There were kids in my 1960s Ottawa neighbourhood who dressed as clowns, fairy princesses, and cowboys. To my 10-year-old mind, they were missing the point. The kids who really got that Halloween was about more than how many miniature Oh Henry bars you might net in a night of sugar-fuelled door-to-door were the ones who dressed as vampires, witches, skeletons and zombies. These were the kids who understood the dark side.
These kids grew up to be teenagers who continued their pursuit of evil through literature in that adolescent preoccupation that spawned the goth movement. In my time, finding creepy books began with the classics: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There lurked a fascination for evil even in that bygone era of literature that saw Heathcliffe suspected of vampirosity in Charlotte Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
By the time I was a teenager Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles were all the rage, Stephen King was the king of creepy, and our appetite for chills was thoroughly ingrained in books, television, and movies. Rod Serling’s Night Gallery supported my fascination on our grainy black and white television, leaving me tossing in my bed listening for things that go bump in the night. I can still hear those ghostly little girls in King’s The Shining say in their chillingly sweet voices: “Come play with us, Danny…”
Certainly, there is an eroticism to vampires that other monsters just don’t share, and this may be what continues to draw teenagers and adults to the dark-and-toothy even now. And that’s the thing: what was once primarily a young adult fixation has now crossed over, as it were, to become entrenched in the realm of adult readers. Authors like Patricia Briggs, Sherilyn Kenyon, and Lauren K. Hamilton have joined our blood-thirsty literary wish-lists, and Charlaine Harris’s hugely popular southern vampire mysteries have spawned the HBO series True Blood.
There are varying degrees of quality in this kind of fiction, just as there are in any literature. Don’t get me started on the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trend, which truly makes my blood run cold. But popular fiction and literary fiction agree on the point that a little blood between friends can be a good thing: Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which blends history and folklore with Vlad Tepes and his fictional equivalent Count Dracula; Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, which features the Caribbean vampire called a soucouyant, also present in the novel Soucouyant by David Chariandy, which was a finalist for the Governor-General’s Awards in 2007.
All this finds its way into graphic novels, which, unlike their juvenile counterparts from my childhood, have developed into young adult and adult readership as well. While the library’s TeenScene section may be your first stop for all things Dark, such as Twilight by Stephanie Myers — available in its vastly popular print series as well as graphic and film versions — and Shonen Jump’s Rosario + Vampire, the adult graphic section also has its share of graphically ghoulish with titles such as American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Doug Petrie’s Ring of Fire.
Variations on Stoker’s Dracula can be found in our library in regular and large print, juvenile versions, graphic novels, and downloadable files. Even Stoker’s great-grand-nephew, Dacre Stoker, got into the game with a sequel to his great-great-uncle’s masterpiece, Dracula, the Un-Dead.
All this to say: young or old, whether you feel the urge to throw a sheet over your head and hit the streets this weekend or hide under the sheets with a literary ghoul or two, you’ll be in good company.
Anne DeGrace’s library column is featured every two weeks on the community page. With assistance from Heather Goldik, administrative and technical services (working in the deep dark basement of the library).