Plus, a Revisit to My Previous Post “A Brief, Non-Exhaustive Tour Through My Favorite Romantic Vampire Media“
Rest in peace, Anne Rice, 1941-2021.
As I note below in my vampire romance essay, my love of vampires didn’t start with Anne Rice. But my lifelong love affair with romantic vampires was brought into full bloom by her first book, Interview with the Vampire. I read Interview with the Vampire as soon as it came out in paperback when I was a teenager. I haven’t read all of her books, but I’ve read most of them, including some from each of the genres she wrote in. The vampires will always be my favorites, but I also love her witches, mummies, Servant of the Bones and Exit to Eden.
Perhaps due to the amount of suffering and loss she went through in her own life, Ms Rice has a way of expressing the emotional imperatives of her stories that are rivaled only by apocalypse and war stories. Her monsters, whether human or supernatural, are sympathetic because she knows that, no matter what our lives look like to others in the moment, many of us live our internal lives in an emotional apocalypse which requires the strengths and weaknesses of a monster to survive.
We are put through the emotional wringer in Rice’s introduction to her vampires – there is no mistaking what is most important to them, and it’s not blood. These vampires have deeply passionate feelings about everything, especially each other. The beauty and intensity of a vampire romance (or any monster romance) lies in admitting that we are the monster and can also love the monster in another, that opposite extremes exist in us at the same time and we can love, or at least accept, both ends of that spectrum.
The genius of Interview with the Vampire was the way Ms Rice began her series by confronting both the sweetest and the worst of love, rather than diluting her emotional truths by emphasizing action or world building. Louis is the gentlest of men, but he still gives in to temptation many times. In later works, Lestat proves to be an exciting, dynamic personality, but he is at his worst when we meet him in this book, his generosity and charisma offset by his cruelty and possessiveness. We must love the monster for his weaknesses before we’re shown that he’s also a prince and a rock star. (World building, with glorious ancient history and vast modern and historical diversity, would come later, in a sprawling, satisfying universe. But we start with passionate, tender, fiery love at first sight.)
Then there’s Claudia, symbol of mortality amidst the immortals, victim of Lestat’s obsessive need to bind Louis even more closely to him in sin and love. Claudia embodies and is surrounded by so many types of pain and loss, so much complexity held in a seemingly fragile body which will remain that of a child forever, while tragically housing the mind of a mature woman. She is a symbol of the ways women have historically been held back, so that immortality would not have conferred freedom even if she had been an adult woman. We see this when her adult caretaker, Madeleine, joins her and both women are murdered rather than allowed their independence.
The character of Claudia also represents the real life daughter Ms Rice lost to leukemia in early childhood. She is the heart and soul of the story, the grief of a parent poured out onto the page. As with Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, she’s the scenario we run through in our minds with each untimely loss: “But what if I could make a deal with the devil to bring them back?” Just like the authors, we know it wouldn’t work out like we wish, that the monkey’s paw never grants wishes the way you hope, but that doesn’t take away the hope or the temptation. The monster lives on inside us, a truth to be confronted or denied regularly for the rest of our lives.
My own daughter almost died when she was 10 years old from Type 1 diabetes. Believe me when I say I became a fierce warrior to make sure she survived and stays healthy. There is life before that event, and life afterwards. Though I first read Interview with the Vampire when I was 16, the book remains relevant.
Coincidentally, Anne Rice also developed Type 1 diabetes later in life, another reason why I look up to her. My daughter needs role models. The way Ms Rice kept going through her many health issues and losses makes her a role model for us all.
I’m looking forward to the upcoming AMC Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches series. Though Anne won’t be able to executive produce them as planned, her son and frequent coauthor Christopher Rice is an executive producer, so they remain in good hands. Fans have waited a long time for adaptations that are faithful to the spirit of her work. Though it’s already clear that major changes will be made to the books, my hope is that they serve to bring to life the heart Anne Rice put into her work.
A Brief, Non-Exhaustive Tour Through My Favorite Romantic Vampire Media
This was originally published in 2019. Then, I used my history with vampire romance to build up to a True Blood review. Now I’m republishing it in honor of Anne Rice’s life and work.
I have a deep, lifelong love of vampire romance. I’m open minded, and can consider other supernatural romances as well, but werewolves are so packminded that I question their devotion to their beloved. Ghosts seem so thin and superficial. Zombies are interested in brains, but I want more than just a relationship of the mind. Angels and demons both have to leave their beloveds in the lurch when they get called into service by the higher- and lower- powers they serve. A shapeshifter is an inconstant lover in so many ways, how could we ever develop trust?
There are exceptions: Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The medieval ghosts of Lynn Kurland’s paranormal romance novels. The sentient zombies of In the Flesh. The married angel-demon couple from Midnight, Texas, another Charlaine Harris story. And no one is more trustworthy than True Blood’s own shapeshifter, Sam Merlotte.
As a general rule, witches and wizards are the only other supernatural beings I truly find exciting, with their wide range of abilities to charm or bewitch the pants off a girl, depending on the mood.
Since I’m a witch myself, and wizards are a dime a dozen, can you blame me for looking for a little more variety in my fantasy life?
Bring on the dark, brooding vampires, who are the epitome of devoted, romantic lovers, are immortal, manageably dangerous and adventurous, definitely where they’re supposed to be during the day, gorgeous and who can share their blood. Blood which, if used in small quantities, will heal without turning a human into a vampire, but which can also make the user immortal if desired, so they can share everlasting love with their vampire lover.
What could go wrong? Don’t answer that, we all need to discover some things for ourselves.
I admit, this is a hereditary issue for me. My mother and older sister sat me down in front of the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows in 1966, when I was 5 years old, to watch the trials and tribulations of vampire Barnabas Collins, of the supernatural Collins family of Collinsport, Maine. Collinsport was a mysterious town on the cold, rocky shores of northern Maine, just like the small towns in coastal northern Maine my mother’s family lived in for 300 years, until my parents moved us to upstate NY.
With the amount of inbreeding that went on in the small early populations of northern New England, I wouldn’t be surprised if I share some relatives in common with Barnabas Collins. 😉 I certainly share the vampire’s love of night and inability to handle strong light.
(Yes, I live in sunny New Mexico, why do you ask? This is why hats, tinted glasses and long summers with warm nights were invented. True Blood is a sultry Southern Gothic for a reason. The Twilight vampires can keep their rain soaked, cold climates.)
Dark Shadows ran for 6 seasons, through 1971. Then I moved on to films and book series, most notably Anne Rice. I received 2 copies of her book Interview with the Vampire for my 16th birthday, in 1977, because my friends and family knew me well, and I haven’t looked back since. Though the author clearly favors the character Lestat, tenderhearted Louis will always be my favorite of her vampires. He is, after all, the vampire who was interviewed.
There were other favorites through the years, such as the film The Lost Boys in 1987 and the Dark Shadows revival in 1991. There were viral vampires, such as The Strain and The Passage, descendants of Nosferatu rather than Dracula. It’s better not to mention viral vampires if you prefer your vampires to be romantic.
There was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, film and series. Who could resist Angel? He was so irresistible that David Boreanaz has starred in one TV series or another continuously ever since. I definitely resisted Spike, though I know others didn’t.
There was The Vampire Diaries on The CW, which ran for 8 seasons (2009-17) and spawned 2 spin off series, The Originals (2013-18) and Legacies (2018- ). The first 4 seasons of The Vampire Diaries were as good as any vampire media I’ve seen anywhere. I lost interest when the storylines were watered down by splitting the cast to create spin offs and some of my favorite actors left the franchise, but those vampires are obviously still doing it for others.
Over the years, Ann Rice has written more than a dozen books on vampires, plus more series on other supernaturals, some with her son, Christopher Rice. She managed to make a mummy sexy. Her original vampire trilogy was turned into two mediocre films. I also had a fling with Katie MacAlister’s Dark Ones book series in the 00s, a fun vampire soulmate series. Now I notice she’s added a few installments since I last checked in with it about 10 years ago so, yay! Something else to read over the winter.
The big vampire story of the 00s was Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight book series, which my kids and I shared the way I’d shared Dark Shadows with my family as a child. The Twilight films were as mediocre as the Vampire Chronicles films, though I admit to rewatching them like comfort food on the occasional late night. But as with so much that’s perceived to be originally aimed at teenage girls, the Twilight books have been unfairly maligned. They are full of universal themes and vivid characters.
Bella is a great character for anyone to follow and she has a romance to die for. She does so much more than have a boyfriend and a baby in her books, but even if that’s all she did, it would be enough. Navigating personal relationships is a huge part of life, and for someone from a background of abuse and neglect, like Bella, learning how to have healthy relationships when you are older is a long term challenge.
If it takes a vampire family to show you what real love, care, equal relationships and decent parenting look like, there’s nothing wrong with that. There are very good reasons why Bella’s romance is not just with Edward, but with his entire clan. Because of her childhood experiences, she’s in love with the idea of transforming from a human who has difficulty defending herself against the human monsters in her world, who include her parents, into a vampire who can protect herself and her entire devoted vampire family from even the fiercest of supernatural monsters. After a youth full of struggle, she finds her own power (protection through maintaining boundaries, a particularly female superpower) and uses it on her own terms to win a war, in addition to conducting an epic vampire romance.
There was a last, forgotten, one and done vampire TV series of the 00s, Moonlight, on CBS, starring Alex O’Loughlin, who quickly went on to become better known as Steve McGarrett in the Hawaii Five-0 revival, and Jason Dohring of Veronica Mars. Moonlight aired during the 2007-08 season, so it was affected by the infamous, endless writers’ strike which killed more than 1 show that year. It was just hitting its stride when the season was cut short.
As a vampire romance noir which explored multiple historical time periods plus the present day, it was sadly ahead of its time for broadcast TV. Plus, though the show had already been completely recast after early sample filming (except for Alex O’Loughlin), the writing still focused too much on the relationship between O’Loughlin’s main vampire character, Mick St John, and the lead ingenue human female, Beth (Sophia Myles), rather than the much more interesting and complex relationship between Mick and his ancient, vampire, on again-off again wife and maker, Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon).
The show was course correcting in that direction when it ended after 16 episodes, an unusually short season in those days. I would be thrilled with a reboot of Moonlight that was done right.
Alas, the media deities rarely listen to my brilliant ideas, so we are subject to the slings and arrows and fangs of outrageous fortune. But just 4 short months after Moonlight went off the air, a new vampire romance rolled into town, and it wasn’t shy about telling us what it wanted. True Blood was the answer to all my vampire romance prayers. The show aired on HBO for 7 seasons, for a total of 80 episodes, from the fall of 2008 to the summer of 2014. It’s based on the 13-14 book series The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris.
The TV series stars Anna Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress who lives in Bon Temps, a small town in rural Louisiana. Sookie sees her telepathy as a disability because she has a hard time turning it off, which makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else or to have normal human relationships. As a result, she’s socially isolated, other than a few close friends and her family. Sookie works at her friend Sam Merlotte’s bar and restaurant. Most of the town passes through Merlotte’s at one time or another, since it’s a popular local hangout.
A synthetic blood which can sustain vampires, known by the brand name Tru Blood, has encouraged vampires to take the controversial step of revealing themselves as a species to humans. Amongst both vampires and humans, some have embraced this revelation and some fear what it will mean for the future. Sookie makes her very first vampire acquaintance, the vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), when he stops by Merlotte’s to try a Tru Blood.
Sookie is drawn into the supernatural world as she seeks to solve mysteries with the help of Bill, Sam and others. She visits a vampire bar run by the ancient vampire sheriff, Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård). He learns of her telepathy and seeks to use her talents to solve his own mysteries. Shenanigans ensue.
Tru Blood is a Southern Gothic, horror, mystery, romance, much the same as the book series it’s based on. Though the subject matter is intense, the writing is relatively fast-paced and there’s a dark comedy element to it that keeps the horror aspect from becoming overwhelming. The show isn’t as light and breezy as the books; in addition to the books’ humor it uses visuals and a heightened reality to emphasize the outrageous nature of Sookie’s world. The characters frequently comment on that outrageousness and on the ironies taking place around them.
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