Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tired of vampire fiction? Wonder why it's so popular? Here's one take...

I haven't liked a vampire novel since Bram Stoker's Dracula.  Haven't liked a vampire movie since Lost Boys.  I would rather be trapped in a room with ten thousand pages of Harry Potter meets Firefly fanfic than pick up Meyer's Twilight series, let alone anything by Laura K. Hamilton.  I've wondered why people are  gobbling up vampire stuff so rabidly.

Somebody wrote up a plausible commentary on the topic.  Here's the relevant bits:

"Here lies one of the unique pleasures that the vampire romance can provide for its female readers: the opportunity to enjoy an 18th- or 19th-century courtship while remaining a 21st-century woman.

"The problem with historical romances is that if you want a man who behaves like Mr. Darcy, you have to live within the constraints imposed upon a woman like Elizabeth Bennet; in addition to the lack of voting rights, credit cards and any chance of pursuing a profession, there is the fun-squashing little matter of virginity taboos. In order to bask in the chivalry of a Regency-era gentleman, a modern woman can be magically transported back to his time (another popular romance device), but she'll still be stuck in a society where she hasn't mastered the rules and her freedoms are severely curtailed.

"Make the gentleman immortal and he brings with him into her modern world not only his ancestral estate and fortune, but an anachronistic understanding of how to treat a lady. Replete with old money, the vampire hero has plenty of leisure time to embroil himself in politics (fictional vampire societies tend to be complex and conspiracy-ridden hierarchies) and to woo the heroine."

I find all this a little creepy, and very sad. What does it tell us about the American sexual-industrial complex that women feel a need to fantasize about undead blood-feeders in order to imagine a courtship in which men are less, well, predatory than they seem right now?

A little creepy? Sad?  Me thinks so too.

17 comments:

Tim Lewis said...

Think about when and how fast these books came out and when the movie came out. It isn't about writing good books. It is about making gobs of money off people who don't read anything other than Harry Potter. They have nothing to compare it to other than what they see on TV, so their standards are nothing.

I think this is the demise of the publishing industry, as independent book stores close and even the chain stores struggle with making money. When books like this are the best they can market, there's something wrong.

Jackie M (Literary Escapism) said...

Wow...what novels are you finding that come across like those? For one, Laurell K Hamilton's vampires are anything but courtly courtiers (plus the fact that you didn't spell her name right makes me wonder how much thought was put into this). Second, a good portion of all UF novels right now, focus on a strong independent woman who doesn't want an 18th century man. In fact, they are generally turned off by them. I cannot honestly think of one novel who wants to be courted by an old-world gentlemen.

These books have been around for a lot longer than the last 5-10 years. Laurell K Hamilton has been writing this series for more than 15 years and has had a devoted fan base since the beginning. Anne Rice's novels came out in the 80s. LJ Smith's young adult series, Vampire Diaries, was first released in the early 90s. So this isn't a new genre that is just popping up. It's always been around, but with hits like Harry Potter, it's been pushed into the limelight.

I actually think this is the exact opposite of the downfall of the publishing industry. In fact, most authors are finding that their books are selling like crazy, regardless of the recession. There is such a wide range of worlds to explore in the UF genre that it's attracting a lot of notice for people who are sick of reality right now.

Honestly, unless you've read something in the genre you're talking about, don't critique it.

Jake Shore said...

I think Laura Miller's comments are right on. CBS news did a feature story last night on the "Twilight" phenomenon. They showed throngs of teenage girls going nuts standing in line at the premiere. One of the reporters spoke to a teenage girl who loves the books because of the appeal of having a guy who takes care of and protects the woman he loves. Not exactly what a "modern woman" is supposed to want.

Maybe Jackie M. can explain why millions of teenage girls find novels about a romantic relationship with a Vampire so appealing? It seems more than just a little escapism, and worth our concern (and critique).

Tim Lewis said...

Jackie M, thanks for the different perspective. If you go back and read the post it was quoting yet another perspective (Laura Miller).

I, however, was only talking about the Twilight series. It was published in 2005 along with 3 others (soon to be 4) over the past few years and there's already a movie out.

The downfall of the industry is when publishing books becomes about making money instead of good literature. I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing if large houses fail, pushing the books into smaller ones and publishing those books that may not have been given a chance because they're not the next million dollar book. I find it disturbing when books like Twilight come out as a herald of literature. I'd venture to guess that most of the people reading it have never even heard of Ann Rice.

I don't read many vampire books personally because I think vampires are lame. All you need is a pointed stick and a bulb to kill them. It sounds like the John Cleese sketch, only the vampires would be armed with a basket of raspberries. (all you need is to release the Bengal tiger)

Jackie M (Literary Escapism) said...

Jake - We're talking about teenage girls...the same ones who like the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana. They'll buy anything because they have disposable incomes. That's what half of Disney is all about. So to base your opinion on a vampire novel that is still relative new and use it as a gross generalization for the entire genre is...in my opinion...a little ignorant.

Tim - I will agree that Meyer does come off as more money hungry than a lot of authors. The stunt she pulled with Midnight Sun gives me that opinion. But at the same time, I know a lot of authors who write, not because they want the money (granted, it's nice), but because they love to write and the paranormal/fantasy genre is one of the most creative genres out there and it's a huge industry at the moment. There are a ton of authors who are given a start because of the boom in UF/paranormal. Plus a lot of the smaller publishing houses, who focus primarily on the UF/paranormal genres, are doing great.

When you're creating your own world and cultures, it requires more thought than just turning on the news and seeing what's out there. I think it takes a lot of creativity to make a vampire story hot because there are so many out there. So while you may think the idea of a vampire is lame, there are a lot of authors who put a lot of work into their characters and their worlds, and calling their efforts lame is kind of the same as telling them that what their doing isn't worth much. All vampire stories are not the same; a lot of authors make their vampires a little more complex than just a stake and garlic. To make it in the publishing world, you have to be creative, especially when you're involving a genre that is hot and getting flooded. To have their work and creativity diminished to such a basic thought...it's kind of depressing.

I'm sorry, but if you don't like the genre, than don't critique it. You're obviously not trying to understand the draw of it.

Jason Campbell said...

Got some good discussion going here, thanks all for jumping in and adding your comments.

Jackie, I very much appreciate your willingness to get into this with us here. I've looked over your blog and it looks like you are something of an authority on this subject, so I value your insight.

Let me make myself clear--I didn't write the original commentary which is quoted in the post, I stumbled across it on someone else's blog. I thought it was provocative (and apparently that has been borne out by our discussion here) if perhaps too simplistic and reductive.

Contextually, none of us here read vampire fiction. We read fantasy fiction in general, though I probably read much more widely than Tim or Jake. You can see the kind of stuff I've been reviewing in my spare time over at my fantastic fictions blog, and probably get a sense for the kind of things I look for in great fantasy fiction.

Let me also be clear in saying that I too think vampire fiction is "lame" as Tim put it. Recognize that when I say that, I say it not as a criticism, only as an opinion. The same as "I think sour cream tastes awful." Not objective, just plain old subjective tastes. I have no business criticizing books I've never read, and I hope I never come across as doing that.

The ultimate substance of the original article was pointed not at a criticism of the vampire fiction article--none of us are in a position to do this because fundamentally we don't like it and don't read it. (I don't think I have to read something to know if I'd like it or not. Sometimes this is the case, but not universally.) The concept of vampires as central conceits for an entire genre of fantasy literature simply doesn't appeal to me and I recognize that I read fantasy fiction for pleasure.

The best thing I think you can do for us is to speak intelligently to the original question raised by the article (and I agree, poorly addressed by the quote). What exactly is it about vampire fiction that appeals to the masses, such that we now find shelves full of it now which did not exist even a couple of years ago? I think you are in a position to help us outsiders understand this and I hope you will take the time to post a thoughtful response.

If not, hey, no big deal--this is not exactly a high-traffic blog after all...you've got real work to do over at yours! *smirk*

BrennaLyons said...

I'm with Jackie that you can't take any small portion of the vampire literature available and apply it to all. (Not that I'm saying you gents did. You keep stating you're only quoting another article.)

At the same time, there is a huge section of the paranormal readership that adores vampire fiction (and a huge section that enjoys either urban fantasy romance or dark romance). The reasons are many. I cover quite a few in the following blog post. http://www.star-crossedromance.blogspot.com/

Those readers are not all screaming, swooning teenagers, BTW. And to get an idea of how populous we're talking... Christine Feehan's reader group has 1939 readers on it, Hunterlegends (Sherrilyn Kenyon's reader group) has 2323, Angela Knight has 1878, and the paranormalromance group has 3087. The first three are authors who all write (among other things) vampires. Shrug. And the number on PNR list is a drop in the bucket of the readership of these books.

Bookdragon3 said...

There are almost as many vampire fiction genres as there are mythic variations around the world. Some appeal by inviting that scary little shiver. Others appeal to that naughty little inner kink. To each their own.

By the way, those numbers of Brenna's are only the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of readers who don't have the time to join the groups of all their auto-buy authors. And, yes, there still are readers that don't use the internet.

BrennaLyons said...

Nodding to Bookdragon3. I said the same. They are definitely a drop in the bucket. In addition to those who aren't online/on lists, you have the ones who prefer forums instead of Yahoogroups, those that prefer MySpace or Twitter or Facebook to mailing lists, those that are on other lists and not the ones I named...

I'm on at least ten separate lists for SF/F/H/P romance and erotic romance ONLY...and that's not even counting the ones that aren't restricted to a certain flavor but rather talk about all sorts of subgenres.

Brenna

BrennaLyons said...

One more note to Tim... Quality and quantity of writing have not even a passing correlation with each other. The words come how they come. Some authors write slowly and well (and speeding them does indeed lead to substandard writing). Some write slowly and poorly and will never amount to more. Some write quickly and well, and those are gems. I can name at least a half dozen that fall into this range. And some write quickly and poorly...and they need to slow down or get a good editor...or both.

Brenna

Anonymous said...

"I'm sorry, but if you don't like the genre, than don't critique it."

This is me not critiquing it.

Am I allowed to disagree with Jason, though, and say that I believe that sour cream is delicious?


ted

Tim Lewis said...

I would rather you not state your opinion. Of course, that's just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

You don't even want to know my opinion of your opinion of my opinion.


ted

James Wood said...

Jason, I think your blog readership just quadrupled.

I was going to say that the Blade stuff is ok (though not literature, I find it entertaining in the comic/movie form).

Jackie, what the crap is "UF"? You use that abbreviation without any antecedent.

Harry Potter, Twilight, et al just annoy me. It's the same problem as The Davinci Code, it is fiction written for a television audience. What I have read reads more like a movie script than anything. People get to feel good about themselves for "reading" a book, but these tomes have something like 24 point font and inch-and-a-half margins. All of a sudden your 500 page book is a lot less impressive.

Tim Lewis said...

Jason, I think your asking people to make responses relevant to the question leads me to believe you aren't taking vampires seriously enough.

rebecca marie said...

okay, i'm totally late on this... but i really want to throw my take into the mix...

first of all, vampire fiction being lame is a fine opinion to hold. the same as opinions such as football is boring or carrot top is hot.

i don't agree with any of those opinions, which is what makes topics like this post fun. we are all opinionated.

now, i do agree with the sentiment, don't critique without knowing what you're critiquing. i was a huge twilight nay-sayer, until i actually read the books (and i'm one of the smartest people i know... no kidding). they are a load of fun, they were captivating, they were quick and easy reads. i read the series back to back in less than a month then returned my borrowed copies and bought a set for my own library.

now, my 11 year old son is reading them, and i couldn't be more thrilled.

here is what makes the series "good" in my opinion (or ANY book for that matter). people are reading. avidly. and searching out MORE to read because of it. it's also good, because it entertained me. i get SO sick of people saying that movies like the english patient are good but happy gilmore isn't. define good? the english patient bored me, but happy gilmore makes me laugh. i would call happy gilmore good, critics would not.

in regard to vampires being (in general) sexual/sensual/violent undead. again i say read the books before adding commentary and lumping the twiligh series into it. the topic of eternal life comes up, there are good and bad vampires (just like people), and the main vamipre character is BEYOND noble. sex does not occur until the covenant of marriage, and even then, the author hazes it over. you are aware that it happens, but the scene is not described. not only do i find that to be "good," i find it terribly refreshing. finally, a "heaving bosom romance," that i can share with my kids!

as far as an author being money hungry... i couldn't care less about the stephanie meyer/j.k. rowling machines. the books entertain me.

Jason Campbell said...

Rebecca, thanks for posting! On a blog as slow as this one, I'm happy for the comments! *smirk*

I very much appreciate what you had to say. I have heard a lot of really good things about Meyer's stuff and I'm glad for your comments that help me understand the shape of a story that I (frankly) couldn't get through because I think vampires are lame. Again, not a value judgment, just preference.

A few posts later than this one, I discovered some more info on the subject and it helped me to better understand the mindset of an older woman reading through this, and what she knew was going on the hearts and minds of younger women. It was both enlightening and educational for a father of two very young girls.

Glad you enjoyed the books, glad for the perspective you bring!