Beyond doubt three of the most popular groups of vampire stories right now are the HBO series True Blood (based on the Sookie Stackhouse books), the network series The Vampire Diaries (based on novels of the same name) and the motion pictures based upon Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight. A pervasive element in all three are possible relationships between humans and vampires. You can find the same in Dark Shadows (in all its incarnations), in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (ditto) and Blood Ties and Forever Knight as well as slews of other books, movies, t.v. series, even a few musicals along the way. On the one hand, this seems very logical given our association of the undead with sexuality going back to Varney and Carmilla. In another way, though, a really major problem pops up once you start really thinking about it.
Age. Or, put another way, maturity.
Quite simply, May-December romances face some serious challenges even for those limited to normal lifespans. Myself, as a middle aged man, the idea of dating a teenager inspires dread. What do we talk about? Can we even understand each other? On a fundamental level, we’d perceive the world–especially time–so differently! Now multiply that by ten! More than one critic likes to point out that Edward Cullen is roughly eighty years older than Bella Swann! Yet that hardly seems to present a challenge at all.
The same can be said for many a famous human/vampire couple. Not that such means we should just toss away the whole trope. On the contrary! Better, or so it seems to me, to look and see what makes such a romance work. One, used for Edward and Bella but interestingly also by Abby and Owen in Let Me In, is to presume vampires remain in some way emotionally ‘frozen‘ at their given age. With the children of this latter film it remains an easier concept to grasp. Despite centuries of experience, Abby’s nervous system remains permanently immature, her brain that of a twelve year old not an adult. For the vampires of Twilight the idea becomes more subtle. In some fundamental way Edward remains a young man of Woodrow Wilson’s America, retaining the rhythms and essential personality of the person he had been. To paraphrase how actor Kodi Smitt-McPhee described his co-star’s character, Edward never became a hundred year old man in an 18-year-old body–he is an 18-year-old who has been around for one hundred years. Within that nuance the love story seems workable.
Arguably the cheapest way around this dilemma, one some might call over-used, is to bring out the concept of reincarnation. The film Bram Stoker’s Dracula centered around exactly this conceit. As Mina got to know the man she called “My Prince” memories of her life as his bride four centuries ago rose to the surface. Likewise (this is important) around her his own personality increasingly echoed that of the man he had been. Plus it helps move the story along faster. The first vampire series to explore this idea was almost certainly Dark Shadows, but the way they did it (at least initially) often gets lost. Barnabas Collins, contrary to what many believe, initially did not meet anyone who could be his Josette reborn. Maggie Evans looked like her, but his efforts to brainwash her failed. Frankly, that ‘relationship’ proved fascinating for the sheer horror of it–but also contrasted with more genuine feelings this man developed for Victoria Winters. Not in an effort to see her as Josette, but for herself. When in the 1897 storyline Barnabas did meet Josette’s reincarnation, it lacked much of the spark of the earlier story. Likewise, it turned out rather lackluster in the 1991 revival.
Yet Barnabas Collins also highlights a frankly more interesting way around the age conundrum. One repeated a couple of times with Buffy for both her undead paramours as well as with Sookie and Bill. Quite simply, instead of having the human reincarnated, one can also have it be the vampire who is reborn. If they have changed somehow, undergone something radical, something life-changing (or should that be undeath-changing?), then we can see a character as in some sense young again. Angel and Spike each had their souls restored, although the latter (rather like Carmilla in Le Fanu’s story) was always someone to live ‘in the moment.’ Nicholas in the seminal vampire detective series Forever Knight had begun a serious effort to regain his humanity, a quest in which Dr. Natalie Lambert became ever more central. Barnabas escaped from his prison and for months pretty clearly behaved in an insane manner, or at least mentally disturbed. As he regained his equilibrium, he fell in love with a human girl instead of chasing after a memory. Likewise Bill Cullen comes across (and the t.v. show eventually confirmed this) as someone trying to re-invent himself. Not as a brand or a perception, but as someone new. Having spent decades trying to revel in nihilism and bloodlust, he grew to loathe the emptiness compared to what he’d had when a living husband and father. Like Nicholas, he found his efforts to “mainstream” i.e. reconnect with his humanity embodied in a human woman. Along the same lines, Eric became involved with Sookie while suffering from amnesia.
Of course there’s also the simple trick of having the vampire be relatively new! Then the age thing hardly comes into play at all! Jessica and Hoyt, the star-crossed lovers of Near Dark and The Lost Boys, even My Best Friend is a Vampire or the motion picture Suck all fall into that category.
Still, seems to me that considering these very details end up separating the formula story from the ones that last and gain a larger audience. What do you think?