Friday, January 30, 2009

The Very Image of the Modern Vampire Protagonist

In my reading I've noticed how different authors handle the vampire in a present-day or near-modern setting, and in particular what portions of vampire lore they choose to keep as accurate and what they decide to reject as mere superstitious fancy or ignore altogether. Furthermore, it is interesting to note what rationales they use for those choices, and for the operation of the vampire powers and weaknesses that they are accepting in their version of the vampire.

For instance, Anne Rice's vampires are turned to dust by the touch of sunlight, while Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's can endure sunlight but are strongest at night, and Stephanie Meyer's are undisturbed by sunlight but prefer to avoid direct sun because their more dense body tissue reflects light differently than human flesh, making them sparkle.

And speaking of reflections, there's the old vampire tradition that a vampire shows no reflection in a mirror. This is based on the pre-scientific notion that a mirror contained some kind of spirit or essence that formed an image, and refused to respond to a vampire's undead nature. But for a modern reader who has become acquainted with the actual physics of reflectivity, the notion of a corporeal being who is visible but creates no reflection in a mirror may strain the ability to maintain suspension of disbelief.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg explained it away as an aspect of the Influence, the telepathic power her vampires, the luren, possessed to better enable them to hunt. A luren who was stalking intelligent prey could simply tell their victim's subconscious to edit their image out of what was being seen in the mirror -- and could just as easily send a similar telepathic command to edit their image out of what they were seeing directly, rendering the luren effectively invisible at will (rather like Douglas Adams' "somebody else's business field).

As I'm reading Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's A Dangerous Climate in which she sends her vampire Count Saint-Germain to St. Petersburg at its beginnings, I hit upon that brief mention of the difficulty of casting no reflection while his manservant is shaving him, and it caused me just such a momentary bobble. This is not a fantasy world in which I can allow that light might work utterly differently, but rather a part of the past that I've studied relatively intensely, having a bachelor's degree in Russian language and literature. It wasn't quite enough for me to drop the book like a stone, but now I'm going to be watching to see how she reconciles it with the facts of physics, and hopefully relates it to the fact that her vampires are able to go out in daylight.

1 comment:

Major Major said...

Count Ragozy Saint-Germain can go out in daylight because he has bits of his native soil in his boots.

This frees him up to write long letters to everyone he knows, discourse on the true death and the false one, build an alchemical still to make diamonds, find a new girl friend, and utterly ignore the oncoming crisis that will completely threaten his nosferatan behind.