I’ve always loved the more esoteric kinds of vampire fiction, and I suppose it’s just my nature to seek out those things that few have discovered. It makes it feel somehow private, intimate, mine. Of course I’ve got every volume of The Vampire Chronicles and Anita Blake, I’ve read Dracula several times and I even ventured into the earliest known vampire novel, Carmilla. But there are some favourites of mine I have a feeling are less well-known, or less read than they used to be, and those are the ones I wanted to share with you. In many ways they have inspired my own work, not least by proving just how versatile the genre can be and how many ways vampires can be re-imagined.
The first of these is from the same collection of modern fairy tales that spawned The Company of Wolves, and is a very unique re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty as a vampire lost in a trance-like existence in a deserted castle. The handsome prince (in this case an English soldier from the trenches of WWI) arrives on a bicycle in the Carpathian mountains and from then on the story poses the classic question of whether this prince can “wake” the Sleeping Beauty, or bring her into the light and make her human. Angela Carter does a fantastic job of conjuring the gothic atmosphere of the castle and its decay, the curious corruption and innocence co-existing in the girl vampire, and her reluctance for the role. She shows us the emotional state of this young Nosferatu in emblematic splendour – the neglect of the castle betrays how little she cares for maintaining her proud heritage, the gorged roses in the garden become a metaphor for what she should have been, voluptuous and bloated on blood. I found it intriguing that with so many books and stories exploring the journey of humans becoming vampires, there is this little gem of a tale that does the opposite. If you like baroque surrealism and gritty erotica, then you’ll really enjoy “The Lady of the House of Love” by Angela Carter, from The Bloody Chamber.
The second went further the other way than I’ve seen in a while – in “Fleur de Feu” Tanith Lee introduces us to vampires that are truly beasts, winged fallen angels with cries like eagles and no human speech. In the story we follow a young scullery maid, illegitimate child of the Duke, and her unexplainable fascination with the captured Feroluce, king of the vampires. While the inhabitants of the castle wait in vain for the flowering of the legendary fleur de feu, rumoured to protect humankind from the vampire demons, Rohise the scullery maid is falling in love with the speechless, inhuman creature. You won’t have seen a human/vampire romance quite like this one before, and when you throw in the evocative rhythms of Lee’s prose, it’s a fantastic departure from the norm.
The last gives us the kind of vampire we’re perhaps more accustomed to: the beautiful, seemingly human blood drinker in fine clothes that haunts the night and feeds from sweet young victims. But I’ve often speculated as to whether taking blood from a person might give a vampire more than they bargained for, and of course this idea was what led me to tell of humans taking vampire blood and experiencing their memories. This story seemed to be asking the same question, and although it came up with a different answer, I loved the direction Barbara Hambly took. In “Madelaine” the young, seductive vampire woman is charged by a witch to “Be aware of what you have taken” – and from then on she begins to hear the voices of her victims in her head, morning, noon, and night, until she can’t sleep or feed. It’s something I’d like to explore myself, further down the line, and as a question it seems there might be endless threads to follow. Might a vampire likewise asorb the knowledge of their victims, perhaps, or even their personality? It’s a fascinating idea and I’d love to find more stories like it, if anyone knows of any!
So there you have it: some of the more unusual vampire stories that have inspired me along the way. There are many, many more, and I might talk about those another time, but these are three of the standouts. If you fancy the sound of any of them, they’re pretty easy to get hold of from most bookstores. “Fleur de Feu” and “Madelaine” both appear in the same collection, From Twilight Till Dawn, which makes it even easier!