Werewolves and vampires: they share screens, pages, and sometimes, even beds. But modern film and fiction frequently pits the two ‘species’ against each other. Underworld portrays the rivalry as an out and out war: the trilogy (soon to be a quadrilogy) centres around the battle between the vampires and the lycans, calling history into focus. Who or what both ‘sides’ are supposed to represented could be argued into next week – what makes it interesting is the presence of a werewolf/vampire hybrid which unsettles the purists on either side. In a similar vein to Battlestar Galactica, where the cylon/human hybrid prompted moral outrage and disgust, the werewolf/vampire combination elicits a similar response. But why should it? Both ‘species’ are not human. Cross-breeding is well known throughout the animal kingdom. What the film makers may be trying to allude to (in the case of Underworld) is the age-old themes and ideas of tribalism, and the threat it sees when mixed ‘race’ children are produced. It harkens back to the idea of bloodlines, and inheritance. Inheriting genes and passing on family traits are the fault of what some biologists call ‘the selfish gene’. A similar rivalry between the two types occurs in most supernatural fiction today: Twilight and True Blood being two of the bigger examples. In the former, the two distance themselves physically, creating ‘boundaries’ and ‘treaties’ to enforce the separation between them. Regardless of the fact they have to share their land with humans, it is the non-human who is the threat.
Meyer argues the reasons for the hatred thus: the ‘cold ones’ like to kill werewolves, and the existence of them perpetuates the werewolf creation. In Twilight, the process of becoming a werewolf is detailed as self-sacrificial, unavoidable and even noble (the countless stories the ‘council’ of Elders tell of their lineage emphasises the oral tradition and nobility of the existence of the ‘pack’). The perpetuating of vampirism is seen as selfish, chosen and damning. The two eventually work together for the sake of a human, Bella, but both retain their desire to end the existence of the other, particularly the werewolves (as Jacob mutters: ”at least I get to kill some vampires”). Werewolves in Twilight lack autonomy, having to defer to the ‘alpha’ of the pack, and having their thoughts broadcast to its other members. What at first seems like an exclusive club (Jacob bemoans the fact he isn’t part of Sam’s gang in New Moon) soon becomes an exercise in dogmatic control. The pack retains a tight bond, treating each other as brothers. But this does little to soften the impact of being a werewolf. Its onset occurs around the time of puberty, and transforms the ‘victim’ from weedy teenage boy, to a muscular teen. By contrast, vampirism (at least for Bella) is seen as a way of holding on to youth and remaining unchanged.
For True Blood though, the rivalry seems far more violent. There are restrictions in the realm of The Southern Vampire Mysteries. Vampires are confined to a night-time existence, unlike their relatives in Twilight, who can walk in daylight (albeit dull daylight. But everyone knows the consequences, for they are oft-derided). The war between the two thus has an unfair skewing. Vampires, when in their coffins, are vulnerable, providing the werewolves with a perfect time to attack. Although neither side are blame-free, it seems to be the werewolves in this case who are far more violent. In season 3, they kidnap Bill Compton, the show’s main vampire, and torture him. The rest of the series sees numerous spats between both sides, and more vampiric torture. The werewolves again operate with a pack mentality, with the hero werewolf (like Twilight) being the one who shuns the constraints of the pack and plays on both teams. But the history of the vampire and the werewolf goes back quite a way: folklore posited the two creatures as one, claiming that those who were werewolves who were not cremated would come back as vampires. There is even a Serbian word to describe them collectively as one creature (vulkodlak).
Even the BBC’s Being Human shows us the two sides pitted against each other. This time, the vampires are the ones that run the show, regularly beating up werewolves, and making profit from them in the form of cage fights. But the show’s premise revolves around a werewolf and a vampire living together. They get along marvellously, even with a ghost thrown into the mix. The show’s message of diversity and acceptance transcends its genre, using the figures of the supernatural as clever metaphors for differences. The characters repeatedly question their right to be human, and to be accepted. The figures of Mitchell and George provide perhaps the best model of werewolf/vampire relations throughout the genre.
But why are the two portrayed in such different lights, and why are they (nearly) always shown in opposition to one another? After all, most of them resemble humans, live amongst humans, and hide (or control) their ‘condition’ in order to fit in with the rest of society. What it comes down to perhaps is the fundamental ideas each of them represent. Although the actions and urges of the vampire are undoubtedly primitive, the werewolf represents these in their most visceral form.
The change between human and werewolf and human and vampire is strikingly different. For a vampire, the change effects their face. For the werewolf, the whole body morphs, and shifts into something completely unrecognisable to its original. The derogatory term ‘dog’, used in a number of these texts, illustrates how the controlled and hierarchical thinking of the werewolf ‘packs’ are compared with the domestication of the dog (other than the obvious physical similarities). The vampire is a sexual, even aspirational figure. The werewolf is an abomination, too far from the human to be a comfortable difference. If the vampire is the ‘other’, then the werewolf is its more extreme version.
The vampire offers immortality and glamour. The werewolf offers a life of rules and constraint, which (cynically) isn’t too different from the life of a human. The vampire used to be a solitary figure. But the change in modern texts have dispelled this facet of vampirism, and reinforced the structured thinking of the werewolf. The opposition they both have can be seen quite simply: rules vs transgression. As for religion and the concept of either of these monsters having ‘souls’….well, that’s another post.