For this week’s cover package about vampires (on stands today!), we chatted with writer Neil Gaiman about how vamps have changed through the years, what they stand for and why they should go away. For more on vampires, including our picks for the top 20 greatest vampires of all time, pick up this week’s issue of EW.
EW: How have vampires gone from being monsters to anti-heroes? For example, in contemporary pop culture, we’ve seen vamps make that move from horror flick fear agents to misunderstood social outcasts.
NG: I think mostly what it has to do with is what vampires get to represent. Dracula was a great novel of sexual seduction, full of repeated sexual seduction and rape and sex. So it makes complete sense that your solid Victorian vampires were fundamentally evil. And you can have that nice big stake hammered through them as a way of putting them to rest. After that, I think the next big, huge, cultural, “somebody’s just written a vampire story” is probably Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Steve basically wanted to do Dracula again, only in a small town in Maine. At that point you got vampires still sort of representing the “other.” Then Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, which as a teenager I thought was a rather drippy book. I have to say as a teenager who loved vampire fiction and wanted vampire fiction, I thought they all sort of sat around being miserable.
But I think then the thing that changed everything and that gave vampire fiction a new lease on life and death was AIDS, because you hit the early ‘80s, and suddenly you have something in the blood that is an exchange of blood that kills and is altogether fundamentally about sex. And vampirism essentially came out of the closet as a metaphor for the act of love that kills. Stephen King once said, using the Erica Jung quote, that vampirism is the ultimate zipless f—. And then a sort of continuous transmutation, you had Lost Boys, which is essentially vampirism as wish fulfillment. Finally, of course there’s Sesame Street, which I think may well have created the sympathetic vampire for the world in Count.
EW: Can you touch on the theme of thrill and fear of power?
NG: I don’t think vampirism, at least from my point of view, is ever about power, because it’s always about people exiled to the fringes. Vampires, I think, should be outsiders. They should probably be sexual outsiders. They need to be charismatic. They need to be elegant. They need to be attractive in some way. But they aren’t buying nice suits and calling the shots. And if they are, the book is about something else.
EW: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
NG: Vampires go in waves, and it kind of feels like we’re now finishing a vampire wave, because at the point where they’re everywhere it’s probably time to go back underground for another 20 years or another 25 years.
EW: So you think they’ve reached the saturation point.
I think so, and it definitely sort of feels like classical vampires have been around enough that if they could go back in their coffins 25 years and come out the next time as something really different, that would be cool.