Monday, June 29, 2009

Vamps, wolfies, and zombombs-why?

While reading various book review blogs and scanning the new bestseller shelves in the YAL section of bookstores, I’ve begun to ask myself what is so appealing about gothic mythological creature stories? Vampires have led into zombies, werewolfs, aliens, hybrids, and every other mythical creature that is a perversion of humanity.
I am genuinely curious about the great appeal for these character types in recent novels. Sure, you could blame part of that on the Twilight series, but it has spread too far for that to be the only influence.
Youth, in particular, are obsessed with the romanticizing of what were previously considered unoriginal, old school monsters. These monsters were set aside as concrete and untouchable after centuries of morphing throughout literature to the familiar stereotypes we know them as now. The new novels that use these ancient character types have begun to alter their design, often humanizing them and crediting them with human emotion and characteristics. I want to know: why?
From a philosophical viewpoint:
Is this a result of certain people groups feeling like they are treated like monsters, so the result is a general avoidance of any prejudice towards any creature, fantasy or otherwise?
From a literary viewpoint:
Did we just run out of original story lines so we must remix and recycle the old legends and creatures to better fit present-day literary trends?
To pinpoint the cause, because I am curious about this literary phenomena, I went back to the original stories about these creatures. Certainly, the original vampires were charming and appealing to humans, but there was no reason to empathize with their fate. They were contented with their lot, and were shown as cruel, heartless, diabolical, blood-sucking monsters. No compassionate Edward Cullens in that lot.
Frankenstein, however, is another story (literally). He was created from humans, still retaining their characteristics and emotions, therefore, the reader could easily have compassion for his irrevocably tragic situation. He is rejected by humans for his differences, but he was not designed to kill or even reject humanity.
Vampires, werewolfs, etc. are not rejected by humans for merely their social differences. Everything about their design is the antithesis of humans. They feed on our life fluids, appeal to our emotional and mental weaknesses, and can easily overcome us physically. They are only designed to destroy life.
Somehow, those minor character flaws have become overlooked with recent literature. I would compare the recent vampire series’ (there are several) influence on the view of vampires to JK Rowling’s influence on the view of wizards, but alas, the two situations are incomparable. Rowling took a still physically human character and gave them certain abilities, usually assisted by a wand or other object. Their design was never an inevitable death toll to all human kind. They are still human by every definition. Rowling had an easier sell of making fabricated wizards into youthful, kind, common man stereotypes then other mythological characters.
Vampires are slightly harder for me to commiserate with. Pitying a vampire for its inhumanity is like pitying a snake for its lot. They are both made to kill and do it efficiently. We don’t pity a snake for its lonely species’ fate, in fact, most of us wish they didn’t exist at all. If someone wrote a book about a snake that just wanted to be loved and accepted by baby birds, it would no doubt be sweet and inspiring, but you can’t ignore its natural design: to eat the baby birds when it gets hungry enough.
On the other side, it is unpleasant to think of an evil baby or killer Christmas elf. Purifying the evil stereotypes or desecrating the innocent ones are equally unnatural.
Now the question I am getting at isn’t to overanalyze an obviously mythical creature, but I am curious as to what this intentional humanizing of them indicates for the future trends of YAL. I think you could safely say this is a generation of overall acceptance; accepting anyone for who or what they are, making sure every area or struggle is met with an understanding novel, going into the controversial corners that were never addressed in the past, and generally trying to smooth over any prejudices or feelings of inadequacy.
I am a supporter of teaching acceptance to our youth, and at this scale, it is going to make a vast difference in the way youth think in the upcoming years.
However, I am primarily concerned with the widespread, careless aim it has taken on all literary forms, age groups, and characters. Just as vampires were never designed to be humanized, perhaps we have begun to alter areas or issues which should have been simply left alone. Losing all discernment will not make us more open-minded, it will just blur all the lines so that there will be nothing left to discern. Is this what we want? A group of youth who are too afraid of following pre-set standards that they accept anything and everything for what they would like it to be, defying any logical or historical reasoning?
By undoing all standards and boundaries set up in the past centuries of literature, these creatures lose all distinction. By the time the future generations get hold of these novels, they will have no idea what creatures are good, bad, indifferent, powerful, regular, or otherwise. That is sad.
I like having some certainties with classic characters. In a mythological creature convention, there would be an obvious separation between the wood nymphs, elves, and fairies from the vampires, zombies, and werewolfs. I suppose you can’t assume any of these character basics hold true in the new novels, and I feel that we are demolishing a literary understanding that took centuries to build.
Besides the indications of the philosophy behind these radical character rationalizations, I just hate to see all the classic characters lose their foundations (for the sake of all fictional literature past, present, and future).
Only in this new fantasy world could a vampire love and marry a human. That’s why we read these novels, isn’t it? We love the escape of fantasy. But is it because we have a small grasp on the rules of the fantasy worlds we created? And if those rules disappear, will “fantasy” mean the same in the future as it does now? Just something to think about.

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