Werewolves vs Vampires: The Long Battle

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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.

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The Unending Presence of the Undead (and all that sparkling)

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Being at the Vampires: Myths of the Past and Future conference in London and researching into genre has sparked off several thoughts in my head. Actually, many. But to list them all would be more of a comment on what has been presented than any original idea.

It seems that it terms of form, the vampire has made a clean sweep across the board. We now have comics, films, books, tv series, online sites, advertising and even anime and manga that features vampires. Far from being merely the vampire that the age needs (to paraphrase Auerbach), it is now the vampire the form requires. It has become carefully moulded in each case to fit the requirements of the genre, to express and transgress the boundaries and codifications of genre (but in some cases, merely fit neatly within it *coughMeyercough*).

Somebody pointed out that the vampire (in terms of monstrosity) has only been around in literature for a relatively short time. But to move from biblical to folklore to mainstream, its path to being forever enshrined within the monster canon is pretty much complete. It seems doubtful that the figure will fade into obscurity, in the same way studios know what genre constructions to use in order to ensnare their audience.

What is aggrevating is the recent perception of the vampire as being something “less”. I think I mentioned in my last post that Meyer’s vampires and the whole Young Adult genre had had a significant impact on the perception wider audiences had on the figure. It goes further than having an impact. It seems that the cult of Twilight has turned some fans away from the vampire. What is being repeated again is that ‘vampires don’t sparkle’, as if every vampire were the same. The mythology of the vampire varies in some way in every text. For those who get irritated that the Cullens can venture outdoors, well here’s news: so could many other vampires, including those in horror writer Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls. Why fans and critics have become outraged at the mythological change in the vampire seems like a manifestation of a bigger problem. The vampire has been arguably overtly feminised, and this is probably what sticks in the throat of critics and vocal fans.

The attributes of the vampire are most often defined by the popular portrayals by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee’s Hammer Horror version. But that is rarely adhered to in popular culture. The vampire has been black, white, adult, child, fanged, defanged, and in some cases, not even human (I am Legend and Priest, for example). Why such a fuss has been caused merely because the vampires sparkle appears to be something else. With the force of the Twilight obsession, the vampire was thrust into the teenage-girl film market, and marketed in a different way. The figured has always been commodified, but this time, it is just aimed at a different audience. Regardless of the fact that the Volturi in the Twilight saga perform gory murders and lure tourists into their trap to feed seems irrelevant to the critics. It is all because of Edward that the vampire has been villified. He isn’t scary; whilst he may be the stereotypical moody teenager (speaking in a low, broody voice and staring into space *thoughtfully* for long periods of time) he does not exude any of the potent danger that other vampires do. Yes, the vampire has been defanged, tamed and toned down for the teenage-girl market. But like I previously stated: every vampire is modified according to the genre it inhabits. This genre requires a romanticised version of the figure. So why all the venom? The teenage market is one of the most viable, and in the grand scheme of things, Twilight will be a blip on the radar. Teenage girls deserve something to entertain them too: there is a slew of films out there aimed at teenage boys. And even in the adult market, there are countless genres that can appeal to men – action and horror being two of the biggest (please note, I’m not saying women don’t also enjoy these genres, merely that the marketing is predominantly aimed at men). But feminised films and texts are seen as being ‘lesser’, and often as trite. I would argue against this: whilst I understand that Meyer’s saga is badly written, and contains some strange and uncomfortable ideas (gender roles being one of them), the complex interplay of relationships and hierarchical structures present within the text are interesting, and create a world the readers have clearly thrown themselves into. Monsters have been feminised before, it’s nothing new. Why the vampire has to be markered as ‘gay’ and ‘girly’ merely because of one text is incomprehensible and insane. Every character (mythological or not) has to adapt to suit its needs in the interpretation it inhabits. The vampire is just another.