Today, I’m going to talk about vampires, and about why I don’t read vampire hunter stories where the vampire hunters are seen as infallible and fighting an eternal war against “pure evil.”
First of all, vampire hunters usually have similar reasons for wanting to kill vampires. A sibling or parent was murdered by one, and thus, the hunter-to-be was exposed to the truth of the existence of an ancient race of blood drinkers. None of these hunters ever asks, “Why is it that we don’t see these creatures more often?” (Or if they do, the answer doesn’t make any sense. More on that in a tic.) Indeed, in almost every valiant vampire hunter story, normal humans have never heard of vampires despite the “monsters” leaving behind trails of bodies with tell-tale bite marks.
The reason we don’t know about them, even in this nonsensical context, is because vampires are an endangered species. They are vastly outnumbered by humans, and their fictional weaknesses make them all too easy to kill if they’re exposed to the general population. But, this hiding habit doesn’t make sense if the vampires then get up every night and go find some family to kill, leaving behind only one survivor, and usually leaving a huge gory orgy of evidence behind that STILL doesn’t tip off the police about their existence.
Think about a vampire bite wound. It is an orgy of evidence. It’s a lot of saliva left around a bite mark with a distinctly human shape, and even if you accept the idea that nobody among our pathologists noticed the same recurring bite marks for the last two hundred years of our developing criminal sciences, the arrival of DNA testing would have made this kind of plot incomprehensibly stupid in a modern setting. Yet the trope persists that nobody knows jack shit about a race feeding from our populations, ever. It makes no sense, and writers who keep falling back on it without examining the how and why of this race being kept a secret are lazy. Vampires may be cheap pop culture art, but that doesn’t mean every vampire writer should be praised for rattling off a carbon copy of the Van Helsing legend with a new hunter and a slightly different vampire. Pastiche should only get you so far as an artist before someone rightly points out that you’re just a copycat ripping off the work of better and more talented artists.
Something else that doesn’t make sense is the vampire depicted as a monstrous feeding machine who never hunts discreetly. Vampires are often described as being hundreds of years old, yet extra time does not grant them extra wisdom. They remain constantly aggressive and animalistic, like a young male human hunter. It’s no wonder that most of these kinds of ultra-violent vampires are written by men, because this kind of killer is simply an extension of a violent male fantasy about power. The vampire exists to give the writer an outlet for violent desires that they wouldn’t express in real life, and the vampire hunter’s actions “absolve” the writer of the fantasy.
This is kind of like the socially acceptable form of the hack story where a writer has a character molest or rape children with graphically explicit details, but then concludes the story by having one of the victim’s parents kill the rapist in a moment of gory denouement. Most publishers hate this kind of rapist fantasy and don’t want to publish it. But sit around a forum of editors and agents, and you learn how many guys send in this stuff to express their pedophile urges, and then “absolve” themselves by killing their “Gary Stu.” (Which they will obviously deny has any resemblance to themselves.)
The tropes of vampire and vampire killer are the same concept, but one which readers are willing to embrace because violence of this type is a-okay in any context. Even if it doesn’t make sense, and even if the level of atrocities contradict the world setting. Sexual fantasies in any context are considered icky porn, but you can get as ridiculously violent and gory as you like in your vampire fantasy, and you’ll still get praised for your “no-holds barred” style. (Provided you can write sentences coherently, of course. There are limits to an editor’s patience, and bad grammar is only one of those limits. I digress.)
But set all that aside, because I’m going to send your thoughts in a different direction. If we readers know and accept that vampires are an endangered species, then we have to eventually realize that vampire hunters are the evil people, not the vampires.
You’re shaking your head and saying “bullshit,” so let me exchange the word vampire for shark. In fact, we’ll look at Martin Brody from the book Jaws. In later years, Peter Benchley came to regret making Jaws because it created unrealistic fears of sharks, and he and his wife became speakers for shark preservation based on his realization that shark attacks are rare, and are not the result of humans being hunted. Rather, the sharks mistake us for other prey.
In the story, Brody is looking for one shark responsible for the deaths of several victims in Amity. But let us suppose that instead of seeking out just one killer shark, the hero decided that all sharks were evil and had to be wiped out to save the human race from this dire threat. Then, it’s not the shark who is a monster. It’s the human who develops a life-long prejudice about a predator who poses no risk to anyone not in a coastal city, town, or village. It’s the crazed human hunter who develops a plan to hound another species into extinction, even though the animal they’re obsessing over poses no risk of wiping out our surplus populations.
This example still works if you move onto land and use bears, wolves, cougars, coyotes, dingoes, or any four-legged hunter who might prey upon a human because starvation pushed them to desperation. In any case where an animal kills and eats a human, humans respond by killing the animal responsible. Why? Because we “can’t risk” a single predator getting a taste for our blood, even though our populations vastly outnumber theirs.
Humans will blindly accept that a predator killing a deer or an elk as a part of the “circle of life,” but we don’t want anything to keep our populations in check. (Not even diseases, really.) So even as we push out every other species on the planet with our constant expansion, we are never evil for what we do. Meanwhile, a single predator who eats even one of us must be killed, because it threatens our place at the absolute top of the food chain. Deep in our hearts, we all fear being food to something bigger and meaner than us. So when we see something displaying the ability to hunt and kill us, we kill the “sinning” animal.
BUT, we do not push for the total elimination of furry four-legged hunters, because we also recognize that predators serve a purpose in keeping other animal populations in check. If there were no predators to keep deer in check, their population growth could lead to vast areas defoliated and stripped of vegetation. This in turn can lead to famine, and to pestilence as a result of lowered immune systems through malnutrition. So we accept that when a wolf eats Bambi, it had to happen for the balance of nature to be preserved.
So, why is it that this same concept is never explored in vampire fiction? Why are vampire hunters never more closely examined for their desire to wipe out all vampires? If we accept that everything created serves an ecological purpose, then a vampire human who hunts normal humans is meant to keep our rising populations in check. It is not evil for them to exist, nor is it evil for them to need to eat to survive. The only thing that makes them evil is our perspective, being their food.
To a cow heading for the slaughterhouse, humans are some evil motherfuckers. To a chicken killed inhumanely by a strangling machine, humans are evil. To any pig hung by its back legs and dangled squealing for its life before its throat is slashed, humans are evil. But to the human eating the meat of these animals, it’s just the way things are.
And sure, we could kill our food animals more humanely. Sure, we could let them live longer before we consumed them, allowing them to roam free-range to give them a better quality of life. But these concessions to our food are expensive, and hey, we’re hungry for a bacon cheeseburger with a side of chicken nuggets now, and it doesn’t matter whether the animals feel fear or not, because they’re just food. There’s nothing evil about us killing our food, is there? Circle of life, man. Balance of nature, and all that.
So, why is a vampire evil for feeling the same way about us as its food source? Why is a vampire evil for not extending us empathy or mercy? Because we outnumber them, and because we’re so vain, we think this whole planet, indeed this whole cosmos, was made solely for us. So if anything threatens our place as the most lethal killers in the world, we’re going to hunt them down and kill them with extreme prejudice.
If that isn’t evil, I don’t know what is.