WHY VAMPIRES NEVER RUN OUT OF BITE by Jo Simmons
"Mythic creatures like werewolves live in popular culture and everyone knows how they operate, which leaves the storyteller free to layer onto them contemporary meanings and concerns, bringing them into relevance for a here-and-now audience."
This post was written by Jo Simmons, author of The Reluctant Vampire Queen Bites Back.
When I was about eleven years old, my brother suggested we watch the film American Werewolf in London. Made in 1981, it was about two American college students on a walking tour of England who are attacked by a werewolf that the locals won’t admit exists. It terrified me – imaginary werewolfs stalked my bedroom at night for weeks afterwards – but it was also really funny and illustrated the evergreen nature of myths. Mythic creatures like werewolves live in popular culture and everyone knows how they operate, which leaves the storyteller free to layer onto them contemporary meanings and concerns, bringing them into relevance for a here-and-now audience.
The same is true of vampires. These mythic undead beings are super ancient. Stories about revenants have been around for millennia, with some of the oldest versions looking very different to the pale-faced vamp in the black cape we often picture. The Mesopotamian Lamashtu had the head of a lion and the body of a donkey, while the Malaysian Penanggalan – my favourite – was a flying female head with dangling entrails. Eighteenth-century Eastern Europe provides most of the myths we recognise today around the vampire, with the Lugat in Albanian folklore and the Mullo in Roma folklore supplying the most persistent vampire details – that they are undead, nocturnal and can shapeshift.
Those constants have been regularly updated, though. Bram Stoker added many of the extras we associate with vampires today, including fear of a crucifix, weakness in sunlight and inability to see their reflection. In the last few decades alone, vampires have evolved further to be female, feminist and righteous (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – promoted as ‘the first Iranian vampire Western’!), camp, time-shifting and violent (BBC’s 2020 Dracula) and funny. Both the film and series of What We Do in the Shadows hilariously document a group of vampires in a house-share, bickering over the cleaning and trying to get into nightclubs.
They all demonstrate how the vampire myth, laid down over centuries and part of popular culture, can be embellished, tweaked and subverted for a twenty-first century audience. That’s what I’ve attempted in my trilogy The Reluctant Vampire Queen, written for young teen readers graduating on from middle grade books and after something with a little more – ahem – bite. While I wasn’t inspired by An American Werewolf in London (I’m probably still too traumatised, to be honest), its description as a comedy-horror on Wikipedia resonates. The made-up genre I have carried in my head while writing these books is funny-scary. The subject matters tilts towards the bloody and macabre, but with lots of humour and a fast-paced plot to keep it fun and light.
The books feature protagonist Mo, a fifteen-year-old school girl, informed by an ancient vampire Bogdan that she’s chosen to be the Vampire Queen of Great Britain. As a young feminist with big ambitions for her future career she’s interested in the leadership part, but less so the becoming a vampire bit (she’s a vegetarian, after all). Cue some comic twists and turns as she navigates her new role without joining the dark side completely, while also doing her GCSEs.
In the second installment, The Reluctant Vampire Queen Bites Back, this slightly geeky, super-organised teen now has the job of leading and inspiring a small group of traumatised vampires hiding out in Great Britain. Throughout, the vampire myth has proved brilliantly able to shoulder contemporary concerns. I have touched on bullying, consent, immigration, equality and parental relationships, mixed in with plenty of stakes, fangs and stupid jokes. The core truth that vampires were human once too runs through all the books, and quietly speaks to the huge, existential question Mo, as a young person growing up, is asking herself – what does it take to be a human? And can that also include fangs?
Get your copy of The Reluctant Vampire Queen Bites Back by Jo Simmons here.