A Problem with Christians

Anne Rice recently recommended a book on her Facebook page, which elicited some interesting responses from her followers. The book in question?

There were two predominant themes I noticed in the subsequent discussion thread stemming from her post. I’ll examine both here.

Some Respondents Have Serious Issues with Christianity

Among many comments, there was a stand-out for me, courtesy of Anthony Guy Patricia. His response received three likes:

From the Amazon description and reviews, I fear this book is too dogmatic as regards the secularization of the vampire figure and the resulting abandonment of Christianity. I haven’t read this study, though, so I could very well be wrong. (Friday, June 13, 2014 at 10:04am)

Yes, you could be, Mr. Patrick. That’s what happens when you make judgements on a book you haven’t read. Which is why I was surprised by Rice’s reply:

You know, you might be right. I read a sample of it and was impressed, and didn’t realize until later that it was for a Christian audience. But I did find the writing deep and solid. This perspective, I hope, can be as useful as any other for studying literature. I am not a Christian, but I appreciated the analysis. After all, she is looking at the history of something that has always had quasi religious overtones. Dracula was supposed to be “evil.” The term itself is loaded with religious trappings, and myth. So why not study it in terms of secularization. I might come to different conclusions, but I also might agree with many of her observations on the process. (Friday, June 13, 2014 at 10:22am)

Didn’t realise? Really? The book doesn’t hide who it’s written for and what it’s about. Its Amazon listing (you know, the one Rice linked to) states:

Clements offers a close reading of selected vampire texts, explaining how this transformation occurred and helping readers discern between the variety of vampire stories presented in movies, TV shows, and novels. Her probing engagement of the vampire metaphor enables readers to make Christian sense of this popular obsession.

And:

In this astute survey, she argues that Christian theology, once essential to understanding the vampire, has been lost through decades of change in vampire characterization, effectively de-fanging the vampire of meaningful theological bite. Clements begins with the iconic monster Dracula, a repulsive creature who represented the power of sin and evil in the Christian metanarrative.

How much more obvious does it need to be? Should it have been stamped with an advisory sticker: “Warning: This Book Was Written for a Christian Audience”?

All of these “clues” apparently went over another respondent’s head. Jen Poole wrote, “Well crud, i just bought it.. I hope its not too heavy with religious views.” (Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 1:56am)

picard-facepalm

As to the book itself, here are two extracts from its second page, which you can read in the book’s “Look inside” preview mode in its Amazon listing:

Why has popular culture recently been overrun with vampires, and how are Christians supposed to understand it? Vampires would not have become as popular as they have if they didn’t mean something to us—something that matters—and that is one of the questions this study seeks to explore. (Clements 2011, 2)

And:

The vampire was once held up as the embodiment of evil and temptation, but has now become the ultimate romantic alpha-hero. The Vampire Defanged explores how this transformation occurred and what it means to Christians. (Clements 2011, 2)

There is also a section titled “Why Should Christians Care About Vampires?” (Clements 2011, 7–11), which mentions:

Christians often respond to the vampire phenomenon by either trivializing it or demonizing it, brushing it aside as insignificant or labelling an entire century of imaginative production as evil and anti-Christian. In these pages I will seek to counter both responses. (Clements 2011, 7).

Perhaps the entire first chapter was missing from the “sample” Rice read—despite thinking the whole book good enough to share and recommend in the first place.

You know who else liked the book? The Lord Ruthven Assembly, “a group of academic scholars specialising in Vampire literature and affiliated with the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts” (“Lord Ruthven Award” 2014). They bestowed it with a Lord Ruthven Award for non-fiction in 2012.

Nonetheless, the book’s Christian angle seemed to be a sticking point for some of Anne Rice’s Facebook page followers. For instance, Bonnie Boyer wrote:

This is a subject very dear to me. I study vampire myth of the world. I must say that the myth goes further back than Christianity. The vampire can be found in every culture in the world. In most cultures it is seen as evil. I just get annoyed when Christianity is the end all be all. Just a sticking point for me. (Friday, June 13, 2014 at 10:51am)

Here’s the thing: Christianity has been integral to the development of the vampire myth. It was established in pre-dominently Orthodox Slavic territories; priests were utilised during exhumations; the vampire, itself, was believed to be a demon-possessed corpse; the era which gave “birth” to vampire studies—the 17th and 18th centuries—often incorporated a Christian perspective from Christian writers, the most notable example being Dom Augustin Calmet, a French Benedictine monk.

In the 20th century, vampire studies were heavily influenced by two works: The Vampire, His Kith and Kin (1928) and The Vampire in Europe (1929), both written by Montague Summers—a Catholic reverend. One of the century’s best-sellers, The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (1994), was written by J. Gordon Melton—who’s not only a religion scholar, but “an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.” (“J. Gordon Melton” 2014).

The likely origin of the word, “vampire,” itself, has a Christian connection. According to Slavic scholar, Bruce A. McClelland:

Based on the foregoing discussion, we may more confidently assert that the word vampir was a pejorative name for a group or a member of a group whose rituals or behavior were offensive to early Orthodox Christians. It is unlikely that the earliest meaning of the word vampir denoted anything supernatural. Rather, I suspect that the term generally designated someone who engaged in pirštestvo, that is, in ritual feasting, where sacrifice was performed and wine was drunk to excess and ritually poured out (as libation), sometimes mixed with blood. (2006, 191)

Christianity may not be the “be all and end all” of it, but there’s a reason why it’s mentioned so often. Take out Christianity and you scoop out a good chunk of the mythos, itself.

There has certainly been an attempt at divorcing the vampire myth from its Christian roots, though. The obvious demonstration is the way vampires in literature and film often laugh at, crush, burn, whatever, crosses held at them, in an attempt to ward them off. This happens so often, it’s become a trope in itself (indeed, one popularised via Rice’s Interview with the Vampire).

Yet the “rejection” these tropes manifest only go to show how deeply ingrained the Christian aspect is—even if used as a rejection of authority or the reality of the Christian worldview. As J. Gordon Melton notes (in his “Christianity and Vampires” entry, no less):

The relation to the sacred in general and Christianity in particular will continue to be a problem for vampire novelists, especially those working in the Christian West. The vampire is a supernatural gothic entity whose popular myth dictated its aversion for the crucifix. The literary vampire derives its popularity from the participation of its readers in a world of fantasy and supernatural power. At the same time, an increasing number of novelists do not have a Christian heritage and thus possess no understanding or appreciation of any power derived from Christian symbols. For the foreseeable future, new vampire fiction will be written out of the pull and tug between these traditional and contemporary perspectives. (1994, 105)

In short: suck it up, Bonnie.

To the rest of the followers on Rice’s page who’re cowering away from the vampire’s Christian overtones (apart from blatantly ignoring the Catholic themes in her work, that is), I guess you haven’t read the fifth instalment of her “Vampire Chronicles” series, Memnoch the Devil (1995): it features God, Satan (Memnoch), Jesus and even Lestat’s descent into Hell.

Re-fang Vampires!

The second most predominant theme I noticed, were followers wanting vampires to be “evil” again; riffing on the title of Clement’s book, but also yearning for vampires to return to their monstrous selves. The “re-fanging” analogy suggests vampires have been emasculated—substitute “fangs” for “balls” and you get a pretty clear picture. Yet none seemed to appreciate the irony of what they were posting and to who (that will be made apparent, shortly). John Pereda wrote:

The word “defanged” fits perfectly. Personally, I feel that the genre is long overdue for a “macabre renaissance”, where the vampire returns to its dark, monstrous roots. The trend that started with Polidori’s Ruthven has gone WAY overboard (case in point, Edward Cullen).

I want the vampire to become a [un]living embodiment of death again: the creature who rose from his/her grave at night and became an invisible terror to the living, whose very legend was enough to keep people away from cemeteries at night. I want girls to see the idea of a vampire creeping into your bedroom at night and sweeping you as something to FEAR, not fantasize about. I want boys to see the idea of being turned into a vampire to be seen as a fate worse than death, not “superpowers”. Basically, I want to see the vampire RE-fanged. (Friday, June 13, 2014 at 10:38am)

Ah, yes. Edward Cullen. The poster boy for Twilight fans and the anti-Twilight movement; the benchmark for how far vampires have strayed from their monstrous roots. How they’re no longer the vicious bloodsuckers they once were, pussies, wimps—apparently all thanks to a popular series written by a Mormon housewife for adolescent girls.

Never mind that there’s practically a whole genre dedicated to monstrous vampires—the 30 Days of Night comics and David Wellington’s “Vampire” series being notable examples—no, let’s ignore those and blame Stephenie Meyer for, uh, what exactly?

Here’s the thing: vampire “de-fanging” (read: romanticising) has been around a long time. I’ve written about it before (Hogg 2010) and rest assured, it’s not as cut-and-dried as people think. A humanised, sympathetic angle’s been present in vampire fiction since the 19th century.

Remember what Stoker’s Dracula said when he was chastised by his “brides” for pulling them away from feeding on Jonathan Harker? “Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past.” How about the “look of peace” Mina Harker notices on Dracula’s face, shortly before he disintegrates? Even Bela Lugosi’s Dracula seemed to long for sweet release: “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious!”

Let’s not forget that Varney the Vampire, star of the mid-19th century penny dreadful series of the same name. He also happens to be self-loathing vampire, too—one who wound up killing himself by jumping into Mt. Vesuvius. How about we skip ahead to Buffy’s soulful vampire, Angel?

That backlash against Meyer for pussifying vampires is a popular pastime—even Rice took a shot at shot at it. However, the trend is nothing new.

Meyer certainly wasn’t the first person to be accused of “ruining” vampires by presenting them as whiny, wimpy or not being good old-fashioned neck-rippers.  I remember reading an article by John Nettles many years ago, for an online magazine called Horrorwood. The article typified that particular pre-Meyer backlash. I linked to it in my post discussing the de-romanticisation of the vampire. It’s not online any more, but I saved it at the time. Here’s an extract:

Fully half of my adult life has been spent living in the sleepy hamlet of Athens, Georgia, a town which enjoys a peculiar diversity found in only a handful of places. On the one hand, it is a college town, home of the University of Georgia and just scads of Southern tradition. Some families have sent their sons and daughters to Athens to embrace fraternity, public drunkenness, and marginal education for generations. On the other hand, it is an arts-and-music town, the birthplace of R.E.M., the B-52’s, Oscar-winning actress Kim Basinger, and ingenue horror novelist Poppy Z. Brite.

Now I have never met Poppy Brite but, small towns being what they are, I know people who know her, and on their fervent recommendation I picked up a copy of Brite’s first novel, a vampire saga called Lost Souls.

I tried. Lord, how I tried. I put it down and came back to it days later. I read it hopped up on coffee in incredibly hip java-holes. I read it at home, drunk in my amazingly comfy thrift-store recliner. I gave this book everything I had, just to get to the darkly glowing promise of this local masterpiece. I failed miserably, never getting beyond page 50 or so. It wasn’t the writing–Poppy can throw a sentence together. It wasn’t the genre–I’m a fool for good horror.

Yes…we’re bad…

It was her vampires. Her decadent, bisexual, dressed-all-in-black-and-impossibly-beautiful vampires. Her irrepressibly cool, jaded, sensual, can-ask-about-the-new-Cure-album-in-impeccable-French vampires. I was filled with a nameless dread; I could go no further. I ran screaming for a dog-eared copy of Salem’s Lot.

Anne Rice, what have you done?! I mean, Interview With The Vampire was a novelty in 1976, and a decent read, but the franchise has gotten completely out of control. If we are to accept the current trends in fiction and film, the vampire can no longer transform into a bat or a wolf but can become an contributing editor for Details magazine at will. The rapacious, unholy creature that has stalked the nightmares of humanity since the first chapter of the Talmud has become, well, Brad Pitt.

The article’s title? “Where Have All the (Real) Vampires Gone? (Or, “Bite Me, Lestat!”)”

Yep, before Meyer, Rice was the go-to person to blame for wimping out the undead. F. Paul Wilson, author of The Keep (1981) and Midnight Mass (1990; 2004) had the following to say when asked, “In all the cases where you’ve drawn upon the vampire image it has remained true to its evil nature. Do you believe a vampire can be a hero?”

The vampire is the lowest form of creatures—a parasite. By definition a parasite takes and does not give. I can’t buy trying to romanticize that type of creature. I’ve tried to read Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” and I could not get through it. I don’t relate to her point of view or sympathize with her creatures. (quoted in Guiley 1994, 98)

I’m sure Rice appreciates the distraction Meyer’s books gave from her own, just as I’m sure many of her Facebook followers are probably too young—or too ignorant—to realise that Rice was the 20th century’s Stephenie Meyer.

To come full circle, I posted some replies to the comments on Rice’s Facebook thread, regarding the Christian aspect of vampire literature and the criticism of Clement’s book:

The book makes it very clear that it’s a Christian work, very early on. The author is writing from a Christian perspective and to hold that against her is bias. That said, her analyses are good and provides decent contrast to the other works she covers. No harm in giving it a read. (Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 1:56am)

And:

The development of the vampire in literature and lore is intricately tied with Christianity, too. Whether one believes or not, it’s a worthy angle to explore. David Keyworth wrote an excellent work, which covers religious themes in the vampire myth called “Troublesome Corpses” (2007). To all and sundry, I highly recommend it and it’s available directly from the publisher via ebay: http://www.ebay.co.uk/…/Troublesome…/360845394519

Much to my surprise, Rice responded:

Anthony, I tried or order, but Amazon shows only a used hard cover for over $180 and a kindle. If there were a paperback on demand, I could read this. (Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 3:58am)

To which I replied:

I sympathise, Anne. That’s why I shared the eBay link – to the best of my knowledge, it’s the cheapest hardcopy version of the book out there. You’re best off with that one. I *wish* there was a paperback copy! For some reason (something I might look into) academic works tend to be available in hardback only (they’re really missing a trick there – not to mention the potential for a bigger readership). But there’s only hardback and, as you pointed out, Kindle. (Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 10:25am)

Here’s hoping she buys a copy of the book! Oh, and heads up: David Keyworth, the author of Troublesome Corpses: Vampires and Revenants from Antiquity to the Present (2007), has a Masters in Theology. Oh no! Run!

As to Clement’s book itself, I think it’s a decent read. Nothing really ground-breaking and certainly not a Christian polemic in the vein of something like Steve Wohlberg’s The Trouble with Twilight: Why Today’s Vampire Craze is Hazardous to Your Health (2009).

As a Christian, myself, I certainly understand why readers would be wary of being “preached to” through such books, but if you’ve got a problem with that, there’s a solution: don’t read it. But you shouldn’t not buy it simply because it has a religious perspective, either. How does that make you any less “dogmatic” than a Christian’s supposed to be? As Rice, as the reviewers, as the Lord Ruthven Assembly can attest, it’s a good enough work in its own right and quite balanced, too.

If I was going to criticise it for anything, I’d hone in on its narrow scope (it primarily covers Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles,” Joss Wheadon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, the “Sookie Stackhouse” novels and True Blood and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” saga). But I could also criticise Tim Kane’s excellent The Changing Vampire of Film and Television: A Critical Study of the Growth of a Genre (2006) for a similar reason.

I could also critique the relatively shallow coverage Clements gives to the religious angle embedded in vampire stories; something Keyworth’s book delves into with more depth. But this work isn’t an academic treatise (however, it does have a solid pool of citations and references) so much as a light, brisk read—which just happens to have a Christian perspective; something that’s broadcasted both in its Amazon listing and in the book itself. Give it a go. You might like it.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank Margarita Nikolayevna, a member of my Facebook group, “The Vampirologist,” for sharing the link to Rice’s Vampire De-fanged thread.

References

Clements, Susannah. 2011. The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. 1994. The Complete Vampire Companion. With J. B. Macabre. New York: Macmillan.

Hogg, Anthony. 2010. “De-romanticising the Vampire.” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist, January 20. Accessed June 14, 2014. http://doaav.blogspot.com.au/2010/01/de-romanticising-vampire.html.

“J. Gordon Melton.” 2014. Wikipedia. Last modified June 8, 2014 at 11:39. Accessed June 14, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Gordon_Melton.

“Lord Ruthven Award.” 2014. Wikipedia. Last modified May 3, 2014 at 20:49. Accessed June 14, 2014. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Ruthven_Award.

McClelland, Bruce A. 2006. Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Melton, J. Gordon. 1994. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Detroit: Visible Ink Press.

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10 thoughts on “A Problem with Christians

  1. Pingback: ASMSG Horror-Thriller Emagazine – A Problem with Christians

  2. I have to say Anthony, I quite enjoyed this one for a few reasons! Being an Anne Rice fan and having met her before, I read the thread where this all started and I have to say people’s comments were all over the shop. My initial impression was many folks were just sucking up with compliments to Anne. It amazed me that she endorsed this, and then admitted she had only read a sample of it and had no idea it was written for a Christian audience! Who the hell does that? If you are lending your name to anything, common sense dictates you should know what you are endorsing.

    Also travelling on my own Christian journey at the moment this demonstrated to me how ignorant some people can be. It’s not like anyone is spoon feeding it to them, but I guess some people are just biased no matter what. People will read what they want to and other people don’t have to down play a book just because it has religious connotation.

    Love your comment, ‘“Warning: This Book Was Written for a Christian Audience”?’

    I see you tried to persuade Rice to order a copy of “Troublesome Corpses;” which I have to say I obtained my own copy last month, thanks to you! She basically complains it is too expensive. If some regular folks like us can purchase this amazing book, why can’t she? I admit this article has made me want to break into the book sooner than later now.

    Sorry if I went on a bit of a rant. I think this is one of the better pieces you have written in a while and all from a Facebook posting!

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Erin!

      In terms of the “sample” mention, I have asked her a follow-up question about that, namely, was she only given the section on her “Vampire Chronicles” to read – because I can’t see how the book’s Christian angle could’ve been overlooked! Not only is it mentioned in the Amazon listing, but it’s right there on page 2!

      The follow-up replies were interesting to say the least. The lady who bought the book, then going on to lament the religious element really should pay closer attention to what she’s buying if she’s got an issue with such things!

      And you’re right: it’s not being spoon fed. Not at all. I can appreciate that not everyone’s gonna be keen on religious literature, but for goodness’ sake: it’s not like it’s hidden!

      I did try to persuade her to buy a copy of Keyworth’s book – and I’d do that for anyone with an interest in vampirism. As you know, it’s one of the top 5 vampire books I’d recommend to readers.

      Anne did complain about how expensive it was – and to be fair, she’s right. But that’s only if you look on Amazon. Thing is, I’d shared the significantly-cheaper copy available on eBay, right before her response. Maybe she doesn’t like using eBay or doesn’t have an account for it? Who knows…

      Enjoy your day, too! 🙂

  3. An interesting look at the wealth of irony involved in eschewing Christian commentary on a myth with deep-rooted Christian origins. The 30 or so novels in my Secret History inhabit a godless reality, but when I decided I had to write a vampire novel, I brought back all the Christianity-bases tropes — fear of the cross, burned by holy water, etc. etc. Why? Because they raise vampires to a higher level. They give them an extra dimension, a hint that there’s =something else= going on, and we’re simply catching a glimpse of a larger conflict. Otherwise they’re little more than sapient zombies.

    • We were noticing last March that zombies are more popular than vampires now, and wondered if it was the way vampires now want to talk to you and sparkle and have a relationship. Teens can barely relate to their parents and a clingy vampire is just the worst! Zombies just mutter ‘brains’ and shamble after you, so there’s little or no social obligation(“Bbye, good luck, hope you find some brains” SLAM lock). So maybe you are onto something there, Paul.

  4. I enjoyed this post. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Rice was apparently careless in understanding what she was recommending, was backtracking publicly once opposition to it was posted, and/or is allowing her present biases against Christianity to color her characterization of the book.

    For what it’s worth, my review of the volume can be found on my blog, where the clear connections to Christianity are recognized: http://www.theofantastique.com/2011/07/24/book-review-the-vampire-defanged/

  5. Pingback: The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Turned a Romantic Hero – evaluation | JanNews Blog

  6. Pingback: The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Turned a Romantic Hero – assessment | TiaMart Blog

  7. Pingback: Interview with the Vampirologist | Vamped

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