With the release of “Let Me In,” the American adaptation John Ajvide Lindquist’s novel, a trope that naturally comes to mind is the child vampire. Although as disturbing as it seems shocking, there’ve actually been a fair number of the breed in popular entertainment.
One might think that Claudia from Anne Rice’s seminal “Interview With The Vampire” is the first example of the trope. In fact, the central character of the cult classic “Lemora” qualifies. Although played by the lovely Rainbeaux Smith, a teenager at the time, the character herself was intended to be no more than thirteen. The year 1979 also saw the television mini-series “Salem’s Lot” with the floating preteen bloodsucker Danny Glick.
Quite a few more examples followed. The monstrous Homer in “Near Dark”, Anna and her brothers in “The Little Vampire”, the Chosen One on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, the nameless feral creature in “30 Days of Night”, poor Bree from “New Moon” and wrapping it all up the fantastic character of Eli/Abby from both films based on Lindquist’s novel. Plus Divia from “Forever Knight” of course.
Notice the pattern?
Consider the males versus the females. A few of the latter are true monsters, either vicious or at least unthinkingly wild. Most, however, are in some sense people–trying to cope with the situation of being a walking corpse thirsty for human blood. More than one is actually rather nice. But the males–the most controlled of them all is an icy fanatic longing to bringing demons into this world. But the others are ruthless appetites with hands. For that very reason they also aren’t as numerous. That is why Dexter and Hannibal Lecter are more interesting (and popular) than Jigsaw, and Jigsaw himself commands more attention that the dozens of fictional serial killers in who-knows-how-many movies and t.v. shows.
So what does this say? Do we simply have a lower opinion of boys? A higher one of girls? Taking that all “sugar and spice and everything nice” too seriously? Maybe it is simply easier to think of little boys that way?
Here’s a disturbing thought. Is it because we tend to think of vampires as in some sense sexual beings? In that case, we stumble across an uncomfortable fact. Our society finds it easier to classify women–including very young women, girls even–as sex objects. The brilliant novel about pedophilia is called “Lolita” not “Lothar.” Consider for a moment how more disturbing “Interview” might have been if Louis’ creation had been Claude. Or if “Let Me In” had been about a bullied little girl named Rowena and met a preteen vampire named Abner…
Along those same lines, recall that “Lemora” was one of the most banned vampire films in history, despite its total lack of sex or real nudity or even real gore. By those standards, it would easily fit the standards and practices of any broadcast television network. But the whole idea of a little girl being pursued by a vampire with overtones of lust, of her eventual transformation into a vampire herself who literally seduces her first victim (a minister no less)–that is the stuff a society neurotic about sexuality is going to freak over. Nothing is more guaranteed to rile the censors than to explore an uncomfortable truth. We do sexualize females, even underage females.
But, you might say, Eli in “Let The Right One In” isn’t really female at all. True. On the other hand, she seems to be one. She looks and dresses like one. For the purposes of this discussion, Eli fits into the character type ‘female’ because of how she evidently (if reluctantly) identifies herself. Part of the power of that story derives from the idea that Eli and Oskar make up a couple. Their love story presses that button in our heads in part because Eli seems like a girl (simply because we look for romantic couplings in stories, and the majority of human beings seem to be heterosexual).
If the vampire is a trope we use as a metaphor about life, then perhaps what the child vampire reveals is just how versatile that metaphor really is. Or can be. Vampirism has represented sin, gay rights, alcoholism, the fear of death and different forms of disease. It has also become an icon of our sexual selves, including all the complexities therein.
Then again, it also reveals at least one more seriously underused trope in vampire fiction–the vampire boy-child who isn’t a mini-sociopath. Apart from “The Little Vampire” and “Young Dracula” there hardly seems any examples at all.
One wonders what kinds of stories could still be told using such. One hopes to see some.