From 'Dracula' to 'Twilight,' Vampires Evolve With the Times

Download MP3   (Right-click or option-click the link.)

I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Shirley Griffith with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today we get to know more about a famous creature known for its pale skin, pointy teeth and big hunger for human blood. Vampires have held an important place in the popular imagination since ancient times.

More recent versions of vampires are in many books, movies and television series. The "Twilight" series of books and movies has increased the popularity of vampires around the world.

EDWARD: "I'm a killer."

BELLA: "I don't believe that."

EDWARD: "It's because you believe the lie. It's a camouflage. I'm the world's most dangerous predator. Everything about me invites you in. My voice, my face, even my smell. As if I would need any of that. As if you could out run me."

That was a scene from the two thousand eight movie, "Twilight." It tells the story of a teenager named Bella Swan who falls in love with an unusual high school classmate named Edward Cullen. She knows there is something very special about him. He is very strong, very pale, and very cold to the touch. She soon discovers that Edward is a vampire.

BELLA: "I'm not afraid of you. I'm only afraid of losing you. I feel like you're going to disappear."

Edward lives with a vampire family that has chosen to drink the blood of animals instead of humans. His family helps Bella when she is threatened by a more dangerous vampire.

The movie stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. It is based on a best-selling book by the American writer Stephenie Meyer. Her "Twilight" series includes four novels: "Twilight", "New Moon", "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn." Ms. Meyer says that the idea for the first book came from a dream. She dreamt about a young girl and a vampire having an intense discussion while standing in a forest. She wrote down all the details of her dream and developed it into a full story.

The second movie in the series, "New Moon," was released in November. It sold more tickets in its first day than any other American movie in history. It earned over seventy-two million dollars in its first day in theaters. American ticket sales the first weekend it was released made "New Moon" the third best-selling movie on record.

"New Moon" continues the love story between Bella and Edward. But Edward can no longer safely live in the same town as Bella. She is very lonely and sad without Edward. She becomes close friends with a young man who competes for her love and attention.

Long before the "Twilight" series, writer Anne Rice created another popular series of vampire books. Her novel "Interview with a Vampire" has sold millions of copies and was also made into a movie.

Amy Smith teaches English at the University of the Pacific in California. She is an expert on vampires in film and literature. We asked Professor Smith why vampires are so popular in the United States. Professor Smith says that Americans love to see themselves as changeable and inventive. She says these two qualities also define vampires in movies and literature.

Amy Smith says vampires can change from human to animal forms. And if they do not have a traditional coffin to sleep in during the day, they can find other answers, such as using a car.

Amy Smith says vampires also adapt to the many local differences across the United States. She says there are city vampires like in the movies "The Addiction" and "Nadja." And, there are sunny California vampires like in the former American television show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

She says vampires also adapt well to many kinds of movies and books: those that are funny, sad, adventurous, scary or for young people.

Professor Smith says one reason the "Twilight" series of books and movies is so popular is that they are not just about finding love. They are about finding never-ending love. Bella has found someone who will love her forever.

The "Twilight" series is not the only source for good vampire watching these days. The movie "Daybreakers" was released in the United States earlier this month. It stars Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe. This story is set in the future. A virus turns much of the human population into vampires. As humans begin to disappear, the vampires must come up with a way to guarantee their future food supply.

Other recent vampire movies include the American film "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant", the Swedish film "Let the Right One In" and the Korean film "Thirst."

The American television show "True Blood" tells a more adult version of vampire love than "Twilight." It is about a young woman named Sookie Stackhouse who lives in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. She falls in love with Bill Compton, a vampire who lives in the town.

The vampires are not treated very well in this television program. They are fighting for equal rights with humans. In the first season of the show, Sookie's friends are not very happy that she is interested in a vampire.

SAM: "Sookie, you're being a very stupid girl."

SOOKIE: "Who asked you? I can take care of myself."

SAM: "I don't think so. Matt could have seriously cut you up last night."

SOOKIE: "How do you know what Matt would have done?"

SAM: "Now you're setting up a date with a vampire! What do you have, a death wish?"

SOOKIE: "No, I don't have a death wish. I just happen to think that judging an entire group of people based on the actions of a few individuals within that group is morally wrong."

SAM: "Well, I will not let you put yourself or this bar in danger. I won't."

"True Blood" has completed its second season on the cable channel HBO. Critics say the show has helped reinvent HBO. The channel was struggling to find television shows as popular as its former series, "The Sopranos."

Alan Ball created "True Blood." He has suggested one reason the show is so popular: men and women each find something they like in it. He says women like the storytelling and love scenes. And he says men like the large amount of sex and violence.

More than one hundred years ago, vampires became popular after the publication of Irish writer Bram Stoker's book "Dracula." It was first published in Britain in eighteen ninety-seven. Mr. Stoker did not invent the idea of a vampire. Cultures around the world have their own versions of these blood-sucking creatures. And, Mr. Stoker was not the first person to write a story about a vampire. But his book defined one tradition of the vampire story.

Mr. Stoker is thought to have based his evil Count Dracula character on a ruler who lived in fifteenth century Romania. Vlad the Impaler was said to have killed tens of thousands of people, including invading members of the Ottoman Empire.

Bram Stoker's "Dracula" is told through the personal writings and letters of its characters. The story begins with the daily observations of a young English lawyer named Jonathan Harker.

He is sent to Transylvania to help a man named Count Dracula settle a property purchase in Britain. But his visit does not go as planned. Harker becomes a prisoner in the vampire's large home. After meeting Dracula's vampire brides, Harker barely escapes alive. The horror story continues when Dracula travels to England. Soon, Jonathan Harker's wife Mina becomes one of his victims.

Experts say the book explored different social subjects that were especially meaningful to English readers in the late nineteenth century. These include colonialism, immigration, folk culture versus modernity, and women's sexuality.

Count Dracula has been recreated in many plays and movies. One of the most famous, and in some ways the most frightening, is the nineteen twenty-two film "Nosferatu." This silent film was made by the German director F.W. Murnau. The vampire character in this movie, known as Count Orlak, is tall and thin with long pointy fingers.

The famous actor Bela Lugosi played Count Dracula first in the theater, then in a nineteen thirty-one movie version of the book.

Nina Auerbach is a literature professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Her book "Our Vampires, Ourselves" offers another explanation for the continued popularity of vampires. Professor Auerbach describes how the evolution of vampires tells a great deal about a culture's fears, which change over generations.

She shows how vampire stories help express people's cultural, social and political beliefs. Professor Auerbach says these creatures help people escape from the boredom and pressure of life. And she says they are very important because they tell us about our times and ourselves.

This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Shirley Griffith.

Voice of America Special English

Source: From 'Dracula' to 'Twilight,' Vampires Evolve With the Times
TEXT = http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/2010-01-19-voa3.cfm
MP3 = http://www.voanews.com/mediaassets/specialenglish/2010_01/audio/Mp3/se-exp-vampires-20jan10_0.Mp3