What’s changed since Buffy?

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Part of my PhD research is looking at a certain time period; in this case it’s the last decade. But I also need to look at material prior to this to understand the change, if there is one. Lately I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 4) which was made in 1999. Firstly, the fact that it was 13 years ago yet I remember seeing bits of it on TV makes me feel old. But that’s not really the point.

I’m wondering just how much vampires and monsters have changed in the last 13 years – the whole point in my research at the moment is that they have and this change explains shifts in attitudes and beliefs. With Buffy, Mmm....vampyit appears that the primary change is the aesthetics of vampires. Whedon’s vampires like to distinguish themselves by having a weird, uber-monstrous look about them that just screams ‘I’m dangerous’. Quite like the vampires in The Lost Boys (1987). For a lot of the vampires, they adopt this face when in full-on killer mode and return to their normal, broody selves the rest of the time. Undoubtedly this was probably because of the appeal of Angel and Spike to female fan-bases (though Spike’s accent really is awful at some points…but who I am to criticise? I couldn’t pull off an American accent).

Buffy pre-millennium was an interesting thing. The CGI and effects alone are worth watching just to see how far we’ve come. But, I digress. These monsters (another thing – there aren’t that many vampires, considering the title of the show…) are firmly divided from the humans, unlike today’s crop of the evil undead who are desperate to mingle and assimilate with the rest of us mere mortals. Their appearance for starters clearly sets them apart – although they may look normal at some points (see previous paragraph for ‘why’..), they cannot hide their true nature when they get all blood-thirsty. Added to that is the fact that they can only come out at night (unlike the vampires in The Vampire Diaries and Twilight). This reinforces the old divide of daylight=good/nighttime=evil. These demons and vampires are also backed up by religious-type myth and folklore, rather than some clever explanation of why they exist, unlike the various films that offer a ‘scientific’ explanation for the existence of the figure. The whole concept of the ‘slayer’ is one that is mystical and treated as a myth (as we see in season 4) and when confronted by men of science, mythical ends up overpowering science, even going as far to show the evils of it.

That’s another big thing – whilst vampires historically have been the ultimate evil, and even though they still are (mostly) in Buffy, the humans are also shown to be equally as monstrous, which is a trend currently at play in contemporary shows such as True Blood and Being Human. The Big Bad in season 4 is a monster created by megalomaniac scientists – showing the evils of power and corrupt authority (in one form, anyhow). Here, humans are the evil ones – the source of evil itself. It’s almost as if Whedon was trying to show our tendency for self-destruction, and that the real demons were within us. It was surprising to see that really, not much has changed in terms of the main themes and issues. Yes, we may have vampires in schools, walking around in daylight, and more preoccupied with a romantic interest than the blood of others. But they’re just out of the coffin. They define us by their differences to humanity. It’s our desire to understand just what ‘humanity’ entails that remains the same.

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Wolf Girls Blog Tour: Monsters in Menopause

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I’ve long been interested in monsters; firstly that common monster slinking the streets, the female teenager. She’s poised on a threshold, waiting for magic, imagining, dreaming, wondering how she’s going to turn out.   It’s the core question of those years; how will I turn out? Will I become one of the beauties with a stun gun in her belt, or one of the tortured and teased, so foul I force suitors to flee?

Literary monsters have to wrestle with the same fate; will your creator make you ugly or beautiful? Will you be the handsome broad shoulder slim-waisted Spiderman spinning webs to get the girl, or a creepy Caliban trapped and terrifying? The fact that all monsters in earlier life are preoccupied by sex makes this doubly hard to deal with.

In my earlier novels my monsters were fully human and pretty sexy, but lately I’ve stripped back the human and slapped on the hairy.  For some reason after twenty years of writing pretty realistic contemporary fiction I’ve suddenly scratched out a stubbly fistful of stories about vampires and werewolves. The creatures who crawl out of these tales are not the hormonal hotties who’ve sashayed into my novels, but the lunatics at the other end of the breeding spectrum; menopausal malcontents.

If there’s a reason for this reimagining it’s that using monsters as characters re-enchants the ordinary.  This ordinary being the next monstrous time of wondering, imagining transition, very different to the magic of adolescence: middle age. The shift from young towards old, when again we ask, how will I turn out?  Will I be straight-backed, silvery, calm and wise – a Gandalf – or dribbling, warty, haggard and screeching – a Baba Yaga?  We just have to wait and see.

For the female monster this menopausal transition is particularly powerful.  No longer competing for mates she casts off the constraints of sex, of attracting, breeding and nurturing. Even better, she becomes less self-conscious, and so stronger and potentially more dangerous.

Recently I’ve published my first werewolf story, Fur, and my hairy heroine is approaching menopause.  The Change leaves her transformed in more ways than one.  It sees her turn away, alone and unnoticed, to face the dark.

Fur is narrated by this woman’s husband who can’t believe what is happening in his home as his wife gets hairier, begins to run at night and lets her blonde curls go grey.  He doesn’t like it one bit; in fact it downright terrifies him and he plans to do something about it – but he hasn’t reckoned on the force of a woman transformed beyond his wildest imaginings.

The lifelong question for all of us, and certainly all monsters, is will I ever be truly loved?   For the older, uglier, hairier, female monster the answer is, alas, probably not, certainly not in the way you once were.

But don’t despair, let yourself go, run for the hills; instead of love, for the first time, you have freedom.

Helen Cross is the author of three novels, many stories and regular plays for radio. Her werewolf story is published in the new anthology of female werewolf fiction,  Wolf-Girls, Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny published by Hic Dragones.