With the release this week of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1,  Louise Kearney takes a look at the history of the vampire and asks Why The ‘Twilight’ Craze…?

If you haven’t been living in a box, or on a remote island without wi-fi for the past 3 years, then it’s highly likely that you’re aware of the Twilight craze that has been sweeping across the vampire fanatical world of late.

20th November 2009 saw the release of a much anticipated sequel to the Twilight film a year earlier, and with it brought a renewed frenzy of teenage and, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, adult fanaticism, that hasn’t been seen since…well the last vampire craze, circa 1998 (Blade). The Twilight saga continued on with the release of Eclipse in November 2010, and the first instalment (Harry Potter style) of the final film Breaking Dawn, is due for release this coming November. Anyone who has visited a cinema recently won’t be surprised to know there have been at least 7 vampire films released this year, and 2 more due for release in early 2012. Anyone who doesn’t ‘Count’ themselves as a member of this vampirish following, is probably left wondering ‘What’s with the bloody fascination?’ (No more dreadful puns I promise!)

For me, it started in early teenage years, when, while making my way steadily through my older brother’s Stephen King novels, I came across Salem’s Lot. I had already developed an interest with all things superhero, supernatural, sci-fi and fantastical – so my first introduction to this immortal being was the start of a fascination that has stayed with me, somewhat embarrassingly at times, into adult life. I am comforted however by the fact that I’m not the only one drawn to tales of these dark, ubiquitous creatures. Of course, there are plenty of nutters out there who take fascination into obsession, you only need to type the word ‘vampire’ into a search engine to see how strange it gets, but we’ll try and keep this piece somewhat rational for now.

One may be forgiven for assuming that cinema, and Hollywood in particular, has been responsible for developing this genre over the past century. Or indeed, to assume that our very own Bram Stoker was the creator of this being in it’s original, fictional form. In fact, the vampire has been a mythical character since ancient times. The very first written reports go back to early civilizations such as Ancient Greece, Babylon and Assyria. Practically every country in the world has it’s own version of the Vampire myth, with varying characteristics from plague spreading demons, to shape-shifting, blood-sucking monsters. Furthermore, entire populations across the globe, living in superstitious and credulous times, actually believed that these creatures really existed. History also records two ‘real life’ vampires – Gilles de Rais, aka ‘Bluebeard’ and Elizabeth Bathory, aka ‘Countess Dracula’, who were in fact real people who received this branding due to their sadistic, violent, and yes – vampirish behaviour. It was only at the start of the 19th century that the vampire began to emerge as a fictional character, when literary greats of their time Lord Byron and Mary Shelley gave this entity its first breath of fictional life. Bram Stoker takes the award for the most influential writings to date, on the publication of his Dracula creation in 1897. ‘Dracula is to vampires what The Origin of Species is to the theory of evolution’.
Since then, over 130 vampire novels have been written, including 35 based on Dracula himself, and over 20, more recent, juvenile fiction novels. Anne Rice began the Vampire Chronicles with the publication of Interview with the Vampire in 1976, and has continued to publish a steady stream of vampire novels right into the 21st century. Marvel comics can also claim credit for contributing to the growing legion of fans with characters like ‘Morbius’, and the recently Hollywood-ised Blade. Cinema and TV films combined bring the total for vampire films to 228, Dracula again features as the main character in 59 of them.

With Twilight, Stephenie Meyer has brought us a love story between Bella – human, 17, and Edward – vampire, 17 for 109 years, and breath-taking. Love stories don’t normally do it for me personally; this is no ordinary love story however. Not since Romeo and Juliet has there been a love so intense, so passionate, and so mortally dangerous. Meyer has cleverly written about every teenage girl’s fantasy – to have a gorgeous, powerful, passionate, yet dangerous man, so deeply in love with you – that he can’t bear to hurt you, ever. Add in some impressive supernatural gifts, adrenaline charged danger, and you end up with a thrilling storyline from start to finish. The end result: a legion of female teenagers, now enthralled and hooked on the vampire genre, have just joined the pre-existing legion of vampire fans across the globe. The box office result: $186million for Twilight, topping Interview with the Vampire $105m, The Lost Boys’$32m, and even the Master himself, Bram Stoker’s Dracula $82M. The first Twilight sequel, New Moon already topping the list, having grossed $142million in the first 3 days following release.

So back to my original question – why the fascination ? There is an obvious draw to a being so strikingly beautiful and over-poweringly seductive, with super-human strengths; speed, agility, and not to mention magical, even if it is of the darker kind. This being embodies everything that human beings strive to be; strikingly beautiful, super-fit, powerful…and yes, immortal. One could draw parallels between the lust for blood, and the human race’s capacity for evil; with a legacy of war, cruelty and murder – why, at least these creatures have some justification for their darker deeds; self preservation. Can human beings justify their behaviour so easily?\

We all need some escapism during our day to day; some choose sport, some spend money, others choose fantasy, and practically every home has a game console where this escapism happens. However you perceive them, vampire tales have been around since our civilized world began, and will inevitably stay with us. I for one will indulge in this current craze, and await the next one when it’s over.


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