The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf

Far Beyond Ruthven

You learn the funniest things reading about vampires. For example, did you know that John Polidori, the father of vampire fiction as we know it, named his vampire "Lord Ruthven" as a dig at his pal Byron? See, Byron's crazy ex-lover, Caroline Lamb, wrote a novel about their affair, and that was the name she gave his character. (I think I am justified in calling Caroline Lamb "crazy" because in attempting to win Byron back she had herself served to him at a restaurant -- naked, on a platter, covered with mint sauce. Mint sauce for lamb, get it? When I got it I didn't know whether I felt prouder of myself or more ashamed, posthumously, of her.) Two years after the story was published Polidori killed himself with hydrogen cyanide -- the stuff the Nazis later called Zyklon B -- but that's a footnote. The important thing is, after that it became quite a trend to write about heartless aristocratic vampires named Lord Ruthven. (That's pronounced to rhyme with given.) I don't know if this was especially because of the name's association with Byron, though his public image, that of a cruel and fashionable bastard who is somehow sensitive and vulnerable at the same time, still echoes in vampire literature. In any case there were dozens of these Ruthvens, in fiction and on the stage, most of them happily preying on virgins, until Dracula came along in 1897. He is the reason most people have not heard of them.

Count Dracula is an aristocratic vampire in the Ruthven mold, sexually both attractive and menacing, Byronic in his Weltschmerz and his unholy appetites, and I don't know why he knocked all those other vampires out, precisely because he did knock them out so comprehensively that I've never read any Polidori, or Heinrich August Marschner, or Viktor Rydberg, or Alexandre Dumas (senior). I have read Dracula, more than once, and I don't want anyone thinking I'm dissing Dracula, because I would never do such a thing -- if for no other reason than because of Professor Abraham Van Helsing, whom you will note Bram Stoker liked enough to give his own first name, and who is still one of my favorite characters in fiction. He is avuncular as all get out, but he will kick your ass.

When we came into Lucy's room I could see that Van Helsing had, with his usual forethought, been putting matters straight and making everything look as pleasing as possible. He had even brushed Lucy's hair, so that it lay on the pillow in its usual sunny ripples. When we came into the room she opened her eyes, and seeing him, whispered softly, "Arthur! Oh, my love, I am so glad you have come!"

…And then insensibly there came the strange change which I had noticed in the night. Her breathing grew stertorous, the mouth opened, and the pale gums, drawn back, made the teeth look longer and sharper than ever. In a sort of sleep-waking, vague, unconscious way she opened her eyes, which were now dull and hard at once, and said in a soft, voluptuous voice, such as I had never heard from her lips, "Arthur! Oh, my love, I am so glad you have come! Kiss me!"

Arthur bent eagerly over to kiss her, but at that instant Van Helsing, who, like me, had been startled by her voice, swooped upon him, and catching him by the neck with both hands, dragged him back with a fury of strength which I never thought he could have possessed, and actually hurled him almost across the room.

"Not on your life!" he said, "not for your living soul and hers!" And he stood between them like a lion at bay.

What is my point? My point is that sometimes, even when a convention exists, someone or something comes along that so thoroughly takes hold of that convention as to gain possession of it. Bram Stoker did it with vampire fiction at a time when his literary world was choked with vampire fiction. I want to do it too. Just to own the genre, that's all. To be the one who does it right.
Tags: bram stoker, caroline lamb, dracula, john polidori, lord byron, vampires, van helsing, writing
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