The Vampire Revolution

The Vampire in Literature and Cinema

Part 3

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While Hollywood was exploiting the talents of Lon Chaney Jr, Boris Karloff and others, the British film business had not been idle. Hammer Film Productions, who branched out into horror movies in the mid-1950s, was giving – if not glamour stardom – at least a successful villainous career to several actors such as Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Ingrid Pitt, by casting them again and again in horror roles.

In matters of the supernatural, the movie business became a growth industry. Seeing the monsters terrify the heroine on screen was much more repulsive and frightening than reading about it in a book. The horror genre in fiction seemed to have been relegated to a fringe interest. Horror comics proliferated then began to lose popularity towards the middle of the twentieth century. Few novels in the genre of any merit appeared during the same period.

Then, in 1975, a young American author from Portland, Maine, called Stephen King published Salem’s Lot, a vampire story set in New England. King was already known to lovers of the macabre and ghoulish from his novel Carrie, published eighteen months earlier. Such was the impact of Carrie that it was made into a movie only two years after the novel hit the bookshops. By no means unusual now, such a response from Hollywood was less common in those days. Salem’s Lot was turned into a film for American television in 1979.

A year after the appearance of Salem’s Lot, another American writer, Anne Rice, published Interview With The Vampire, which launched a series featuring the vampire antihero, Lestat. The horror genre was alive and well after all.

Elsewhere in the fiction world, something very interesting was happening. Publishers had begun to realise there was a gap in the market for books aimed primarily at adolescents. Books for children and teenagers had existed for at least two hundred years. Twelve-year-old readers, tired of children’s literature by writers such as Enid Blyton, graduated to books for ‘boys and girls’ set in public schools, or to derring-do juvenile war epics or works about juvenile detectives. A common feature of this literature was that books for boys rarely featured girls; books for girls rarely introduced boys as characters. There was nothing that could be considered in any way sexual. If such works did not appeal, or if the adolescents felt they were too grown-up for ‘childish’ material, they read books for adults. Many of the stories popular with the mid teens until the 1950s and 1960s were not written with the young audience in mind, except for special and often abridged versions.

No one can say for certain when the term Young Adult began to be used in advertising, in bookshops and in libraries. However, by the nineteen seventies, subdivisions of YA by genre following the adult model were already being marketed, and writers were clamouring to be let in on the act. Books dealt with more serious teenage matters and commonly involved some form of sexual contact. Thus, in novels of all kinds, literary, historical, crime, science fiction or fantasy, boys began dating girls and girls formed attachments to boys. More and more authors started writing in Young Adult mode.

Both Stephen King and Anne Rice, and Shelley and Stoker before them, as well as such writers as Edgar Allen Poe and Dennis Wheatley, had aimed their writing at adult readership. Each author preserved the distinction between good and evil, between virtue and vice. Sometimes there were religious undertones, especially in earlier works. No one seems to have thought seriously about softening this distinction, of giving the inhuman villain redeeming features to make him less monstrous in the mature reader’s eyes, or more suited to a juvenile audience. Far less did any seek to endow their heroes and heroines with feelings of sympathy or affection for their supernatural foes, the vampire and the werewolf.

Yet, as this particular literary genre has completed its osmosis with tales for the young, that is precisely what has happened. As, over the last two decades, the undead have steadily, then in a flood, migrated into YA fiction, so have these creatures of the night become more human than their hung-up human victims.

The Vampire revolution had begun.

[next … Vampires in the Twilight]

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