Our Fascination With Vampire Stories

Vampire stories allow us to explore issues of mortality.

| September 2014

  • Vampires throughout the centuries have represented the fears that society has had at the time.
    Photo by Fotolia/ysbrandcosijn
  • "Vampires Are Us" by Margot Adler explores the fascination with vampire stories in popular culture.
    Cover courtesy Weiser Books

Vampires Are Us (Weiser Books, March 2014), by the late Margot Adler, examines how vampire stories have become the vehicle that lets us play with the question of mortality. Why is Hollywood spending billions on vampire films and television series every year? This question led Adler to explore issues of power, politics, morality, identity, and even the fate of the planet. The following excerpt, from the section "The Persecuted Other," describes Adler’s fascination with novels about outsiders, particularly those about vampires.

When I was a child I spent hours daydreaming. Almost any historical or science fiction novel could transport me to another time and place. I probably spent at least two hours a day in strange, confabulated worlds—no, let’s be honest, perhaps four, even six. I often returned to the current fantasy of the week or month while riding the subway to school. In fact, I often had no idea how I ended up at the entrance to my high school, which involved climbing some ten or twelve flights of steps through a park in Harlem. I was totally in another world, oblivious.

I was an only child, with a number of good friends, but not particularly popular. I was certainly not part of any “in” clique. Social events spelled anxiety; the fantasy worlds I created and controlled were, like food, much more comforting.

Although I was enchanted by the worlds depicted by Tolkien, and the romances of King Arthur’s court, there was really only one basic fantasy for me, something I have come to call the “Persecuted Other.”



As a child of the political left, during the Cold War, in the 1950s and early 1960s, a “pink diaper baby” at the very least, one of those Persecuted Other fantasies involved being the daughter of the Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko. I am not kidding! And even telling you this makes me cringe!

In the fantasy, I was looked upon as strange and different, speaking a different language, trying to win friends despite the distrust of everyone around me. I drew pictures in my diary of Yvonne Gromyko, a character I created. Now, this was during the height of the Cold War and anti-communist hysteria. My family’s views were definitely socialist. Although no one in my family was a member of the Communist Party—in fact, my mother had been told she was too much of an anarchist to be allowed to join—we were definitely “Reds.” When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, instead of weeping, my family quaked in terror, since, like Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK’s presumed and accused killer, my mother was a member of an organization called Fair Play for Cuba. So, as I listened to my high school social studies teacher’s patriotic and anti-communist views and looked at the headlines in the newspapers, it was easy to believe I was an alien in a hostile world. Those feelings were clearly part of the inspiration for the Gromyko fantasy.