Vampires, Eternity, and Time


“The thing about vampires is that they mistake eternity as the endless duration of time.”

My friend, Colin, laid this profundity on me over coffee the other day. We were discussing pop culture’s infatuation with vampires in films and novels. I suggested that while we need ‘escapist’ literature, perhaps there’s too much of it these days. Stories about protagonists squaring off against good old-fashioned reality should be just as frightening, maybe more so.

“Vampire myths are a metaphor for the un-illuminated ego,” Colin said. “You only have to look at the world the vampire lives in. Dark. It can’t survive in the light.”

His point, of course, is that real people in real life are just as fearful of the light. Light = seeing = truth. Vampires, like most people, will do almost anything to avoid the light. To avoid discovering whom they really are.

“The vampire is so lacking in self-knowledge that he can’t even see himself in a mirror,” says Colin. 

Knowing oneself isn’t just the consequence of a protagonist getting repeatedly hammered during Act Two, no, it is the spiritual question. And the two are often linked. The battered hero, faced with no alternative but to surrender her tired old strategies, lands in the present moment. We know this as a ‘religious experience’, characterized by timelessness. C.Y. calls it the “vibrant life”.

“But, hey, the vampire’s relationship to the vibrant life is as a parasite,” says C.Y. “He sucks as much of it as he can get, and then retreats.”

Hmmm. We mortals would appear to approach life in much the same ‘hit and run’ manner. We too mistake eternity as the endless duration of time, and grab only what we need to live another day. When fictional characters fail to stand and deliver for all time, it’s called a tragedy. Maybe vampire stories are tragic by nature.

Myself, I appreciate stories where the protagonist sees the light, if only for a second. In that moment, even dying loses its tragic sense. The hero, glimpsing some new and all-embracing organizing principle within her life, proceeds to the climax a wiser person.

Even as I say this, I’m impressed as never before by the vampire metaphor. Fear of the light cannot be overstated. It’s easier to die than change.

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  1. Tashimoto says

    I like your summarizing in the last pgh. It’s hard to change, alright. Transformation and experience both seem to ask all that a man has, as Wm. Blake noted more than a few times. Funny that this stuff doesn’t seem at all important when we’re cruising along in relative comfort and ease, complete with such distractions as Stanley Cup Playoffs, Word Cup Soccer or the latest production of a Verdi Opera (how’d that get in there?)… but in moments of duress, different story. Maybe that’s why we so enjoy seeing duress lead to transformation in films. Seeing it played out might perhaps give us hope that we too can transform and live larger, better, brighter. Not that it’s a piece of cake to give up flying around as a bat and sucking blood after midnight.

  2. says

    Thanks, TashiMo… the only comment I would like to add is this: rather than good stories giving us ‘hope’ as you suggest…I like to think that the best stories actually provide us with a whiff of the ‘experience’ of transformation. We keep watching and reading…movies and books and even gossip…whiffing and whiffing…and this nourishes us. I don’t think hope nourishes us. It probably makes us even more mind-bound. But is it possible, do you think, that we actually eat fictional heroes? If they weren’t nourishing, do you think our appetite for them would be so universal?

  3. Sarah says

    Your friend’s comment has resonated since reading it last week. It makes more and more sense. And yours about real people fearing the light … on to the protagonist and the watershed point. Fascinating stuff. Thank you.

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