Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Evolution of Female Vampires

Female vampires have been around for just as long as their male counterparts in literature and film. Their role has changed immensely over the past two centuries. Today I am taking a look at six of the most memorable female vampires. These characters go beyond being Mary Sues for their respective creators and advance the role to another level.

1. Carmilla (novella) – Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella was written in 1872, twenty-five years before Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The title character was a vampiress who terrorized the Austrian country side. The vampire falls in love with a human girl, leading to her eventual downfall.
Carmilla’s theme of latent homosexuality in vampires is repeated again and again in vampire literature and film. She is also unapologetic and evil, killing without remorse to ensure her continued survival yet risking her very existence to try and win the affection of a human to take as her immortal companion.

2. Brides of Dracula – Dracula (novel) – Stoker’s novel was heavily influenced by Carmilla’s setting and muted sexual overtones. The three females who dwell in Dracula’s castle are never referred to specifically as his brides, but this is how many readers interpret their existence. In the novel, both Jonathan Harker and Abraham Van Helsing are strongly attracted to the brides but repulsed by their abhorrent actions. They exist by the whim of Dracula, surviving off of the babies and villagers he brings them. They are sensual yet depraved, showing little or no ambition to do anything other than serve their evil master.

For better or worse, the stereotype of the submissive female vampire devotee was born from these three vampire women.

3. Mekare and Maharet (Rice’s Vampire Chronicles novels) In their human lives, Mekare and Maharet had the uncanny ability to speak with spirits. After drawing the wrath of a king and queen, Mekare summoned a minor demon to frighten the monarchs. The demon fused itself with the queen, creating the first vampire. The queen turned her king into a vampire and removed Maharet’s eyes and Mekare’s tongue so they could never communicate with each other again. A vampire servant of the king and queen turned the girls into vampires in order to raise an army against the evil vampire duo. They were captured and set adrift in stone coffins in opposite directions. Maharet follows her human offspring though the years and Mekare lives wild in the jungle for nearly six millennia. Eventually, they come together with others of their kind to kill the vampire queen, Akasha, with Mekare consuming Akasha’s heart and brain to become the new “Queen of the Damned.”

Mekare and Maharet are never depicted as evil. They are a marked departure from previous female vampires in that they act to protect someone other than themselves.

4. Drusilla – Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Angel (series) - Once a pious young woman so faithful that she had the potential for sainthood, Drusilla is tormented and made a vampire by Angelus, the most evil of vampires. She immediately becomes a dangerous predator, taking on the very worst characteristics of her maker. Throughout the Buffy and Angel series, Drusilla was a powerful antagonist, displaying ruthless and sadistic joy in killing and maiming her victims. She also creates the vampire, Spike, who would later become one of the primary heroes of the series.
Drusilla is powerful and evil yet fragile at the same time. Her volatile mental state and tortured existence make her one of the most three-dimensional female vampires of all time. She is more than simply evil, yet far from good.

5. Eli – Let the Right One In (Swedish film) - Eli is a centuries old vampire who looks like a twelve year old girl. She does whatever it takes to survive, even murdering the man who served and protected her for years. Despite her evil nature, she forges a friendship with a bullied eleven year old boy, Oskar. Their friendship is so strong that she kills to protect Oskar from his bullies when their actions become potentially fatal.

Eli is both vulnerable and frightening as she struggles to find a way to exist in modern times. She adds another layer to the female vampire formula by exhibiting that the duality of good and evil can still exist in a supposed “evil” being.

6. Seline – Underworld series (films) – Seline is a death dealer: a vampire charged with eradicating werewolves. In the first Underworld film, she learns that all she has been taught about the “werewolf menace” was a lie. She becomes the reluctant protector for a human who has the potential to unite the two species, vampires and werewolves, with his unusual blood.
Seline represents the most recent iteration of the female vampire: the heroine. She is powerful, sexy, and morally ambiguous, but still acts to save the day in the end.
These are six (well, eight since there are three brides) of the most memorable and influential female vampire characters of all time. The role of the female vampire has evolved from subservient sexpot to butt-kicking warrior. I look forward to seeing the next step in the process.
Agree? Disagree? What characters would you add to the list?

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  1. I didn't see Queen Akasha from "Queen of the Damned". She is a pinnacle figure in the realm of the vampire temptress. Queen Akasha’s ravenous thirst for blood as well as her lust for ultimate power creates a character whose sole focus is to ravage mankind. Of course, I should note that she seems just as content ripping out the heart of her "children" for mere sport.

  2. Akasha is a great example of a female vampire who exists as the "Big Bad." I would wager that there are hundreds of books and films featuring a male vampire as the antagonist, but surprisingly few with a female villain.

    I actually included the Queen in my first draft of the list, but bumped her in favor of Mekare and Maharet.

    Another of my favorite female villains is Nikolaos from the Laurell K. Hamilton novel, Guilty Pleasures. I left her off because of her similarities to Eli from Let the Right One In.

  3. You didn't include Goethe's Bride of Corinth, a 17th century poem featuring what is possibly the oldest written vampire of any sex.

    Read it here

    But you also missed Catherine, the kick-ass villain of the vampire diaries. Not afraid to be evil, Catherine terrified me as a young teen, and the vampire diaries are the forerunners of Twilight and its many clones.

  4. Great catch, Chris. I am sorry to say I have heard of The Bride of Corinth but never read it. I have also not read the Vampire Diaries. I will remedy that shortly.

    Another great character is Gabrielle from The Vampire Lestat. She was Lestat's mother who spent much of her life on bed rest due to illness. After Lestat turns her, their roles are reversed and he teaches her how to live as a vampire. She is gregarious and enigmatic. I think Anne Rice missed a golden opportunity by not writing an entire novel with Gabrielle as the protagonist.