Mike’s stories have appeared in Relief Journal, Forgotten Worlds, Alienskin, and Dragons, Knights and Angels, with articles in The Matthew’s House Project, Relevant Magazine and the forthcoming 316 Journal. He is included in the upcoming Coach’s Midnight Diner anthology and was one of ten authors picked for Infuze Magazine’s Best of 2005 print anthology. Mike is an ordained minister, has led numerous small groups and developed discipleship-training curriculum for several churches. He and his wife Lisa live in Southern California, where they have raised four children. You can visit him at http://www.mikeduran.com/.
By Mike Duran
Those words seem like an oxymoron, don’t they? Good vampire? Aren't all vampires bad – night loving, Christ-hating, sex ravished ghouls? But if vampires are fictional constructs, then why can’t they be good?
Not long ago, I pondered the idea of a vampire novel from a Christian perspective. The genre, it seemed to me, lent itself to great redemptive possibilities. Anne Rice, author of the Interview with the Vampire Chronicles, says as much. On her blog, in a post entitled On the Nature of My Earlier Works (you must scroll down on her page for this essay), she discusses the concept. Since publicly professing faith in Christ, Ms. Rice has been repeatedly asked to renounce her earlier vampire works. After tracing the history of “dark stories” — from Dante’s Inferno, to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth, to Flannery O’Connor — she states her belief that many such stories are “transformative” in nature. According to the author, the gist of her popular series is the “near despair of an alienated being who searches the world for some hope that his existence can have meaning. His vampire nature is clearly a metaphor for human consciousness or moral awareness.”
I’ve not read the books and thought the movie was pretty gloomy. Nevertheless, the idea that the vampire figure holds a mirror to “human consciousness or moral awareness” is intriguing. Historically, the vampire motif is often used to portray Original Sin, wherein fallen man is viewed as an addict, thirsting after wickedness. As such, vampire lore is rife with biblical lingo and imagery.
So there I was, a neophyte novelist, conniving this idea about a vampire who wants deliverance from her infernal appetite. After all, people don’t willingly become vampires, do they? Much like Original Sin, the vampiric nature is inherited" or, should I say, inflicted. Then it only stands to reason that some would despise what they have become and battle the impulses. Right? Okay, so figure on a Christian vampire -- more accurately, a Christian bitten by a vampire. Let’s suppose she was nipped in a botched raid on an unsuspecting local crypt and, after busting her braces and developing a revulsion toward garlic fries, is exiled to the underworld. But our Bat Babe won't go down without a fight. She stays home when the gang goes out for dinner, renouncing blood like a vegan does Prime Rib, and takes to dividing the flock with the promise of deliverance. They can't kill her, she's already undead. But even though the poor thing is anorexic and iron deficient, they give her the boot. She is a disgrace to vampires everywhere!
Our heroine wanders the city, shunned, feared, hunted. She takes refuge in a cathedral and contemplates suicide -- but the thought of chugging a receptacle of holy water is just too painful. Here, she encounters others like herself -- a subculture of conflicted night creatures living in the catacombs, a monastery of abstinent bloodsuckers. They perpetuate tales of a coming day when unwashed necks will cease to appeal. But they may never see such a day because, as we speak, some misguided Van Helsing type is plotting a massive campaign against vampires, an ad hoc inquisition designed to rid the world of genetic and spiritual impurity. Thus, the good vampires find themselves on the wrong end of the theological stake. They must yield to either indiscriminate slaughter or band together to fight both their blood brothers and the unmerciful Pharisaical persecution.
Okay, whaddya think? So far, so good?
Well, the storyline is not that original. Take for instance the Confessor, a character in the comic book series, Astro City . The Confessor was a Roman Catholic priest who was seduced by a vampire. As penance, he fought crime in Astro City , eventually becoming a religious-themed costumed hero. The Confessor’s mantle is eventually taken up by Altar Boy. He confines himself to the church during daytime, and on his chest, wears a large, shining cross that inflicts sufficient pain to prevent his temptation to drink blood, and remind him of his mission.
As one inclined toward penance, I must admit that the idea of prancing around in tights, adorned with a large enough crucifix to administer pain, tickles my flagellistic fancy. Anyway, the point is that people have been tweaking the vampire tale for a while now; making the night creatures conflicted, sympathetic, even good. So why not a Christian vampire?However, the more I floated my idea, the more I discovered a great resistance within the Christian fiction community. We don’t do vampires, was the resounding response. Some suggest it is the horror genre in general that causes CBA publishing houses to hedge (although, there are positive signs that is changing). Others say that the vampire genre has become so laden with erotica and evil that it carries an automatic stigma, making it unsalvageable.
Coach's Midnight Diner, recently released by the folks at Relief, is subtitled The Jesus versus Cthulhu Edition. Created by horror-meister H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu is a fictional entity, one of the Great Old Ones, possessing a tentacled head and a grotesque scaly body (think Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean ). The ancient monster has become an icon of terror for horror / sci-fi fans everywhere and may even rival the vampire in terms of its rabid following. Nevertheless, when the anthology was first announced, there was some discussion among Christian authors about the convergence of those characters. Jesus and Cthulhu? Is that really right? Cthulhu stands for all that is evil. How can we even associate him with Jesus? Some disavowed the concept on the basis of its incongruence, others on biblical grounds.
But the answer that resolved it for me was this: It’s fiction, baby! God is written into many fictional settings. We may argue that a biblical caricature of God does not exist in all fiction. That’s a given. However the idea of inserting the real biblical God into hypothetical situations with fabricated figures is the basis of all Christian fiction. So if God can interact with Ransom, Reuben Land, Elmer Gantry or George Bailey, then why can’t He engage Cthulu or Count Dracula? After all, none of them – except God -- really exists.
Much as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis sought to reclaim mythology and unearth the underlying sediment of biblical truth inherent in folklore and fable, perhaps the same could be done with vampire lore. Current notions of the nocturnal nemeses are shaped largely by superstition, gothic literature and pop culture. Therefore, it remains in flux, unmoored, largely freed from factual constraints and rife for further tweaking. But, as Christian authors, do we dare?
Either way, I’ve since scrapped my idea about a Christian vampire story. Too many Van Helsings with theological stakes to drive. Nevertheless, the question still remains: If vampires are fictional constructs, then why can’t they be good?