Dealing with vampires

I : Blood and the drinking of it

Vampires drink blood to stay alive. (For a certain value of “alive” anyway.) They are creatures that, if they do not drink blood, will die. (Or go to a coma; depends on your choice of mythos. But such a dormancy is pretty much a death, too.)

Since many vampire stories end up introducing a “good” vampire, they add visits to a blood bank, or even animal blood, to keep the good vampire “good”.

This is a very bad move!

Vampires are extermination-worthy no matter their minds if the only way they can stay alive is killing people for blood; if that is the case, one can say that no matter how good a vampire is, its life is not worth the deaths of many humans. (“On this train track, a vampire; on this other a few dozen people; to which do you divert the train?”) This logic goes all banana-shaped if vampires can drink blood without killing the person they drink from: by pulling out (not always a reliable option!), by going to a blood bank, or by sucking a pig. If there are such options, one can’t justify exterminating vampires because they kill people, because they don’t need to. The critical point then is whether one can persuade a vampire to not attack people; or at least to not kill them after drinking some of their blood.

The point, then, is whether one can reason with vampires. (Can you reason with people? Can you persuade people to not kill others because others have stuff they want?)

II: Reasoning with the vampire junta

Most vampire stories (what’s the plural of a mythos?) say vampires are still rational beings; not necessarily nice, but rational. Thus even if all vampires are cold sociopathic killer types, one could make deals with them: stick to nonlethal feeding, and we humans won’t go all Slayer on you.

Most stories suggest dealing with vampires is a stupid, bad thing, and only considered if vampires have grown really, really powerful: but if vampires are rational actors and humans aren’t totally supine and beaten, both sides should realize that a truce of some kind is more profitable to both sides than an all-out war, and prefer that for altogether selfish and cold reasons. (Human history suggests that demonizing the Other Side is not generally a good idea. “We don’t like those that deal with them blood-handed red-mouthed crimson-eyed vampire monsters here… you pinko traitor!”)

Dealing with vampires would require some organization on both sides; and I think in most models of a vampire they are still beings that form authorities, or at least grudgingly obey their bosses. Since humans are well known for forming all kinds of weird organizations, like the Republican Party or the Boy Scouts, it’s not unreasonable to think that both sides, human and vampire, could come up with committees that agreed on some terms that, if followed, would keep all-out chaos and disorder from breaking out. Both parties would police their own, punish agreement-breakers, and if necessary settle their differences through some arbitration procedure.

This would work, because both sides have to live in the same physical locality; Cold War-style aggression results from the sides being separated, and thus not able to do anything until doing something means a big kaboom. Just like Mafia bosses could work together despite being somewhat unlikable and violent, so a committee of humans and one of vampires could work together for purely selfish reasons. One could even add to the Mafia analogy by assuming the human committee to be a secret organization of some kind, acting on the behalf of humanity and keeping the secret to keep the inevitable xenophobia and vampire-speciesism from bringing about a disaster; a campaign of extermination on vampires wouldn’t be without casualties for the people involved, either.

So, for an example —

Article I : Vampires do not kill people, except if so permitted by a written decision of the Adjudication. A vampire that breaks this article will be brought to face the Adjudication by the force of both parties, and if the killing is proven, that vampire will be killed. Lesser penalties will be adjudicated for lesser physical harm.

Article II : Humans do not kill vampires, except if so permitted by a written decision of the Adjudication. A human that breaks this article will be brought to face the Adjudication by the force of both parties, and if the killing is proven, that human will be killed. Lesser penalties will be adjudicated for lesser physical harm.

Article III : In the cases of Articles I and II, the killing will be considered proven if a majority vote of the Adjudication so decides after hearing all relevant witnesses. There is no appeal. A guilty party will be killed by his or her own side of the Adjudication at the conclusion of the hearing.

Come to think of it, a code of this kind would be really hard to write, and a lot of how it would work would depend on how much the parties could get away with. (“Should I take the immediately hot pleasure of drinking this guy, or the slow cold nicety of not bringing the Human-Vampire War of Extermination and a posse of human vigilantes any closer? And if I sucked, would my boss ignore that, stake me in secret for breaking the Articles and hush it up, or bring me before the Adjudication?”)

The special cases where such an Adjudication would sanction the killing of a vampire (or a human) would be interesting, too — if there was an active practice of death penalty among the humans and the human side of the agreement was in a position to take advantage of it, convicts could be sold to the vampire side for an extra snack. (Or maybe not — that kind of an appetite is maybe best left unteased. Much for the same reason the snippet of Articles above makes each side kill their own Article-breakers; it is not good to let vampires into the habit of killing any humans, no matter how bad, and vice versa.)

One interesting case would be whether a human can give consent to being turned to a vampire — but that depends on what vampires are, exactly, and thus whether being turned into a vampire is a suicide, a personality change, or just a very bad rash.

III : Vampires as demons

One common assumption (okay, I saw it on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is that all vampires are soulless, evil, selfish beasts. But what can go on inside the head of a vampire? Who is there — is it a human mind, or a possessing demon?

If a demon, well, then consider this Christology flowchart and replace “Divine” with “Demon” to get a few possibilities of how the human and the demonic might mix. Are vampires “Docetic”, that is, truly possessors, with no trace of the person that was there before? Or are they two individuals in one body (Hypostases), possibly struggling for control, or one new individual (Hypostasis) who is part demon, part human? (All three have been seen in fiction.)

And if we taken this much more ambiguous last position, a mind part-human and part-demon, in which way are the two combined into one? Is the human part dissolved in the immensity of the demonic being, like a drop of water in an ocean of blood? Or is the thinking part of the human mind replaced by that of the demon, presumably leaving memories and the like intact? Or are the two in some way combined without alteration to either?

If vampires have in some sense still humanity left in them, then killing them is still murder in some sense. In the real world, Phineas Gage got a bar of iron blown through his head and became an unstable, discourteous fella as a result, but one wouldn’t argue that he hence was a ruined being that only deserved to die. (Especially as future vampires, like Gage, don’t usually go around asking to be pierced with something mind-altering.)

If the human mind is gone, then killing them is just killing a demon, something which while still a murder (or an exocide, “killing of the alien”?) might be much easier to justify. (Well, as long as you don’t start asking if all demons are really evil and worthy of extermination. Various subgroups of us humans haven’t really had a good history with arguments of this kind. “Unhuman demon scum! They are tick parasites which do not create but only destroy! We shall build camps for them!”) But where exactly does the demon in a vampire come from? Is there a queue? Or some requirements? Do only the evilest and most proactive demons get to inhabit a day-fearing human shell, or does the creation of a new vampire just (pardon the word) suck a random demon into the human habitation? Does the vampire that bites have anything to say about this? All questions that I, in my vast ignorance, have never seen addressed in a demon-vampire story.

I think (have to think, not having watched or read enough on this subject) that most shows and books are liable to drop the ball on this matter of demons: action needs villains; villains need to be ones you can kill with no qualms and no afterthoughts; hence all vampires are irredeemably evil; stake them and be done with it! Compare a vampire-staking show to a cop drama; the former does not tend to go into similar dramatics if the hero shoots a bad guy dead. (Er, dead-er.)

Also, one rarely sees vampires begging the Slayer (er, not that I wish to harp on that one show, especially as I rather like it) to not kill them because they have desires and loved ones and things to do, and so on. This is plotwise nice as otherwise our hero might look a tad horrible; but if accepted as a part of the world of the story, do the vampires just know humans are merciless bastards that will kill them no matter what they do? Or are they unaccustomed to mercy? And if so, could they learn? (Cue a colonial officer in deep Africa crying, “What ho! These savages are cannibals! Men, kill them all!”)

(Well, to harp on Buffy a bit more: from my vantage point in the middle of the third season I can recall at least Messrs. Gorch and Spike, both genuine vampires, who both exhibited something I’d call the very humanizing emotion of love. Not a very nice kind of love, but still: if a vampire can love, it might not be so very different from a human being, and what would a cop show be if it was Vigilante Buffy the Criminal Slayer?)

(Oh wait, that’s the Punisher.)

IV : Vampires as humans

But where do vampires come from? The paragraphs above quietly assume they are ex-people; or at least people altered by the introduction of a demonic overlay and a severe case of sunlight allergy. If the former personality disappears, to become a vampire involves the death of a personality, that is, murder; if the human personality survives in some form we have an analogue of Phineas Gage, or a really bad case of syphilis. (“Oh. Bright light. Oh, it hurts. Ow ow ow.”) The vampire guilty for turning a human into a vampire is then guilty of something that ranges for murder to assault to… eh, malpractice of suckage? (“Honestly, I thought I was just taking a bit of blood! I didn’t mean to make you into a vampire!”)

There will be an additional complication if a vampire turning someone to a vampire means there will be some authority relation between them; not one of “gratitude”, but some magical kind of control. (“Honestly, I didn’t mean to turn you to a vampire, but the Master he made me do it! So I’m not guilty!”)

The most horrible alternative would be the total absence of a demon: that is, vampires are just people cursed or caused to thirst for blood. (Here’s one for the Mythbusters: if you bite someone’s throat open, how easy is the blood-drinking, really? Unless you have turbo vacuum fangs of some description I predict things will get very, very messy.) The unlikable personas of human-vampires might be just the result of awkward social circumstances (isolation, avoiding the sun, being legally dead) and the necessity of murdering to stay alive. (Then again, if murder is not necessary, it suddenly becomes imperative to inform new vampires of the alternatives before they do something ill-advised.)

If vampires are just people with an affliction, then dealing with them is even more necessary than if they are half- or full demons of some description. That they can’t stand daylight or need blood to stay alive doesn’t make them into bad guys; neither does the possibility that they might be cranky and quarrelsome. There are some pretty mundane diseases that inflict similar troubles of similar magnitude on people, and no-one is saying haemophiliacs or cancer patients should live outcast lives and be staked if met! (If vampires are of really, really bad character, vampirism can be compared to — or classified as? — an affliction with a mental component.)

(What, “You heard Bob got bitten by a vampire last week? Sucks to be him. He’s got these pills he needs to take, and instead of burgers he’s now on a steady diet of blood soup.” — some action story!)

V : Conclusion

So: no matter what vampires are, an indiscriminate war of extermination against them is not a very satisfying story of vampirism, a classic as it might be. If all vampires are irredeemable murderous bastards, and cannot live except by killing people, and cannot be negotiated with, then fine, slay them — but other routes seem more reasonable if a few of these conditions are broken.

Then again, it’s really difficult to make really thought-out fiction, or to even write really thought-out real stories. (“In this true crime book Person #1 is a violent nut; we do not know what went on in his head, we’re not interested, and we will call him Inhuman, because it is Unnatural for a human to kill a human.”)

Some writers (substitute another work for filmworkers) try to work out a massive secondary real world, which is difficult, insane, and awesome if even partially pulled off (Tolkien: awesome for one man’s work; Star Wars: big and awesome but full of grating inconsistencies); some writers use the Scalzi “two questions deep” rule or some equivalent; some don’t care. Whatever the approach, good entertainment can result; the amount of snark is the only thing which consistently varies.

(One more non-spoilery word about Buffy: the show’s vampires are demons without a soul, but a certain vampire has his soul restored to him through a bit of magic. It seems to me it would be a much nicer route of action to try to re-soul as many vampires as possible, and then provide them with enough blood bank contents to keep them happy. Surely most people won’t resort to murdering to stay alive if there are easier ways! Then again, if I start writing about the whole nebulous concept of souls and what including them in a story might imply, there shall be no end to my froth and spittle.)

* * *

This text has been written with two and a half seasons of Buffy, a reading of Dracula, and diverse memories of other stories of vampirism. I haven’t seen True Blood or the books it’s based on; a quick look at Wikipedia makes me think it might have made these thoughts a bit more fleshed-out. I haven’t read Twilight, and a look around the Internet makes me think there would be an icepick in my ear if I had.

4 Responses to “Dealing with vampires”

  1. chall Says:

    I think you would enjoy the storybooks that came with World of Darkness; Vampire the Masquerade role playing game (by White Wolf). There are 13 books (to start with), one for each clan that is portraied in the “world” (WoD for short). (link here for the first one> )

    They have a slight systematics and some discussions on why the vampires don’t need to exterminate the humans… and a good explanation on why human blood is drunk (by many). And in there, the vamps are not necessarily devided into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ but rather “different belief system” (especially true if you look up The Sabbat rather than The Camarilla).

    Then there are those Saint-Germain books by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro … if you want to read more of the “soul vs soul less” vampires but set in Europe for the most part. They are slightly different than the ones you mention in the post.

    (And yes, I’d skip out on the True Blood ones, I didn’t fancy them as much. Part was how they were written, part since they aren’t that detailed…? Twilight is probably good if you are a teen or in early 20 – or haven’t read much vampire books – since I got horribly annoyed with lots of changes in the mythos and botered by holes in the plot as big as you can drive a truck through them. that said, I think I might had loved them reading them as a 15year old :) )

  2. chall Says:

    oh, and about that last paragraph with re-ensouling vamps in order to stop them from killing… since humans kill eachother too it doesn’t really make it true that the vamps would stop killing just “because they got a soul” imho. I’d stay with “it’s all a choice and cost-benefit ratio for the vamps if they want to blend with people or just live on the side of the world”.

    And that is the story line in Laurel K Hamilton’s books…. where vampirism became “legal” in the US a few years back. Warning though, they (the books) turn very graphic (focused?) in sexual connotation after the first four of them but the system view she writes can be quite intriguing.

    (sorry about the long comments, just thought it was a fun post to read and since you stated in the end what you’d read so far I thought I chip in)

  3. MK Says:

    Can’t remember the name of the book, but it had vampirism reduced to a kind of illness causing a person to become unable to withstand sunlight, need to drink blood, increased physical strenght and personality change (though not supernatural) etc. There is a very small possibility of victim being sucked from blood to become a vampire, so the number of vampires is low. It had a secret society of vampires with selected humans kept as servants/lovers/”living blood banks”, with humans at least some choice of remaining human servants or taking the chance to let the vampire suck them dry and hope to become one. Also included a “pure-bred” family line, with every member guaranteed to wake up as a vampire.

  4. Masks of Eris Says:

    Chall, MK: Interesting ideas; might have to follow up on those. Thanks!

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