Neil Gaiman: Why vampires should go back underground

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.

Comments (74 total) Add your comment
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  • wg

    Yeah, never thought I’d ever see the day where I’d o.d. on vamps in pop culture – much less get to a point where I not only can’t watch/read it all, but I don’t want to!

    • Youko

      I’m glad I could speak on balhef of the loyalists, Lindsey. Thanks for dropping by OHW to check out my post!

  • Nerwen Aldarion

    Nope, I think vampires are going to stay popular for at least 5-10 more years, True Blood and the Twilight Saga are only beginning to take over the mainstream We still have a long way to go.

    • jesilipp

      No, I think Neil is right, Nerwen. Vampirism has hit its peak – and while things such as Twilight which began as vampirism was surging forward will still be popular, it will be as a remnant of its initial success, not success because of the current trend. Vampires will stay popular for another year or so and then just gradually begin to ebb away and probably be gone in five years. Twilight will remain insanely popular (god knows why!) but I doubt True Blood will have the staying power everyone thinks it will.

      • sss

        Twilight and True blood is not about vampires. Not really.

      • Jenn

        Actually, I think that anyone who says something has hit its peak is shooting themselves in the foot. The minute that someone of notoriety says ‘such and such a trend is so over’ is the minute that such and such a trend will come back harder and fiercer because people don’t like being told what to do or what to like.

  • Carleen

    I was disappointed to see EW’s “ultimate guide” to vampires didn’t mention L.A. Banks’ Vampire Huntress Legends series. Readers should definitely check her out!

    • J. Martin

      I heard Banks speak at a librarian convention last spring. She was terrific. The room heated up.

  • mscisluv

    I love that he mentions the Count!

    • Kabes

      Oh, I know! I’m a total fan of Sesame Street. The old, good stuff, anyway.

  • Snarf

    Actually I thought it was the other way around vampires were popular throughout the 80’s (Near Dark, Fright Night, Vamp, The Hunger) then pretty much disapeared throughout the 90’s with the exception of the success of Interview with a Vampire in ’94 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the WB in ’97. Flash forward ten years and their everywhere, literally. Will the interest in all things undead laast? No, it’ll become more fringe again in about two or three years, and then the cycle will repeat itself.

  • teamcolin

    Just wait until ‘Vampires of Atlantis’!

    http://failedscreenwriter.com/2009/03/02/vampires-of-atlantis-pg-13/

  • Frankenstein’s Other Monster

    What about the Space Vampires!? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLDpqG-dQHo

  • Mac

    It’s time someone tackled vamp integration in a sensible way. Wouldn’t vamps make excellent judges, cops, scientists? What could you use to bribe someone who has lived for 500 years and literally Seen It All?
    I’d like to see a story where vampirism is not the big point, but a detail among others. All good stories are about _people_. Let’s have one where vamps are just another ethnic group among others. Vampire-americans?
    Being Human was a step in the right direction.

    • Ariel

      Well that is sort of what True Blood is about (and the books even more so).

    • Joseph

      You should read some of Terry Pratchett’s stuff. Vampires aren’t exactly integrated, but they’re more like an aristocratic group that plays power games alongside werewolves, dwarves, wizards, gods, humans, and orangutans (just read the books, it will make sense and be delightful).

    • Susan

      Check out Terry Pratchet’s Diskworld series, their integration along with the dwarfs, warewolves, and others is an ongoing theme.

      Kim Harrison also treats them as just one of the groups integrated, there are some great themes in her books.

    • Mary Magdalia

      The webcomic Vampirates (http://vampirates.comicgenesis.com/), while a comedy, does tackle the idea of vampires as victims of an illness who are attempting to live alongside ordinary people. It delves into issues such as government-sponsored medication, blood banks, and marriage.

  • Vic

    @mac – i’m pretty sure i’ve read a manga where a vampire was the CEO of an electronics company.

  • Leishu

    Mac: You just described the Sookie Stackhouse books to the T. The beginning of the books deals very specifically with vampires “coming out of the coffin” and attempting integration with society.

  • J.

    I’ve been thinking this for a while now: Vampires need to go away for a while. There’s just too many stories about them–True Blood being the exception.

  • John

    Once again, Buffy was just slightly ahead of the curve. Serialized drama? Too early. Vampire pop? Too early. Of course, vamps in that universe were still ostensibly evil, with only a couple charismatic vampire characters (good or evil) emerging from the stake-fodder norm. Just another thought to (sorry) naw on.

  • Carina

    Everyone forgets the Count! I’m stoked Neil didn’t.

    • Karool

      As long as I didn’t slakrpe, I’d say yes too. Weighing the cost of watching loved ones die (which we all do to some degree anyway), or the idea of turning those we can’t live without… with living forever? Seeing everything the world still has to offer, everyWHERE, all the people, all the cultures evolving and devolving and changing, all the animals, all the music and the art and… just… everything. I mean, gods only know how long the world actually has but if it kept on going for another few millions of years? Could you imagine walking through the world from the start of life, through dinosaurs and everything? What’s our future hold? I’d LOVE to be there for it all.

  • James T.

    I think Neil is right to say that we’re reaching a point where there’s an over-exposure of Vampires in fiction these days, but I think he’s wrong to say that this trend is about to wrap up… I think we have another couple years of Vampires on the top of the Horror pile before they retreat again for their two-decade long rest.

    I was getting a little upset over their oversaturation but after seeing “Let The Right One In” this past year, I was reminded of the power behind the concept… I’m enjoying True Blood as well, but I think that while the iron is ablaze with Vampire works, there are original stories to be told, concepts that move back to the visceral horror that the Vampire represents, as well as the psychological ramifications of such a monster.

    The aftermath of Twilight has yet to take place… The definitive Vampire of the Modern Era, the true horror character has yet to re-emerge… Once he comes out and reminds everyone what Vampires are meant to be, then I think we’ll see the whole phenomenon die down.

    • J

      “let the right one in” was so very very good. the movie was both chilling and touching. never read the novel though.

      • Heleen

        the book is even better. I Loved the movie and think it’s the best vampire movie ever. Try the book, too.

      • demented

        The book makes the movie look G-rated. It’s spooky and beautiful and horrible.

  • Areis

    I LOVE Joss Whedon for giving us Buffy and Angel, as well as Alan Ball for True Blood. True Blood is an AMAZING show and it’s not JUST about vamps– I think it’ll have at least 3 more seasons.

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