Werewolves and Vampires, the creatures that haunt humanity’s nightmares and awaken our fascination and fear. They creep and prowl not only through the shadows, but through our minds and stories as well: feral, elegant, deadly, beautiful.
Which do you prefer between the two creatures of night? I’ve noticed that people tend to fall more into one category or the other. It’s like dog people and cat people. Ever wonder why?
First of all, what draws us to creatures like these in the first place?
1) Such supernatural creatures are powerful. We’re attracted to power one way or another. We wish to become part of it, oppose it, or simply stare in wonder at its might, majesty, and monstrosity.
2) They’re capable of things we’d love to be competent at. Through fear, ability, and supernatural prowess vampires and werewolves can mold the universe to a greater degree than we feel we can. None of us can change forms, heal rapidly, or toss cars around like they’re pillows. Few if any of us can command the night like they can.
3) Vampires and werewolves are also kin to our nightmares, human mythology, and psyche. Monsters pervade our consciousness. It’s human nature to look into the dark and try to define it. We categorize and draw boundaries. It’s our way of simplifying a world that, even today, remains unexplainable, frightening, and dangerous. A monster that has understandable characteristics and abilities is far easier to deal with than the great unknown.
4) And sometimes, it’s appealing to become what we fear, for when we do, fear no longer binds us and our nightmares have the potential to become our protectors. I think this is one reason that vampires and werewolves have become heroes in today’s stories. In a world moving as fast as our in technology, culture, and information, becoming what we fear is comforting. Or to look at it another way, if we tame the monsters, the world holds less darkness and fewer things to tremble at when we’re lying awake in bed. It’s more comforting to picture the werewolf curled up like a guard dog at our door or our vampire sitting awake, watching over our sleep, ever aware of the slightest disturbance in the night.
So, onto werewolves and vampires specifically. Dogs and cats are a good, simple analogy. Aside from the obvious connection, werewolves fit the appeal of dogs in that they are fierce, feral, and wild. There’s something beautiful and primal about them, especially in those species more resembling wolves. Originally, werewolves played into the spine tingling sensation that the sound of a wolf in the distance brought. They combine elements of the natural world that humans have dealt with for millennia and the tamed beast within, much as domesticated dogs do.
The werewolf mythos also plays into our dichotomous nature as humans. We break things down into opposites: good versus evil, male versus female, friend versus foe, us versus other. The werewolf lets us explore tame versus wild, humanity versus beast. We integrate these concepts into our lives from the very beginning. We teach our children good behavior versus bad behavior. Don’t hit. Play nice. We draw strict lines between boy and girl activities, dress, and even colors. Society imposes rules on us. The werewolf places this dichotomy right before us and simplifies it. Sometimes the beast wins, and sometimes man wins. Sometimes the man wins only by destroying himself or allowing another to destroy him so that the beast might not turn on others. But many times, a trace of the beast finds a way to live on just as, no matter how we fight against our selfish and destructive natures, we cannot annihilate them.
So what does the vampire offer? Vampires embody the issue of life versus death. They are dead, yet act, in many ways, as though alive. Through them, we explore our fear of death and yet deny it all at once. A vampire lives beyond death, and in death gains abilities outside the reach of any real human. They are often damned, yet they do not endure the full force of hell fire or eternal torment. Like cats, they are cunning, swift, and cut with a far subtler, more graceful force than dogs or werewolves.
Yet vampires, like werewolves, have undergone the recent transition to periodic hero and antihero. We’d like to believe that even when we’re condemned, corrupt, or lost, we’re still capable of greatness, good, and redemption. We don’t want death to be the end. We want to believe in hope even after we part from this world. At least, enough of a societal consciousness is like this to push the monster as hero phenomenon of recent decades. After several horrendous wars in the last century and living in a world ever more aware of its ugliness, who can blame us?
Different elements appeal to different people. Like dog people and cat people, there are werewolf people and vampire people. Personally, I love werewolves best from Adam in Patricia Briggs’s Marcy Thompson and Billy from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files to Marie de France’s Bisclavret. I loved Dracula and thought Buffy’s Spike was a fantastic vampire, but there’s just something about werewolves that resonates with me more. Then again, I’m a dog person, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised.
How about you? Do you prefer werewolves or vampires? What do you think the appeal of these creatures is? What else do you think drives the werewolf and vampire as hero phenomenon of today? And just out of curiosity, are you a dog person or a cat person? (I wonder if there’s a correlation.)