Different Blood by Margaret L. Carter
Different blood flows in their veins–but our blood quenches their thirst. From Bram Stoker’s 1897 creation of Count Dracula, portrayed as a foreign invader bent on the conquest of England, the literary vampire has symbolized the Other, whether his or her otherness arises from racial, ethnic, sexual, or species difference. Even before the bloodsucking Martians of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, however, popular fiction contained a few vampires who were members of alien species rather than supernatural undead.
Even more intriguing than interplanetary invaders are humanoid and quasi-humanoid beings who have evolved to live on Earth among us, often camouflaged as our own kind. The boom in vampire fiction that began in the 1970s engendered a variety of “alien” vampires, many of them portrayed as sympathetic characters. The science fiction vampire is especially suited to the presentation of vampirism as morally neutral rather than inherently evil.
Different Blood surveys the literary vampire as alien, whether extra-terrestrial or a different species evolved on Earth, from the mid-1800s to the 1990s, and analyzes the many uses to which science fiction and fantasy authors have put this theme. Their works explore issues of species, race, ecological responsibility, gender, eroticism, xenophobia, parasitism, symbiosis, intimacy, and the bridging of differences. An extensive bibliography lists dozens of novels and short stories on the “vampire as alien” theme, many of which are still in print.
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Genre: Non-Fiction: Literary Analysis ISBN: 978-1-925191-77-6 ASIN: B07PXX3ZSC Word Count: 62, 336
Vampires in science fiction, like other alien races, often function as a distorted reflection of ourselves, illuminating the human predicament by contrast. When Ransom, the hero of C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, visits Mars, he encounters three sentient species rather than one. A Martian sage expresses surprise upon learning that Earth harbors only one intelligent species. He concludes, “Your thought must be at the mercy of your blood… For you cannot compare it with thought that floats on a different blood” (103). Lewis’ aliens place a high value upon communion between members of different species.
The natives of Lewis’ Mars are not vampires, yet his works do cast light upon the literary motif of the vampire as alien. Out of the Silent Planet offers a deliberate contrast to the older image of extraterrestrials (specifically Martians) embodied in such creatures as the vampiric aliens of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. As Lewis remarks in the dialogue “Unreal Estates”, “most of the earlier [science fiction] stories start from the…assumption that we, the human race, are in the right, and everything else is ogres” (147). Wells’ novel of Martian hostile invaders who consume the blood of human captives falls into this category (though Wells’ characterization of his Martians is a bit more ambiguous than the term “ogres” implies). In Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis offers a more benign model of the first-contact situation. The antagonist in this novel, influenced by Wellsian science fiction, kidnaps Ransom and brings him to Mars as a human sacrifice, under the misapprehension that “the eldil [angelic spirit] drinks blood” (121). Explaining his predicament to the ruling eldil of Mars, Ransom says, “I was in terrible fear. The tellers of tales in our world make us think that if there is any life beyond our own air it is evil” (121). Through his interaction with the natives, he learns the error of this belief. His initial fear of the Martians yields to a desire to communicate with them, leading to friendship. Significantly for the theme of rapport between human minds and “thought that floats on a different blood”, Ransom is a philologist, a specialist in communication. The tension between fear of (and consequent hostility to) the alien Other and the drive toward inter-species understanding dominates “vampire as alien” fiction.
In “Unreal Estates” Lewis himself cites an instance of friendly contact between a human protagonist and a quasi-vampiric extraterrestrial, from Zenna Henderson’s short story “Food to All Flesh”. Henderson’s character, Padre Manuel, finding a spaceship in his pasture, tries to aid the hungry alien, a huge, sleek, fanged female accompanied by a litter of cubs. The visitor tests every available source of nourishment, including a variety of foods provided by Manuel, without finding anything her kind can digest. One of the starving cubs bites Manuel, and immediately, “Its little silver tongue came out and licked around happily and it went to sleep” (81). In the face of the knowledge that human flesh and blood can feed the alien cubs, Manuel neither fights nor flees when the mother seizes him. She, in turn, releases him, gathers up her young, and departs in her ship. Lacking any common language, human and alien nevertheless attain a rapport that supersedes their differences. Despite their “different blood”, they share a common ethic grounded in reverence for life. Henderson’s story and The War of the Worlds represent two extremes in fictional treatment of aliens (vampires as well as other types). A tone of hostility and paranoia prevails in earlier literature but also survives alongside the more sympathetic rendering of nonhuman characters in contemporary works.
These two contrasting attitudes–fear/hostility and the desire to understand the Other–as applied to vampire fiction are analyzed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg in an essay entitled “Vampire with Muddy Boots”. She classifies the two ways of dealing with “monsters” as the horror approach and the science fiction approach. In horror “the Unknown is a menace which is a menace because it’s a menace. In sf [science fiction], the Unknown is a menace because we don’t understand it yet… In sf, understanding, either intellectual or emotion [sic], or maybe both, is the key to the solution of the problem” (4). Not only does a natural (science fiction) rather than supernatural (horror) rationale for the “monster” provide the opportunity for human characters to understand rather than fear him, this approach also allows the nonhuman character free will and the possibility of moral choice, bounded by the limitations of flesh and blood. “A true supernatural force,” Lichtenberg points out, “doesn’t suffer the inconvenience of slogging through cold wet mud. And as a result, such an entity doesn’t grow spiritually, in character or relationships” (5). Her own fictional vampires, in contrast, deal with moral quandaries and strive for emotional connection both among themselves and with human companions. She envisions “a world in which each and every individual has a fighting chance provided they’re willing to…step outside their cultural straight jackets [sic] to deal with the Unknown on a friendly basis” (5). Lichtenberg declares her goal as a novelist to be “to step sideways into another universe and become another person for awhile” (5). In general, “vampire as alien” fiction typically invites the reader to “step sideways” into the consciousness of a not-quite-human being, who offers a fresh perspective on the human condition.
The alien Other sometimes offers this insight by foregrounding separation rather than connection between human and nonhuman. Fear and hostility overshadow works that view the vampire from outside, as the “Unknown…which is a menace,” in Lichtenberg’s words. Many contemporary vampire stories, on the other hand, portray the monster as marginalized outsider with sympathy rather than hostility, grounding the narrative in his or her consciousness rather than the human viewpoint. Anne Rice, for instance, sees the vampire as “a metaphor for the outsider” (Anya Martin, 38). She attributes much of the appeal of her vampires to this metaphorical resonance. She made Lestat a rock star because “rock singers are symbolic outsiders” who are “expected to be completely wild, completely unpredictable, and completely themselves, and they are rewarded for that” (38). According to Rice, in contemporary American culture “all of the different transgressive ways of doing things have merged into the mainstream” (Riley, 56). In this kind of atmosphere, behavior that would have provoked ostracism in Bram Stoker’s time can indeed be “rewarded”, so that the very traits for which the characters in Dracula fear and loathe vampires become grounds for the glamorizing of vampires in today’s fiction. Although supernatural and formerly human rather than literally alien, Rice’s vampires behave and think like a separate species, free to “transgress” conventional human ethics and mores. Her vampires “are in the midst of everything, yet are completely cut off,” and thereby “able to see things that human beings aren’t able to see” (quoted in Ramsland, 337). Now no longer human, her vampires become “people outside life who can speak about it… They are able to perceive what the inside is better than those who are actually there” (337). Depending on the narrative perspective from which he or she is viewed, the marginalized Other may function as either positive or negative.
The identification of the vampire with the outsider is supported by Tobin Siebers’ theory of superstition as “a symbolic activity, in which individuals of the same group mark one another as different”. The stigmatizing of unconventional neighbors as witches, for instance, is “a form of accusation that effects social differentiation” (34). Superstition, thus, can function as a device for social control. Belief in the supernatural “represents individuals and groups as different from others in order to stratify violence and to create social hierarchies” (12). Historically, this view of supernaturalism is borne out by the fact that the upsurge in documented cases of supposed vampirism in the seventeenth century (also the peak of the witchcraft persecutions) coincides with territorial conflict among different branches of Christianity in Europe. On the individual level, many folklore traditions brand redheads as likely vampires, no doubt simply because of the relative rarity of that hair color. “The group represents individuals or other groups as different,” according to Siebers, “for the purpose of creating a stable center around which to achieve unanimity” (40). Taken to the extreme, such exclusionary tactics constitute “the superstitious doubting of another’s humanity” (34)–viewing the Other negatively as a direct consequence of his or her alienness.
Rosemary Jackson, similarly, suggests in her discussion of Dracula that the representatives of society’s established order (Van Helsing and his allies) can maintain that order only by a radical act of exclusion, framing the vampire as wholly other, and the novel, in the process of this exclusion, “identifies the protean shadow of the ‘other’ as evil” (121). “In what we could call a supernatural economy,” she comments, “otherness is transcendent, marvelously different from the human” (23). To those who embrace this kind of world-view, as observed by Fredric Jameson, “the concept of evil is at one with the concept of Otherness itself: evil characterizes whatever is radically different from me” (140). As symbolized by the vampire’s inability to cast a reflection in a mirror, this viewpoint denies that the Other in any way reflects the self. This is the mind-set that rejects the Unknown as a menace because it is Unknown. Yet, conversely, the allure of the Other remains present even in works such as Dracula, which, as Jackson remarks, “engages with a…desire for and dismissal of transgressive energies” (118). Although the story culminates in “dismissal” of the forbidden “energies”, it must first work through the “desire”. The vampire, like other kinds of aliens, evokes fear, attraction, hostility, or fascination, sometimes all at once.
The tension between the allure and the threat of the Other is illuminated by James Tiptree’s “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side”. Though not a literal vampire story, it does involve a form of metaphorical vampirism. The dialogue within the text delivers a message that the narrator, listening to an embittered Ancient Mariner figure in the familiar spaceport bar of classic science fiction, hears as, “Never love an alien” (14). The old space-hand’s warning, however, has a more profound truth to convey. The yearning to know aliens, says the stranger, drains Earth of resources both physical and spiritual, just as the Polynesians lost their own culture in yearning after European technology. “Our soul is leaking out,” says the stranger. “We’re bleeding to death!” (16). He explains the surrender to this metaphorical exsanguination in terms of “supernormal stimulus”, the biological phenomenon that makes some birds reject their own eggs in favor of a larger, more colorful substitute. “Man is exogamous–all our history is one long drive to find and impregnate the stranger. Or get impregnated by him… For millions of years that kept the genes circulating. But now we’ve met aliens we can’t screw, and we’re about to die trying” (16). This drive, more than sexual, springs from “some cargo-cult of the soul. We’re built to dream outwards” (17). The narrator, of course, hears the stranger’s tirade without really listening. In the story’s final paragraph he catches “a glimpse of two sleek scarlet shapes” and, obliviously eager to have his soul drained, hurries in pursuit of his “first real aliens” (17).
The drive to “dream outwards”, often tempered or sharpened by awareness of the danger inherent in seeking communion with the Other, pervades contemporary fiction of the vampire as alien. In this work I mean by the term “alien” any vampire explained in science fiction terms as a naturally evolved creature, a member of a nonhuman sentient species, whether of earthly or extraterrestrial origin. In some narratives that explain vampirism as a mutation within a human line of descent, features of the “separate species” motif may appear. This survey will also discuss a few works that use the “disease” model of science fiction vampirism, since some of these (e.g., Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend) portray their transmuted human characters as the founders of a new race.
The precise origin attributed to the “alien” vampire–whether extraterrestrial, an earthly species evolved separately from Homo sapiens, or a nonhuman offshoot from human forebears–matters less than his or her other distinguishing traits. These creatures may be solitary predators or gregarious members of a wolflike pack. They may be either animals driven by appetite alone, beings vastly superior to humanity in intelligence as well as strength and longevity, or simply unlike us, roughly equal to our own kind yet with different powers and limitations. In their relations with us, they may appear terrifying, fascinating, benevolent, or, most often, ambiguous. Psychiatrist Ernest Jones comments that the vampire of folklore is the most “over-determined” of superstitions, springing from a variety of roots in the human unconscious (98). It is therefore not surprising to find the literary vampire marked by an array of multifarious, sometimes contradictory characteristics and used for a wide range of different narrative purposes. As Ken Gelder observes, “culturally, this creature may be highly adaptable” and “can be made to appeal to or generate fundamental urges located somehow ‘beyond’ culture (desire, anxiety, fear), while simultaneously, it can stand for a range of meanings and positions in culture” (141, Gelder’s emphasis).
Various literary vampires’ individual traits necessarily both arise from and shape the thematic uses to which the respective authors put their alien predators. As already noted, some works, particularly the earlier ones, project fear and hatred onto external forces and use vampires as concrete embodiments of these forces. In later fiction, the vampire more often symbolizes the fascination of the Other. The narrative may also combine attraction and repulsion in the same entity, e.g., C. L. Moore’s “Shambleau”. Where an author portrays human-vampire relations as ambivalent, he or she may either split the threatening and benevolent aspects between two or more individual vampires or may combine these aspects in a single ambiguous character. Alien vampires may serve as metaphors for minority races or nonhuman animals, focusing on the importance of interracial tolerance and ecological responsibility. The vampire may also symbolize the outcast elements of human society, as Anne Rice’s nonhuman characters, for instance, reflect the marginalized status of the gay community. As a predator at the top of the food chain, one element in the balance of nature, the vampire often stands in contrast to the wanton destruction perpetrated by human beings on their own kind; thus, by his or her moderate, morally neutral predation, the vampire foregrounds the wastefulness of human greed and violence.
Hence the vampire’s otherness may cast light on what it means to be human. Many alien vampires either vainly wish to become human or fear the weakening effect of intimacy with, and consequent likeness to, their human prey. The vampire’s attraction to and fear of human beings reflect the human characters’ similar reactions to the vampire. Like Rice’s Louis, allowing himself to be interviewed, and Lestat, becoming a celebrity in defiance of his own kind’s law, alien vampires characteristically wish to disclose themselves to us. Rice imagines Lestat saying through his music, “I don’t want to be an anonymous predatory shadow doomed to be misunderstood and only destroy” (Riley, 31). It is not surprising that the theme of interspecies communication dominates much of the fiction to be discussed in this survey. Such works fall under a new subgenre proposed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, “Intimate Adventure”, in which “partnership is the key to survival as well as happiness,” and the stakes in the narrative’s conflict “are not the possession of things or power over people; the stakes are happiness, fulfillment, and a worthwhile life” (“A Proposal for a New Genre Name,” 68-69). The typical context is the exploration of a relationship between two radically unlike characters, an “Adventure” in which “one or both of the contestants locked into the struggle for intimacy have left a known, safe existence behind, either physically or emotionally” (69). In the most characteristic of these narratives, “a human meets a nonhuman person, and they must reach across the gulf between them” (69). Lichtenberg draws upon vampire fiction for many of her examples. In vampire Intimate Adventure, the danger of abandoning a “known, safe existence” to seek intimacy is particularly clear, since both parties to the mutual disclosure, human and alien, risk death.
Authors portray characters eager to embrace this risk because the desire to touch the mind of the Other expresses a perennial human longing. J. R. R. Tolkien identifies this yearning in “On Fairy Stories”, asserting that fairy tales provide the imaginary “satisfaction of certain primordial human desires”, among them the wish “to hold communion with other living things” (41). The talking animals prevalent in fairy tales embody the desire for this communion. Isolated from the nonhuman world, we find that “other creatures are like other realms with which Man has broken off relations, and sees now only from the outside at a distance” (84). Among the creations of literary fantasy, the vampire is uniquely suited to bridge this gulf. As Gelder summarizes the “transgressive” function of Gothic fiction in general, this kind of narrative “render[s] something simultaneously familiar and strange, recognised and unknowable” (47). Veiling an alien mind behind a human appearance, almost human but not quite, the vampire provides a view of the universe familiar enough for us to understand, yet skewed enough to infuse the known reality with the freshness of the unknown.
The scope of this study comprises vampires as natural (rather than supernatural) beings, conceptualized as members of another species, either humanoid or nonhumanoid, terrestrial or extraterrestrial. (Therefore, many of the groundbreaking vampire novels of the last three decades of the twentieth century, such as those of Anne Rice, Fred Saberhagen, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Kim Newman’s alternate history Dracula series, are excluded because of their basis in the traditional supernatural model. Science fiction explanations of vampirism that do not characterize vampires as a separate species are also excluded.) Sometimes the point of origin is left unmentioned or ambiguous. Although some of the creatures to be discussed are either almost human or completely inhuman, we will find many gradations between the two extremes; the “humanoid / nonhumanoid” distinction is a continuum, not a sharp dichotomy. In the first chapter, I begin by analyzing the “alien” dimension of the definitive vampire novel, Dracula. Though Stoker’s traditionally supernatural Undead Count lies outside the boundaries of the literally “alien”, the novel’s pivotal role in the history of vampire fiction makes its treatment of the Other important for the later evolution of the alien vampire motif. The first chapter then explores this motif as expressed in nineteenth-century fiction. The second chapter covers the “pulp” fiction of the mid-twentieth century. The rest of the book surveys the post-1970 explosion in vampire fiction, broadly dividing alien vampire characters into two classes, depending on their involvement with or separation from humanity. These characters range along a continuum of likeness and difference, intimacy and detachment, foregrounding a variety of issues generated by the interaction between “our kind” and the Other.
Aliens Literal and Metaphorical
(Through the 1920s)
A case may be made for identifying Grendel as the first alien vampire in English literature. Described as a dweller in perpetual darkness, he drinks the blood of his victims before devouring them. Beowulf slays Grendel’s mother by decapitation, one of the traditional methods of destroying a vampire. The epic constantly emphasizes Grendel’s status as an outcast, a descendant of Cain yet no longer human. An apt example of the “superstitious doubting of another’s humanity”, the Beowulf poet frames Grendel, despite his derivation from Adam’s lineage, as irredeemably cut off from the network of kinship and fealty central to the world of the poem.
In view of this vivid portrait of an inhuman, bloodthirsty monster whose plight as despised Other is sometimes pitiable as well as horrible, we might wonder why the vampire as literal alien–a natural but nonhuman sentient creature–appears seldom in novels and short stories before the twentieth century and not at all before the mid- to late nineteenth. When the vampire first appears by that name in English fiction, he is, as Nina Auerbach observes, domestic rather than foreign. Count Dracula, at the end of the nineteenth century, is “alien”–although metaphorically rather than literally–in a sense that Lord Ruthven and Sir Francis Varney are not. Both of these characters are English and, along with the homoerotic friendship between Laura and Carmilla in J. Sheridan LeFanu’s story, support Auerbach’s argument that affinity, not predation, dominates early to mid-nineteenth-century vampire fiction. She notes that vampires such as Lord Ruthven are not “snarling aliens…but singular friends”, characterized not by “their difference from their human prey, but through their intimate intercourse with mortals” (13). She sees “Dracula’s disjunction from earlier, friendlier vampires” as symbolized by his lack of a reflection, “his blankness, his impersonality” (63). Count Dracula’s obsession with dominance rather than intimacy is illustrated by the pivotal scene in Chapter 21 of Stoker’s novel. The Count’s assault on Mina, forcing her to drink his blood, has been misread (in the Bloomian sense) over and over on film and in revisionist works such as Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape (1975) as an act of erotic intimacy. I certainly do not deny the validity of a sexual reading on a symbolic level. On the surface of Stoker’s text, however, Dracula claims to be motivated by a hunger for power and vengeance, not sexual fulfillment; he force-feeds his blood to Mina in order to use her against the men who hunt him. Auerbach reads the novel as dominated by “hierarchies, erecting barriers hitherto foreign to vampire literature,” for example, “between male and female, antiquity and newness, class and class, England and non-England” (66). Dracula and its successors exhibit “a new fear: fear of the hated unknown” (66-67).
Count Dracula behaves as a foreign invader, a potential conqueror, a role implicit in the warlike past of which he boasts to Jonathan Harker in Chapter 3. When Jonathan finds Dracula dormant in his coffin, he perceives the vampire as an invader, “the being I was helping to transfer to London, where…he might, amongst its teeming millions…create a new and ever-widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless” (67). Ken Gelder notes, “Vampirism is colonisation–or rather, from the British perspective, reverse colonisation” (12, Gelder’s emphasis). As Rhys Garnett observes, however, the vampire embodies a still more comprehensive threat than the invasion of England from the East: “Humanity at large is in danger of colonisation by the mutant sub-species of which Dracula is the source and centre” (36). Dracula, early in his acquaintance with Jonathan, lays stress upon his own non-Englishness, linking it to his drive for domination. In his own land, he says, “the common people know me, and I am master. But a stranger in a strange land, he is no one” (28). His desire to retain mastery by concealing his foreign origin motivates him to ask Jonathan’s help in polishing his English. In the same conversation he warns his guest, “We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things” (29). The motif of Otherness foregrounded in the novel’s opening paragraph, when Jonathan ruminates on “leaving the West and entering the East” (1), remains a pervasive theme throughout. At one point Van Helsing speaks of Dracula as not merely a minion of Satan but as potentially “the father or furtherer of a new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death, not Life” (360)–in other words, a new species evolved from humanity through a sort of diabolical mutation, the “circle of semi-demons” feared by Jonathan.
According to Gelder, Dracula belongs to a complex of “horror fantasies in which self-identities are invaded by and absorbed into the Other” (12). This alienation is exemplified in the demonizing of Lucy. After her transformation into a vampire, Dr. Seward, formerly devoted to her, glories in the prospect of her destruction and calls her “the foul Thing which had taken Lucy’s shape without her soul” (260). He regards her as no longer part of the human species. The vampire’s alien status constitutes both threat and attraction, as implied in John Allan Stevenson’s analysis of sexuality in Dracula. Contrary to earlier critics who interpret the novel in terms of symbolic incest, Stevenson suggests that Count Dracula’s “sexual threat” consists of “a sin we can term excessive exogamy” (139). Dracula cannot perform the vampiric version of sexual intercourse–sucking blood–with his own kind, but must seduce yet-untransformed women. Guilty of “interracial sexual competition” (139), the vampire is dangerous because he corrupts and steals “our” women, releasing their sexuality in demonic modes, rather than within the domesticating bounds of monogamy. With his “omnivorous appetite for difference, for novelty” (139), Count Dracula gives his victims erotic experiences the male heroes of the novel cannot match. Concerning the scene in which the Count forces Mina to drink from him, Stevenson remarks, “What is going on? Fellatio? Lactation? It seems the vampire is sexually capable of everything” (146).
Rosemary Jackson also sees ambivalence toward Dracula’s sexual prowess as central to the novel. In her view, Stoker objectifies forbidden desires in the vampires in order to assert society’s conservative values by exterminating the vampires and, with them, subversive drives that threaten to break out. Garnett, similarly, reads the novel as a process of projecting “imperial and sexual guilt and fear” onto “primarily…non-English, non-bourgeois and (therefore) non-human figures, ‘archetypes of the Other'” (31) and thereby exorcising these negative emotions. Through the staking of Dracula’s three “wives” and Lucy, according to Jackson, “Stoker reinforces social, class, racial, and sexual prejudices” (121) and simultaneously “reasserts a prohibition on exogamy” (119). Like Stevenson, she sees the vampire in Dracula as an alien whose sexuality exerts such a powerful allure that it must be suppressed at all costs. Unlike Stoker’s original audience, the late twentieth-century reader, far from identifying with the drive to suppress the vampire’s “exogamy” and erotic omnicompetence, is apt to view these traits in a positive light.
Count Dracula and his “brides” invite ambivalent readings because, as formerly human creatures, they transgress and render permeable the boundary between human and nonhuman. The few literally alien vampires discoverable in nineteenth-century fiction stand firmly on the nonhuman side of the border. As we move from the metaphorically alien Dracula to the natural but nonhuman creatures discussed in the remainder of this chapter, we find that vampires who have never been human are easier to treat as wholly Other, fit only to be feared or destroyed. The invisible monster in Fitz-James O’Brien’s mid-century tale “What Was It?: A Mystery” (1859) has much in common, like Grendel, with the “ogres” mentioned by Lewis in “Unreal Estates”. Grendel, indeed, as an outcast descendant of Cain, possesses a stronger claim to humanity than O’Brien’s creature. Editor Jessica Amanda Salmonson, in her background note on “What Was It?”, calls this tale “likely the most influential single story aside from those of Poe in the development of modern supernatural horror” (155) and credits it with influencing Guy de Maupassant’s “The Horla” (to be discussed below). While O’Brien’s monster does not display the obviously vampiric traits found in Maupassant’s Horla, O’Brien’s nameless entity does bite its victims, with the apparent goal of either drinking blood or devouring flesh, like the cannibalistic trolls and ogres of folk tradition.
O’Brien’s narrator, Harry, prides himself on his role as objective, scientific observer, yet the terms he applies to the creature vacillate between the scientific and the superstitious. He begins his narrative by remarking that the boarding house in which he lives “has enjoyed…the reputation of being haunted” (83). He summarizes the recent history of the house, along with the death of the former owner, which proves to be a red herring, unconnected to the “haunting”. The new inhabitants expect the visit of a ghost with pleasurable anticipation, as implied by the word “enjoyed”. Although previous tenants have reported phenomena suggestive of what we would now call poltergeist activity, Harry and his friends are disappointed by the absence of supernatural manifestations. When the invisible creature drops onto Harry’s chest as he lies in bed, its solidity contradicts the expectations raised by the conventional “haunted house” setting. Further ambiguity concerning the assailant’s status arises from Harry’s habit of smoking opium with his friend Dr. Hammond–a habit “regulated with scientific accuracy” (85), an ironic claim in view of Harry’s dismissal of the butler’s testimony about a possible preternatural event on the grounds of the butler’s habitual drunkenness. When Dr. Hammond suggests that the invisible attacker is no more than an opium dream, Harry seems to recognize no parallel between his own drug habit and the butler’s alcoholism. The doctor’s own observations, however, along with those of the other boarders, remove any doubt as to the creature’s physical reality.
On an emotional level, though, the ambivalence of the observers’ reaction, wavering between a scientific and a superstitious response, remains unresolved. Attacked in darkness, Harry initially assumes his assailant to be human, although naked, uncontrollably violent, and unusually strong. After restraining the creature and discovering its invisibility, he still wavers in his assessment of its nature. It has a humanoid shape, a roughly human (though hairless) head and face, “warm breath”, and “skin…smooth, just like my own” (89). Harry rejects this implication of kinship, however, referring to the unknown being as a “creature”, a “terrible Enigma”, and a “something or other” (89). Dr. Hammond, after helping him bind the captive more securely, strives to comfort him by directing his thoughts into objective rather than emotional channels, assuring him that the creature’s existence, though “awful”, is “not unaccountable” (91). Hammond, in the role of scientist, draws an analogy with pure, completely transparent glass. In answer to the objection that the complexity of a living organism precludes the transparency of glass, Hammond cites the reported spiritualist phenomenon of “warm, fleshly”, but invisible hands sometimes felt by participants in seances (92). Thus he attempts to assimilate data usually considered supernatural into the scientific world-view. But when Harry presses him for an opinion on the entity’s nature, Hammond has none to offer, only resolving that, as a proper scientist, he will “thoroughly investigate it” (92).
Yet the doctor and Harry have already prejudged their captive on one point; they implicitly deny it human status. Just as Dr. Seward dehumanizes the resurrected Lucy as a “Thing”, O’Brien’s creature is always called “it”, never “he” (in fact, its sex remains indeterminate). They spend little time questioning the propriety of keeping it tied up on Harry’s bed, although they perceive “something truly terrible” in its “terrible writhings and agonized struggles for liberty”, the repetition of the emotive word “terrible” underscoring the difficulty of maintaining their investigative detachment (92). The only proposed alternative to releasing the monster is killing it. Unlike the scientists they profess to be, the two investigators make no attempt to turn it over to outside researchers. Instead, the inhabitants of the house are sworn to secrecy. The only outsiders exposed to the creature are “Dr. X”, who sedates it for the purpose of making a plaster cast of its form, and the artisan who sets the plaster. No one devises a scheme for attempting to communicate with it. They treat it like a subhuman animal, an assessment of its nature supported by its violent attack on Harry. The administration of chloroform, in order to prepare the cast, suggests the activity of vivisectionists.
Once the plaster cast renders the creature’s appearance visible, the observers react emotionally rather than objectively. The entity is “shaped like a man”, although only four feet tall, very muscular, and “[d]istorted, uncouth, and horrible” (93). Since the only pronoun applied to the monster remains “it”, we cannot tell whether the narrator uses “man” in the sense of “male” or simply “human being”, though the emphasis on “muscular development” (93) throws weight toward the former reading. Harry’s description gives no hint of the precise nature of the “distortion” he perceives, nor does he describe the being’s face. Instead of translating his reaction into objective terms, he compares its “hideousness” (93) to the work of artists such as Gustave Dore. At last he resorts to terms drawn from superstition, characterizing the creature as a “ghoul” that appears “capable of feeding on human flesh” (93). His ostensible scientific objectivity simply collapses. All the other boarders flee the house, leaving the creature to Harry and Dr. Hammond, who lapse into bewildered inaction. Unwilling “that such an awful being should be let loose upon the world”, nevertheless they cannot bring themselves to destroy “this horrible semblance of a human being” (93). The word “semblance” foregrounds their denial of the creature’s possible human status. After about a fortnight the entity starves to death. When Harry says, “Every thing in the way of nutriment that we could think of was placed before it, but was never touched” (93), he sounds as if he is trying to feed a dangerous pet rather than conducting a scientific experiment. (The monster’s failure to eat any of the foods offered, by the way, supports the conjecture that its usual “nutriment” is human flesh and blood.) Harry feels “miserable” during the “terrible life-struggle” and finds the captive’s suffering “pitiful” (93). These impotent emotions, however, do not bridge the gulf between his own humanity and the monster’s perceived subhumanity. Like Grendel and Lucy, it is demonized, excluded from humankind. To the end, Harry names it “the Horror” and “the Mystery” (93). The story’s subtitle, “A Mystery”, seems not only to denote the tale’s generic category but also to answer the question posed by the title: “What Was It?”
The narrator of Maupassant’s “The Horla” (1886) discovers more about the nature of his tormentor–or believes he does–than do O’Brien’s investigators. I pass over the question of whether Maupassant’s story recounts a “real” experience or a delusion spawned by the narrator’s mind, although I believe the narrative’s internal evidence weights the reading in the direction of objective reality. For example, the coachman’s symptoms and the servants’ complaints of poltergeistlike incidents provide independent corroboration of occult phenomena. While the narrator does appear insane by the end of the story, it remains unresolved whether the Horla drives him mad or his madness generates the delusion of the Horla. Instead of pursuing this argument, I wish to discuss the nature of the eponymous alien, whether or not a “real” entity.
One initially striking difference from O’Brien’s creature is that the Horla is framed as unequivocally superhuman rather than subhuman. Whereas O’Brien’s characters, after the initial attack, keep the invisible monster as a helpless captive, Maupassant’s narrator feels himself the prisoner and thrall of his monster. His descent into misery begins with the story’s second journal entry, in contrast to the euphoric tone of the first entry, in which he mentions the arrival of the Brazilian ship that he later conjectures to have brought the Horla to Europe. Like O’Brien’s narrator, Maupassant’s unnamed journal-writer tries to apply rational analysis to his experience. He speculates on “the source of these mysterious influences which convert our happiness into depression and our confidence into anxiety,” attributing emotional fluctuations to environmental conditions that affect the senses and bodily functions and, through them, the “soul” (136). Throughout the story, he vacillates between faith in medical explanations of his malaise and belief in a preternatural force preying upon him. Whenever he leaves his house, health and apparent rationality return; at home, he once again falls ill and, depending upon his mood, either recognizes the Horla’s presence or fears madness. By the story’s conclusion, he abandons the “madness” theory and fully accepts the entity’s existence.
Though apparently a psychic as well as a physical predator, the Horla manifests itself in a material form reminiscent of O’Brien’s creature. The first inkling of the predator’s presence comes in the shape of a nocturnal attack similar to Harry’s experience. Maupassant’s diarist reports sensations of “someone creeping towards me–someone who looks at me, passes his hands over me, climbs up on to the bed, kneels on my chest, grasps my throat with both hands, and squeezes” (138). The imagery of sexual violation distinguishes this incident from O’Brien’s analogous scene, but so does the fact that from the beginning the Horla is characterized as “someone”, not “something”, and “he”, not “it”. Personified, the Horla even displays a preference among victims; he preys upon the coachman only when the narrator is away from home. The creature demonstrates his materiality not only by physical attacks, “squatting” on the narrator’s chest, “drinking [his] life from between [his] lips” and “draining [his] vitality like a leech” (141), but also by drinking water and milk left at the bedside. In an attempt at rational investigation, the narrator performs an experiment to demonstrate that he himself is not consuming the liquid in a somnambulistic trance. In the process, he discovers the selectivity of the Horla’s appetite; the intruder disdains wine, bread, and strawberries. (Maupassant may be alluding to the tradition, in some cultures, that vampires dry up cows by draining their milk.) Later he witnesses an invisible entity producing physical effects, such as plucking a rose and turning pages.
At the same time, the Horla also manifests itself as a psychic predator. It gains control (though apparently intermittent) over the actions of the narrator, who believes that his “mind has become the chattel and serf of some other being” (151). He regards himself as possessed by “an alien will…like a second soul, parasitic and tyrannical” (151), imagined as similar to the compulsion of hypnosis, as demonstrated by an experiment performed by a mesmerist upon the narrator’s cousin. The narrator sees hypnosis as a “mysterious dominion over the human soul,” imperfectly understood by human experimenters, but perfected as “the weapon of our future Lord and Master,” the Horla (154). Human beings occupy the position of lower animals in relation to this entity; the narrator assumes the role of a dog attacking its master, “a rebellious wild beast about to disembowel its tamer” (153). The threatened annihilation of his will and personality are symbolized by the moment when he looks into a mirror and cannot see his own image, because the Horla’s invisible body blots it out, an inversion of the familiar belief that a vampire casts no reflection.
Although, when the narrator discovers a newspaper account of a South American superstition that seems to confirm the existence of the Horla, he reads that the “tangible but not visible” beings who torment the natives are “a species of vampire” (153), he does not take refuge in the supernatural as an explanation of his ordeal. Instead, he strives to fit the Horla into an evolutionary model, as a being that “is to be man’s successor upon earth” (152). Though he speculates about a possible extraterrestrial invasion, he ultimately settles upon a theory of the Horla as the next stage in the development of terrestrial life. “There are a certain number of species on this earth,” he reminds himself. “Why should not another variation arise…?” (155). He attributes his inability to see the Horla to the limitations of human senses and the higher refinement of the Horla’s body, “more perfect than ours”, with “finer qualities…more cunningly contrived” (155). The human body, in contrast, “is an animal mechanism, subject to maladies, deformities, putrefaction” and thus “a mere embryo of a being that might develop into something intelligent and sublime” (155). After what he believes to be his failed attempt to kill the Horla, he speculates that the creature’s “transparent, mysterious, ethereal body” enjoys immunity to “illness, wounds, infirmities, or premature destruction” (159). Unlike H. G. Wells, who portrays his Martian invaders as vulnerable to disease and therefore still a part of the ecological web, Maupassant’s narrator visualizes a superhuman vampire who, although in some sense material, transcends material limitations, subject to no force but time itself. The War of the Worlds concludes with a fortuitous second chance for humanity; in “The Horla”, humankind, subject to death at “any day, any hour, any minute, by any sort of accident,” is portrayed as doomed to be superseded by “that Being…who can die on this account alone, that his time-limit has run out” (159). The narrator assimilates the supernatural into this evolutionary model with the theory that primitive humanity “felt the approach of its master” (152) and, in response, imagined such beings as “gnome, spirit, genie, fairy, or goblin” (154) to embody its formless terrors. Where O’Brien’s narrative rationalizes its “ghost” into a subhuman, invisible creature, Maupassant’s rationalizes its “vampire” into a similar entity conceived as invisible but superhuman.
“The Last of the Vampires” (1893), by Phil Robinson, with its mention of “connecting links” and “the evolution of man from reptile” (146), draws upon Darwinian theory to introduce a naturally evolved vampire that is solidly material and apparently subhuman. The frame narrator compiling the “facts” of the case, however, introduces several different perspectives on the discovery of “the skeleton of a creature with human legs and feet, a dog-like head and immense bat-like wings” (146). Sometimes called “the man-lizard of the Amazon” and sometimes described as “a winged man with a dog’s head” (147), initially the creature resists unequivocal classification as either human or animal. Eventually part of the skeleton disappears from the museum where it is stored, leaving no tangible proof of its existence (as in the conclusion of Dracula, where Jonathan notes the destruction of almost all original documents that might support the truth of the narrative). The frame narrator explains the skeleton’s origin in the tale of an ambitious professor’s determination to capture the last of the “vampires” to whom the Zaporo Indians, a South American tribe, sacrifice their captives. The German professor behaves like a typical nineteenth-century European colonial expansionist, confident of his superiority over the superstitious natives. He guides his canoe along the river into the vampire’s cave, wounds the creature, first with a spear thrust and later with a blow to the head, binds it, and travels downstream with his “trophy…the last of the Winged Reptiles” (151). The cave-dweller’s cooperation with the tribe’s sacrificial rites hints at possible intelligence, but the professor never raises this question.
On the contrary, he displays no doubt of the vampire’s subhumanity. What he sees when he first flashes a light into the cave is “a beast with a head like a large grey dog” and “eyes…as large as a cow’s” (150). It dislikes sunlight, feeds on the blood of mammals, and has huge, batlike wings and a long neck. The professor identifies it as a “great bat-reptile of a kind unknown to science” and “a living specimen of the so-called extinct flying lizards of the Flood” (150). In between fighting off the creature’s initial attacks, he gloats over his captive. He reveals little or no concern for the advancement of science. Rather, he is “devoured by only one ambition–to keep it alive, to let Europe actually gaze upon the living, breathing survivor of the great Reptiles known to the human race before the days of Noah” (152). He cherishes this dream, not for the benefit of science, but for his own aggrandizement. In the midst of his endless journey down the river, ravaged by fever, he consoles himself, “But in Germany I shall be famous. In Germany with my Vampire!” (153, Robinson’s emphasis). To him the creature is not only a mere animal, “a hideous beast”, a “winged kangaroo with a python’s neck” (152), but his personal possession. He doses the vampire with his entire supply of quinine, leaving none for himself, not out of regard for its welfare, but to preserve the trophy on which his ambitions depend. His description of its feeding technique, enfolding the victim in its wings and inducing paralysis, does not reveal scientific detachment on his part. Rather, he says, “To see it eating is terrible,” and dwells on the “horrible thought” of its attacking him while delirious from fever (152).
The professor’s ambition to become “the foremost of travellers in European fame–the hero of my day” (151) leads to a self-destructive contradiction. He resolves that if he finds himself dying, he will destroy the creature rather than resign himself to losing it. Whereas a disinterested scientist might choose to release the vampire, to preserve the last living specimen of an endangered species, the professor chooses to kill it instead of risking someone else’s usurping his imagined fame: “If we cannot go back to Germany alive, we will go together dead. I will throttle it with my two hands, and fix my teeth in its horrible neck” (153). He not only becomes dehumanized to the point of barehanded violence but, ironically, adopts vampirelike behavior. Later the mingled bones of the professor and the vampire, with part of each washed away by the river, are found and mistaken for the skeleton of a single creature. The disappearance of the specimen, mentioned at the beginning of the story, completes the obliteration of the professor’s discovery. Not only does he fail either to win fame or to contribute to scientific knowledge, he loses his identity in a physical merging with his vampire captive. The boundary between animal and human dissolves, to the discredit of humanity.
Much twentieth-century vampire-as-alien fiction uses its science fiction framework to delineate sympathetic vampires who, to some extent, share human traits that may be regarded positively. The War of the Worlds (1898), like Robinson’s story, draws human-alien analogies that are far from complimentary to either our own species or the invaders. Wells’ novel, as noted above, also views its aliens from an evolutionary perspective. His Martians, although superhuman rather than subhuman, are, unlike the Horla, not invulnerable. Wells’ narrator takes pains to rationalize their behavior as a natural consequence of their position at the top of the food chain, as well as an inevitable result of interspecies competition for living space. On the ground that “life is an incessant struggle for existence,” the narrator concedes that the Martians are justified, from their own viewpoint, in leaving their barren world to invade ours. He observes that to the Martians we must appear “at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us”; we are “what they regard as inferior animals” (310). They boast “minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic” (309). Yet the “natural selection of our kind” (444), although it has made Homo sapiens inferior to the Martians, ultimately works in our favor, since the sterility of Mars leaves the invaders vulnerable to the microorganisms that our evolutionary heritage enables us to resist.
The War of the Worlds shares the invasion motif with Dracula. “In both”, as R. J. Dingley points out, “England is infiltrated by alien creatures of more-than-human power, and familiar locations…become the settings for nightmare events” (13). Both Dracula and Wells’ Martians leave their barren, exhausted homes to conquer fertile new lands. According to Dingley, Dracula explicitly (as the Martians do implicitly) “endorses the right of conquest of superior races” (16), particularly in his proud recitation of the glories of his ancestors. The British readers of Wells and Stoker were accustomed to the role of the conqueror, not the conquered. Wells’ narrator compares the Martians’ invasion to the extinction of the bison and the dodo, as well as the fate of the Tasmanians, who “in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants” (311). In relegating England’s inhabitants to the inferior position of conquered aborigines, as Stanislaw Lem remarks, Wells “inflicted blow after blow upon the jingoistic pride of his contemporaries” (26). Wells’ narrator, recalling the “infinite complacency” of his countrymen before the invasion, notes that if the people of Earth had entertained the possibility of extraterrestrial life at all, they “fancied that there might be other men on Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves, and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise” (309). The notion of superior aliens had never entered their minds.
Moreover, they expected “men”; instead, they confront creatures utterly inhuman. The narrator acknowledges his “sudden chill” at the first sight of tentacles and a “big greyish rounded bulk”, where he “expected to see a man emerge” from the spaceship (321). His initial reaction to the Martians contains no hint of scientific objectivity: “Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance” (321). Though he first interprets the creature by analogy to lower animals, with tentacles “resembling a little grey snake” and a body “the size, perhaps, of a bear” (321), he soon learns that Homo sapiens, rather, stands in the position of the inferior species. Toward the end of his ordeal he recognizes himself as “an animal among the animals”, as helpless and ignorant as “a rabbit…returning to his burrow and suddenly confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies digging the foundation of a house” (424). He draws a similar analogy when discussing the Martians’ nutritional requirements, noting “how repulsive our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit” (408). John Huntington views the “repeated comparisons of the Martian destruction of humans to the European destruction of other animals and other humans” as an indictment of the social-Darwinian ethics used by Wells’ contemporaries to justify their expansionist policies (84). According to Huntington, the novel implies that “humanity as a whole…has deserved the Martian invasion because as a whole humanity has lived by the evolutionary code itself” (84). In isolation, however, the passages comparing the Martians’ survival-driven behavior to our own might be read, not as an ethical indictment, but as an implication that human ideals are no more than a culturally conditioned veneer over a substratum of purely Darwinian motives. In any case, either reading supports Anne B. Simpson’s observation that “movement toward ethical enlightenment is posited but never realized” (145).
When the narrator alludes to the evolutionary justification for the Martians’ behavior, he appears to be recommending scientific detachment rather than voicing condemnation. But his negative comments about the invaders take the form of emotive outbursts rather than philosophical arguments. His account of their blood consumption, for instance, illustrates his vacillation between the objective and the emotional. Although the blood-draining scene occupies only a small portion of the novel, it carries considerable subjective weight for the narrator. The repellent effect that the Martians’ position in the food chain has upon him, undermining his attempt to view them with scientific objectivity, justifies calling them “vampires”. The narrator makes a point of the fact that the Martians lack “all the complex apparatus of digestion” and do “not eat, much less digest” (408). Instead, he tells us that “blood obtained from a still living animal, in most cases from a human being, was run directly by means of a little pipette into the recipient canal” (408). In short, he describes a process of blood transfusion. Yet, although he has made it clear that Martians do not eat or digest, he repeatedly refers to their nutritional intake in terms of eating. He mentions a “peculiar hooting” that “invariably preceded feeding” (411) and later alludes to “the only occasion on which I actually saw the Martians feed” (416). Immediately after the dispassionate account quoted above, he acknowledges his “squeamish” reaction to the “horribly repulsive” act and admits, “I cannot bring myself to describe what I could not endure even to continue watching” (408). This imagery of bloodthirsty monsters links the aliens with the ogres and trolls of Grendel’s line or, as Kathryn Hume puts it, “the classic, man-eating giant of fairy-tale” (287).
Upon his first glimpse of the Martians, the narrator connects them with mythical monsters, in his reference to “Gorgon groups of tentacles” (322). He views their overall appearance and behavior as “at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled, and monstrous” (322). He sees their skin as “fungoid” and the “clumsy deliberation” of their movements as “unspeakably nasty” (322). Later he attempts to assess the aliens in objective terms, as shaped by their environment and the struggle for survival, but this assumed detachment is undercut by numerous expressions of revulsion. At one point he entertains speculation that “the Martians may be descended from beings not unlike ourselves, by a gradual development of brains and hands…at the expense of the rest of the body” (410). He cannot, however, contemplate this possibility without bias in favor of his own kind: “Without the body the brain would, of course, become a mere selfish intelligence” (410). Despite this speculation and the analogies between European imperialism and the Martian invasion, any suggestion of kinship between Martians and humankind remains transitory and undeveloped.
No communication between Martian and human, no mutual self-disclosure, occurs in Wells’ novel. The two species remain in an “I-It” rather than “I-Thou” relationship. Lem objects that “[c]reatures so completely reduced down…to values that can only be termed instrumental, seem to me impossible, or at least unconvincing” (22). He maintains that “if it is to be regarded as a mind,” the mind of an intelligent creature must exhibit disinterested curiosity about its environment, without which science cannot advance (22). Therefore, he suggests, “the Martians should at least be interested in humans, to the extent that we ourselves are interested in apparently useless crustaceans or vegetation” (22-23). The “purely aggressive functionalism” (23) to which Wells reduces his Martians leaves no room for any growth of understanding between them and humanity. Simpson interprets even the Martians’ inferred telepathic ability as, not a potential mechanism for bridging the interspecies gulf, but another obstacle that renders “any possibility of communication between them and humanity…remote” (142), presumably on the ground that the Martians’ telepathy functions only among themselves, not with other species. In the final analysis, they revert to Lichtenberg’s “Unknown” that is “a menace because it is a menace.”
Certainly the menace remains uppermost in the narrator’s mind, as he reflects upon the invasion. The “broadening of men’s views” (452) that he embraces as a beneficial aftereffect of the war has broadened the human perspective mainly in troubling directions. He cautions his audience “that we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a secure abiding-place for Man” (452). As Simpson notes, even after the Martians have been eliminated, the survivors do not find themselves in the familiar pre-invasion world they remember: “The Other, the alien, in appropriating our earth for his own, transforms it into a site where we in turn feel Other, alien” (144). Although Wells’ narrator alludes to hypothetical future “unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly out of space”, it is the “unavoidable apprehension” with which we must now regard the night sky that dominates his thoughts (452). Unlike Dracula, in which, as Dingley says, “Western humanity triumphs over the outsider”, The War of the Worlds allows the human race to survive the alien invasion only as a result of a biological accident (19). Wells, according to Dingley, “seeks to affront the complacency of his readers”, while Stoker “reinforces” it (22). Wells seems to imply that evolutionary pressures must inevitably render hostile any contact between alien species and that the superior will inevitably seek to destroy or enslave the inferior.
Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” (1907) introduces a predatory alien intelligence less akin to humanity than the Martians and more indifferent than the Horla. The narrator and his companion, the Swede, isolated on an island in the Danube, find themselves threatened by unseen forces. They escape after discovering the body of an apparently drowned man, whom they identify as the victim the predatory intelligence has claimed in their place. The narrator first views the willows themselves as the threat; later he and the Swede speculate about “the spirits of the elements” and “the old gods” (41). They finally decide that they are dealing with neither of these “comprehensible entities”, which “have relations with men, depending upon them for worship or sacrifice” (41). Instead, the strange humming sound that pervades the air and the funnel-shaped indentations in the sand are produced by beings that “have absolutely nothing to do with mankind” (41). The two characters, by “mere chance”, have blundered into an area where “their space happens just at this spot to touch our own” (41). The eponymous willows are only “symbols of the forces that are against us” (42). This phenomenon prefigures H. P. Lovecraft’s extradimensional entities, not so much hostile to humanity as indifferent.
According to the Swede, human “thoughts make spirals in their world”, and the potential victims’ “only hope lies in ignoring them, in order that they may ignore us” (42). As inhuman and awe-inspiring as the Horla, these entities are even less material and not at all interested in conquering the human species. Wherever “the veil between has worn thin” (40), the hazard exists that the aliens may become aware of human individuals and prey upon them almost at random. What these predators want from their prey remains unclear, but the text hints at a vampiric draining of the soul. The Swede warns the narrator that discovery by the entities would mean a fate worse than death: “Death… means either annihilation or release from the limitations of the senses, but it involves no change of character. You don’t suddenly alter just because the body’s gone” (40). Absorption by the aliens, on the other hand, “means a radical alteration, a complete change, a horrible loss of oneself by substitution” (40). Symptoms of their attack include the humming noise, the sound of “countless little footsteps”, the sense of “a sort of inner suffocation” (42), as well as a glimpse of a hazy shape “coiling upon itself like smoke” that resembles “neither a human figure nor an animal,” yet “as large as several animals grouped together” (45). After the Swede becomes delirious and attempts suicide, the preternatural phenomena subside, and the two men find the body of what they take to be “the victim that made [their] escape possible” (50). The indentations in the dead man’s flesh–“Their awful mark!” (52)–suggest the stigmata of a vampire’s feeding. Invading with no design of conquest, feeding with no selectivity as to prey, Blackwood’s aliens stand at a further distance from humanity than any others we have examined. They embody the wholly Other, with which no communication is possible.
The monster in E. F. Benson’s “Negotium Perambulans” (1923) shares with Blackwood’s entities inhuman Otherness and a certain randomness in choice of victims; Benson’s creature, though, is more material, more fixed in shape, and perhaps subhuman rather than superhuman. Like the narrators of “What Was It?”, “The Horla”, and “The Willows”, the victims in “Negotium Perambulans” apparently fall prey to attack simply by being in the wrong place. (The journal-writer in “The Horla” conjectures that the entity chooses to lair in his house only because of the similarity between the white building and the white ship from which it leaped to shore.) The men slain by Benson’s creature all inhabit a house whose original owner built it of materials taken from a church he destroyed, erecting his house on the same site, “keeping, in a very ecstasy of wickedness, the altar, and on this he dined and played dice afterwards” (230). This impious man’s servants find him dying “with the blood streaming from his throat” and “withered to a bag o’ skin, for the critter had drained all the blood from him” (230). In the present day, a Mr. Dooliss rebuilds the house and lives in it despite the warnings of the village clergyman, the narrator’s uncle. In the vicar’s eyes, Mr. Dooliss, as a habitual drunkard, risks damnation as well as the creature’s vengeance. After breaking into the church and attempting to destroy the panel depicting the creature, Mr. Dooliss, too, is found dead, “skin and bones as if every drop of blood had been sucked out of him” (234). The last victim described in the tale, still another tenant of the accursed house, is a painter, John Evans, whose “inexplicably hellish” (237) style marks him as a fit target for monster’s vengeance.
The vicar preaches that divine wrath, not an accident of location, accounts for the deaths of the creature’s victims. The panel in the church depicts “the figure of a robed priest holding up a cross, with which he faced a terrible creature like a gigantic slug” (229). According to the vicar, the picture represents “some evil agency… of almost infinite malignity and power,” identified with “the pestilence that walketh in darkness” from the ninety-first Psalm (229). Yet he also characterizes the “Thing, the Creature, the Business that trafficked in the outer Darkness” as “a minister of God’s wrath on the unrighteous” (229), a role that seems to contradict the demonic nature he assigns to it. His wife, the narrator’s Aunt Hester, loyally maintains this theory after the vicar’s death; she reminds the narrator, “God has His instruments of vengeance on those who bring wickedness into places that have been holy” (234).
Other details in the story, however, undercut the assumption that the Thing is either a demon or an instrument of God. After Mr. Dooliss smashes the panel in the church, it mysteriously returns to its undamaged state. Aunt Hester confesses uncertainty as to “whether the power of God had mended it or some other power” (234). Although the legend of the original house-builder’s fate refers to “some huge black shadow” (230), other descriptions of the Thing make it sound concretely material and more animal than demonic, much less spiritual. The narrator speculates about “powers and presences” hidden in nature, “dwellers in the innermost, grafted into the eternal life of the world”, as well as “dark secrets” from the same realm, among which belonged the Thing “of deadly malignity” (236). When he actually sees the creature, though, its appearance does not suggest the elemental force hinted at by this passage. He sees the painter, Evans, attacked by a thing “like some gigantic caterpillar”, which emits “stale phosphorescent light” and “an odour of corruption and decay, as from slime that has long lain below water” (238). Described as “hairless, and slug-like in shape and in texture”, and “like a snake about to strike”, the creature has a subhuman character emphasized by its headlessness and its “orifice of puckered skin which opened and shut and slavered at the edges” (238). This blatantly genital imagery, combining phallic and vaginal characteristics, underscores both the narrator’s revulsion and the creature’s bestial nature. The “gurglings and sucking noises” (239) of its feeding further reinforce the impression of animal appetite. The only ambiguity the narrator perceives arises from the difficulty of grasping the Thing’s body; although he comes into contact with “something material”, he finds his hands sinking into it “as in thick mud”, as if “wrestling with a nightmare” (238). Nevertheless, his observations lean toward a “material” rather than spiritual conclusion about the Thing’s nature.
Before his death, the painter Evans reveals the principle behind the “awful malignity” of his art, the Darwinian recognition of “much in common between a cat and a fuchsia-bush” (237). His remark, “Everything came out of the slime of the pit, and it’s all going back there” (237), foreshadows the slimy “odour of corruption and decay” emitted by the creature and lends weight to a classification of it as a beast driven by hunger rather than a malignant elemental or an instrument of divine wrath. Like Blackwood’s extradimensional entities, Benson’s Thing, although apparently subhuman rather than superhuman, embodies Otherness and a disinterested, appetite-driven behavior that precludes any communication between predator and prey.
Images of distance and hostility dominate the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century vampire-as-alien fiction we have discussed. Evolutionary parallels between alien and human are sometimes offered, and Darwinian pressures are invoked to explain the behavior of both. These parallels, however, do not produce a sense of kinship, much less compromise and mutually beneficial exchange, between human and nonhuman. Authors consistently assume that whenever the struggle for survival forces our species and another into contact, hostility will result, and the stronger will attempt to destroy or absorb the weaker. Potential for likeness may exist, but difference, conflict, and alienation always prevail. As we shall see, the pulp fiction of the mid-twentieth century introduces the possibility of mutual self-disclosure and, occasionally, symbiotic exchange between vampire and human.
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