The contemporary vampire can trace its origins throughout history. It is shaped by its desire to not be a monster in the eyes of humans. They also have shifted in appearance to become more human-like and, therefore, more beautiful in nature. This shift is likewise transitioned with the loss of location as a mystical, or terrifying, factor. The vampires try to turn “vegetarian” in order to appease the human bias of cannibalism. Also, the contemporary vampires have a human sense of morality and wish to mimic these laws in their own race. These actions are important because they have shifted the medieval cannibal into the modern vampire and protagonist of narrations. These certain factors must be met in order for a vampire to completely transform from antagonist into protagonist. However, there will always be a hint of danger as long as the vampire still thirsts for human blood.
The contemporary vampire is shaped by its desire to not be a monster in the eyes of humans. In the modern era, it reveals that what you are, or your title, does not make you a monster. It is what is inside that determines monstrosity. In the 2005 novel, Twilight, the main male protagonist, Edward Cullen, is a vampire. Edward claims that “[he] do[esn’t] want to be a monster” (Meyer 187), which is enough for the female protagonist to fall in love with him. His desire to not be seen as monstrous, by humans, creates an air of humility around him. Bella, the female protagonist, “decided [that] it didn’t matter” (Meyer 184) if he was a vampire or not. This notion is important because it illustrates the shift from the significance of outward monstrosity to the inward monstrosity. Bella does not care that he is in fact a monster as long as he is not one on the inside. She loves him because of his desire to be more human. However, the opposite desire can be applied to Beowulf’s Grendel as he “quickly grabbed a sleeping soldier” (Fulk 135) in order to eat his flesh and blood. In Mandeville’s novel, “no pilgrim dare enter this isle” (174) because of the desire for “human flesh” (174) from the cannibals, or to be “strangled by those monsters” (175). Stoker’s Dracula is similar in this manner and wants to enjoy his intake of blood. The source of this desire is strong because the Count uses the blood to “[look] as if his youth had been half renewed” (Stoker 49) after each drink. The cannibalism the key to his immortality and something that is not readily given up. Unlike Dracula, consensual or life-saving cannibalism is more socially accepted in contemporary work. Edward had to save Bella’s life by “suck[ing] the venom back out” (Meyer 455) of her wound. This consensual cannibalism in the novel is acceptable to the main character and the readers, so that Bella would not change into a vampire from the vampire venom. However, when Edward was drinking her blood, she did not see him as a monster, but as an “angel” (453).
Contemporary vampires have shifted in appearance to become more human-like and, therefore, more beautiful. Edward’s physical appearance also enabled Bella to view him as less monstrous because he “look[ed] more like a Greek god than anyone had the right to” (Meyer 206). This attractiveness falls closer to the marvel term than monstrous, at least for the current century. However, Stoker’s Dracula highlights the not-so-human appearance for vampires. Johnathan found it odd that “there were hairs in the center of the palm” (Stoker 17) on Dracula’s hands. He also noticed Dracula’s “heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, [and] with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips” (Stoker 17). This notion of protruding teeth was taken away in the contemporary novel of Twilight. Edward didn’t have fangs. Instead, the author gave him “a set of perfect, ultrawhite teeth” (Meyer 50). The use of normal, but “perfect” teeth, allows for a more human appearance. This humility helps to support the protagonist shift. Edward is still a “monster” and is called such twelve times throughout the Twilight novel. However, he is also called “beautiful” at least nineteen times and even called an “angel” (Meyer 453) by a delirious Bella. This shift in human-like appearance is important because it suggests the continued influence of appearance as a factor of monstrosity. The act of seeing a monster as both beautiful and monstrous dates back many centuries. However, in Beowulf, the monstrous Grendel is called “deformed” (Fulk 93) and a “demon” (Fulk 95) throughout the book. However, Grendel was limited in location in the Beowulf novel, which is not the case for contemporary vampires.
This shift of monstrosity is transitioned with the loss of location as a mystical, or terrifying, factor. Before the age of technology, location determined monstrosity, which is not as prevalent now. In The Travels of John Mandeville, it included many chapters on different nationalities that were seen as barbaric because they were far from civilization. “Beyond that valley is a great isle” (Mandeville 174) is only taste of the geographic detail that pertained to each monstrosity described. However, modern vampires follow no such guidelines as far as stuck to one region. The “Stregoni benefici: An Italian vampire, said to be on the side of goodness” (Meyer 135) is one example that Bella finds on the internet, while the vampires that she knows are in Washington State. In Stoker’s novel, Dracula is not set in his castle, but needs “a pile of newly dug earth” (Stoker 46) from the castle to travel. Thus, as long as he can transport the dirt for resting upon, then he can travel anywhere. This broken link of location and monstrosity is important because it severs the bond between monstrosity and antagonist. Bella also mentions a “Filipino vampire”, “the Hebrew Estrie”, “the Polish Upier”, “the Romanian Varacolaci” and “the Slovak Nelapsi” (Meyer 134) as worldly vampires. “[E]ast of the river Brixontis” (Liber 1.33) and “an island in the Red Sea” (Liber 1.40) were far from civilized society and not well travelled in the early seventh and eighth centuries. This air of mystery in those areas could create rumors or legends among the people. Despite location not being as prevalent, the fact that vampires drink human blood can still be an issue, unless they are “vegetarian”.
The vampires of the modern era try to turn “vegetarian” in order to appease the human bias of cannibalism. This decision allows for Edward, from Twilight, and his family to be less cannibalistic and “call [them]selves vegetarians, [as their] little inside joke” (Meyer 188). The idea of being a “vegetarian” vampire also helps this shift to a protagonist character. However, this change is not evident in the 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Cannibalism is seen in many references to monstrosity over the centuries and is embodied through the vampire that values power over human life. Dracula did not believe in being a “vegetarian” as his “mouth was redder than ever, for on the lips were gouts of fresh [human] blood” (Stoker 49). If the monster was kept traditional throughout the years, it would be harder for it to evolve into a protagonist. For example, it would be difficult to use Mandeville’s cannibals as protagonists because they were constantly eating people. However, if you make them “vegetarian”, then they can link closer to humility by human standards. Mandeville agrees with this act as monstrous when his followers learn of the cannibals and “no pilgrim dare[d] enter [the] isle” (Mandeville 174). This notion of animal versus human blood is important because it seeks to eliminate the cannibalism from vampires and add to the protagonist role in stories. However, it is not simply the act of cannibalism that gives these beings the monstrous title. When the giants in Manedville’s novel “catch people in the sea” (175) and “eat their flesh raw” (175), it illustrates the action of hunting people that gives an immoral nature to them.
Modern vampires try to have a human sense of morality and wish to mimic these laws in their own race. Dracula’s monstrousness of cannibalism for lasting life gives the immoral act a temptation that is as great as Christian sin. Dracula’s “lust for blood” (Stoker 50) embodies the contemporary version of monstrosity and is firmly rooted as the antagonist of the Stoker’s novel. The cannibals in Mandeville’s book also desire to be immoral in the human bias as they “will more readily eat human flesh than any other” (Mandeville 174). This willingness from the cannibals proves the link between the antagonists of early vampire novels and the cannibals of the medieval era. In Beowulf, Grendel is called a “troublemaker” (Fulk 135) and a “demon” (Fulk 95) throughout the book. Grendel “had no mind to delay” (Fulk 135) when he “drank the arterial blood” (Fulk 135) of the sleeping soldier. This act of cannibalism was highly immoral and served as a sin from monstrosity. This monstrousness is because of Grendel’s morals that he is deemed an unforgiveable monster and slain. This ideal human morality is important because it enables the shift from antagonist to protagonist for monstrous characters. In Liber Monstrorum, they used immoral deception in order to “catch folk [and]…eat them raw” (Liber 1.33). The cannibals even go as far as intellectual conversation and are “able to speak the languages of all nations” (Liber 1.40) in order to deceive their victims.
It is clear that contemporary narrations wish to include vampires as the heroes of the story. These modern vampires have a human sense of morality and wish to mimic these laws in their own race. They also try to turn “vegetarian” in order to appease the human bias of cannibalism. This shift from the contemporary vampires is also transitioned with the loss of location as a mystical, or terrifying, factor. This transformation includes the change in appearance to become more human-like and, therefore, more beautiful in nature. They are shaped by their desire to not be a monster in the eyes of humans. Despite any terrifying outward appearances, contemporary audiences are looking deeper than skin to see if something can be truly categorized as monstrous. However, as long as vampires need human blood to survive, there will always be doubt.
Fulk, R. (2010). The Beowulf Manuscript: Complete Texts; and the Fight at Finnsburg. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Liber Monstrorum. (1976). Rome, Italy: Dedalo libri.
Mandeville, John. (2015.). The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg.
Meyer, Stephenie. (2005). Twilight. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Stoker, Bram. (1988). Dracula. New York: Tor.