Hello and welcome to In Too Deep/31 Days of Halloween, where I over-analyse a certain section of horror pop culture.
Last time I wrote one of these for this month’s series, I talked about how Night of the Living Dead influenced the world. You’ll note that one of that film’s inspirations was ‘I Am Legend’, a book about vampires that acted like zombies. These vampires were inspired by Dracula, leading to a rather interesting problem: What would pop culture be like if Dracula had never been written? Well lets find out.
Picture a vampire. What’s the first thing you think of? If you think of a smooth, handsome, foreign man who seduces young women and acts like a gentleman then congratulations: you’re thinking of everything post Dracula. Pre Dracula had a world that viewed vampires a totally different way. Vampires were hideous monsters that lurked in the forest and sucked on the blood of the foolish. They were mindless beasts, no better than animals. Sure they had powers, but they had the intellectual comprehension only slightly higher than that of a zombie. Vampires were ghoulish monsters, nothing more than that. So this right here is the biggest thing Dracula did to the concept of vampires: It romanticised them. It made them foreign gentlemen. The vampire in Dracula is a strange man, but seemingly a man nonetheless. More than that, he’s a man of dignity and class. There’s no way of someone like him turning out to be a hideous monster. That just seems unthinkable.
And therein lies the brilliance of Dracula. It plays on audience expectations of the time. Dracula turning out to be a vampire is a brilliant twist because it’s something that audiences hadn’t experienced at this point. It’s taking a mythological monster and transforming it into something new and creepy. It plays on fears found within society at the time. To try and think of a modern example is difficult, but the closest analogy I can come up with is 28 Days Later. The zombies aren’t shambling undead, but super-fast infected humans. The tropes associated with zombies are there (aka one bite makes you like them, humans having to band together to survive, etc.) but are twisted to make something entirely new. Dracula did much the same thing when it was written. The nature of the vampire is there, the idea of it, but changed and adapted to do something new. After this book was published the concept of the vampire changed forever. So what if it hadn’t been published? What would the world look like now?
Well lets look at the biggest upside to all of this: No Twilight. The books never get written since doing ‘vampires as romantic’ notion is an original idea, something that Twilight is fortunately devoid of. But lets say that Twilight gets written in this world without Dracula (presuming that nothing else ever steps up to the plate to fill this void). Suddenly Twilight would go from ‘trashy awful rubbish’ to ‘trashy awful rubbish that actually has literature significance’. It would be a new idea and that alone would keep it popular, even if they novels itself were awful. But would Twilight exist if Dracula didn’t? No, of course not. Twilight is Dracula for the modern pre-teen. It only exists because Dracula exists. So this sounds like a win-win, right?
But the downside to this is no zombies. Or at least zombies being seen as culturally different as vampires. â€œI Am Legendâ€ takes vampires back to their more traditional roots, a reaction to Stoker’s Dracula. Zombies are just building off the concept found in â€œI Am Legendâ€. So had Dracula not been written, the concept of vampires being anything other than beasts wouldn’t have been created, so â€œNight of the Living Deadâ€ would have been about vampires instead. So would the zombie genre still exist in this setting? Well yes, but it’d be more influenced by classic historical vampire tropes then the more modern zombie tropes. It’d be a very different genre to say the least, and perhaps not as popular. Pop culture zombies work because they’re seemingly newer, whereas vampires are weighed down with years of cultural baggage. But what’s the biggest impact Dracula’s absence would have on the world?
Well, as I’ve gone on for at length, it helped popularize the idea that the monster can reflect the fears in society. Dracula reflects the fear of the Other, the foreign person that comes into our life to cause our destruction. Now this is by no means a new idea, but it was one that was made more popular by Dracula and had the two concepts forever tied together. The idea that the vampire was now the foreign but dangerous Other was now firmly implanted into people’s minds. Remove that idea and something else may have taken its spot. We might have used some now obscure mythological monster. The idea isn’t something solely tied to Dracula. But Dracula is what made vampires ‘vampires’ in our eyes. It’s what rebooted the vampire franchise into something that we now recognize today. Take that away, and it’s highly likely that vampires wouldn’t have the influence on our pop culture that they do now.
So there you have it. A rambling look at the impact one vampire novel had on the world. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.