Most anybody who knows me probably knows that I despise Twilight. It’s pretty common knowledge that I’m firmly in the “vampires shouldn’t sparkle, they should burst into flame” camp. What most people probably don’t realize is that my dislike for it doesn’t come from the author changing the vampire mythos or retooling vampires and werewolves as we know them to suit her purposes. I actually like the Volturi (at least, when they’re doing something more effective than planning a giant holy war against 6 vampires, then just shrugging and walking away at the last minute), and the “werewolves” – it’s in quotes because people feel the need to holler at me and tell me they’re “shapeshifters,” which is totally different. I say “It’s semantics, move along. Call them shapeshifters if you want, but until one of them turns into something other than a wolf, they’re werewolves to me.” – were interesting and well done.
I’m not going to go into why I loathe Twilight here. It’s not the point I’m trying to get at, and I suspect all it would accomplish is making more people hate me. That’s cool. Moving right along.
The point here is changing things up. Shaking the tree and seeing what comes loose. Lots of people think the cardinal sin Twilight committed was having the vampires sparkle, having “vegetarian” vampires, or the “unique gifts” each vampire possesses, some of which are just silly. While I don’t care for the sparkling bit, I suppose it’d be okay, if things were executed well. It’s not like it’s the first bit of vampire fiction where the sun isn’t fatal; Dracula comes to mind. I’m sick of the “tortured vampire, bemoaning his lost humanity and struggling with his bestial impulses” bit, but Meyer isn’t exactly the first person to have her bloodsuckers go the self-loathing vegan route. Louis from Anne Rice’s series spends much of his first century feasting on rats, and Armand, Lestat and others have their veggie phases as well for assorted reasons. Stephan from Vampire Diaries sticks to animal blood. Angel and Spike from the Buffyverse chase rats and kittens, or buy leftover cow or pig blood to keep themselves going. So vegetarian vampires are okay. And while I think half the “dark gifts” chosen for the Cullens are insipid, stupid or ultra-specific and not all that useful deviations of the old vampire standbys of enhanced senses and mental/emotional domination, again we’re going to throw the line back to Anne Rice, where most of her vampires had some unique talent or trait. Nothing exactly new or offensive in the conjuring; ’tis the execution that burns.
People have this idea that she “ruined” vampires, that “real” vampires only come out at night, speak in Eastern European accents, barbecue in the sun and tend to be aristocratic, sexual, charming sociopaths. Well, funny thing about that. We got a lot of that from Dracula, Lord Ruthven, Lost Boys, Carmilla and Anne Rice. We also have a healthy dose of alien nastiness that comes from Lumley and similar writers (though they tend to carry at least some of the traits of their Dracula-esque cousins, too.) But you know what vampires used to be, before Stoker and his pals revisited the concept and rewrote our cultural interpretation of them? Bloodsucking corpses and/or spirits, generally hideous, often without much in the way of self-will or the drive to do anything but eat, kill and spread their curse. They had a lot more in common with what we tend to call zombies these days. No castle on the hill for these guys. No seduction of young virgins to quench their thirst or be their immortal brides. Just rotten things, back from hell to murder and pillage as whim took them. Don’t think anyone would think Gary Oldman in Dracula (1992) would find him so interesting, tragic or sympathetic if he’d played it really old school, do you? Don’t think anyone’d be drooling on Edward Cullen or Damon Salvatore if they looked like this, do you? So changing things isn’t always a bad idea, nor does it imply that someone has somehow “ruined” something. Someone just saw fit to look at it a different way, and felt like sharing.
I’m all for that sort of thing; right now I’ve got a project going that has zombies. Well, I call them zombies, because it’s an easy hook to hang my hat on, but I think most zombie “fans” would probably crucify me for what I’ve done to their little cannibalistic beasties. My zombies are people. They have jobs, they vote, they get married and try to support their families (though they can’t have children post-transformation, some are trying to adopt.) Even the President is one (JFK, for the record.) Most of them don’t eat human flesh; they’re too busy either trying to get by or getting involved in movements in an attempt to curb “lifeism,” earning themselves fully equal rights and recognition. They came about from a mutant strain of leprosy during the Civil War era. Now, there are the shambling, mindless nasties like you might see elsewhere (in-universe, they’re called “Rotters” or “Yellers”) but that’s not their natural state by any means; that’s what happens when they are exposed to rabies and both “normal” humans and other zombies hate and fear them. When this is finished and published, will I have “ruined” zombies? Will I be as vilified as Stephanie Meyer? I don’t know, and really don’t care. I hope not, but one never knows.
Then we get to one of my other books, Woken. I’ve gotten several pieces of hate-mail, yelling about how Andrew can’t be a faerie, how dream spirits or genies wouldn’t act that way, how stupid I am for taking that route with him and so on. I tend to shrug, put it in my “Meyer Pile” and try to let it go, but again; what’s so wrong about doing something a little different from what the “standard” is? Those “standards” were set up by someone else going against the grain at some point; when people hear the word “faerie” or “genie,” I bet most folks think of Tinkerbell or Robin Williams in Aladdin. They apparently don’t realize that before those interpretations there were boggarts who waited outside of your house, expecting you to leave a saucer of milk or animal blood… if you didn’t, don’t expect to be heard from ever again. Apparently none of those people saw Wishmaster or are up to date on their Middle Eastern legends of just what djinn are and what they do. Andrew is just my take on personifying “be careful what you wish for;” love him or hate him, he is what he is. Again, calling him a faerie or a genie is just a convenient shortcut that gets some of the basic ideas across. (And for those who care, he and his extended “family” will be appearing in Son of the Morrigan, a high dark fantasy project I’m working on at the moment. And the “faeries” there are also bloodthirsty, warlike semi-deities with attitude problems, and hardly a pixie-wing or happy wish granted to be seen.)
So, to sum up; don’t hate something just because it takes a different spin on something you love. You never know; it might catch on and become the new “standard,” replacing your favored version… and might do so in such a complete fashion that most people forget there was ever any other way.
But what’s your take on this, folks? Is there some deep sacrilege committed when someone takes an older idea and puts their own take on it, or is it interesting and refreshing to see someone trying something different? Is it all just a semantic argument? (Would Twilight be better if they weren’t called Vampires? Would Woken get less hate mail if I didn’t refer to him as a faerie?) What’s your favorite revisionist take on an old trope/beastie/standard?