Monday, January 19, 2009

Vampires and Orthodoxy

Things have been a bit rough here in EBS-land. Luckily, I have good friends nearby, and one of them asked me a good question the other day. One asked "So, what are you doing to take care of yourself?" After some thought, I decided that I need to get back to blogging more regularly. I've been pouring energy and creativity into my internship - and that's been the right thing to do, except it was all going into the internship. I didn't hold back any for me. That needs to change.

Here is a little fluff, with a serious edge. If you want well-developed theological thinking on the topic, I refer you to another wonderful blog.

I like vampire stories. It's my guilty pleasure. I know – they’re often not great literature. But, I love ‘em. Well, I did get bored with Anne Rice after a few books, and I can’t stand Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake, vampire hunter series.

But I got hooked by Stephenie Meyer’s series which starts with the book Twilight, featuring human teenager Bella Swan and vampire Edward Cullen and his family in a problematic (to say the least) romance. And I’ll see the movie at some point – even though the DH won’t go. I’ll probably go with one of my daughters, who will sit far away from me – too embarrassing to be seen with mom, you know?

Reading reviews of the movie got me thinking about orthodoxy. Bear with me – it’s not that much of a stretch.

One reviewer, James Berardinelli, admits he’s “old school,” but he doesn’t like that Meyer – and movie director Catherine Hardwicke – have changed the “vampire rule book” to suit the plot of Twilight.

Now, I like it when writers take “the rules” of a genre and bend them. That’s why they call it creative writing.

I’m willing to go with Meyer on the changes that make it possible for Edward and Bella to court during the daytime (though I do admit, the sparkling in the sunlight bit is kinda hokey). But I want to point out to Berardinelli and others that she’s not the first to update the vampire rule book. My personal collection includes a number of authors whose vampires don’t strictly follow the rules – authors like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tanya Huff, George R.R. Martin, C.E. Murphy, Charlaine Harris, and the late Octavia Butler.

I do like the twist with the wolves – not true werewolves, but a hereditary wolf-gene in the Quileute Indian tribe, which is activated when vampires are in the area. (A little online research reveals that there is a legend of the tribe being formed supernaturally from wolves, and that supernatural guardians and powers are part of their religion and rituals. I like that Meyer wove in actual legend rather than making up something completely alien to the actual culture.)

But, getting back to that rule book… I think saying that an author has to write her or his vampires in the same mold as Stoker is roughly equal to one saying there is only one way to read the Gospels.

Think about it. There are four (official) gospels – each written at a different time, with a different audience in mind; and each presents a different picture of Jesus.

For example, Mark’s Jesus is a rough-and-ready man of action while John’s Jesus spends a lot of time talking about love and community and telling everyone he is the son of God. Some Christians persist in seeing Jesus as a right-wing defender of “moral values” (ignoring that he had some unflattering things to say about families) while others see him as a radical liberator of the oppressed.

One of the books I read in seminary even argued that Jesus had a particular, perhaps homosexual, relationship with one of the disciples. Very unorthodox – and against the “rules,” if rules there be.

Some “rules” need to be bent now and then, I say. Because it’s in bending them that we see things differently, and looking at an old “truth” from a different angle can reveal something new and wonderful. Like Octavia Butler’s different take on vampires, which made it possible for her to write about serious questions of freedom, justice, and interdependence vs. free will. Or speculating on Jesus’ relationship with the beloved disciple. Or Michael Servetus arguing about the error of the trinity - and Hosea Ballou arguing that humanity is not bound for hell. I like a rule book that allows for new rules, when the old ones don't work.


ms. kitty said...

Glad you're back at the blogging, EBS. It can be a spiritual practice, you know!

Julie-Ann said...

Ahhh - could there be a sermon from this blog entry? If so, I would love to hear it - especially if you "preach" it around Halloween! LOL

Good points. Rules are (sometimes) made to be broken or at least explored and/or bent.

I read a lot of Anne Rice. If I were to start up with the vampires again, where do you suggest I start?

Earthbound Spirit said...

Thanks, Ms. K! You are an inspiration.

JA - I recommend Chelsea Quinn Yarbro to a lot of people. She has a lengthy series which begins with "Hotel Transylvania." Stupid title, but a good book, and the series gets better from there. The books are set in various times in history - her main character is a very long-lived vampire (or is that long dead?). Octavia Butler's "Fledgling" is good, and very disturbing if you read below the surface entertainment level. I'm sad that Butler died before she could write more books. I'll see you in a few days - I'll bring a couple books so you can look at them, o.k.?

maggiehlaban said...

Less theology, more vampires:

My roommate (H) recently purchased the complete series of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer on DVD, and we've been slowly making our way through those. Joss Whedon (creator/director of the series) definitely, in my opinion, dealt with the vampires in sunlight issue better than Meyer. Spike (peroxide blonde vampire) is like most vampires in that he can't go out in direct sunlight. In the last episode I watched, he ran over to Buffy's house with a blanket over his head that was smoking when he arrived. But like the Forks vampires, he can still be outside in shadows, just not direct sunlight. The point I'm trying to make is that it bothered me when I found out the reason the Cullens couldn't go outside was because they sparkled, which is a LOOOOONG stretch from any situation where they can't go outside because it's painful. Sunlight being painful does not necessarily require nocturnality, and the sparkling thing was verry hokey.