read the preceding word “is” with emphasis) Does that make sense to you Alex or other commenters?

    I’m not sure I’m being clear, but the main point I’m trying to make is that a vamp doesn’t have to be evil to have gravitas and that it is both the internal angst and the complete lack of it, that creates a vampire with gravitas.

    Thanks for making me use my brain today, Alex!
    MJB
    msmhb65 AT gmail DOT com

  14. Stephanie says:

    I love romantic and hot vampires with an evil side! Thanks for the interview!

  15. June M. says:

    I prefer my vampires to be of the romantic kind. While I do like horrors/thrillers occasionally, my favorite genre is romance and so generally any book I read is first & foremost, a romance.
    manning_j2004 at yahoo dot com

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