This semester I am taking a class in the literary significance of mythical creatures, specially werewolf, zombies, and vampires. The professor has told us that these creatures appear in one form or another in every culture. These beasts are universal and therefore must mean something.
I’ve studied fairy tales before, but then I was focusing on how they have changed over time and how that reflects the culture of the teller. I’ve never even given thought to what the creatures might mean.
My professor has told us that werewolves represent rage, Romaro zombies are a fear of disease, and vampires are sex. I agree with some of what he has said, but some of it is suspect. For example, he says that Frankenstein’s monster is a zombie.
His argument is that the monster is reanimated dead. Yes, it doesn’t hunger for brains, but Mary Shelley was not afraid of disease. She was terrified of what science was capable of doing, so she created a creature that embodied that fear. This is just one example of how these creature’s meanings change over time. Another, more interesting, example is vampires.
Originally, vampires only feasted on young woman, and while the only thing penetrated was necks, vamps clearly were a synonym for sex. Or really, rape. Along comes Anne Rice, who changes vampires into pure sexual creatures who actually have sex, with both humans and other vampires. She also let her vampires walk around in the sunlight.
Rice took the vampire tropes that she liked, and threw the ones she did not out the window. She completely redefined what a vampire was. In her life, sex didn’t have to hide in the dark. And most importantly, woman could actively partake in sex, not be passive people that sex just happened to happen to them.
With the changing world, these creatures change to match what our culture needs them to be. This is what makes “Twilight” so amazing. Once again, vampires have been completely redefined. Yes, Stephanie Meyer’s vampires are drastically less frightening than vampires of the past, but maybe sex is less frightening to an “educated” generation. (More accurately, a generation that feels educated.)
It’s impossible to know, but I feel we, as a culture, are on the cusp of another sexual revolution. Consider the recently “Slut Walks” in major cities around the world. More and more women are accepting the idea that they are sexual beings that don’t need to be ashamed of their nature.
Let’s look at Bella Swan. She wants to have sex. Like a lot of sex. But unlike the vamps of the past, this human chooses to wait for her partner to also be ready. And when she finally has sex, she accepts the consequences like an adult. She contracts a STI (of sorts) and instead of denying and freaking out about it, she forms a plan to combat the problem.
Now, for the glittering in the sun. The first vampires died when exposed to sunlight. This can be seen as a culture that didn’t talk about sex publicly. Victorians aren’t known for their sexual freedoms. Rice’s vampires could go into the sun, but, for the most part, nothing happened to them. This culture saw sex as something to discuss, but not something to publicly dwell on. Meyer’s vampires shine when touched by the faintest of sunlight. It seems clear that this emerging culture celebrates sex. Anyone disagree?
As a literary piece, “Twilight” is riddled with faults. But on an anthropological level, is “Twilight” more than a story about how awesome having a boyfriend is? Could it possibly be a story about how sexually empowered woman are becoming?