Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Female of the Species...

Vampires are everywhere, and a staple of the genre is the human/vampire romance. Nor am I complaining! The eroticism of the whole idea clearly strikes a chord in many a distracted audience member (yours truly included). Bill and Sookie on True Blood. Edward and Bella in Twilight. The looming triangle in The Vampire Diaries. Henry and Vicky from Blood Ties. The list goes on and on.

But isn't something missing? Or someone?

What about a love story between a human man and a vampire woman? I mentioned this to a good friend on Thanksgiving. Her response managed to intrigue and disturb. "But it is bound to come up," she said, "that the gal can beat him up." Now let us take that apart for a moment. I've been involved romantically more than a few times. Which of us would be able to physically assault the other successfully never seems to have come up in conversation. Never that I can recall, anyway. In response to this, my friend confirmed such had never been an issue in her relationships either.

So why bring it up?

Methinks this has something to do with the notion that be a vampire's lover is in some sense to be a victim, or at least submissive. Male submission is pretty much taboo in our culture -- all the more reason to dip one's toe in those waters, so say I! But then, I also really loved the movie Mishima (check it out, the flick is awesome).

On the other hand must a love story be about any other kind of submission than that to the passion itself? When I think on many of the real wonderful romances of film and literature--from Romeo and Juliet to The English Patient and even A Mighty Wind--relatively few involve submission, overt or covert. Others, such as The Lover and The Secretary, do and do so very well.

Methinks this might be the natural direction for vampire love stories to go. More, to some extent it already is headed there. Consider the underage "couple" at the heart of Let The Right One In, or the adorable pair that are Hoyt and Jessica on True Blood. Nor is this some kind of "modern" idea, as anyone who saw Son of Dracula with Lon Chaney Jr. can attest. Ditto the first filmed sequel to Bram Stoker's famous novel -- said novel itself including an act of near seduction between Lucy Westenra and her still-breathing fiancee, Lord Godalming. Fans of Dark Shadows might also recall Angelique Collins and her "harem" of handsome young men with fang-marks on their throats (at least until she finally bit the love of her life). The first film inspired by the series included an undead Carolyn in nightgown very diaphanous summoning an eager Chris (or was it Tom?) Jennings to her arms.

But things, including story ideas, go in cycles and maybe we're approaching a time for the vampire woman and her male lover/victim. Lord knows there are many a story possibility inherent in the idea.

Towards that end, consider this bit of photo manipulation and the alternate (fictional) history it might represent...heh heh heh...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Boys, Girls and Twilight

Herein is my entry in the Absolute Write Blog Chain for books. Here are the participants:
DavidZahir -
Lost Wanderer -
RavenCorinnCarluk -
Vein Glory -
Shethinkstoomuch -
Lady Cat -

So many folks I know stare dazedly at the statistics. Four books by a Mormon housewife who's never written fiction before -- Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn -- shot to the top of best-seller lists. The first movie, panned by many, transformed the lead actors into stars and media sensations in their own right. Their appearance, especially by Robert Pattinson, sparked near-riots in some places. The second, panned as well, breaks box office records. Stephanie Meyer is hailed as the new J.K.Rowling (whatever that means) even as Stephen King opines she "...can’t write worth a darn." Many agree.

But millions of teenage girls do not. Some of those teenage girls aren't in teen-aged (or even necessarily female) bodies. Something about Twilight appeals to the teen girl in people -- including a couple of co-workers of mine well into their twenties. One also adores "torture porn" a la Saw or Hostel. So another stereotype goes crashing to the ground. Good riddance, say I.

Still, the whole saga of Meyer's books (as opposed to the saga in the books) drops jaws and stirs envy, especially by better writers with not a tiny percentage of her success (or--now--bank account).

Like me.

Here's the thing, though. Meyer actually accomplished quite a nice feat of characterization in her novels. Bella Swan should have been a Mary Sue yet is not. The interplay between the various and sundry people in the books makes sense and they all seem "alive." Some criticism of the books frankly seems trivial--I myself prefer my vampires with fangs and not sparkles, but this is her fictional world and her explanations make sense so give it a rest, already. Her writing style is readable, not at all beautiful or elegant or particularly polished. But it works. Her plots are obvious and become moreso as the series progresses. The world she's made is a fun urban fantasy, not up to the level of Harry Potter but perfectly okay in its own right.

But the characters stand out. And given the way fans divide up into teams based on their faves indicates that is what drives all the mania. Something about them struck a chord. Which in turn, at least so I believe, says something about boys and girls right now.

Starting with the Boys--it seems clear that (apart from the whole vampire fandom going on, which applies to True Blood and The Vampire Diaries as well as loads of others right now) what has got girls in a tizzy is the nature of this romance. Edward Cullen (our undead Mr. D'Arcy) is as passionate a teenager as one might imagine. He would kill for Bella. Without her he wants to die. At the same time, Edward is in the grip of near-overwhelming desires, especially for Bella. He openly says he wants to kill her, longs to suck ever drop of blood from her body. Yet he controls himself so totally he can kiss her. Indeed, he often overreacts in his efforts to protect and care for this girl (let us face it, Edward Cullen is a drama queen--but then, after nine decades as a 17-year-old virgin methinks this is forgivable). In other words (are you listening, my younger fellow males?) Edward Cullen is everything about a teenage boy thrown into sharp relief but then made positive. He is driven by urges he cannot control, but somehow does. He is attracted to the point of almost being a Stalker, but genuinely loves. He is awkward about how to show his feelings, but uses gallantry as a fallback. Edward is the ultimate fantasy for every teen girl (well, the straight ones, anyway) who wants a romantic leading man to treat her like a princess. And why is this such a strong fantasy? Well, I don't think too many males are even trying to be gallant these days.

When my late fiancee came home from the hospital, I had set up christmas lights all over her apartment because she loved them and didn't like bright, direct light. The look on her face was something I still treasure. When I've related that story, women almost invariably look amazed and pleased. Men look puzzled and impressed. Therein lies a divide between the genders in our culture right now, or so I maintain. Somewhere along the line women have developed a genuine hunger for romance, for gallantry. And men have developed an aversion to same, lest they be seen as "girly" or "gay" or some variation of not-manly. This is a very foolish notion that has crept into men's thinking and habits.

Twilight offers a vicarious feeding to that hunger on the part of girls (or the girlish part of women) longing for that kind of love story--a central Myth (note the capital 'M') in our collective dreams.

But now, Girls--this all says something about you, too. Bella Swan epitomizes what I think most people think they really are--the outsider, the stranger who doesn't quite fit in, the lonely one even surrounded by more-or-less friends. Yet isn't it telling that in this, a wildly successful book (and now film) series about wish fulfillment in the romance department, Bella falls in love with two men whose beauty is literally superhuman? Edward looks like the marble statue of a greek god come to life, while Jacob is the incredibly hunky guy-next-door with muscles a-rippling and heat actually emitting from his six-foot-plus form in waves. Wow. Just a little superficial maybe? I don't want to deny anyone their eye-candy, but when the fantasy so resolutely includes physical perfection, methinks therein lies another reason for a thirst unquenched. Twilight fits only-too-easily into our common habit of judging by appearance, falling in love with the surface rather than the substance.

I should also point out parenthetically that a passionate love story between human and vampire offers plenty of adult, more sophisticated opportunities--many of which enjoy strong audience loyalty. Nick and Natalie. Henry and Vicky. Eli and Oscar. Bill and Sookie. Twilight is fun and all, containing some rather more sophisticated ideas than many give it credit for (Bella as an Influence without power comes to mind), but the love story itself needn't have been quite so simplistic. But then, if it weren't, neither would it show off quite so clearly this trend in our own gender relations now would it?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cellulloid Anticipation (Part Two)

Another group of movies I am very much looking forward to...

Let Me In is an English-language adaptation of a bestselling novel, which has been adapted once before as Let The Right One In. Shooting has just begun on this, starring Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen, the unhappy child of a broken home who fits in nowhere; Chloe Moretz as Abbey, the child vampire who becomes his friend and love; and Richard Jenkins as Abbey's helper/companion. Given how much I loved the novel and the first film, one might expect I'd be outraged about a remake. But, as the author and director both point it, this isn't a remake but a second adaptation. How many adaptations of Jane Eyre, of Dracula, of Sense and Sensibility have there been? Nor do I buy the notion that Americans-Can't-Make-Good-Movies. All that remains theoretical, though besides a few other facts. Matt Reeves, who did the motion picture Cloverfield, is directing after writing the screenplay. For a time, audition tapes of the actresses looking to play Abbey were up on YouTube (gone now, alas) and Moretz' performance was eerie as well as touching. My hopes for this one remain high.

Methinks every Tim Burton fan is looking forward to Alice in Wonderland. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Alan Rickman as the Caterpiller, Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, etc. What is not to love about the whole idea of this? From what I've read, this whole film takes up the notion of Alice, on the verge of her wedding, revisiting the strange place she once explored in her youth. An intriguing and potentially riveting idea. There's also the detail from a few pictures here and there that Alice's clothes don't shrink with her, which is a touch of realism amid the weirdness that appeals to me. I'm just being a total fanboy here, but this has me excited (and of course I've high hopes that after Alice is finally done, Burton and Depp can start proper work on a Dark Shadows remake).

I've far lower hopes for the 2010 film of Carmilla. Its precise status remains a little unclear, but from the trailer one at least gets a sense of what kind of film it might turn out to be (if in fact it is ever finished). "Guilty pleasure" is about as good as one could ask for from this, but that need not be a bad thing. The Vampire Lovers (Hammer's stab at a more-or-less faith adaptation) is a deliciously trashy flick, and one I own with pride. This one doesn't look as good, but shows signs of being perhaps lots of fun. One can hope. Besides, I applaud any halfway decent attempt to film LeFanu's novella.

Notice how all of the above are based on novels? So is my last entry, but this is one I actually haven't read. The Lovely Bones contains one of the most intriguing premises perhaps ever. A fourteen-year-old girl is raped and murdered. Book and film tell the story of her spirit, caught between here and heaven, watching her family and murderer from "the other side." Peter Jackson (he of Lord of the Rings fame) directed and frankly from the trailer it looks absolutely amazing. Let us hope it lives up to that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What I'm Writing...

I'm writing a vampire novel. Just started Chapter Six in fact and am pretty pleased at the progress. Check out the cool concept art at left!

Right now I'm at the stage where I'll let folks know what it is I'm working on, mostly in a blatant effort to generate buzz and therefore eventual sales. But there's also a reason psychological. I'm deliberately applying pressure to myself. Ah what a tangled web we weave when in writing we would achieve...!

Simply, in the 1840s a "penny deadful" novel titled Varney The Vampyre saw the light of day. At over two hundred chapters (that's right -- CHAPTERS) this best-seller proved a pivotal work in vampire fiction. With it began the whole trope of the Reluctant Vampire, as well as stuff like a portrait providing a clue to the vampyre's human identity and a team of intrepid would-be Slayers visiting a crypt as part of their anti-vampiric operations. Plus lots more. It really is a seminal work in the genre.

Unfortunately, it is very poorly written.

Look to the right. Among the links under Elsewhere On The Web is a blog devoted to Varney, in which an intrepid soul is going through the work offering her (very entertaining) commentary on each chapter. She'll show what I mean about the "poorly written" part. A few examples: Varney has something like seven different origins. Characters change names, subplots lead nowhere, major characters vanish for no apparent reason, the whole thing is chock full of compound complex sentences in the passive voice. And so on.

Having finally read Varney The Vampyre about the same time as someone mentioned the Darker Passions series and coinciding with the publication of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, an idea grew inside my mind. Such is often an omen. This was no exception. My notion seems relatively simple -- edit/adapt the original manuscript into something better, or at least something I'd rather it be. Arrogant? Well, yeah. Not an accusation I can truthfully deny, but on the other hand perhaps that is a necessary ingredient for my writing.

So--I titled my novel Baneworth. The family the Vampyre "haunts" for much of the first third enjoys the name "Bannerworth" but I wanted something more gothic. Rather than recreate the entire opus (which seriously loses the plotline after a time), my focus would be on said family. Along the way I nailed down a specific origin for the vampyre, along with cutting some superfluous characters (as well as truckloads of meandering incidents involving lost matches and the like). Likewise, the story takes place circa 1815, during the Regency. And because my sensibilities associate the undead with eroticism, the book is not simply a vampire story but also a kind of romance.

Regarding this last, allow me to state a preference or three. Frankly, what displeases me most in too many attempts at erotica remains the instant beginning of mechanical descriptions of coitus. How dull. What makes something sexy is not the act but the context, the story, the seduction and discovery. In other words -- foreplay. Hence my decision to write Baneworth with a gradually increasing air of sensuality. Part of that involved laying the groundwork for different potential couplings, yet allowing for uncertainty. Really, I'm not against formulas in fiction. Not at all. But at heart such should be a tool, not a set of laws. Without going into details, it seems to me that if you hint that A and B are getting together and they more-or-less do, then all the effort you put into C and D should lead up to some really startling surprise. For example, perhaps C and D are in fact rivals for the affections of E who in turn desires F. Expectation must be created if the writer is to thwart it effectively.

Writing Baneworth will probably take many more months, but my hopes are high. Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Casting Choices

Just for fun, I was going to offer what could be some fun speculation -- namely some roles I would like to see played by specific actors.
  • David Tennant as Renfield in Dracula. Other than the King Vampire himself, this really is the juiciest part and when given the chance actors have managed to do wonders with it. Tennant is one who'd be marvelous at it.
  • Michelle Trachtenberg in a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Much as "Clueless" was really "Emma," methinks it would be a hoot to see some modern teenager go through the same process as described in the classic -- growing up and opening the heart of someone else while making entirely the wrong conclusion based on current "gothic" ideas (a serial killer or maybe a vampire a la "Twilight").
  • Rachel Hurd Wood as the narrator in Rebecca. She's grown up into a very lovely young woman (making it easy to understand why Max de Winter would fall for her) but has been more-or-less typecast as an ingenue, often a murder victim. But for those of who who haven't read the book, there turns out to be steel in this lady, despite her waif-like status. Methinks that might make a nice transition for her.
  • Viggo Mortensen as Khan Noonien Singh in a new Star Trek sequel, one based on the current timeline created by J.J.Abrams. Mind you, I'm thinking it would be fascinating to see the story of "Space Seed" take an entirely new direction (who wants to see a total retread?).
  • Nicole Kidman as the villain in a James Bond Movie. The reboot of the 007 franchise gives a wonderful opportunity for the films to explore ideas the originals rarely did. In this case, a genuine Lead Bad Guy who is actually a Bad Girl -- the equivalent of Blofeld or Dr. No. Given the way Quantum seems to be working out, perhaps her name should be Miss Black? Or Mrs. Gray?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brides of the Impaler (Review)

Ahoy! Ahead there be SPOILERS....

Edward Lee's novel Brides of the Impaler is an example of very effective cover design. The fact is, a friend of mine was reading it at work and I asked to read it when she was done. Mission accomplished! Title and cover combined to attract a fan of vampire novels.

Fortunately, this is indeed a vampire novel. With that title and this cover one would feel disappointed upon reading an inspirational tale of Peace Corps workers in El Salvador.

And vampire novel it is! More, as implied, it deals with none other than the most famous undead of all time (so far), namely Vlad The Impaler aka Vlad Tepes aka Dracula! (say it with me, rolling the 'r' we go along -- DRRRRRAAAACUUUUULAAAAA! Wasn't that fun?)

Not all vampire novels are the same of course. For one thing, not all fall really under the same genre, not really. Some aim for eroticism, and others for humor while still others are essentially gothic versions of Harry Potter or Romeo and Juliet. This one aims at horror, at a sense of malignant evil which has a real chance of triumph, of ruthlessly destroying/corrupting the innocent and good. It doesn't try to define evil very much, going after the relatively straightforward stuff of cruelty and wanton destruction. Nor is this a novel that particularly focuses on character -- the hardest thing in the book is to keep the two lawyers apart in the mind. Ditto the two cops. The insane homeless women? Good luck. They wear different clothes and one of 'em has the least teeth, but that is about it.

Which is not meant as a severe criticism. This novel isn't really so much about the nuances of what makes people tick, but about the stuff that happens to them. Along the way, the author actually accomplishes some interesting effects.

For example, the title and cover hints in some subtle way about lesbian vampires. Maybe it is the reminder of a Dracula's harem in the book and movies, with the indelible image of all three practically gang-raping Jonathan Harker. Such elements do exist in Brides of the Impaler. A successful artist (of grotesque little dolls) finds herself haunted by dreams and then hallucinations about an almost-nude vampire nun offering sensual pleasures. Eventually these dreams start to intrude upon reality, including a moment when she "wakes" to find herself mid-coitus with her foster sister! Yet this is ultimately not erotic at all. It isn't intended to be, save in the most fleeting of ways. In fact, by then we realize that both young women had had vicious foster parents who used them in child pornography, forcing them to do things to each other. That drains pretty much all the titillation out of that scene, as is intended. The erotic becomes ugly, threatening, even sadistic. Likewise, fantasies about lesbian vampires licking you all over really get spoiled when said vampires are filthy, covered in scabs, missing teeth, their nails uncut and grimy, etc. Instead of sexy, this is pretty nauseating. Again, as evidently intended.

Mind you, I will say the horror of books like this would be even more powerful if we really felt these characters were in any sense real. Hardly a one comes "alive" on these pages, and the few who almost approach it are minor characters at best -- a security guard, an archeology student, a certain priest horrified by what he sees as a dark prophecy coming to fruition.

I'll also nitpick about the history intrinsic to the story. While far from an expert on medieval Wallachia, the stories about Vlad the Impaler bear very little resemblance to all that I've read. On the other hand, how much of a valid criticism is that really, when you get down to it? This is a novel, not a history tome. Its avowed purpose to make you feel creepy, not to leave the reader with a greater understanding of Eastern Europe during the 15th century.

Some cool ideas, some chills and thrills, some moments when your skin crawls. That is the promise of this novel and that is the promise it keeps.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Underused Tropes

Complaints about tropes in fiction usually consist of those so common as to become dull. Yeah, we've all seen the Reluctant Vampire, the Evil Twin, the Mary Sue, the Lost Heir to the Throne, etc. But what about the opposite? Elements of story-telling so little-seen (often with a reason, even if not a good one) that a successful use of them could not help but seem fresh?

Mind you, I'm reminded of the DVD commentary on the live action series The Tick. When that show started out, the executives gushed. "How original!" "This is ground-breaking!" "We've never seen anything like this before!" But then the ratings began to slide, and those same execs became repeating those comments, but instead of praise they intended criticism. "Seems too original." "Maybe this is too ground-breaking." "Problem is--no one's ever seen anything like this before..."

So taking all that follows with a grain of salt might be a good idea.

To start with, I'd love to see some exposure for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Actually, that name is something of a misnomer. There are about fifteen or so Orthodox Churches who share communion, but who are each headed by a Bishop considered equal to all other heads. Yet despite local differences of custom and language, those fifteen agree on all major issues of doctrine. To be baptized in one means you may take communion in any. Yet this, the second largest Christian denomination in the world, might as well not exist in terms of English language literature, television and film. Offhand, I can think of only three depictions of Christian Orthodoxy--all of them extremely minor (they are Bram Stoker's Dracula, one episode of BBC's Poirot, and an episode of the re-imagined Twilight Zone). None of these even vaguely hint at Orthodox beliefs, not coincidentally. And therein lies the real shame, because this (certainly one of the oldest of Christian churches) carries some fascinating insights. To give a single, brilliant example (which, to be fair, was an element in one major film I can think on) is the notion that God did not make Hell, but that Man did--when men reject God's love, into which they return after death, that rejection is what creates Hell. Damnation, in other words, is a direct result of who you are, not (necessarily) what you do.

Another trope methinks we see far too little of is the Ethical Corporate Executive. As I recall, there was one on The West Wing, and way back in my childhood there was a marvelous series called The Name of the Game, with the "hero" being the CEO of Howard Publications. Offhand, Lucius Fox of The Dark Knight is nearly the only recent example that comes to mind. In fact, this trope was probably over-used in the 1950s, and one can understand how much more easily it is to use this figure as a villain. But after a certain point, it becomes worse than sloppy story-telling, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once the idea that working in business is unethical becomes commonplace, then the ethical are less and less drawn to business as a career. An oversimplification? Yes. But with more than a grain of truth behind it as well. My own bet is that the vast majority of corporate bigwigs are just these folks doing their jobs--with the same sorts of foibles, strengths, pains and joys as the rest of us. Not reflecting that seems like imaginative laziness. At best.

Next up is something rarely seen as anything other than the butt of a joke or as an indication of some character's inherent twisted-ness: Male submission. One can pretty easily find the trope of women who secretly (or not so secretly) long to be taken, to submit to someone stronger than themselves, at least in terms of erotic play. One can every now and then spot positive depictions, such as the movie The Secretary with Maggie Gyllanhall and James Spader (great film, not-so-incidentally). But even a casual visit into that subculture reveals how very many more males are looking to be slaves to ladies, than the other way round. Makes sense when you really think about it. Do you fantasize about being yourself? Or about being something you're not? Culturally, men have the upper hand in our civilization, so men are more likely to have dreams of submitting (I've been told by someone who ought to know that there are many more submissive males than there are dominant females to fulfill their desires). Yet this aspect of sexuality all around us remains hidden, or at least deliberately ignored.

Methinks I'll have more examples for a later post.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dream Cast "Carmilla"

Awhile back, I posted my dream cast for Jane Eyre. Well, now my imagination turns to what some might call more 'up my alley.' One of my favorite period stories is Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla, part of a collection published under the title Under a Glass Darkly. Some disagree, but most who've studied such things say LeFanu's tale is the first example of the lesbian vampire trope. After Bram Stoker's famous novel of a Transylvanian Count, this may be the most adapted vampire story in history (although the caped impaler wins handily in that category, probably by an order of magnitude).

Most such adaptations are poor, to say the least. Many are trashy, brimming with sexual innuendo but no tension, drama, or even eroticism. Others, like Hammer Studios' The Vampire Lovers at least qualify as guilty pleasures. Roger Vadim at least tried to do a more-or-less faithful rendering in Blood and Roses (its English title). But even he changed to period, location, the focus and introduced a male love interest (not at all uncommon is such adaptations).

As of today, I have every known filmed version of the story save two--one of which is believed lost (a BBC production from the 1960s) and the other was a French t.v. film from the 1980s (am working on finding that one). Hardly any even try to capture the peculiar flavor of the original.

Granted, this is anything but an easy task. Much of the "action" takes place off stage (or page, if you prefer). The discovery of the vampire and her destruction follow almost immediately. No chases across the mountains, no futile efforts to keep the undead from her prey. In essence, the entire novella is from the victim/beloved's POV, a waif named Laura who usually becomes little more than a pretty prop for the filmmakers (Showtime's Nightmare Classics version is notable for at least breaking this stereotype).

But consider...Styria (the setting) is a sparsely populated land of mountains and forests dotted with farms and the occasional schloss. Following invasions and war its towns and castles mostly lie fallow. It is an empty land, a haunted landscape. Mists hover around the near-empty woods and valleys. On the night of a full moon, a stranger comes to a lonely family--a girl named Laura living with her widowed father. What's more, this stranger (the title character) recognizes Laura as someone from her childhood dreams. Laura recalls Carmilla the same way! Thus is born a mysterious friendship which proves to be much more.

Imagine if you will a motion picture as atmospheric as Picnic at Hanging Rock or Let The Right One In or The Duellists (plus maybe a touch of Lets Scare Jessica To Death). Laura and Carmilla walk together amid the lime trees, wheedling secrets from one another, sharing a dream not only in the past but to some extent right now.

Laura in the novel is telling what happened to someone--we do not know who. How reliable a narrator might she be? What was left unsaid? For example, who can say where Carmilla dwells at other times? She must sleep in her grave, yes, but who are the people who brought her? If anything, the coach and aristocratic woman who calls herself the vampire's mother seem even stranger that she herself. In truth, the novella abounds in tiny unanswered questions. My ideal would be for a film focusing on those questions, yet not really answering many of them.

Along those lines, I would suggest an unconventional choice for Laura. Some fans suggest Emma Watson for the role, but given the nature of Laura--this lonely, rather naive girl who so fascinates an unaging nosferatu--my suggestion is another Harry Potter alumn. Evanna Lynch.

For the title character, I'd choose someone who's actually played a vampire once before, but is now better known for another fantasy film series. Anna Poppelwell (for those who don't know, she was in the recent two big budget films based on the Chronicles of Narnia). Some might think this odd casting, since Ms. Lynch comes across as so ethereal while Ms. Poppelwell is quite voluptuous. Yet to me this creates an interesting dynamic, and helps explain/reinforce the relationship of the two--each in some sense is better suited to be the other, and perhaps on some level they know it. Besides, expectations are things to be used ruthlessly by storytellers the world over. So there!

Laura's father, whose name we never learn, is supposed to be English and elderly. Yet there's also something of a mystery to him. For example, he evidently forbade Laura to be told ghost stories and the like when she was a child. Why? For that matter, whatever happened to his wife, Laura's mother? My choice would be Edward Petherbridge, an excellent British actor probably best known here in the States as Lord Peter Wimsey on Mystery.

Running the household is Madame Perradon, Laura's governess and for all practical purposes her mother-figure. Since the casting in this matter is entirely up to me, I will select another British actor, one rightly praised for her many fine performances--Kristen Scott Thomas, perhaps best known for The English Patient but equally if not more impressive in such films as Angels and Insects, Four Weddings and a Funeral, etc.

Maybe somebody someday will do a version not unlike the one described here. Maybe. Stranger things have happened.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vampire Taxonomy (Review)

A few weeks back I was honored with a request to do a review, in this case of the book Vampire Taxonomy: Identifying and Interacting with the Modern-Day Bloodsucker by Meredith Woener. My reaction was mixed to this news--pride at the compliment, worry they might be disappointed with my opinion, coupled with some trepidation. The premise seemed straightforward and fun enough. Suppose for a moment that vampires were real, that to some extent the swelling numbers of books, t.v. series, movies, etc. about them represent a source of genuine knowledge. What follows is a self-help book for those dealing with the undead.

So far, so good. Only...I've seen stuff like this before. Or cousins of it as a genre. Generally, what I felt upon reading them was disappointment.

Reading this book, though, I was very pleased to discover a lack of precisely what had bothered me elsewhere. The author, for example, actually knows quite a bit about vampire fiction and remembers the telling details. To give an example of how this can sometimes work out, another "nonfiction" book about vampires recently described the title character of LeFanu's Carmilla as hunting down and feasting on men. Ms. Woener, on the other hand, gets her facts right. She gives a broad overview of vampires from Dracula to Edward Cullen with most points in between. Different types and powers, including reactions to sunlight or relatively contagiousness of undeath, are spelled out logically. More, she does so with an easy-to-read style that avoids the same jokes over and over again (she even finds what seems like seven dozen different ways to say "you might end up dead", nearly always avoiding cliches or doing a fairly clever spin on them). She's not in love with her own wit, or at least not that it shows, so her humor doesn't get in the way of the content.


As to content--there are several sections, each dealing with different aspects of the nosferatu. Initially, it is all about types of vampires: Romantic (Hemophage remanorum), Villainous (Hemophage sceleratus), Tragic (Hemophage tragicus), Halfies (Hemophage dimidium--those not yet completely turned or 'enjoying' one vampiric parent) and Child (Hemophage iuvenus). The last two chapters deal with vampiric society or societies, and the last with how do we--humans--live in a world with the undead. This last includes some straightforward advice about romantic relationships involving an undead partner. It finishes up with some advice in case of a vampire takeover of the world (unlikely, but at the very least the attempt might be made which would be trouble enough).

Do I have any quibbles? Well, yes. For example, there's the bit in the next-to-last chapter about the scenario wherein you get tipsy and mention to your vampire boyfriend how a certain bully was so mean in middle school, whereupon the next day you learn said bully fell/was dropped from a very tall building, sans most of their blood. The author assumes the reader's reaction will be one of guilt. Mentioning this scenario to a co-worker, she thought if her boyfriend were a vampire and had done that she'd reward him as lavishly, as sensually and as imaginatively as her gratitude and mere mortal body could manage. Ms. Woener's sense of humor is just a tad vanilla.

Likewise, I'm just a tad disappointed she didn't mention the titular hero of Young Dracula in her work, especially regarding Halfies and/or Tragic Vampires (with Vlad's family all examples of Villainous). But that is entirely personal.

Overall, I was quite impressed. To someone, like myself, who knows vampires and their portrayals in fiction of all media, this very nearly qualifies as a reference guide. It spells out many of the tropes and archetypes, the considerations inherent in same, as well as (this is rare) not trying to force portrayals to fit a scheme. An interesting and intelligent discussion of the Vampire Detective is one of many little diversions that pepper the book.

Intelligence, knowledge, humor, wit and readability--asking for much more seems greedy.