Wherefore Art Thou, Dracula?

Where have all the monsters gone? When Bram Stoker introduced Dracula into the literary world in 1897, there was no doubt that the count was malevolent. Ugly, almost reptilian, Dracula was repulsive and terrifying. With hairy knuckles and killer bite, he was a soulless hunter of the vulnerable. Dracula was created to scare the hell out of readers—literally! The only protection against this embodiment of evil was the cross of Christ. Stoker’s message was that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was the only defense against the powers of evil.

Over a hundred years have passed and vampires have evolved. Dracula made way for Nosferatu, who succumbed to the charm of Lestat, who in turn was eclipsed by Edward (eclipsed…did you get it?). And as every generation has retold the story of these mythical creatures, they have been changed to suit our preferences. Some things stay the same, light poses a problem, they are unaffected by age, etc. but so much is different.

By the time we get to the Twilight series, vampires have evolved into attractive, compelling beings. They remain dangerous, but we are taught to pity them rather than hate them. Their condition has cursed them with an insatiable appetite, but they are victims, conflicted souls. The Cullum’s are not monsters, these are characters we can care about, they are even deserving of love.

What is this to us? Vampires are mythical; their fate should not matter to us. But our taming of this fictional being reveals a lot about our concept of evil. There was a time when evil was substantial and prevalent. Evil was close by, and it posed a threat to every living being. No longer. We have defanged evil and recast it as an antisocial impulse. People do wrong, not because there is wickedness in them, but because they are misguided. We left evil in Transylvania.

This means that we need to confront wrongdoing in a new way, with something more sophisticated than angry villagers. But our evolved sensibilities have a significant problem. Evil is still present. Worse still, it is present in us. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19–20).

The monsters of Stoker’s imagination live within us. We are the creatures of darkness that hate the light. Our problems are deeper than the worries that pester us—in our soul there is an evil that is doing harm and causing hurt. Fortunately, God has a solution for those who turn to him. Like those peasants in Stoker’s novel, we who cling to the cross will be delivered from evil.

What impact do you think this pacification of evil has had on our society?

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11 thoughts on “Wherefore Art Thou, Dracula?

  1. Great post, Eugene.

    I have had many similar discussions about other current literary series (like Harry Potter and our society’s tolerance of witchcraft). As a father to many, this discussion thread is important to me. How much do I allow in the home? Do I go “seclusionist” and remove it all from the home? Do I allow it in small doses and coach my older kids through it? Do I go “laissez faire?” I might have mis-spelled that.

    I tend to see the Twilight Series, or Lord of the Rings, or (pick your fantasy series) as a fantastic opportunity to teach young people spiritual truth. We need to leverage what is “out there” in today’s society, in controlled doses and for kids at an appropriate age, and transparently expose the underlying themes to scripture. Without this teaching and guidance, the proliferation of vampirism (as a form of evil pacification), can dull the senses.

  2. Another case for the tolerance movement…. We, too, struggled with where to draw the lines. Lucifer as the embodiment of evil would be easy to recognize were he ugly and horrific, but he is referred to as the angel of light and son of the morning-much more akin to the vampire series than Bram Stoker’s. I wish C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters was required reading. sigh.

  3. Parenting…oi vay! what is the right balance between protection and preparation? This is not an easy task. I think I am in agreement with you Mike, managed exposure that allow for discussion is best. Fantasy isn’t necessarily bad if it can be used to teach about evil. I tend to err on the side of protecting my kids but I do need them to know that sin and sorrow are real and more is at stake than ice-cream sandwiches.

    If they grow up thinking that the world is a theme park, I have failed.

  4. In response to your question, our pacification of evil goes hand in hand with our muted moral obligation to stand up for what is right, fight for those who cannot defend themselves and serve the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and mind. Evil is of the devil even if clothed in a manner than appeals to our senses, but then again, would Satan have it any other way!

  5. I remember being a teen when the first Harry Potter book became popular and hearing Dr. Adrain Rogers try to calm the fears of the parents at my church as they dealt with this very problem. Many were pushing for a ban on any and all literature and movies which dealt with anything “unchristian themes”. It was much to their surprise when Dr. rogers, a man whom few chose to argue with, said that the movies and books were not a problem. He said that they were harmless for the children to read and watch as long as the parents made sure that they children understood what they were, fictional stories. It was this caveat that Satan wants to abuse. We live in an escapist society. Being a college students in my 20s, I see it becoming more prevalent everyday, young mean and women my age and younger are choosing to live in a fantasy word. Maybe they don’t think they are wizards or vampires, but they use those stories to escape to a mindset where they think they are secure. Then when they come back they do not know how to view the real world, and they also do not know how to view God. The pacification of evil in book simply makes them more inviting. It makes a world where people do not have to deal with the truth of reality: Man is fallen and thus is evil unless saved by faith in the grace of God. None taught these peers of mine that stories can aid us in dealing with a corrupted world. They instead instinctually hide away, like the disciples, when their hopes for a perfect world in their minds are shattered in the reality of God’s plan.

  6. I can’t believe I’m about to attempt to pull something even SEMI-meaningful from the Twilight series, but as I was reading over this blog post, I found a connection between Stephanie Meyer’s vampires and your sermon this morning.

    In the Twilight series, the Cullens have made the choice to live among humans and to only drink the blood of animals they hunt (in lieu of human blood). The “father” of the Cullens is even a doctor, saving the lives of those upon whom he would traditionally feed. The Cullens are the minority, however, as the other vampires in the series are violent and view humans as weak and expendable. They are vicious and have seemingly NO redeeming qualities. They are not victims of their own devices–they choose to kill, choose to inflict pain. Evil = Power = Superiority.

    The Cullens are different because they CHOOSE to be. They struggle with their desires and lust for blood. They fight their vampire nature and strive to be “moral.” They value human life and attempt to preserve it instead of destroy it.

    You said in your sermon this morning that once we have received God’s grace, our sins become CHOICES. We can’t blame it on our evil human nature because we have been redeemed and are dead to sin. The vampires in the Twilight series aren’t Christians, but they have chosen to be “not of the world” (at least the VAMPIRE world). Each day they must choose to continue living “right.” As Christians, we are called to be “not of this world.” Each day we also much make choices, to choose whether we glorify God with our lives or give in to our own selfish desires.

    That being said, this is the first and last time I will ever find something redeeming about this series. I read the first three books in an attempt to find common “literary” ground with my students. I didn’t read the fourth book because I was tired of being bored. And angry. Bella Swan is a TERRIBLE role model for young girls and teens.

  7. Now that I’m over my (rather embarrassing) “Twilight theology,” I’ve been thinking about the actual question you proposed in this post. I’m going to attempt not to ramble, but I fear this is going to be a mess. Bear with me.

    I had an interesting discussion with a friend the other day about the existence of Hell and whether or not “Satan” is a real entity or a symbol/metaphor for our sinful nature. The point was made that we don’t really NEED the proverbial “devil on our shoulder” to encourage us to sin because we are sinful beings by our very nature. It’s easy for us to blame our sins and evil urges on someone else, but when it comes down to it, we each have the capacity to do awful things. Our darkest desires, our secret deeds, our most corrupt thoughts–none of these needs to be planted in our minds or hearts. We are sinful by nature.

    That being said, I have to wonder if this white-washing of evilness in literature and movies is a result of our own fear, our fear of our own sinful nature. Are these characters granted redeeming qualities because people so desperately want to be redeemed themselves? So many of the creatures who have traditionally be portrayed as monsters have been humanzied over the years to resemble US more than the abominations they once were. The result is vampires with a conscience, such as Louis from the Rice novels or Edward Cullen. (Even zombies have been offered some sympathy with shows such as the Walking Dead constantly reminding the viewer that these creatures were once mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.) People don’t like the idea of an “unsavable” or completely evil character, even if it’s the “undead.” We tend to want people to feel sorry for us, even when we’ve done wrong. Perhaps this is bring projected onto fictional characters as well.

    On a more real world level, I also wonder if this pacification of evil stems from the atrocities that take place in our own society. I dare say that people are any more bloodthirsty or corrupt now than they were at any other point in history, but we didn’t have 24-hour newsfeeds feeding us headlines about murder, rape, child abuse, etc. The world is a scary place and people use books and movies to escape. Perhaps people want a “softer monster” in their movies than in days gone by since there are so many real monster living among us today. Even those of us who cling to the Cross often find ourselves waking from nightmares of our children being taken or someone we loved being harmed. We live in a society that breeds fear and paranoia. Vampires are popular, but not everyone wants gore and violence. So what does a writer do? Write a book about a nice vampire who doesn’t kill humans, who worries about whether or not he has a soul, and who falls in love with a girl he will die to protect.

    Not sure any of that makes a lick of sense. It sounds better in my head.

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