‘Nother repost of my response to one of Colleen’s excellent questions over at Chasing Ray. Here’s the question(s):
What is the vamp romance appeal and is it any different from the Harlequin romances and Forever of the 70s? It is one thing after all to lust after a guy from afar but know he is bad news, it’s a whole other deal to spend your time willingly with someone who might accidentally kill you in the heat of passion. Are today’s vamp lovers more passive then they should be? Are these books showing girls a take charge guy that can’t be denied and preventing them from real world boys who might be worth their time? Is there a dirty secret about passivity hiding in the Twilight series?
I’ll confess to so far not having consumed many of the vampire-centric YA novels of the present moment. And to many of my friends’ ongoing dismay, I have also not watched Buffy. So clearly, I’m operating at a distinct literary and pop cultural disadvantage when attempting to think about the appeal of vampires in YA.
I can, though, observe from reviews and commentary that very few current vampire books seem to be purely vampire books. Instead they’re mashups with other YA subgenres: vampire plus school story, vampire plus girl-who-doesn’t-fit-in. One way to think about vampires in YA is simply as a strategy for “adding interest” to a narrative — like a fabulous cloak thrown over your story to tie it all together and keep it looking fresh.
And certainly their now-traditional sexual allure is an important aspect of vampiric popularity. The metaphors are so obvious they hardly seem worth noting: penetration is followed by transformation. After the bite, nothing will ever be the same again. But of course, in real life, that transformation is elusive. A girl who’d never finished a book until she read Twilight told me she wanted a boyfriend like Edward. Then she hastily added: “I mean, I have a boyfriend, but…”
I’ll confess again — the recent vampire narrative I’ve found most compelling was a movie, not a book. (It was based on a book, but I haven’t read the book yet.) The movie: Let The Right One In. In a bleak Swedish winter in the early eighties, a lonely young teen meets another teen, dark and mysterious, who doesn’t seem cold in the bitter night. Does it sound familiar? It’s less so than you might think; the lonely teen is a boy, Oskar, viciously bullied, and the mysterious other teen is a vampire. The vampire, Eli, solves Oskar’s Rubiks cube with dizzying speed, and he wonders if Eli can solve his other problems as well. What I admire most about the film is its unblinking focus on the brutal consequences that life with a vampire would actually entail: murder and secrets, power and the cost of its use.